A Festive Journey: Canadian Pacific Holiday Train Stops in Dubreuilville

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 wwilcox@shaw.ca, Dorothy Macnaughton 705-759-0733 rmacnaug@bell.net 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.

Tshiuetin ‘North Wind’: The Success of the 1st First Nation Ran Train in Canada

Photo credit: Tshiuetin Rail

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).

References

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

The Significance of National Aboriginal Veterans Day


(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).

References

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

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.

References

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