I told myself I wasn’t going to post anything for a while because I simply have too many things going on right now – but then Mary J Melange wrote about National Train Day on May 14th and I couldn’t resist.
You see, I really like trains. I might not be a train geek who knows all the different types of locomotives and haunts train museums, but the mournful sound of a train whistle, regardless of the time of day, pulls at my heart strings.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I was born and raised in a small town in Northern Ontario. Cochrane is actually a railway town – one where trains have always provided the heartbeat of the community.
It is from Cochrane that the trains head north to the James Bay and, until 2012, an overnight train called The Northlander provided passenger service south to Toronto 700 km away. I rode that train back and forth from university for 4 years.
In fact, one of the best impromptu parties I ever attended was on The Northlander heading home for Christmas one year. The mood on the fully booked train was outright festive that night and the club car quickly became party central.
I remember one guy pulled out his luggage and revealed he had nothing in his suitcase except booze. Ah – good times.
My childhood memories are full of the sound of trains shuttling around the rail yard, and the blast of the Polar Bear’s whistle as it headed out early in the morning and returned late in the evening.
Yes, the train heading north from Cochrane to Moosonee really is called the Polar Bear. Actually there are 2 Bears – a Little one and the Express.
I never knew why they were called the Polar Bear. The last time I checked, there were no polar bears in Moosonee, although Cochrane does have a Polar Bear Habitat … but that’s a different story for a different day.
My father had a small grocery store when I was growing up, and the end of the week was a busy time filling orders that had been called in for people living along the rail line.
There are no roads north of Cochrane to Moosonee, so the only way to move people or products was either by train or plane.
These grocery orders would be boxed up and loaded on the Little Bear train where they would be dropped off along the line.
It is because of the railway my paternal grandfather emigrated from Southern Italy to Northern Ontario in 1912 – looking for a job and a future without poverty. He was not yet 21 years old and had left behind a pregnant wife who would later follow him with his oldest son.
I guess I could say that trains are the reason I’m a Canadian today.
This post is dedicated to Dan at No Facilities who loves trains and was the one who planted the seed for train lovers to write about National Train Day.
All photos in this post are courtesy of Mike Robin – a photographer from Northern Ontario. To view more of his really amazing photos of the Ontario Northland Railway, please visit his site at onrgallery.com