It seems as though train trips have acted as markers throughout my lifetime. The train had taken me west for two trips with the kids but because I was working at the North Bay Museum I had to fly on subsequent trips west because time was of the essence. I certainly did miss the train though. During my 14 years at the Museum on Riverbend Road and my one year downtown, I had the opportunity of speaking with so many train folk while learning about the vast history of trains in North Bay. This knowledge was passed onto our summer students and the numerous school tours and regular visitors that dropped in at both locations.
What an unimaginable delight it was when Stan Lawlor brought the 1201 Steam Train to North Bay for two whole weeks in 1982. Stan was on City Council at the time and took great delight in wearing a conductor’s uniform when riding the rails to South River and back and walking about the city ‘conducting’ business. My friend Barbara and I went on one of the numerous trips along with our picnic basket. We all opened the windows on the train to wave to all the people waiting along the track for the 1201 to pass by while it blew its steam whistle at every opportunity. It was an extremely popular two weeks which helped to celebrate North Bay’s 100th anniversary 1882 to 1982. (Incorporated as a city in 1925)
On one of my trips to visit Mum in Vancouver, shortly after Dad died, we booked seats in an open carriage – cinders and all – on The Royal Hudson’s run north to Squamish. A spectacular trip and one that is still available along with even more extended trips along the west coast. Another time Mum went on a tour of the U.K. with a group at the same time I was going on a tour of the Channel Islands with a company leaving from Toronto. Believe it or not we discovered we would both be in London, England at the same time for a day, before going our separate ways, so we planned to meet under the clock at Victoria Station – a favourite meeting place for so many years. From there we took a train to Herne Bay, on the east coast of England to visit her sister. This was the first time Mum and I had been on a train together in England since leaving there in 1948. We shared so many memories and stories as we traveled through the English countryside.
Then Mum moved from Vancouver to North Bay and what a delight it was to discover the ONR Dreamcatcher train trip from North Bay to Temagami. What an adventure to travel north, away from the highway, through the rugged country alongside numerous lakes as we drew nearer to our destination. We took this trip several times while it was in operation a few years ago and while in Temagami visited all the sites including the fire tower, restaurants for great meals, souvenir shops and the art gallery in the preserved train station. What a shame this train excursion is not still available.
Even a few years earlier Peter and I had the good fortune to catch a trip on the Moccasin Express leaving from Mattawa and heading north I expect. Again we were in an open carriage and managed to duck the tree branches as we trundled along. It was during the autumn of the year and the scenery was absolutely marvelous. Another day trip which, unfortunately, came to an end because traveling by train, especially a steam train, is such an historic and exciting way to see the country.
(Pam Handley's Heritage Matters column is a regular feature in A Bit of the Bay Magazine)