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.

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

Rail Travel and Tourism Opportunities in the North

From Sault Ste. Marie-Bawating, a historical landmark for Anishnabe (Ojibwa) and Missanabie (Cree) First Nations, French voyageurs, and English settlers alike, to Hearst, with deep-routed Francophone and First Nations’ roots, and every stop in between, Northern Ontario has a number of wilderness landscapes and cultural wonders to explore, made all the more accessible by train (Algoma Country, 2017). Whether you are looking for an exhilarating adventure, a little art history, or just to relax on the Northern Ontario shores – renewed rail service from the Sault to Hearst under Missanabie Cree First Nation leadership can satisfy the needs of all travel desires.

Eco-friendly;
If you are passionate about the environment and protecting fragile ecosystems, train travel is the most environmentally responsible option for pursuing travel and tourism opportunities. With lower C02 emissions than air, car, and bus travel, as well as the preservation of natural reserves – as there is no need to further develop road networks with train use – rail service is a much greener option that driving in a car (UIC & CER, 2015, p. 45). Although trains do emit pollutants, the equivalent number of cars that it would take to transport the same number of people would increase that number by four times, as displayed below;

(Chart found at Blue&Green Tomorrow)

– And in fact, recent data is suggesting that cars may have a worse environmental impact than planes do! For more information on that, check out this article.

But in addition to getting to and from your destination in the greenest manner possible, tour operators along the rail corridor also offer a number of eco-friendly tourism opportunities, including canoeing, kayaking, ice-climbing, and paddling (CAPT, 2017). There are also activities you can pursue on your own, such as hiking, bird-watching, photography, and tenting. Eco-tourism and travel is a great way to immerse yourself in nature while also respecting the beautiful natural environment around you.

Adventure;
Adrenaline junkies, outdoorspeople, those who live and breathe the outdoors – yeah, this one is for you. Trekking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, and paddling are just scratching the surface of the adventurous opportunities that the North has to offer (Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, 2017). Winter opportunists, don’t fret. There’s always snow in the North to fulfill your snowmobiling, ice climbing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing desires! Along the rail corridor, we have a number of tour operators who are eager to help you embark on your next bold undertaking – or even take part in it with you!

(Photo credit from Algoma Country)

Cultural;
As one of the oldest settlements in North America, Sault Ste. Marie-Bawating has a lot to offer our history, art, and culture buffs. Visiting the rapids on Whitefish Island will teach you all about how the Anishinabe (Ojibwa) who lived by the river based their livelihood off of fish and trade for thousands of years before colonization (Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, 2017). From there, Mask-Wa Oo-Ta-Ban will give you the opportunity to hop aboard and take a walk in the Group of Seven’s footsteps, exploring the diverse landscapes where they lived and painted (CAPT, 2017). Immerse yourself in the rich cultures and history of a Cree First Nation by checking out the Constance Lake First Nation Annual Pow Wow near Hearst (CLFN, 2010). Regardless of what your interest in Northern Ontario culture is, Mask-Wa Oo-Ta-Ban, the Bear Train, will not leave you short on options for learning a little (or a lot!) about what has shaped the peoples of this land, while also getting your creative juices flowing in the process.


(Photo credit from Algoma Country)

So folks, there you have it, all the ways that passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst can boost tourism in Northern Ontario. For more information, email riley@beartrain.ca, or visit our Facebook page here!

References
Algoma Country and the Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association. (2017). Hearst. Retrieved from https://www.algomacountry.com/cities-towns/hearst/

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

Constance Lake First Nation (CLFN). (2010). Constance Lake First Nation. Retrieved from www.clfn.on.ca

Tourism Sault Ste. Marie. (2017). The Sault. Retrieved from http://www.saulttourism.com/the-sault/

UIC, The International Railway Association & CER, The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies. (September, 2015). Rail Transport and Environment: Facts and Figures. 45. Retrieved from http://www.cer.be/sites/default/files/publication/Facts%20and%20figures%202014.pdf

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.