Owney & Railroad Jack in Canada

One of the most notorious stories in Owney’s history happened in Canada. It’s one that gets told time and time again. It’s in children’s books. It’s on his Wikipedia page. Here it goes: in March 1891, the Albany postmaster received a letter from a postmaster in Quebec saying they had possession of Owney and wouldn’t let him go without a payment of $2. Owney had been there for two weeks and they felt entitled to compensation for room and board. The fee was paid and he was released.

And that’s basically it.

I’m not so sure why that story has been so enduring when I find that there are plenty of other similar (or, frankly, better) anecdotes in his life. The $2 fee isn’t even the most money someone paid to get Owney back from Canada. In 1894, he was in the Dakotas and crossed the border north. The postmaster supposedly had to pay $14 to get him back to the States.

My personal favorite Owney in Canada story has to do with his eye. Owney had a missing or damaged eye and there were lots of rumors as to how the injury occurred. One of the most popular of these explanations was that he lost it in a train wreck somewhere in Canada. I’ve yet to confirm anything in this story and I likely won’t be able to.

Other stories placed the wreck elsewhere and others still eliminated the rail “smashup” all together. Regardless, I do find the rumors of losing an eye in a crash particularly fascinating. One of the most enduring Owney stories (other than his Canadian ransom) is that he was considered a good luck charm and that a train he was riding was protected from accidents. This is quaint, but was clearly not believed by all of the people who knew Owney best.

But what about Jack? Railroad Jack seemed to have a far better time in Canada than Owney. He was a frequent guest in Montreal, which makes since when you figure that city is basically a straight shot north from Albany. To my knowledge, he stayed out of trouble, unlike his fellow canine traveler.


Original header image from the collection of the National Postal Museum

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