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.

The Significance of the Winter Solstice to the Missanabie Cree First Nation

This week, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN)’s Elder/Youth Coordinator, Jackie Fletcher. She was kind enough to share some of the information regarding Missanabie Cree’s relationship to the winter solstice, where our days will finally become longer again. This topic sparked my interest because the solstice was fast approaching (taking place on Dec 21st), and while I have read many different histories and accounts of Anishnaabe and Navajo cultures and the way that they perceive and acknowledge the solstice, I didn’t have a whole lot on the First Nation that I work for. I wanted to learn more, especially since, while astrology and natural occurrences are important in different capacities to all Indigenous groups, different Indigenous cultures have unique ways of celebrating and acknowledging the new year. So, I reached out to Jackie, as she has been coordinating a special two-day celebration of the winter solstice at the Wawa Motor Inn, which is the closest accommodation to the traditional homeland as possible. This is an opportunity for the community to come together to honour the natural occurrence and phenomenon the way that their ancestors did.

The event, Jackie explains, will consist of a number of activities, including a feast, sparklers, candles, and cake to honour the solstice. Some of the other activities allow for community members to get really creative, by crafting winter arts and writing and singing songs about winter. She describes it as a way for the community to escape from the commercialization, anxiety, loneliness, and depression that many feel around Christmastime – especially those with First Nations background who may not always feel as though they can fully relate to Christmas, a very Eurocentric holiday.

Community members will have the chance to bond with friends and family and prepare themselves mentally for the new year, creating vision boards for their future hopes and dreams, and burning in the fire what they wish to let go of. Traditionally, the solstice signifies a symbol of new beginnings, much like the ‘New Year’ does for many of us. This is the perfect way to illustrate what Jackie is doing with this event for MCFN. She described how it is a way to bring back their old traditions and incorporate them into the modern day, which promotes healing and the decolonization of many elements of settler culture that have been forced upon First Nations peoples, such as Christmas. It allows for the First Nation to make Christmas and winter celebrations their own, letting go of resentment, and transitioning the commercialization of Christmas into a natural experience that has deep historical roots, a practiced and sacred tradition, for MCFN.

It is a pilot program, with hopes of continuing for future solstices, and equinoxes as well. I wish Jackie, and all those travelling to Wawa for the event, safe travels, and the happiest of holidays. I hope this event goes well for the MCFN community so it can continue in future years. And, as Jackie said, hopefully next year they can be taking the train down to the event!

For more information on MCFN-led initiatives, or for how to contact Jackie or any other MCFN employee, visit us at our website. For more information on the train initiative specifically, check out our Facebook page.

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

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.

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.

References

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!

Top 5 Benefits of Renewed Rail Service to the Algoma Economy


(Photo credit: Algoma Country – Check them out here!)

There is no question that rail service promotes and fosters economic development along rail corridors. Up in the North, cultural and economic integration is essential to creating a stronger and more viable regional community. Here are some of the key ways that renewed rail service would benefit our Northern communities and their economies;

1) Supporting First Nations development
The train has provided First Nation peoples access to their remote communities, traditional territories, hunting and trapping grounds, and other culturally significant areas. Renewed service would restore that access, as well as create partnerships between Missaanabie Cree First Nation and other stakeholders along the rail line for ecotourism, forest management, and other resource based undertakings and businesses, thus providing a number of job opportunities (CAPT, 2017). Providing access to the Missanabie Cree traditional territories will help community members to access regional healthcare and education at an affordable cost and develop Indigenous tourism products and destinations. The Bear Train is an economic development initiative that could be a step towards reconciliation that respects First Nation people. This would create a new relationship between First Nations and rail which aims to be the opposite of the colonizing way in which the rail was first built on stolen lands taken with no treaties or agreements between the government and First Nations peoples (Doxtater, 2016).

2) Fuel for local businesses
The economic benefits are huge for local businesses throughout all communities along the rail corridor. To put it simply, having passenger rail to access businesses, properties, and recreational activities in the North (via rail) means more money will be spent and kept locally. The more money is kept local, the greater benefit it has on the economy. Rail-in tourism is one of the most lucrative types of tourism.

Here is an example:



Do you see what happened here? This is called induced impact. The successive use of the train results in spending that trickles down into the economy, which increases employment, income, and the availability of goods and services (BDO Canada, 2014, p. 25). And the best part? It all stays local; within Northern Ontario, supporting initiatives and businesses that are close to home. According to a 2017 report by BDO, economic impact from these types of transactions will range from $38-$48 million going back into the economy upon renewal of train services (2014, p. 26).

3) Job Development
In addition to supporting local businesses and tourism projects, including First Nations development and sustainability, resuming train service will indirectly create two types of employment opportunities, as assessed by BDO Canada;

• Renew traditional jobs that were lost with the cancellation of the train (Approximately 220 direct and indirect jobs)
• Create new jobs as new tourism opportunities and modern communication and events initiatives emerge (2014, p. 29).

These employment opportunities are not only train-related. As explained with induced impact, the influx of revenue and customers at hunting, fishing, and wilderness lodges, and in shops, restaurants, hotels, and adventure companies will create a demand for more employees in a diverse and growing sector. The creation of jobs will drastically relieve pressure off of the unemployment rate, which provincially is sitting at 8.1%, having inched up 1% from 2015. The Algoma region is a distressed area for employment and economic opportunity, particularly for Indigenous people, whose rates of employment are significantly and unjustly higher than the rest of the population (BDO Canada, 2014, p. 6).

4) Supporting tourism industry
Tourism is an essential part of Northern Ontario life, especially given the ACR used to provide access to the Canadian art history landscape where the Group of Seven painted many of their best-known works while living in boxcars and tourist along the ACR line (CAPT, 2017). Aside from that, the train provided a vital link to properties and communities along the rail line that are otherwise entirely or almost entirely inaccessible. These include fishing, hunting, and wilderness lodges. These businesses have suffered with the loss of rail service. Dean Anderson, manager of the Catalina Motel in Sault Ste. Marie since 1998, used to sell train tickets and rooms as part of a tourism package. He ended up with a huge influx of people coming through to ride the train and pursue all-season, including winter recreational activities through the Catalina Motel and the ACR’s partnership (D. Anderson, personal communication, May 18, 2017). He stated that his business is down between $30,000 and $35,000 the last two seasons from December to March compared to when the passenger train ran. He also stated that, if you include the years when the Snow Train was operating, this number approaches an alarming $40,000 (personal communication, May 18, 2017). Cancelling the rail meant immediate detriment to tour operators, who struggled to meet payroll, recover investments, maintain customer relations, and continue to struggle to sustain their livelihood and operations on a regular basis.
Saving the rail will support local touristic opportunities, for people and businesses that we have come to know and love over the years. It also has the extraordinary capability to highlight the Algoma region’s importance in the shaping of Canada as a nation – primarily with its spotlight as being one of three nodes for Group of Seven tourism in Ontario, in addition to Toronto and Ottawa.

5) Building the events industry
In recent years, we have seen the events industry evolve dramatically, demanding engaging and innovative ways to interact with guests. People love to feel an emotional connection, a sense of unity, and a demonstration of ethical values at events and in adventures that they embark on. With a history as rich as Northern Ontario’s, and unique Francophone and First Nations cultures, the rail corridor is a hotspot for all things natural and beautiful in Canada. For example, the Group of Seven/Glenn Gould events organized by the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) sold out every year from 2008 – 2014, when the train services were cancelled. This events-based industry connects business across Northern Ontario, and is estimated to bring in $17,667 per two-day event (BDO Canada, 2014, p. 27). Not to mention, along the Algoma rail corridor it brought in visitors from across Ontario, other provinces as far as British Columbia, and even US states including Michigan and Wisconsin (CAPT, 2017). Ultimately, building on the events industry through the use of rail is an innovative way to draw in adventurists and recreationalists who have a passion for art, history and the Northern wilderness – all of which invests money back into the Northern economy and will keep our businesses thriving.

So, what does all this mean? It means that the resumption of the passenger train under Missanabie Cree leadership will create opportunities and build development in the North for the North. While these impacts are largely economic, they ultimately impact cultural and historical awareness and education, while also constructing positive relationships from city-to-city, business-to-business, and stakeholder-to-stakeholder. For more information on how you can help us with this initiative, e-mail riley@beartrain.ca or visit us on Facebook

References

BDO Canada LLP. (August, 2014). Algoma Centra Railway Passenger Rail Service: Economic Impact Assessment. Sault Ste. Marie, On. 6, 25-29.

Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT). (2017). Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains: Protecting and Enhancing Algoma’s Passenger Rail. Retrieved from captrains.ca

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