(Photo credit from Museums Ontario)
One of the reasons that Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) have taken the lead in getting the Bear Train on track is to develop their own tourism products. They see the Algoma passenger train service as the ideal way in which to attract and transport tourists to Indigenous tourism destinations in MCFN’s traditional territory, thus both acknowledging and honouring their historical ties to the railway itself. Tourists love taking remote trains. An event was planned in 2013 to demonstrate the kinds of Indigenous tourism experiences that MCFN would like to develop. Linda Savory Gordon (CAPT board member) states:
“Chelsie Parayko, a MCFN member and an Algoma U student, in a summer job with the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT), planned ‘The Journey on the Iron Horse Train Event’. The Missanabie Cree used to call the train “the iron horse”. Shirley Horn of MCFN, former Shingwauk residential school student, Algoma University BA (Fine Arts) graduate and current Chancellor of Algoma University, suggested that we call the Indigenous train event on the ACR “The Journey on the Iron Horse.” This Indigenous culture-based tourism event was conceived by Chelsie Parayko. The plan is for participants to take the passenger train from the Sault to Hawk-Junction, where they would be picked up by vans and shuttled by road to Island View Camp in Missanabie. At Island View, an MCFN caterer would prepare meals using local Cree recipes and foods. The program would include talks by an MCFN elder about the history and culture of MCFN and a display of work by MCFN artists. A group of young Cree drummers from a neighbouring First Nation would do a drumming. The participants would stay overnight at Island View. The next day they would be taken by van or coach back to Hawk Junction, through Wawa to Lake Superior. During the return trip on highway 17 along the Lake Superior coast the participants would visit Michipicoten, Old Woman Bay, the Agawa Pictographs and the Visitors Centre in Lake Superior Provincial Park. This is one of many Indigenous tourism products that MCFN could develop and offer from the Bear passenger train. “
This tourism product encompasses a lot of the elements that the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban initiative holds dear in our mission and values, including economic development and job opportunities for Missanabie Cree people, as well as traditional Indigenous teaching and cross-cultural learning, primarily about the traditional territory as well as the reality of residential schooling for the Missanabie Cree. Moreover, the incorporation of traditional Cree food and Cree drumming/music allows for an even greater cross-cultural and educational experience for participants. Not to mention, Island View Camp and Missanabie in general are beautiful locations to really get in touch with nature – gorgeous sunsets, lush, green trees, and bountiful lakes to swim and fish in!
For more information on Missanabie Cree First Nation, click here.
For more information on Island View Camp, click here.
(Photo credit from CAPT).
Many people talk about all the amazing summer activities that we have the option to do in Northern Ontario, especially on Lake Superior and surrounding area. But what about all the winter adventure opportunities that are privy to us? Laying right outside our frosted doorsteps? Here are some of the exciting winter experiences that the Bear Train would help you to access to really get a taste of a Northern winter… which, for many living in the North, is also part of the regional culture!
Aurora Borealis – AKA, The Northern Lights
First, I want to start with what I think is the most amazing thing about calling Northern Ontario home. I mean really, can you believe that we are blessed enough to live in a region where we have the ability to view the northern Lights when they are active? We are actually in a dark and remote enough area that you can see the lights right from within Sault Ste. Marie! But a much better viewing would be possible from somewhere further north, like Hawk-Junction or Wawa. So, bundle up and check it out! Remember – the more secluded the area, the more colourful hues of blue, green, and purple the display will be! While the phenomenon is never guaranteed to be spotted – no matter how much planning you do – this guide by the Huffington Post will help you to determine how to increase your odds of catching the Northern Lights this year.
Trout, Walleye, Pike, Perch, Steelheads… Oh My! – Ice Fishing
Some people take fishing VERY seriously. Others see it as a fun hobby. But no matter how you perceive ice fishing – if you are heading out on the frozen lake for a relaxing day spent with family and friends, or a competitive fishing derby (a full list of 2018 derbies, compiled by Tourism Northern Ontario, can be found here), or even to have some much needed ‘me time,’ Northern Ontario’s lakes are where it’s at! We have the thick ice to accommodate ice fishing activities safely, and the surreal natural landscapes to make the view, and whole experience, that much more worthwhile.
Into the Wild – Snowmobiling
People come from near and far to snowmobile the rugged Canadian shield, shredding up powdery snow in pristine forests across Northern Ontario. Whether you are a newbie looking to get some experience, or a seasoned winter snowmobiling adventurer, there are endless landscapes to discover – and rediscover – in the Algoma Region. No matter where your preferred starting point is, be it Hearst, Dubreuilville, Wawa, Searchmont, Sault Ste. Marie, Hawk-Junction, somewhere in between, or even deeper into the Northern region, there are remote but very well groomed trails for you to explore. The municipalities in the north truly pride themselves on sledding trails, and they are sure not to disappoint.
Shredding Powder – Skiing and Snowboarding
No matter if your interest lies with downhill snowboarding or skiing (you’ve got to love that adrenaline rush) or in coasting across sublime landscapes, Algoma region has all kinds of you are crazy for downhill ski/snowboarding or more into coasting across landscapes, Algoma region has no shortage of frosty options! Searchmont Ski Resort isn’t too far from Sault Ste. Marie or Wawa, and is in a stunning location to really take in all of the natural Northern beauty. Cross country skiing is accessible from a slew of different locations – depending on how far you are willing to venture out of your comfort zone – so get out there and check out what the North has to offer!
Icy Expeditions – Ice Climbing
Did you know that you can even do an extreme sport like ice climbing in the Algoma region? That’s right! Expert guides at Superior Exploration can help you plan it, if you want to indulge in this adrenaline fuelling adventure! It may sound intimidating, but Superior Explorations offers all kinds of training courses and guided tours for all skill sets. Try something new this year! The most exciting part about it is that it is so dependent on the weather that every year, the options for ice climbing and the nature of the various climbs change, making it all the more mysterious and exhilarating. This really is the ultimate way to experience a Northern Ontario winter.
Also, keep in mind that there are a number of lodges and tourist outfitters who are open all year-round, who offer a warm place to stay, guided tours, access to materials and equipment, restaurants, and stores, depending on where you choose to stay. You can check out this list compiled by Algoma Country to pick the perfect place for your winter getaway.
Above is a map, compiled by CAPT which highlights the key known trails for various activities. Snowflakes indicate prime snowmobiling points, ski poles are the ski hubs, and the blue arrows indicate ice climbing locations. The ice climbing locations in particular can vary from year to year.
While many of these activities are still doable with the train, passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst would make it much easier to reach the most remote wilderness locations, especially with its capabilities to carry sleds and other hiking/fishing equipment. While we encourage you to get out into the great white North and explore what our amazing region has to offer in terms of natural beauty and eco-tourism, don’t forget to support the Bear Train, which would help tourist outfitters and lodges along the line in terms of access and packages, while also driving international visitors to our region, and so that we can help you enhance your Northern winter adventure! For more information, please visit our Facebook page.
All references are hyperlinked throughout this document. Please click to explore these amazing options in more depth.
This week, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN)’s Elder/Youth Coordinator, Jackie Fletcher. She was kind enough to share some of the information regarding Missanabie Cree’s relationship to the winter solstice, where our days will finally become longer again. This topic sparked my interest because the solstice was fast approaching (taking place on Dec 21st), and while I have read many different histories and accounts of Anishnaabe and Navajo cultures and the way that they perceive and acknowledge the solstice, I didn’t have a whole lot on the First Nation that I work for. I wanted to learn more, especially since, while astrology and natural occurrences are important in different capacities to all Indigenous groups, different Indigenous cultures have unique ways of celebrating and acknowledging the new year. So, I reached out to Jackie, as she has been coordinating a special two-day celebration of the winter solstice at the Wawa Motor Inn, which is the closest accommodation to the traditional homeland as possible. This is an opportunity for the community to come together to honour the natural occurrence and phenomenon the way that their ancestors did.
The event, Jackie explains, will consist of a number of activities, including a feast, sparklers, candles, and cake to honour the solstice. Some of the other activities allow for community members to get really creative, by crafting winter arts and writing and singing songs about winter. She describes it as a way for the community to escape from the commercialization, anxiety, loneliness, and depression that many feel around Christmastime – especially those with First Nations background who may not always feel as though they can fully relate to Christmas, a very Eurocentric holiday.
Community members will have the chance to bond with friends and family and prepare themselves mentally for the new year, creating vision boards for their future hopes and dreams, and burning in the fire what they wish to let go of. Traditionally, the solstice signifies a symbol of new beginnings, much like the ‘New Year’ does for many of us. This is the perfect way to illustrate what Jackie is doing with this event for MCFN. She described how it is a way to bring back their old traditions and incorporate them into the modern day, which promotes healing and the decolonization of many elements of settler culture that have been forced upon First Nations peoples, such as Christmas. It allows for the First Nation to make Christmas and winter celebrations their own, letting go of resentment, and transitioning the commercialization of Christmas into a natural experience that has deep historical roots, a practiced and sacred tradition, for MCFN.
It is a pilot program, with hopes of continuing for future solstices, and equinoxes as well. I wish Jackie, and all those travelling to Wawa for the event, safe travels, and the happiest of holidays. I hope this event goes well for the MCFN community so it can continue in future years. And, as Jackie said, hopefully next year they can be taking the train down to the event!
For more information on MCFN-led initiatives, or for how to contact Jackie or any other MCFN employee, visit us at our website. For more information on the train initiative specifically, check out our Facebook page.
(Photo from User P199 at Wikimedia Commons)
On November 30th, Linda Savory-Gordon from CAPT and I set out from Sault Ste. Marie for Wawa and Dubreuilville to attend meetings and to check out the CP Holiday Train event. We were excited to spend some time engaging with the municipalities and stakeholders in that area, and also show our support for CP rail and the potential connections that could be made at Franz with the CN line, upon reinstating the Algoma Passenger Train (Bear Train).
Somewhere around Batchewana Bay, we both began to notice a strange sound coming out of my car. It sounded a lot like flapping. We stopped and checked it out – and indeed, there was a piece of the underbelly of my car that was hanging a little loose. Since we still had service, we called an auto shop in Wawa to take a look when we got there. Otherwise, the damage seemed pretty surface and so we kept on, uneasy, but without many other options.
Things took quite the turn just 60km outside of Wawa, when the lug nuts on my left driver’s side tire snapped off and my wheel sunk into the fender of my car. Smoke clouded the air and sparks spewed out from the underbelly. We came to a stop, luckily still in the right lane, and took a look at the damage.
Now this would be a stressful and scary experience for any driver anywhere. But let’s consider some of the key points of this experience that, ironically, make it extremely relevant to my work here for the Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) in renewing rail service in the north.
First and foremost, I had no cell service. I was wandering around, in shock, on hills and in the woods trying to get enough bars to call 911. When I did, the operator could hardly hear me, and it took twice as long to explain what had happened than it would if I had been in the city. Secondly, I had no real indication of where I was. I knew that we had passed Orphan Lake in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but aside from that, without any cellular data or signs nearby, it was nearly impossible to give the operator some kind of a landmark so that an OPP Officer could locate us.
Thirdly, once the reality of what had happened set in, I went into complete shock, shivering, shaking, and barely able to speak. If I had not been with Linda, or anyone, I am not sure how I would have been able to calm down or form words to any of the passersby who stopped, concerned. This shock and isolation would have been furthered by the inability to contact anyone from home on my phone. I ended up getting through to my dad and to my partner, but both had a very difficult time hearing me and in fact it only increased their worry – as they felt helpless to my situation.
Let us also consider the physical nature that we Northerners face, particularly on remote highways. Often times in poor weather conditions, like a white out, it is almost impossible to see ahead of you, thus putting you and anyone in front of you – whether they are stopped or not – in serious danger. If the weather was as we often do get it this time of year – freezing rain or blustery snowfalls – it would be extremely difficult and dangerous to be wandering outside of the car trying to find service or help.
Lucky for us, it was a pretty straight stretch of the highway, so as long as everyone was paying attention, and made a conscious effort to go around my car, we were likely to remain unharmed. Also in our fortune was the fact that the weather, while cold, was pretty clear, which lowered the chances of us or the car being hit while we waited for an officer and tow.
That brings me to the next major issue that anyone facing car troubles on a remote highway will face. After I finally got through to the operator, it took half an hour for him to get there. That was half an hour of my car on the highway across the lane at risk of further damage or of causing an accident. Once he arrived, and put his lights on behind me, I felt much more secure. After that though, it took another 45 minutes before a tow truck arrived. By this point, my teeth were chattering and I was literally shaking from head to toe. Nothing brought me more relief than hopping into the cab of the tow truck and heading towards Wawa, which was another 45 minutes after he arrived, as it was extremely difficult to get my damaged and fragile car onto the flatbed.
I got some really interesting insights from our tow truck driver on our drive in. Aside from telling us that he had never seen a car with the strange damage that mine had, he told us that, in high season in this area, he received 5 to 6 calls per day, most from tourists and students. Now, let’s take a minute to consider what that means for this demographic. Generally, students do not have a ton of disposable income to be spending on car repairs. Having to traverse this particular highway to attend school or to visit family is a huge stressor. The fact that there is no alternative route deters, and will continue to deter, students from up north attending post-secondary school in Sault Ste. Marie.
In terms of tourists, there are other stark realities that we as northerners need to address. To put it into perspective, I know that when I travel abroad or even to another part of Canada, I avoid driving at all costs. I don’t know the roads, I don’t know the area, I may not have cellular data or calling capabilities, and nothing about renting a vehicle or having to drive sounds even remotely appealing to me while I am travelling or on vacation. I would much rather rideshare or take a bus, train, or fly from location to location. Not only because it lowers my stress level, but it also allows me to really take in the local culture and landscapes. It also gives me a chance to gather my bearings. Whether it be through taking a much-needed nap or catching up on work from my laptop. As a tourist or traveller, these stolen moments are extremely important in getting the full experience of a country and optimizing your time.
Now, imagine tourists coming to visit our beautiful, remote landscapes, and realizing that one of their only options is to drive… to drive in a region they are unfamiliar with, potentially in a country they have never been to, in an area so remote that you could end up stranded with no municipality within an hour and a half driving distance in either direction? What I am saying is, how do we drive tourism to our region when we cannot even offer the methods of transportation to get to these destinations?
Maybe for some of you this sounds redundant, or difficult to relate to. I had trouble putting this all into words, but I really did think it was important to share, and hope that you all see – whether you support rail renewal or not – that we have inherent issues with our transportation and broadband systems in Northern Ontario, and my passion and dedication to help change this has only grown stronger.
I hope I have portrayed to you that this experience really impacted the way that I see my job and the work that MCFN is doing with stakeholders and municipalities to renew rail in the north. You really don’t realize how valuable something it is until you are in a situation where you need it. That is exactly what happened to me. I can’t stop thinking about how much worse it could have been, but I can tell you one thing for certain. After my experience, I would never opt to take my car up north for an overnight trip if passenger rail was an option.
Passenger rail service would change the fact of the north. It would lower the sheer number of accidents and tows and road construction needed. It would promote relaxing and leisurely tourism into the wooded wilderness. It would allow me to get to three meetings and one event successfully – and in fact, I would have been able to work on my laptop on the way over – without having to drop cash on car repairs.
Share your stories with me. E-mail Riley@BearTrain.ca.
This week, I wanted to do something a little different to showcase some of the different ways that the Bear Train could work in conjunction with other organizations to increase tourism and preserve the history in the Algoma region. Below is an interview between myself and Nathan Brown, who is the Lead Director for the Searchmont Historical Society, in efforts to restore and renew the station.
R: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
N: I am Nathan Brown. Originally born in England, I have always been around trains, from my first layout, and this continued on when I moved to Canada. Trains have always been a fascination, and have always had my interest. Prior to taking on the station project, I had picked up a book, authored by Ron Brown – “The train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” Ron has done various books on ghost stations, railways through ontario, and even backroads of Ontario. After reading that book, it brought me on the path where I am today, working on the Searchmont Station.
R: Tell me about the history of the station.
N: Searchmont Station (named after T.C. Search) was built in 1902, long before most of the other stations on the Algoma Central Railway. This station was to be named Goulais Station, but it was changed to honour T.C. Search, treasurer of the Lake Superior Pulp and Paper Company. The station at the time, boasted a circular waiting room – other wise know then as the ‘smoking room.’ The waiting room was one of a kind, which was later adapted by Canadian Pacific Railway into their stations as the Witches Hat. The station had living quarters for the station master and their family, as well as a freight shed. In 1929, the circular waiting room burned down – leaving only the main portion and freight shed. This would once again change in the late 40’s when a modern (for its time), update was done. This would see the station quarters upgraded, and the freight shed brought down, leaving just the middle portion of the station. Additionally, this would mean that the woman’s waiting room become the freight shed, and a common waiting room was created.
Today, the station is run down, and has been destroyed inside as a result of vandalism in 2008, as well as on going broken windows due to extreme weather conditions.
R: What efforts have been made so far to restore the station?
An effort to secure land for the station was top concern. The Searchmont Historical Society would receive a donation of part of the land from the Algoma Central Corporation, and a deal was struck with the railway to purchase the other property, which would make a complete station property as it was when first built. Some partnerships have been created with Tulloch Engineering, Home Depot, the ACC, and Great Lakes Honda, as well as other groups in the Soo who want to be a part of this initiative to maintain an aspect of Northern Ontario’s history. Drawings have been and are being worked on by David Ellis, and once we in a position with funds, work will begin.
R: In terms of funding and planning, what are the next steps for this initiative?
N: Next, now we have a working date, is to get funding in place, get incorporated, and get our paper work, which will be going in very shortly, to become an official charitable group. Once some technical details are worked out, we can start moving forward with on-site storage, and buildings, so we have a secure location to hold items, and equipment. Land will be cleared likely in early 2018 as we work towards our official start date.
R: What can the public do to help?
N: We really need donations in the form of funds or material items. Either would be greatly appreciated. We will be able to provide gift receipts as well shortly. Funding will come from only a few sources… and the public is half of that. We appeal to anyone, if you can, donate, or buy items in our gift shop, that will hopefully have a store front in 2018. We do have a couple of fundraisers that will be planned for 2018, and we hope these will bring in a lot of revenue. Any support is welcome. We are seeking sponsors, and partners who would like to have the station back up and running, saving part of our railway heritage.
R: How does the Bear Train fit into the picture for this project?
N: Once the Bear Train begins its run, we anticipate people utilizing Searchmont Station to catch the train heading north. The ability of the Bear Train, operated by the Missanabie Cree First Nation, to have special runs of the train, such as the snow train or theatre events, will help bring people to Searchmont, in addition to helping them access their property and land. With renewed train service, it will open up more doors to not only the station, but the town, and the ski hill as well. I really think it will help to boost historical and event tourism in the North and for the Searchmont region as well.
R: What are some of the potential events and fundraising opportunities you have looked into?
N: We hope to have some events in 2018, like a fundraiser dinner, as well as a few other events that are currently in the early planning stages. Once the station is up and running, the station will feature seasonal lodgings, rental of not only the circular waiting room, but the outside for events like picture taking, weddings, etc. There is even the possibility of movie productions. The station will offer a learning centre to house some of the history of the area, as well as its relation to the railway.
R: Anything else you’d like to share?
N: We need everyone’s help. Railways are what opened Canada, to one and all, which is all the more reason to save what we have left and keep it for future generations. Learn about stations, railway history, and how much of an impact railways have always had. The station will be rebuilt, back to how it was in 1902, to preserve that element of our history. Better to save and help now before its gone. Once it is gone, its gone forever.
Financial donations can be done in person at our temporary location, and at our storefront in 2018 – amounts over $25.00 will be provided a receipt for tax purposes.
For material donations, please email us @ email@example.com
You can also check out our Gift Shop.
Last month, I shared with all of you the story behind Canada’s 1st First Nation run train, Tshiuetin Rail. This week, the narrative of Indigenous rail development continues with Keewatin Railway Company (KRC), the second First Nations owned and operated train in our country. In 2003, as a result of the mine closure near Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, Hudson Bay Railway Company (HBR), owned by Omnitrax, an American-based company, announced its intention to abandon this rail line (Keewatin Railway Company, 2017). And thus, a plan was hatched between Tataskweyak Cree First Nation, Mathias Colomb Indian Band, and War Lake First Nation to solve the problem, and ensure connectivity in Manitoba for remote communities (Keewatin Railway Company, 2017). They began to seek commitment from various levels of government, and were extremely successful in doing so. They received $4.9 million grant dollars from the government of Canada, and $1.25 million from the government of Manitoba (Government of Canada, 2006). The three First Nations contributed $500,000, as a combined total, and thus the purchase of the line was made possible. Additionally, the federal government gave KRC $3.2 million dollars in start-up fees and investments, which covered the purchase of locomotives, rail equipment, transitional services, office equipment, and infrastructure rehabilitation on the rail line (Government of Canada, 2006). Much of this funding came directly from the Regional and Remote Rail Serviced Contribution Program, administered by Transport Canada.
As a result, on March 31st, 2006, KRC completed the purchase of Sherridon rail line from HBR. Experienced rail personnel were hired to train First Nations members for physical labour, management positions, and jobs and careers in administration. This has opened up a slew of opportunities for these First Nations communities. KRC now operates two round-trips per week, crossing 400-kilometres of remote wilderness, fourteen stations, a nine-hour trip in total, between the Pas and Pukatawagan (VIA Rail, 2017). However, passenger service is only one piece to their puzzle. KRC has also developed a freight service along the short-line, as well as nation-wide rail maintenance service (Keewatin Rail Company, 2017). Their ability to have expanded the rail service beyond the capabilities of its original service created a sustainable rail business, which is highlighted by the fact that, despite having old and battered rail cars, KRC managed to shave off 5-hours of average run time since taking over (Keewatin Rail Company, 2017). They have also kept up, maintained, and improved safety standards. With a strong emphasis on arctic tourism, and providing accessible and affordable transportation for people who take the train every week to do grocery and supplies shopping, as well as attend business meetings and appointments in the city, there is a diverse and viable ridership that is continually growing.
This particular rail is extremely important to the Cree First Nations who run it, as it highlights their complex and longstanding history with the rail. As the train was a part of colonization, bringing white settlers and their industrialization, it has now come full circle with the First Nations becoming the owners of the rail. KRC stated that it was extremely difficult for them to get a line of credit. Much like Tshiuetin, they found it difficult to build their credibility as a result of stereotypes and prejudice against Indigenous people (Keewatin Rail Company, 2017). However, their success has provided both respective areas with a much needed service and further developed business and rail skills to set them up for future successes. KRC has given quotes on the damaged rail in Churchill, and Mathias Colomb First Nations is one of the parties interested in purchasing it. KRC has also offered us at Missanabie Cree mentorship and guidance in our mission to restore the Algoma Passenger train.
Government of Canada. (May 2006). Manitoba Railway Line Transferred to First Nations Company. Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/news/archive/2006/05/manitoba-railway-line-transferred-first-nations-company.html?=undefined&wbdisable=true
Keewatin Railway Company. (2017). Passenger, Freight, Maintenance. Retrieved from www.krcrail.ca
Via Rail. (2017). The Pas – Pukatawagan Train. Retrieved from http://www.viarail.ca/en/explore-our-destinations/trains/prairies-and-northern-manitoba/the-pas-pukatawagan/description
Photo credit from CP Rail.
Join representatives from the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) and Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) on November 30th at 6:30pm at Mile 77.98 Park Road, Dubreuilville CP rail stop for a festive holiday celebration organized by CP and the Municipality of Dubreuilville. The CP Holiday Train program spreads holiday cheer across Canada and the U.S.A, inviting attendees to give non-perishable goods or monetary donations to help ease the stress on those who are less fortunate in our communities around the holiday season. There is no fee to attend the event, and there is live music by Colin James and Emma-Lea, with hot beverages provided by Dubreuilville businesses. Pat Dubreuil, owner of the Magpie Relay Resort, is offering those attending the event a discounted room rate. For the discount, call to book at 705-626-0666 and mention that you will be at the holiday train event. More information on this event and the full schedule can be found at the CP website.
The Holiday Train stop happens yearly at the connection in Dubreuilville Franz area between CP Rail and CN Rail, highlighting possible future tourism and events that could happen at Franz as well as in the surrounding area, which would further boost the regional economy. Additionally, since Franz is within the traditional territory of MCFN, who have taken on leadership in the initiative to restore passenger rail service on the CN line from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, this opens up a number of possibilities for future Indigenous and cross-cultural teaching and tourism. Representatives from CAPT and we from MCFN are taking this opportunity to support rail in our region as well as engaging and communicating with important municipalities along the rail line, Wawa and Dubreuilville, who are valued supporters of the project to reinstate the Algoma Passenger Train as the Bear Train (Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban). We encourage all of our rail supporters to try and make it out to this event, as it is for a great cause, and all donated proceeds stay local.
This CP Holiday Train and food drive program began in 1999, and every year, it visits a span of 171 communities. The program accepts both cash and food donations. CP Rail provides a much needed service for Northern Ontario, primarily for employment purposes between White River and Chapleau, and we can only hope that the Bear Train is once able to offer the same opportunities!
If you have any questions about joining us, or want to see how you can help to renew, restore, and improve rail service in Ontario please visit www.captrains.ca or contact Howie Wilcox at 705-942-9990 firstname.lastname@example.org, Dorothy Macnaughton 705-759-0733 email@example.com or Linda Savory-Gordon at 705-943-0971 at Linda.Savory-Gordon@algomau.ca. If you have questions specifically regarding the Missanabie Cree’s initiative to run the Bear Train on the CN line from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, please contact Riley Smith at 705-257-8782 or Riley@BearTrain.ca.
For more background information on CP rail’s Holiday train, check out Rails Western, where you can also find a short documentary.
To check out the accommodations at the Magpie Resort online, click here.
This week, I wanted to share the intriguing and successful story of Tshiuetin Rail Transportation. This was in fact the first First Nations ran train in our country, setting a great example of Indigenous entrepreneurship for initiatives like the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban. ‘Tshiuetin’ means North Wind. To the First Nations groups who own it, the Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, the Neskapi Nation of Kawawchikamach, and the Nation Innu Matimekush of Lac Jon, it signifies a fresh wind blowing, which is fitting, as this company has brought a breath of fresh air to the Indigenous community that has taken it on, as well as the surrounding areas (Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc., 2009). This particular train runs from Sept-Iles, Quebec, with a 20-minute stop at Emril Junction, Labrador, where the track splits, one track headed to Schefferville, Quebec, and the other going to Wabush, Labrador (Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc., 2009). The 10 to 12-hour journey, covering 217 kilometres of swamps, lakes, rivers, and hills, doesn’t pass through any other towns. It is a complete and total form of remote transportation (Wheeler, 2015).
The rail line was sold to the group of three First Nations in 2005, by the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), for a mere $1.00 – “as is, where is” (DESC, CBC, Monnet, 2017). The rail was abandoned by the IOC because mining moved out of the area, and therefore the train lost much of its use and productivity, in the eyes of the corporate world. However, as many rail advocates know, the benefits of rail for a community can go far beyond simply the monetary value. The two round-trips per week, consisting of two locomotives, four freight cars, three passenger cars, and one dining car, provide community members, primarily the Innu, with access to visit families, healthcare, educational, and business institutions, as well as groceries, supplies, and clothing (DESC, CBC, Monnet, 2017). Many people make the trip on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to get their supplies. It is a very vital service for these people when you consider the fact that a round-trip is $115 for Indigenous people, and $175 for non-Indigenous people, versus the $1200 round-trip flight it would cost one individual to travel between the same locations (DESC, CBC, Monnet, 2017).
The Board of Directors for Tshiuetin have expressed that since the rail began operations, December 1st, 2005, there has been a significant decrease in social problems, a surplus in meaningful jobs and careers, and a sense of responsibility and ownership for the First Nations people (Wheeler, 2015). Since Tshiuetin has employed 40 people, 85% of which are First Nations, it has helped to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of those in Indigenous communities that surround the area, and promoted cross-cultural learning as well (Wheeler, 2015). One of the most important thing to the First Nations who own and operate the rail is that they feel as though it has helped them to recover something that belongs to them; and ultimately took a step in the direction of reconciliation (Wheeler, 2015).
In terms of what comes next, the future looks continually bright for Tshiuetin and its stakeholders. By 2015, this company became one of the main employers in the transportation industry in Northern Quebec, which has helped to build enormous credibility, not just for the First Nations who own the rail, but for First Nations business endeavours as a whole (DESC, CBC, Monnet, 2017). More and more jobs and economic development is expected with access to mining jobs and the recent securement of Tshiuetin to transport iron ore, which has helped to expand their business and vision for their company (Wheeler, 2015).
Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc. (2009). Tshiuetin Rail Transportation. Retrieved from www.tshiuetin.net
Wheeler, M. (February 2015). Schefferville train a vital link to life in Quebec’s north. CBC News. Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/schefferville-train-a-vital-linik-to-life-in-quebec-s-north-1.2956267
DESC Images, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Producers) & Monnet, C., (Director). (January 017). Tshiuetin: A First Nations-Owned Railway. Canada: CBC News Shot Docs. Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/shortdocs/shorts/tshiuetin
(Photo from ATTN News)
While November 11th is an integral day for our nation to take the time to remember the sacrifices made by so many brave men and women fighting for peace and prosperity, November 8th is important to our Indigenous counterparts, who take this day to specifically remember those Indigenous people who sacrificed their livelihood, their culture, and, for many, their lives, in order to serve Canada. It is important to acknowledge those Indigenous veterans who returned home and “fell through the cracks,” primarily in the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War (Berthiaume, November 2016). In other words, they were shuffled from department to department, with bureaucracies in disagreement over who should be taking initiative to support and provide benefits to Indigenous veterans. Many faced crises in identity – both emotionally and officially on paper – as they missed out on elements of their culture, and therefore would lose out on the housing, educational, and other band provisions (Berthiaume, November 2016). However, the Canadian government was reluctant to give to them what they gave to non-Indigenous veterans, leaving them largely unsupported. With nowhere to turn, having been abandoned by their bands and by the Canadian government, many ended up homeless, hungry, or addicted to various substances. In 2000, the federal government offered an official apology and offered a compensation of $20,000 per veteran (Government of Canada, March 2017).
In addition to acknowledging these issues in the spirit of reconciliation, it is also a time to remember those who did not come back from the war at all. It is estimated that, between the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War, more than 12,000 Indigenous people joined the Canadian military. More than 500 were killed, and countless more were injured (Government of Canada, March 2017). The Veterans Affairs Department has stated that more Indigenous people served overseas in those global conflicts than any other ethnic group in Canada, as a percentage of their total population (Government of Canada, March 2017).
Indigenous soldiers were most valued for the skills they brought to the military, such as patience, bravery, stealth, and marksmanship, traits that were well-taught and passed down for thousands of years from hunting lifestyles (Government of Canada, March 2017). The First World War saw a number of Indigenous veterans become elite snipers, and the Second World War, with more modern technology, saw Indigenous soldiers serving as brave airmen and code talkers. Code talkers are an interesting concept because of the way they utilized the traditional language to contribute to the war effort. For example, Cree soldiers would interact on the radio, and then translate to the intended recipients on each end so that the enemy could not intercept the messages, thus keeping all operations as secretive as possible (Government of Canada, 2017).
Another often overlooked wartime effort that Indigenous people contributed to was on the home front. They donated money, food, and clothing, as many Canadians did, but they also graciously granted the use of portions of their reserve land to allow for the construction of new airports, rifle ranges, and fence installations, primarily in Ontario, Manitoba, and British Colombia (Government of Canada, March 2017). These are huge sacrifices that should not be overlooked when studying our history as a Canadian nation.
This spirit of resilience has outlasted the years, as there are currently more than 2,500 Indigenous people serving in the Canadian military (Government of Canada, March 2017).
Every year on November 8th, in various parts of the country, commemorations and ceremonies occur to honour specifically those Indigenous people who have served. While it is not yet an official day recognized by the government, it has been growing in size and scope since the first ceremony was inaugurated by Winnipeg’s city council in 1994 (Government of Canada, March 2017). Below is a photo of the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, located in Ottawa, which was unveiled on National Aboriginal Day in 2001.
(Photo from Government of Canada)
The artwork was done by Lloyd Pinay, and the monument was funded by the National Aboriginal Veterans Association and generous donations from Canadian citizens (Government of Canada, August 2017). This monument is significant in its symbolism because it features four men and women from different Indigenous groups across the nation, as well as a bronze eagle, a wolf, a bear, a bison, and a caribou, all of which are powerful animals that represent spiritual guides to many Indigenous cultures (Government of Canada, August 2017).
Berthiaume, L. (November, 2016). National Aboriginal Veterans Day remembers thousands of Indigenous who served. The Canadian Press. Retrieved from http://www.metronews.ca/news/canada/2016/11/08/growing-debate-around-remembrance-of-canada-s-aboriginal-veterans.html
Government of Canada. (March 2017). Indigenous Veterans. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/aboriginal-veterans
Government of Canada. (August 2017). National Aboriginal Veterans Monument. Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved from http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrace/memorials/national-inventory-canadian-memorials/details/7972#photo1