Skip to main content

Try the Train Thing: Michelle Ardron

Modern colour photograph of a woman in a high visibility vest working on a tablet. There is a large green locomotive in the background.

Michelle at work for VIA Rail in 2017.


Becoming an Engineer

Black and white archival photograph of three women posing with shovels. They are dressed in coats and hats, scarves and work gloves.

Portrait of three female railway workers at the Stelco Steel Company, posing with their shovels in 1944.

Michelle Ardron, the first female engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Toronto, has had a lifelong railway career. Like Stuart Harvey, she did not set out for a railway job. In fact, Michelle had not ridden a train before working with the railways. She studied travel and tourism before getting her first job in a mine. It was a student job, but she earned a lot of money and liked doing  physical labour. At this time, in Michelle’s experience, there was a push for women working in non-traditional roles. She heard from Canadian Pacific train crews that the company was hiring and that they were specifically looking for women. Michelle decided she would, in her own words, “try the train thing.” She started working for Canadian Pacific in the late summer of 1988. She started as a yardman, and became a foreman in 1990. Then, in 1992 she became a locomotive engineer.

As we have heard from other interviews, the work was hard. Michelle would drive 90 minutes to work, work for 16 hours, and return home to rest. Once, she worked 28 days in a row. However, she enjoyed the job:

When it’s a beautiful sunny summer day, those way freights are a ton of fun. And even today, it is the one thing that you know, when you see a train go by, I would say that’s where the romance is, you know. You see them on a nice sunny summer day or on a really sultry night in the summer. And you see them out switching in just a t-shirt. And it’s like that’s, that was nice. I love the physicality of it. I absolutely love that. And I think becoming a locomotive engineer, a lot of locomotive engineers miss that. You miss the sort of fun of switching, so I loved it, I absolutely loved it.

– Michelle Ardron, Engineer, 2020

Safety Inspector

Michelle left Canadian Pacific in 1997 to become a railway operations inspector and then an Occupational Health and Safety Officer under Part Two of the Canada Labour Code. She was passionate about this work because she had been on the railways. She knew how challenging the working conditions could be. While some people did not think the work was very interesting, Michelle could recognize how important this work was, and that railway workers needed proper working conditions. For instance, Michelle inspected trains to determine if they had proper toilet facilities. It may seem like a simple request, but facilities like toilets with locking doors helped women feel more comfortable in the workplace. Michelle felt that, by doing this job, she was part of the change she wanted to see in this industry.

Time To Go Back To The Industry (captions available in both French and English). Enjoy this video with an English transcript.