A Timeline of Struggle and Abandonment in Churchill, Manitoba

Photo credit from CBC News

The town of Churchill, Manitoba, is Canada’s only Arctic seaport, and is strategically located on the coast of Hudson Bay, where Canadian National Railway operated what became known as the Hudson Bay Railway. Since 1926, the Port of Churchill has played a critical role in the development of Canada’s North, focusing primarily on the export of grain. In 1996-97, American-based company, Omnitrax, acquired over 1,000 kilometres of CN railway in Manitoba, including the line to Churchill. The port of Churchill supported Canada’s claim to sovereignty in the North, as It is a venture that has continually captured new business in the North from international customers and investors (Port of Churchill, 2012).

However, things took a turn when the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was dismantled in 2012 by the Conservative government under Stephen Harper’s leadership, in order to ‘promote a free market’ with the privatization of the organization (Macdonald, 2014). CWB monopolized the purchase of wheat and barley, acting as a marketing agency on behalf of Western Canadian farmers, and thus transferring profits back to the farmers. As explained by Jake MacDonald (2014)

“The CWB’s mandate was to pay farmers a base price for their grain, identify markets, negotiate the best price, deliver the goods, issue advance cheques and make final payment after the crop was sold. If the wheat market went up, farmers pocketed the profits. If the market went down, the government absorbed the loss. Nothing was subtracted from the farmer’s share except the cost of marketing and delivery.”

The government approved the purchase of CWB by Global Grain Group, a joint venture between Bunge Canada and SALIC Canada (a subsidiary of the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company) for $250 million, with the remaining equity of CWB being held by its member farmers (Macdonald, 2014). This resulted in a huge loss in premiums, and buyers of wheat having to cover unexpected costs (such as storage time, interest expense, exchange rates) which the CWB had always covered before, and thus companies used their own portside facilities in other cities, depleting the grain exports out of Churchill. As such, the Port of Churchill was closed and what was left behind was a ghost town. It had huge implication across Western Canada, causing farmers across the prairie region to suffer (H. Gow, personal communication, October 2nd 2017).

In 2013, it was announced by the Federal-Provincial Task Force on the Future of Churchill that since 1997, Ottawa and Manitoba have spent or committed $197 million “to benefit, directly or indirectly, both the privately owned port and rail line leading to it, and the community of Churchill” (Hutchinson, 2016).

Despite this, in 2014, Omnitrax abandoned the plan to haul oil to the port by rail, and in 2015, negotiated, but failed to finalize, a sale of the railway and port to a consortium of Manitoba First Nations (Hutchinson, 2016). Manitoba invested another $800,000 for capital improvements, but in July of 2016, Omnitrax announced a suspension of the summer shipping season, and also entered into a court dispute with the province over outstanding payments (Kavanagh, 2017.

From 2016 until the flooding this past Spring, Omnitrax, in conjunction with Via Rail, were operating a limited passenger service to get people and their groceries/basic resources in and out of Churchill (H. Gow, personal communication, October 2nd 2017). However, with the washouts that occurred this past year, rail cars cannot bring in supplies or transport people in and out of Churchill. This has harmed the tourist economy, and caused the price of scarce goods to skyrocket, as supplies now need to be flown in, which has almost tripled the cost (H. gow, personal communication, October 2nd 2017).. Omnitrax has stated that they need $60 million dollars for repairs, and that they need government assistance to cover these costs (Rabson, 2017). The Canadian government has argued that it is Omnitrax’s responsibility to repair the tracks and restore rail service. The differentiating views have resulted in what is essentially a standoff between the Canadian government and the American company, Omnitrax (Rabson, 2017). The federal government has said they will step in, but this has yet to happen.

As of June 2017, a $20 million-dollar deal to finance the sale of the rail through a loan, was made between Omnitrax and Missinippi Rail LP, a group of different Manitoba First Nations communities, including Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, one of three owners of Keewatin Railway (Kavanagh, 2017). There is speculation that the federal government has pulled their support from this deal, and there is question as to whether or not the province of Manitoba will support the deal as well (Kavanagh, 2017). However, the feds have stated their commitment to help with interim funding to fix the line, and to help facilitate the sale.

In the meantime, over 20 sections are washed out on the 820-kilometre rail link from Churchill to The Pas (H. Gow, personal communication, Octovbr 2nd 2017). An entire community, a community that was once Canada’s only Arctic sea port, has been reduced to a ghost town, with people moving away for lack of jobs, resources, and soaring costs.

We will continue to update you on the Churchill situation as the story continues to unfold, but I want to leave you with a little perspective. There are lessons to be taken from the struggles faced by our friends in Churchill. Lesson one is clear as day; Indigenous bands are capable of running a rail and making viable economic decisions when it comes to transportation. Two examples are Tshieutin Rail in Quebec and Keewatin Rail in Manitoba, both of which have provided an essential service to the communities surrounding them while also providing economic development and job opportunities for their band members. Ultimately, these are two perfectly good operations, and there is no reason to think that the Missanabie Cree cannot do it with Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban, nor is there reason to think that Missinipi Rail cannot accomplish it in Churchill.

The second comfort we can find from Churchill’s struggle is that the people of Algoma – of CAPT, of NEORN – are not alone in advocating for rail. We must stand in solidarity of support the development of rail infrastructure across Canada.

For additional information on this matter, check out Transport Action Canada, who were very helpful in providing resources for the writing of this article.


Hutchinson, B. (August 2016). Port in a Storm. National Post. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/features/port-in-a-storm-people-in-churchill-believed-only-weather-could-defeat-them-they-were-wrong

Kavanagh, S. (September 2017). Competing groups join forces to buy rail line and Port of Churchill. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/churchill-omnitrax-rail-dumas-spence-ottawa-manitoba-port-1.4275738

Macdonald, J. (November 2014). Why so many farmers miss the Wheat Board. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/why-so-many-farmers-miss-the-wheat-board/article21810531/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Port of Churchill. (August 2012). Port of Churchill. Hudson Bay Port Company. Retrieved from www.portofchurchill.ca

Rabson, M. (September 2017). Omnitrax told: Fix Churchill rail line now or sell it. CTV News. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/omnitrax-told-fix-churchill-rail-line-now-or-sell-it-1.3581551

A Student’s Struggle in the North

(Photo credit from Brendan Sutherland)
The following is a direct story as told by Brendan Sutherland,

“Being a student moving away for university is challenging enough but with the added stress of inaccessibility – it becomes even worse. My name is Brendan Sutherland and I am a student attending Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie. I was born and raised in Hearst which is roughly 6 hours north of the Sault.

When deciding where I should attend university after completing high school, I knew I wanted to stay in the north rather than venturing far south which is what most of my classmates did. Algoma University seemed like a perfect choice. It had small class sizes, one-on-one time with professors, and a focus on indigenous content. It quickly became apparent that travel was going to be an issue. Traveling to the Sault from Hearst by car is about 6 hours. In the rough winter weather, it becomes even longer and more dangerous due to roads not being plowed regularly and ice buildup. Traveling by bus is even more of a headache. There is no bus route that travels directly between Sault Ste Marie and Hearst. Instead the ride takes you from the Sault, to Sudbury, North Bay, Earlton, Timmins, and finally to Hearst. The trip would take 32 hours one way with 4 transfers which is completely unrealistic for a student wanting to visit home for the weekend. The bus trip takes 64 hours in total. In previous years, the bus trip was somewhat shorter by going from Sault, to Sudbury, Timmins, then Hearst but it has increased in transfers and travel time in the past year alone. The bus also only travels on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, the bus does travel to White River which is 3 hours away from Hearst but you would have to plan for someone to pick you up and drive the remaining 3 hours to Hearst.

Another option for students is to book a flight to a nearby airport. There is no airline service to Hearst. Bearskin Airlines flies between Sault Ste Marie and Kapuskasing. These flights can be out of a student’s financial reach with most flights costing at least $500 one-way. The entire trip could cost a student roughly $1,000. However, these flights have been reported to be ending service sometime soon. Porter Airlines flies between Sault Ste Marie and Timmins but the students would have to make travel arrangements to get back to Hearst which takes 3 hours by automobile from Timmins.

Reinstating the Algoma passenger rail service is the ideal solution to these problems. Before the passenger service was cancelled I could take the train home to visit my family. It was ideal because it was a safe way to travel quickly home. I could bring luggage and items with me which would be impossible on a bus or plane. The inaccessibility discourages students in the north from studying in the north. This is especially important for small institutions like Algoma University and Sault College because it can affect their enrollment and student population. Reinstating the passenger rail service benefits students which I feel people often forget about in this equation.
In conclusion, this is a summary of the public transportation decline for students between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst over the past 3 years:
• 2014: Safe, all season passenger train service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst
• 2015: No passenger train service
• 2016: Bus service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst: approximately 30 hours one way or 60 hours round-trip (Sault to Sudbury to Timmins to Hearst)
• 2017: Bus service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst: approximately 32 hours one way or 64 hours round-trip (Sault to Sudbury, North Bay, Earlton, Timmins and Hearst)
• 2017: Passenger train service still not available”

Brendan Sutherland

When Art History Takes to the Rails

(Photo credit from Group of Seven)

This article was written in conjunction with the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Train (CAPT)’s Linda Savory-Gordon, who has been a huge advocate of passenger rail service in the Algoma region and supporter of the Missanabie Cree-led initiative to renew the train. We are sharing it with you all to remind you of the diverse collection of tourist opportunities that serve economic, cultural, and personal needs, both for locals of the Algoma region and those travelling from abroad.

Every September from 2007 until 2014, the popular Group of Seven & Glenn Gould Train Event, sponsored by the CAPT, took to the rails. Sold out every year, the Train Event has answered a need and takes those who love the spectacular colours of an Algoma Highlands autumn to the same sites that inspired artists from the Group of Seven and Canada’s iconic pianist, Glenn Gould. Not only did this event satisfy art history lovers, but it also gave participants the opportunity to really connect with nature as well. Since the train service was cancelled in 2015, many people have asked to have their names put on a waiting list to take part in this event when the passenger service resumes.
The Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event is an opportunity to partake in presentations, lecture-demonstrations, live music, food, a coach trip along Lake Superior’s storied eastern coast and, of course, a train ride through the magnificence of the Algoma Highlands. Travelers from far and wide want to participate in this event due to the historical significance of the Algoma rail corridor to the Group of Seven’s development. It was when Group of Seven artists stayed in a box car and tourist cabins along the ACR from 1918 to 1923 that they first bonded as a group, painted some of their most significant works and decided to become the Group of Seven.
The annual Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event kicks off on Friday evening with a reception and presentation on that year’s featured artist, at the Art Gallery of Algoma.  On the Saturday and Sunday, participants enjoy the best of the Algoma Highlands. This includes the train trip on Saturday between Sault Ste. Marie and Hawk Junction aboard the Algoma passenger train, travelling on the same rails that took members of the Group of Seven to their various painting sites along the ACR. The tour is conducted by Michael Burtch, art historian and researcher. Also included is the coach drive on Sunday along the magnificent eastern coastline of Lake Superior – a drive that has been called one of Canada’s finest road trips. Stops are made along the coast to visit lookouts and points of interest including Lake Superior Provincial Park and its comprehensive Visitors’ Centre.
Wawa marks the Glenn Gould portion of the trip. Here, participants trace Gould’s footsteps around the beautiful waterfalls and shorelines in the Wawa environs that were frequented by the pianist. On Saturday evening there is a dinner, then a presentation by musicologist, Dale Innes, on the role that the north played in the music of Glenn Gould. Gould was a regular visitor to Wawa and the areas around Michipicoten so, fittingly, the evening is centered at the Wawa Motor Inn, Glenn Gould’s former lodging. 
On Sunday morning participants have the opportunity to participate in a lecture-demonstration art session, “Art and Landscape: Bring your Sketchbook and Camera” or a coach tour of Wawa. It was – and we have hopes that it will again be – a great opportunity to learn and be inspired! A delicious lunch is served on Lake Superior at the beautiful Rock Island Lodge.
(CAPT) sponsors the Train Event as a means to get passengers on board to have an enjoyable experience, and hopefully gain appreciation for the historical significance of the Algoma Central Railway and the Algoma Highlands through which the train travels. CAPT and the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban initiative, as led by the Missanabie Cree First Nation, have been working closely together to check out the various marketing opportunities and means to renew this experience once the train runs again! Whether you are missing this event as a devout train rider, or are eager to take part in this art history experience amongst the Northern beauty, just know that we are working hard to bring it back to you an deserve this unique and distinguishing element of Algoma’s history.

For more information on CAPT and the Group of Seven Events of the past, click here.

For more information on Michael Burtch, click here.

The Heartbreaking – and Uplifting – History of Passenger Rail in the North

(Photo credit from Lauren Doxtater's First Nations Relationship to Development of Rail

In 1914, just over 100 years ago, passenger train service was completed from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst for the very first time, after over twenty years of building. It became a staple mode of transportation for residents and tourists alike – who utilized the train for a plethora of reasons, including social visits to communities, cultural visits to First Nation traditional territories, to reach employment and education institutions, to access regional healthcare and trap-lines, and to view the spectacular landscapes of the boreal forest and scenery that inspired work done by the Group of Seven artists, as well as Indigenous artists for 1000s of years before them (BDO, 2014, p. 10-11).

In the early 1900s, regional tourism was being heavily promoted in the Algoma region, primarily as a result of the influx of European settlers. Fishing, hunting, and camping became daringly attractive, and train was the only way to gain passage to the remote locations where this was possible. This created a huge boom in the northern economy, and the development of many small communities along the rail corridor, many of which still exist today – and are just as remote and beautiful as they were 100 years ago. This boom continued well into the latter half of the century, especially with the tourist stopover at the Agawa Canyon, and the subsequent development of the Snow Train (Malone, Given, Parson LTD., 6). In addition to those successful tours, the Algoma Central Railway also marketed a ‘Tour of the Line,’ which was a round-trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, ‘Tracks to Trails,’ which was a snowmobile excursion experience, ‘Wilderness by Rail,’ which consisted of partnerships with adventure travel and tour operators, and accommodation in the “Camp Car” at the Agawa Canyon (Malone, Given, Parson LTD., p. 7).

While many people enjoyed the touristic elements of the train, for many remote communities north of Sault Ste. Marie, rail was the only means of getting in and out of town. This was the case in Wawa (until the Trans-Canada highway reached it in 1960), and residents relied entirely on rail service in order to access any regional needs (CAPT, 2013). Today, with no passenger rail service, these issues have again become concerning. Read more about that in our blog on accessibility, found here

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the construction of the rail lines within the Algoma region attracted a huge population of European settlers, who took over the territory that First Nations people had lived on for centuries (CAPT, 2013). The Canadian government capitalized on the glory years of the railway by passing laws that allowed them to expropriate reserve land without consent or consultation of the First Nations peoples, with no compensation, in order to build infrastructure (CAPT, 2013). Not only did this create strife between European settlers and First Nations people, but it also split up many reserves.

The influence that the train had on First Nations people, primarily the Missanabie Cree, cannot be emphasized enough. Not only did they use the train to express and retain elements of their culture – such as to access trap lines and traditional hunting grounds – but there is a much darker side to the intricacies of the Algoma Passenger Train to the Missanabie Cree. Shirley Horn, member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation, recalls that as a child, she and many others would take the train from their home in Missanabie to the Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie (Doxtater, 2016). While this is a painful element of Canadian and First Nations’ history, it is an aspect of our collective history and past that we need to acknowledge through reconciliation (Doxtater, 2016). This, in some small way, can be achieved through government funding of Ontario’s 1st First Nation Train – Mask-wa Oo-Ta-Ban – so that the Missanabie Cree can self-govern this mode of passenger rail on their traditional territory, in a way they had never been privy to since the rail corridor land was stolen from them.


BDO Canda LLP. (August, 2014). Algoma Central Railway Passenger Rail Service: Economic Impact Statement. Sault Ste. Marie, On. 12-13.

Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) and Paat, B. Ed. (2013). 100th Anniversary Guidebook. All Aboard Algoma: Over 100 Years of Passenger Service, Sault Ste. Marie Museum Exhibit.

Doxtater, L. (January 2016). First Nations Relationship to Development of Rail: A Literature Review. Retrieved from the NORDIK Institute.

Malone, Given, Parsons LTD. (September, 2007). Algoma Central Railway: Wilderness Tourism by Rail Opportunity Study. 6-7.

Local Hotelier Speaks up About his Struggle

(Photo credit from Dean Anderson at Catalina Motel)

Over the past 12 years our business, Catalina Motel, has sought to harness the passenger train as a viable tourism opportunity through the spring, summer, fall and winter months. In the last few years that the train was operating, I was putting together as many Hearst/Hawk Junction based packages as I was selling Agawa Canyon Train Tour packages. Since the passenger train has ceased to operate, it has made it a daunting task to continue on as a year-round tourism based establishment. If we compared the last 2 winter seasons that the passenger train has not operated to the last 2 that is was operating we saw a cumulative decline in revenue from December to March by about 70%, directly related to the stoppage of the passenger train.

I appeal to people reading this blog to do what you can to support the restart of the passenger train in Algoma. I am just one of many that are affected negatively by its stoppage and ask that you contact our local politicians and ask them to help get the passenger train going again.

Dean Anderson
Catalina Motel

The Importance of Geographic and Financial Accessibility

(Photo from MENAE Entrepreneur)

As discussed in our blog on accessibility, there are a number of elements that come into play when defining something as ‘accessible,’ – as it is an extremely complex and layered topic. Key aspects of the argument for accessible travel are financial and geographical considerations.

Passenger trains, like the Mask-Wa Oo-Ta-Ban, are meant to be a service in the sense that they are not providing people with a luxury; but a basic necessity of life, the right to travel, to move safely from point A to point B. For such reason, rail ticket prices are nowhere nearly expensive as the astronomical cost of flying, especially on a regular basis. For example, flights from the Sault to Hearst are extremely expensive. With layovers, it can sometimes take up to 30 hours to reach Hearst from the Sault after considering layovers, and after that, you would still have an hour drive from the nearest airport in Kapuskasing to Hearst. To make matters worse, in late May, it was announced that Kapuskasing Airport will no longer provide passenger flights through Bearskin Airlines, but will only be servicing cargo from now on. To learn more about that, click here

The average monthly payment for a new vehicle in Canada, as reported in 2015, is $570 a month, for between 48 and 60 total months, equaling a range of $27,360 and $47,880 (Cato, 2015). For people with a limited income, this is not a feasible or desirable option. For students, this is almost entirely impossible. Local educational institutions, like Sault College and Algoma University, would benefit from more financially-accessible travel options in order to attract more students from remote communities, especially since they are essentially the nearest post-secondary institutions in the area.

In addition to that fact, there are no flights, or transportation, other than driving a car, from the Sault to Hawk-Junction, Dubreuilville, Missanabie, or Wawa. In terms of accessing northern communities via bus, Greyhound bus services has one bus a day that departs from the Sault to Wawa, at 12:15am, and one bus a day from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, at 7:30pm. The ride from the Sault to Hearst, would take one day, 7 hours, and 35 minutes to reach its destination, making it entirely inaccessible for anyone looking to make a weekend or urgent trip. Not to mention, while transport out of the Sault works local Saultites, for anyone coming out of a remote community, like Missanabie or Oba, accessibility is still an issue (NEORN, 2016). For more information on Greyhound routes and fares, click here

Ultimately, renewing rail service would help to make education more available in the north, while also serving the interests of the people, not just major corporations who naturally are motivated exclusively by increasing profits through transporting freight.

In conclusion, we can see how renewed rail service in the North is the only way to actually accommodate people from all walks of life in terms of transportation. Regardless of whether you can’t afford to drive, can’t afford to fly, or simply can’t justify the purchase of a car or excessive flight fees for individuals or entire families to move from place to place, your social, travel, and work life are suffering as a result of it. To find out more on how you can help us to renew rail service in the North, contact us at riley@beartrian.ca.


Cato, J. (April, 2015). How Much Canadian Pay on Average to Drive a New Car. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/industry-news/how-much-canadians-pay-on-average-to-drive-a-new-car/article24003473/

Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network. (July, 2016). Comments on Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy. North Bay, Ontario.

“If you know where you come from, you know where you are going”

Last week, I shared with you all my personal experience at the Gathering. This week, I wanted to share with you about one of the amazing lectures I attended in Missanabie. Missanabie Cree’s Community Development Coordinator, Gloria Harris’s, historical teaching of the Missanabie Cree was an amazing way for me to engage with the culture – while also satisfying the history buff that lives within! Learning about how the Missanabie Cree have struggled relentlessly in government negotiations to regain their traditional territory gave me a lot of perspective into the resilience and strength that they as a people have today.

Treaty No. 9 in 1906 skipped over Missanabie Cree First Nation, meaning that the government did not agree to negotiate with them, and in 1925, the Chapleau Game Preserve was created, spanning over two million acres across Missanabie Cree territory. Not only did this leave the First Nations without access to hunt and fish in order to sustain their lifestyle, but also without access to places that had been used for ceremonial purposes and to support the economic and cultural well-being of their people.

Additionally, not only did the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War cause worldwide devastation, but it also created a number of barriers for the Missanabie Cree, as well as other First Nations, in moving their land claims forward, as wars were being fought on more fronts than ever before, and the government was preoccupied with a number of international crises that halted negotiations. Between those difficult years of 1905 to 1945, the Missanabie Cree started to disperse because their land claim, as well as access to their traditional rights to hunt and fish on the Chapleau Game Preserve, were taking too long. They, and their families, needed access to employment, education, and healthcare institutions. This resulted in the community leaving their traditional territory and scattering across much of Canada and the U.S.A.

In 1951, Missanabie Cree was formally recognized as a band, but this did not mark the end of hardship for their people. From 1952 to 1990, residential schools continued to take Indigenous children away from their families, and there have been huge intergenerational impacts on the First Nations since then. Many are still being felt today. I learned that this is one of the reasons that sobriety is so greatly celebrated in First Nations communities, as alcohol has been one of the many impacts of colonization, and alcohol rehabilitation has been a huge catalyst for change in these communities.

Gloria then referenced Crazy Horse, an 18th century Native American soldier, who said,
“Upon suffering, beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness, and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colours of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.”

They say that Crazy Horse was a mystic, who could see into the future and knew all the ancient teachings. The long and tiresome upward battle that the Missanabie Cree, and many other First Nations, faced from 1992 on could be seen as “the Red Nation” truly rising again – out of the darkness of colonization.

1992 was the year that the first Chief and Council were elected, and they submitted their first Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE), and held their first Annual Gathering. In 1996, Ontario became a signatory in Treaty 9. In 1998, joint studies and legal reviews were conducted, led by Chief Shirley Horn, in order to explore and understand the full depth of what the Missanabie Cree as a people had lost. In 2006, under Chief Glenn Nolan, the Canadian government agreed to a land transfer of 15 square miles, and discussions continued for more land compensation based on the extent of loss under legal review. In 2008, Missanabie Cree turned down a $23 million dollar land settlement. Today, after years of Chief, Council, and the people as a whole passing the torch from generation to generation, the Missanabie Cree people, now under Chief Jason Gauthier, continue to fight for their land and economically develop Missanabie so that its people can return to their traditional territory again. As proudly expressed by Gloria in her teaching, a powerful group of children – the youngest generation of Missanabie Cree people – are rising, and they are educated and aware of their past and present. Gloria referred to them as the rainbow warriors, who will continue to lead their people into peaceful governance and community development in Missanabie.

As said by Craig Macfarlane, the motivational speaker that spoke with us at the Gathering, we need to think, what do we want our legacy to be? How are we going to face adversity? And I think the best answer to that question for the Missanabie community can be summed up by the phrase with which Gloria opened her lecture,

“if you know where you come from, you know where you are going.”

For more information on Gloria, Missanabie, and their traditional culture/teachings, click here

For more information on Craig Macfarlane, click here

An Intern’s Experience at the Gathering in Missanabie

August 12th to 17th, I had both the pleasure and honour of taking part in, and helping out with, the Annual Gathering at Missanabie. To say that I was nervous to go and take part in this cultural experience would be an understatement. But those nerves and doubts about leaving my comfort zone succumbed to my excitement to learn more about the culture of the people that I work with, and for, on a daily basis.

My drive up north allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the number of small communities and areas that the Algoma passenger train used to serve, the communities that I myself am working tirelessly to help now, with the renewal of train service.

One of my tasks throughout the Gathering included serving the Firekeepers and the Sacred Fire. This gave me the opportunity to learn about a critical element of Cree culture, whereby the spirit realm and the human realm are connected through the Sacred Fire, giving us an intimate connection to those who have passed to the Spirit World. By feeding the fire, we are passing food along to those spirits so that the ancestors who have passed can share a meal with us. So every meal, I prepared one plate for the Firekeeper, who never left the fire’s side in order to ensure that it did not go out for the entire duration of the Gathering, and one plate for the fire, on a piece of birch bark, and sprinkled with tobacco. I would tell the fire my name, and say “Migwetch,” so it would know who has fed it and that we are thankful to bring the community in its entirety together again. As an outsider in many ways, this was a surreal experience for me to see tradition in practice – and even take part in it.

Throughout the first couple days of the Gathering, I got to see the Eagle Staff, which represents the various entities that make up the community. I learned that it is important for Eagle Staffs to spend quality time with other Eagle Staffs so that they can be nurtured; the same way that we nurture ourselves by socializing and engaging with other communities. In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about the Eagle Staff is the sanctity of the eagle itself. Since it flies the highest, it is believed that eagles can speak directly to the Creator, making it and its feathers highly revered.

There were some times when we had a little fun, too. Councillor Sean Pine took me on a little backroading tour of Missanabie so that I could really see the territory for myself, including the old Renabi Gold Mine site, which had driven many Missanabie people from the traditional territory as settlers came to work on the prosperous gold mine following the Second World War. Not only was it a blast to speed through the bush and see all of what nature had to offer, but it was also amazing to think, “wow, one day this will be a community with infrastructure.” The Missanabie Cree people really are making history, and nothing put it into greater perspective than actually seeing that for myself.

My favourite day of the Gathering by far was when I set up a booth with the other businesses and joint ventures that Missanabie has. It was an amazing way to meet the business community that works alongside the Missanabie Cree, while also getting to know the community itself a little better, too. I was so pleased with how open everyone was to hearing about the train initiative and what I have been working on specifically since May. I cannot thank the Missanabie community enough for being so accommodating and engaging with me about the train project. I hope you all realize how much it meant to me to attend and help out with the Gathering, and I encourage you all to stay in touch with the train initiative and continue to let me know what you think so we can work together to build upon this opportunity for the Missanabie Cree people!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where I talk about some of the history and some more of the culture that I learned at the Gathering!

The Significance of Rail Service for Complete Accessibility

The most obvious argument for renewed rail service in the North is the issue of literal physical accessibility. Rail service is unique in being the only means of transportation that can literally connect communities across geographic areas – something that is critical in a country as big and geographically diverse as Canada. For many people living in remote communities, such as Oba, Franz, and the Trout Lake Community, passenger rail service was the only safe and reliable way to access education and healthcare. However, the argument for accessibility is complex and layered, and there are a number of other elements that come into play when defining something as ‘accessible.’

People with chronic conditions and limited mobility may experience difficulty planning a trip, especially since everyday tasks, let alone jumping on a plane or train, can seem very daunting. Since trains are spacious and user-friendly, rail provides accessible transportation for people with disabilities, especially people who cannot fly safely due to the risk it would be to their health. Many people who have suffered from epilepsy, take certain prescription medications, or who have experienced any serious head injuries can risk losing their license (Ontario Ministry of Transportation, 2009). This issue becomes more severe due to the fact that there are health concerns with sitting for very long periods of time on bus travel, where there is limited leg room and travelers do not have as much space to stand up and walk around to circulate blood and loosen muscles (NEORN, 2013). Not to mention, accessibility for people in wheelchairs is much better on trains than buses. As a result of the cancellation of rail service in Northern Ontario, these travel limitations can be detrimental to the social and mental health of many people who need access to reliable transportation, especially for long trips. To put this issue into perspective, consider that in 2012, Statistics Canada reported that 1.8 million people in Ontario ages 15+ have a disability (NEORN, 2016). Moreover, with an increasingly aging population in Northern Ontario, rail service is more important now than ever before. While many cannot drive anymore, certain conditions can make flying and long distance bus travel cumbersome or impossible.

(Photo credit from Ottawa Catholic School Board)

There are a number of mental barriers that prevent people from driving. Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and depression are mental illnesses that may not legally prevent someone from driving, but will create barriers in their minds that make them feel as though they cannot drive or could not handle the pressure of driving (Tyrell, 2015). A lot of this has to do with fear of hurting themselves or someone else. In addition to this, any mental illness or medication that affects the memory, creates suicidal thoughts, causes erratic behavioural disruptions, affects the ability to concentrate, causes drowsiness, or evokes feelings of agitation or irritation can seriously influence a person’s ability to drive (DVLA, 2016). In fact, they may even be reported as medically unfit to drive by a physician or nurse practitioner. This could result in them either never learning to drive at all or having their license taken away.

There are also certain pervasive disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and severe communication disorders, as well as particular learning disabilities that can completely hinder a person’s ability to learn how to drive safely (DVLA, 2016). This issue is more pronounced in Northern Ontario, as our population is overall much older than in other parts of the country. For many folks, as they get older, they develop neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which reduces a person’s ability to perform everyday activities as a result of decline in memory or other thinking skills (DVLA ,2016). For individuals affected, their mobility becomes entirely dependent on other people, as they are no longer fit to get behind the wheel of a car and drive.

While some people fear driving long distances on highways, but are perfectly comfortable driving to the corner store and back, many would be perfectly happy to cruise the highways in the summer, but shudder at the thought of highway driving in the cruel winter months (Tyrell, 2015). However, there are some that have a perpetual fear of driving that leads them to quit driving altogether (Tyrell, 2015). Regardless of the reasoning behind not driving, anyone who avoids getting behind the wheel of a car will see their social and family lives suffer as a result, especially for those of us who have family a great distance apart. This tends to affect people more so as they get older, as they become timid, and can sometimes become confused or uncomfortable at the thought of driving out of their comfort zone. Not only does this deprive them of opportunities, but it also takes away an element of their freedom and control.

And it is no wonder why anyone would feel this way about the roads, especially throughout harsh, Canadian winters. In the year 2012, as reported by Transport Canada, 1,823 fatal accidents occurred on Canadian highways. Of those 1,823, there were 2,077 fatalities (Transport Canada, 2012). That isn’t including the 122,140 other incidents that resulted in personal injury (Transport Canada, 2012).

Statistics for train travel are much more positive. In the same year, 2012, of the 1,051 rail accidents that occurred in Canada, there were only 82 total fatalities (Transportation Safety Board of Canada). Majority of train fatalities, 78 of the 82, were the result of crossing and trespassing by pedestrians, not massive derailments, which only caused 4 (Transportation Safety Board of Canada, 2012).

Regardless of why a person is considered mentally or physically unfit to drive, whether they have self-diagnosed or been diagnosed by a physician, the result is limited freedom and limited means to travel, especially in Northern Ontario, where accessing communities and businesses outside of your community can be extremely difficult and cumbersome. Without train service, many people in Northern Ontario are missing out on opportunities to travel socially, travel to and from remote locations, access their business and properties, and exercise their freedom to move from place to place without psychological strain or physical limitations.


Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DLVA). (2016). 4 Psychiatric Disorders – DVLA Assessing Fitness to Drive Guide. Retrieved from https://patient.info/pdf/13219.pdf

Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network. (July, 2016). Comments on Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy. North Bay, Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Transportation. (2009). Medical Review of Drivers. Retrieved from http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/medical-review-drivers.shtml

Transport Canada. (2012). Canadian Motor Vehicle Tragic Collision Statistics 2012: Collected in cooperation with the Canadian Council of Motor Administrators. Canada: Government of Canada.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada. (2015). Statistical Summary – Railway Occurrences Data Tables. Retrieved from http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/stats/rail/2015/sser-ssro-2015-tbls.asp#sser-ssro-2015-tbl-02″

Tyrrell, M. (2007). Are You Scared of Driving? Retrieved from http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/are-you-scared-of-driving

Why the World Needs More Environmentally Friendly Tourism

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Photo credits


Blue Community. (January, 2017). Economic Development Through Eco-Friendly Tourism. Retrieved from http://www.bluecommunity.info/topics/view/51cbfc76f702fc2ba81297e8/

Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT). (2011). Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains: Protecting and Enhancing Algoma’s Passenger Rail – Eco Tours. Retrieved from http://www.captrains.ca/ecotour/