Superior Colors of Northern Ontario Travelogue
Thursday October 3, 2002
VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to White River
on the Canadian and the Lake Superior
By Daryl T. Adair
October 3 - 6, 2002
This was the big day, Day 1 of Rail Travel Tours Superior Colors of Ontario tour and I was the head guide. No time to be nervous as there has been a lot of work that has gone into the organizing of the tour and it was time to share the fun with fellow travelers who wanted to experience one of Canada's last Rail Diesel Car services but I am getting ahead of myself.
A few days earlier I traveled, ashamedly, by plane from my home of Winnipeg, Manitoba to Montreal, Quebec to visit with friends In Montreal who are involved with the Canadian Railroad Historical Association and their major project the large Canadian Railway Museum. As well, I traveled, by train through the scenic Ottawa valley to Canada's capital of Ottawa for the day to meet with representatives of Transport Canada and the Canadian Tourism product club regarding rail passenger travel issues in Canada before travelling to Toronto, Ontario.
In Toronto I stayed with my friends Lori and Ron at there new home in Markham and had a great visit and spent the night in their guest bedroom. The only thing that could have upset me was that the walls of the guest room were covered with sports memorabilia from their football team the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. I was a Winnipeg Blue Bomber fan and I was in a strange territory. Although through the love of Canadian football is how I met these great friends and I suppose it was a small price to pay.
Early on the morning of October 3, I enjoyed breakfast with my friends and Ron was kind enough to drive me to the Langstaff GO commuter train station and I thanked him for dropping me off. After waving goodbye to Ron I boarded the green and white commuter cars and traveled through the suburbs to Toronto's Union Station, To find my co-guide Mr. Ken Praymak and that some of the group are already on hand and anxiously waiting our departure.
With the commuters rushing through the station to get to work the group, in a seating area out of the way, those who were getting ready to travel were busy meeting fellow travellers and their guides, putting on name tags and pouring over their information packages. Then as the steady stream of commuters had slowed to a trickle it was time to board VIA Rail Canada's Canadian and the group made their way to the departure escalator up to track level and find that the green and white of the GO trains had all but disappeared leaving a train of silver being readied to depart for Vancouver with an almost endless amount of stops between here and the west coast.
Our group was not headed as far as Vancouver so we walked to the front of the train to take our spots in the front coach. As we were pre-boarded by the crew a few people took the opportunity to photograph the engines that headed up our train, while the remainder of passengers in the tour were content to settle in their seats. Shortly after, with all on board the train, we watched the Royal York Hotel and the CN Tower fade from the distance as we headed north through Toronto's suburbs. As many of you know this classic Budd Corporation built train for the Canadian Pacific now travels the route of the Canadian National Railway and travels north on the Newmarket Subdivision until the train reaches the York Subdivision. Passing the York Sub, only to wye the train at Snider and travel east on the York sub for 5 miles until reaching Doncaster and the Bala Subdivision before continuing its northwestern course through southern Ontario.
With the suburbs giving way to rolling hills and farm country, people in the group made their way to the skyline dome car to take in the view. Cameras are never far away to take pictures of the long train behind us snaking around the hills, or views of Lake Simcoe or the Trent Severn Canal. Before the train reaches the Muskoka region there is a call for lunch and hungry members of the group scramble down the stairs of the dome to enjoy the lunch selections with the fantastic scenery passing outside their windows. Heading through the Muskoka the train passes through the southern edge of the Canadian Shield and the scenery continues to impress. Fall colours in the trees, that should be considerably more for this time of year, appear just to be getting started with the late summer but there is enough fall foliage to create some good views. After the Muskoka and lunch the views continue with travelling through Parry Sound and a glimpse of the CPR Seguin River trestle. The two railway companies parallel each other for a few miles near here but we do not see any CPR freights although we do get put in the siding on a few occasions to let CN freights pass us.
The group gets anxious as the train stops at Sudbury Junction to detrain passengers but are reassured that this is not our stop as there is little located here but a station and the end of the road. Our destination, which remains Sudbury, is Capreol and the end of the Bala Sub only 11 miles more, worth the extra time as we pass three moose in a swamp and everyone has time to get a picture or two. Arriving Capreol we pass the Northern Ontario RR Museum and pass CNR 6077, among other restored rolling stock, as the tracks curve towards the station. Our train passes the station and after unloading into the crisp fall northern air we are found walking the length of the train to get back to the station.
You don't realize how long the Canadian is until you have to walk its length. Fortunately there is no rush and once at the station we meet and introduce Canadian Pacific Special Interest Group member and well know rail author, Dale Wilson who will be our host while in the area. Once all together we cross the street to the M&R Grill where dinner has been prepared for us this evening. A few of us notice the sign on the door that states the restaurant will be closed this evening for a tour group, and we literally fill up every seat in the restaurant. A keen few are quick to grab the seats in the front where a picture window looks out to the CNR mainline where after a while we see the train; we were on, departing for Vancouver. After enjoying the stuffed breast of chicken (which I had) or roast beef with all the trimmings for dinner the group boards a bus destined for Sudbury with a side trip, which takes longer than expected, to the A.Y. Jackson lookout to see where one of the Group of Seven was inspired by the areas fall colours. Following the side trip we travel to the heart of the City of Sudbury and the Quality Inn that overlooks the CPR yards for a good nights sleep.
Friday October 4, 2002
After breakfast on Friday the group boards the bus to spend a better part of the day at the areas leading attraction, Science North. A good day to spend indoors as the clouds are threatening to open up, and later while lunch is enjoyed at the Landings, which is part of the centre, the pounding rain is viewed over Lake Ramsey. The group asks for a longer opportunity to visit this great attraction and I scramble to call the bus company to see if they can pick us up later in the day. The bus company informs me they can and the time here is extended at the science centre so everyone can view every corner of this attraction or take in an Imax movie.
Returning to the hotel, from Science North, in the early afternoon with the rain letting up, some go shopping at the Sudbury Downtown mall, enjoy the pool at the Quality Inn or go railfaning outside the classic CPR station which the hotel overlooks. In fact the hotel is only two city blocks away from the station and Ken and I walk to the station with a few other railfans to watch the action along the CPR mainline and the switching in the yard. Lots of pictures are taken by all of us and the sun actually came out to help with the railfan photo action. After a busy afternoon we caught up with the group to enjoy the Friday night buffet at the hotel restaurant "Bridges by Brother T's" which also looks over the Sudbury CPR yard. Whenever a fast freight would move through town a few people would stand up at their table to catch the locomotive numbers or to see what was being hauled.
After dinner, later that evening the group is entertained by Dale Wilson who presents a selection of slides of railway scenes in and around Sudbury and we learn more about the community's railway history from steam to diesel and the very unique International Nickel Company (INCO) electrics. He also has a selection of his books on the Algoma Central Railway and other local railway's available for people on the group to purchase for a very special souvenir. One last announcement for the day, as tomorrow we are traveling to White River and ending up back in Sudbury on Sunday night, the hotel has made a room available where all luggage that is not needed can be left to be picked up on our return.
Winding down the evening in our hotel, Ken room can't pry away from our room's picture window overlooking the CPR yard as he watches a unit doing some switching and making up a train in the floodlight yard. I am quickly drifting off to sleep but I laugh out loud when Ken (whose father worked for the CPR), while sitting on his bed facing the window states "I really am going to miss this view of the CPR mainline when I get home".
Saturday October 5, 2002
In the hotel lobby on Saturday morning almost everyone takes advantage of the opportunity to leave behind some luggage and shows up with a bag or two to temporary leave behind. All were quite prepared and noticeably excited to experience one of the last Rail Diesel Car services in Canada, VIA's Lake Superior. The hotel shuttle transports a few members of the group to the CPR station while the majority decides to walk the short distance to the depot. Once there a few notice that the house tracks that the Toronto section of the Canadian arrived and were stored on, when the train ran on the CPR line have been removed. Prior to the schedule rationalization of 1990 since 1955 the Montreal and Toronto sections met and departed here for their respective journeys. Today this unique piece of Canadian rail history is a fading memory but the majestic brick Sudbury station, at mile 79 of the Cartier sub remains.
Inside the group enjoyed the station's large waiting room (if only it could tell stories) talking with staff and fellow travellers and stretched their legs on the platform enjoying the morning sun. It was here the group had the pleasure of meeting the train's conductor Mr. James Cockburn who introduced himself to the group and told them there would be a delay in departing today. Our train was in the yard but not ready to go as the three cars that made up the train this day, we would find out later, were marshaled incorrectly. The baggage car RDC 4 #6250 was located in the middle of the two passenger units and the crew was switching the units to put the RDC 4 baggage car (one of only 14 built) at the end of the train. With the procedure done the consist with 6215 in the lead, followed by 6205 and 6250 pulled in front of the station. This is the first time since the Budd cars recent overhaul in Moncton, New Brunswick that all three have travelled together. The overhaul has seen a considerable amount of work done on their electrical systems and in the cars interiors that now feature new seats and a light blue interior, replacing the former VIA red coloured interior. According to Mr. Cockburn the cars are a "breath of fresh air" and have been well received by all the passengers who regularly ride the train. The group is quick to find their seats in the lead car and all that was left was for Mr. Cockburn to yell "All Aboard" and we were on our way moving west through Sudbury.
The train travelled through the unique landscape of the Sudbury basin, believed to be the site of a meteorite crash millions of years ago, producing the area's prized nickel and copper. As we were hunting fall colours we did not realize that this was the first Saturday of Moose hunting season and many hunters, with all there gear, loaded up on the train in Azilda. The route of the train services many isolated communities and hunting shacks and the hunters were in full force today. A westbound freight train saw us take the siding in Levack and once on our way we quickly arrived at the end of the Subdivision in Cartier, Ontario. Located here is another historic station still used today for the purpose it was built for, CPR offices and a passenger waiting room. We loaded up more hunters and our conductor Mr. Cockburn received the lineup of trains and this was indeed to be a busy day on the rails.
While the fall colours were not in full force the scenery did not fail to disappoint as the train passed the Spanish River Valley, which is popular with canoeists in the summer months. Stopping at a number of hunting cabins we put our schedules away as we were not going to need them for this journey. We also stopped at the community of Biscotasing that once was the home of famed naturalist Grey Owl, believed to be an aboriginal who after his death was found out to be Englishman Archibald Stanfield Belaney! It was also the home of Allan Crossley who grew up here and was on the tour. Even though we were just here long enough to take on passengers Mr. Cockburn made sure Mr. Crossley had a chance to stand on the platform opposite the station shelter for a brief homecoming. After a picture we load up and are on our way, not before noticing the station shelter is the same beige colour of the Biscotasing General Store, located right next to the shelter. One wonders if an energetic painting team did the job of painting the shelter with left over paint.
We start making good time as the Budd cars move swiftly through northern Ontario when we are put into the siding at Devon, at mile 130, to await an eastbound train. Nobody seems to mind as one of the engineers and baggage man has come back to mingle with the group and talk about their job and explain what it is like to drive the Budd cars and work for the Canadian Pacific Railway. As well, the tracks divide Loon Lake and there are picturesque scenes to both the north and to the south. After a short delay, The freight train moving at track speed roars past our train and we receive permission to continue with Chapleau, and the end of the Cartier sub only a few miles away.
In Chapleau the train makes a stop at a refueling stand before moving ahead to the modern station building in this northern community. While the early station is long gone there is still a monument to the CPR in this community that owes its existence to the railway. During our extended stop everyone has time to stretch their legs in Centennial Park, adjacent to the station, to view preserved CPR Steam locomotive No. 5433. Once this is done there are a few moments to visit the Loeb Grocery store or visit the Chapleau museum before boarding the train and taking a head count before departing.
Once on our way, on the White River Subdivision, we cross the Chapleau River and the CPR mainline now makes up the southern border of the Chapleau Crown Game Reserve. We also learn we have a new conductor and engine crew, but Mr. Cockburn has stayed with us to be our guide and point out route highlights. The scenery continues with views of Lake Windermere and Dog Lake and sharp eyes watching the low swampy areas for more moose. Before the sun sets for the day the train slows for the diamond of the Algoma Central at Franz and everyone can see the few buildings left of this railway community across Hobon Lake. The concrete base for the CPR water tower still remains and can be quickly seen on the north side of the tracks before approaching the ACR. Near the tracks we are greeted by a green board and we cross the north south tracks of the "Route of the Black Bear" and Dale Wilson tells the group about the once vibrant community of Franz and its railway history. Shortly after our visit to Franz with the sun gone all we can see outside our windows is a trickle of rain as we make good time, and surprisingly meet no more freight trains as we continue on to White River.
After a time, with Mr. Cockburn keeping everyone entertained with stories about the stretch of track (especially the odd occurrences at mile 107) we are traveling on, lights can be seen outside our windows again and the train approaches White River's unique two-story brick station. The rain has stopped and on hand to meet us is the Mayor of White River Angelo Bazzoni, he welcomes our group before we walk to the White River Seniors Harmony Club centre. Here the seniors of this club have prepared a fantastic supper for our group consisting of three different types of chicken, lasagna, scalloped potatoes, salads, greens and an almost endless amount of desert items.
After the fantastic dinner I ask everyone in the group for there attention to please let me know by a show of hands who did not receive a lunch menu (handed out during dinner) form for tomorrow's box lunch to be prepared by the Continental Motel restaurant. The Chapleau to White River RDC crew, the engineer, baggage man/person (who was a lady) and the conductor, who joined us for dinner, get a laugh when they are the only ones who raise their hands. Keys to the Continental Motel are distributed among the group and many in the group, after thanking the ladies of the seniors club for the wonderful dinner, walk to the hotel while others are shuttled by local people to the hotel to collapse in bed after an exciting but long day on the rails.
Sunday October 6, 2002
The next morning, there is no rush for breakfast at the Continental Motel restaurant on this lazy Sunday morning as there is a temporary schedule change due to track maintenance and the train is not scheduled to depart until noon. This gives us ample time to visit the White River Museum, which was planned for the evening before. Volunteers here told us more about the areas rail history and learn more about the community's most famous former resident, Winnie the Pooh. It was here that Captain Harry Colebourn while traveling on the CPR from his hometown of Winnipeg to Val Cartier, Quebec and from there to the battlefields of World War 1 purchased a bear cub that became famous after A.A. Milne's children stories. The orphaned bear was purchased while he stretched his leg along the platform here in White River and the same platform today found our group loading up and awaiting our noon departure. We had learned that the track was washed out just west of here and a load of ballast cars, among a number of halted westbound freights, was in the yard to help to get the line re-opened. A safe guess would be that we will have no freight meetings on this section of track today.
Not long after departing White River, which is known for once recording minus 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the rain turns to heavy snow. Everyone on the tour are enjoying it thoroughly, especially the photographers, as they get great pictures where the tracks cross the White River. With nothing but green boards in front of us the train makes great time, stopping along the way at some very isolated camps to pick up some very disappointed hunters. We do stop in Esher, just west of Chapleau for a westbound freight that we were told would be diverted onto the Algoma Central and transfer to the CN Mainline to continue west. Our journey east continues with much of the same scenery experienced the day before, although, everyone has switched sides for a different perspective. After the sun goes down there is a surprise. We know that Michael and Jan Gauthier are taking the trip to celebrate a one year wedding anniversary and a cake is sneaked on board the train at Chapleau. After a few words from the happy couple everyone on the train enjoys the cake and we arrive Sudbury a while later. The rain won't dampen our spirits as the Quality Hotel shuttle is ready, with a few cabs, to transfer everyone to the hotel. Some brave souls still walk and all are glad to climb into the beds of the rooms of the Quality Hotel Sudbury. If they did stay up looking out of their windows facing the yard they would see the Budd cars quietly depart the station to transfer to the NRE Alco Loco Company of Capreol where they are stored and maintained.
Monday October 7, 2002
Monday morning the sun was shining as the group checked out of the hotel and headed north returning to Capreol. This time there was ample time to visit this community, which is now part of the greater city of Sudbury, to visit the Northern Ontario RR museum. Located in the former superintendent's home, ample museum volunteers were on hand to break our group up into smaller groups for guided tours of the numerous displays. Once done in the former home the tour continued with a visit to the adjacent Prescott Park to view CNR 6077 and other restored rolling stock including recent additions, examples of an electric locomotive and slag dump car from the INCO rail operations. This offered an excellent opportunity for everyone to assemble to take a group picture in front of the large CNR steamer that once worked the mainline it stands beside before thanking the great museum volunteers for showing us a great time.
Although the sun was still shining it was a cool outside but nothing a visit to the M&R Grill with their warm hospitality and a hot bowl of soup could not fix. After thanking them for another fine meal the group crossed the street and piled into the modern Capreol station. The advantage this day would be that the coaches on eastbound train would be opposite the station when the train came to a stop so we would not have far to walk. After the train arrived the VIA crew in the coaches were ready for us and again we filled up the better part of a coach. After departing Capreol we enjoyed the fall colours for the remainder of the day traveling south to Toronto and the majority of the group took part in a farewell dinner in the skyline dinning car. The Canadian arrived Toronto station right on time, thus ending our journey to Northern Ontario. As hard as we tried to find the name White River with other Canadian centres engraved in the high walls of the grand hall of Union Station we could not but all those who took part in the tour enjoyed the experience and the journey on one of the last regularly scheduled passenger trains on the CPR mainline.
Note: Building on the popularity of the 2002 Rail Travel Tours Superior Colors of Ontario Tour another tour has been planned for the fall of 2003. For more information on this and other Canadian Rail adventures you can contact them at 1-866-704-3528 or write them at Box 44 123 Main Street Winnipeg MB R3C 1A3.