The Journey on the Iron Horse


(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.

Opportunities for Winter Adventure Along the Rail Corridor


(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.

References
All references are hyperlinked throughout this document. Please click to explore these amazing options in more depth.

When your car breaks down on Highway 17


(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.

Efforts to Rebuild and Restore Searchmont Historical Station


Photo from
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 @ info@searchmontstation.com

Please visit us on Facebook or at our website for more information on how you can help.

You can also check out our Gift Shop.


Above is a rebuild concept done by Ellis David Designs.

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.

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