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.

References

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