Darlene's Churchill Rail Trip
WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEARS EVE?
Boxing day 2002. What is different this year? Instead of sitting back
and viewing the after Christmas Day array of boxes, toys, tinsel strung
around the house, I must get my act together quickly.
It is about a month ago when I got “the call”. I hear my friend
Lorraine saying rather excitedly, “how would you feel about New Years
Eve in Churchill”?
My wickedly ingenious practical joke playing friend is up to it again I
thought. “O.K.” I replied rather sarcastically. No I’m serious came
her response. You are serious I found myself responding. O.K. I
believe you and when do I start packing. What a glorious surprise. My
husband Ken is very much aware of my sense of adventure and tells me to
by all means go. What a great guy he is.
I knew my aunt Ede had lived for a time in Churchill so I was anxious to
tell her the news. She tells me of the hardships of lack of work in
this area and how she and her husband Merle had got enough money
together to make the trip to Churchill. They had heard like many others
that workers were needed and away they went.
A Russian family had taken them in. Aunt Ede helped cook and clean and
Uncle Merle got a job in the mines. She said work was hard and hours
were long. They soon had scrapped enough money together and purchased a
small house. She told me that “you’ll know it as we built a white
picket fence around it”. Aunt Ede will be ninety this year and I guess
she thought her house would be still as she left it some sixty years
When work ran out she told me they just closed the door and left for
home in Kemptville Ontario, a different time indeed.
All packed and ready. I rise from a few hours sleep. A quick shower
and I am feeling the adrenaline rising as the anticipation of this
newest adventure is about to begin. I have said good-bye to my son Mike
and my beautiful granddaughter Emma five years old and grandson Aaron
eighteen months. Mom Shelley had been off to bed early as well. They
have been home from London Ontario for a week. When they awake and
prepare for their trip back home tomorrow I will have completed the
first leg of my journey and be in Toronto.
Ken drove me to Lorraine’s home in the village where I find Doug Laurie
and Lorraine working on a puzzle to stay awake. They could not imagine
that I had been able to sleep but after the hectic Christmas rush,
given any opportunity to sleep came easy. We say our good-byes to Doug
and we are off to the station.
We arrive at the same time as our congenial girl Friday who opens the
station at the ungodly hour of 2:00 a.m. Lorraine busies herself taking
a few pictures and before you know it’s 2:07 a.m. and the Renaissance
Via take me away. We go directly to our sleeper. P.J’s on and into the
top bunk I go. Laurie is soon in the lower and we hope for a good but
short nights sleep. Cozy under the duvet the soft motion of the train
lulls me into sleep quickly.
6:30 and a knock on the door. I open the door to find Lorraine
perfectly dressed with hair done and a much too chipper “hey guys, 6:30
up and at it” greets us. From past experience I know her--first to the
shower fetish will continue on this run.
I managed to dress in the top bunk as Laurie dressed below. We soon
took our breakfast of fruit, croissant, coffee and juice to the lounge.
Lorraine was already seated. We were soon joined by a family of dad,
mom, two year old Tracey and eight month old Keegan. Dad commutes
between London and Toronto daily so train travel is their first choice
when they distance travel.
They tell us the kids have more freedom and dad and mom arrive more
rested than if they had driven. They have been to Montreal to visit
family for the Christmas holidays and are on their way home to London
Soon I hear “Toronto ten minutes”. I pack up quickly and get ready to
As we leave the Renaissance I am thrilled to be told the Canadian sits
ready behind us and we are free to board. What a bonus. No escalators
to jockey luggage on.
I am excited about our Churchill destination but if past experience runs
true I know the train trip there will be a memorable and worry free
experience. More than half the fun will be the journey. It’s mom’s
turn to receive the pampering and no one does it better than the
attentive staff. They are the best. What a special treat this will be
after the hectic pace of the Christmas preparations of the last few
weeks. Shopping, baking, cleaning, decorating, gift wrapping and the
list goes on and on. I will put that all behind me now as I look
forward to a holiday from the holidays.
We board and our attendant directs us to our new quarters. This leg of
our journey sees Laurie and I in single bedrooms and Lorraine wants to
try a berth. Luggage settled I am off to the park car. This is my spot
of choice . Soon a brother and sister from California join me and we
chat quietly. A couple from Connecticut arrives and they talk about how
dad has just retired and celebrated his 65th birthday and as a family
treat all will meet at Lake Louise for a week of family fun.
Part of the family will fly in from the U.S. but dad and mom chose the
train for a leisurely and sightseeing tour.
Lorraine arrives and informs me she has booked us at the first seating
for lunch and dinner. A relaxed atmosphere in the park car lends itself
to conversing with new acquaintances like they are old friends. The
diversity of locations and destinations leads to the most interesting
The dome car is abuzz with excitement when I enter to check out this
vantage point. We talk about destinations and when I say Churchill I
hear, “why Churchill, why this time of the year?” I reply “why not?” I
feel an even more positive sense of adventure these questions having
been asked. Since this is written after my return home I’ll give you a
hint by telling you my expectations were far exceeded.
We hear first call for lunch, bid farewell saying “talk to you later”
and are on our way to the dining car. Nice surprise as it is still
festively adorned in reds and greens, holly and ivy. The dining car is
always a pleasant place to come to with it’s linen table clothes, fine
china silverware, and beautifully etched glass panels but the Christmas
touch turns it into a truly magical and charming atmosphere. Sure glad
I didn’t miss this display.
With the snow swirling around the train outside, inside I choose a
hearty cauliflower soup, a welcome start on any chilly day. A bison
burger, ground bison seasoned with roasted garlic and served on a
multi-grain bun. A combination of red onion and other toppings accents
this lean meat nicely. Being fully aware of all the decadent desserts
to come I choose a dish of ice-cream topped with a light wafer and
coffee for dessert.
The staff have been most cordial and polite and check to see if our
expectations have been met. I respond exceeded and we depart the dining
car at 12:10. I leave wondering, what have I done to deserve this
Back in the Park car Lorraine is already busy spreading rumors as to how
we should all make sure to attend the park car this evening as the multi
talented attendant has a beautiful singing voice and will entertain this
evening with his cabaret repertoire. He denies his singing ability
until he hears someone rumour that Lorraine is a stripper travelling
incognito and suddenly he states loud and clear “I’ll sing.” Lots of
laughter and fun.
I decide a nap is in order so I retire to my room. A feeling of total
peace as I look out the window at the spectacular scenery. I thought it
was beautiful in summer but now it is an exhilarating winter
wonderland. During any season I’m sure the view of unspoiled forest is
breathtaking but in winter, when the woods are covered in a blanket of
pristine snow and trees are brushed with hoarfrost you feel like you are
sitting in the middle of a perfect work of art. A must experience as
words alone fail to do justice. A catnap and I am up to freshen up just
as we pull into Sudbury. I remember the landscape as drab and
uninviting but the layer of new fallen snow paints an entirely more
inviting scene. As we sit at the station I watch from the window and
see tearful good-byes as passengers board the train leaving loved ones
behind. In contrast open arms and happy smiles greet others as they
As you find out from those you meet on the train, we all have our
stories. Watching the expressions of people arriving and departing I
wonder as to each story here. We leave Sudbury junction at four
o’clock. Next stop Capreol and since there is a l5 minute stop over for
fuel and water, passengers are invited to get off and walk around. The
fresh air and exercise felt great. We have not had snow as yet in
Ontario (none to speak of) so boots on and warm coat felt like a
As impossible as it seems we hear the call for first sitting. We enter
the transformed dining car in anticipation of the pampering soon to
begin. The table-clothes have been changed from pink to a peaceful
navy blue. The chair backs are also bedecked in the same navy. The
lights are dimmed and candles in holders decorated with holly adorn the
tables. Service as befits the leisurely pace of this scene is friendly
and relaxed, yet prompt and efficient. This is not an easy thing to
pull off but the staff does it beautifully. Eating is believing.
Tonight I choose prime rib, Parisian potatoes, mixed vegetables with a
thick cream sauce spilled across the plate baptizing it in a warm
richness. Mocha cheesecake and green tea compliment this gastronomic
delight. We once again depart the dining car wondering just how we will
survive this journey without gaining weight. Our server re-assures us
by saying “we remove all calories as part of the service”. Reassuring?
I decide to go to the quiet of my room and get caught up on some notes.
I find the seat in my room now converted into an inviting bed. I write
for a while, read a while and then succumb to the inviting pillow and
retire early. I feel the need to try to catch up on some much needed
sleep. The clock goes back one hour tonight so that will help.
I slept well until 11:40 p.m. Train came to a stop at Hornepayne. I
remember our stop in Hornepayne from my trip to Vancouver in June of
this year. It had been daylight then and an abandoned train station had
taken my eye. I love old buildings and could see a costly yet not
impossible renovation job here. My car was not in view of the station
and try as I might I did not stay awake to see if any changes had been
made here. I realize it is a less populated area here but the
architecture of the old was much nicer than the starkness of the new.
December 30, 2002
I got up at 6:30 and put my bed back into the wall. I picked up my
silver and blue shower kit and went directly to the shower and was
thrilled to get in immediately. What a great way to start your day. I
go back to my room feeling completely refreshed. I get into my comfy
track suit and I’m off to breakfast. Sitting with a couple travelling
home after spending Christmas with their son and thirteen others in
Oakville I find I am not the only one re-grouping in this leisurely
ride. Having recently moved from a family home occupied for thirty five
years into a condo they had learned just how precious your own small
space can be. The other gentleman at the table was travelling back to
Vancouver Island having spent the holidays with his family in Hamilton,
We all agreed on one thing, that being that this train trip gave us all
a perfect opportunity to gear down from the hectic holiday season. We
talked about Christmas’s past and reflect on what seems now as having
been a simpler time. Wow am I feeling my age at this time or what?
Mabel and I talk about ways in which we will try to prepare ahead to
even out the pace for our next family get together. These are the times
we make the memories to last a lifetime. Time was one of the few things
there always seemed to be enough of when I was with my grandparents. I
would hope my grandchildren remember me in a similar manner.
My breakfast consisted of porridge (the best) brown toast with
strawberry jam, orange juice and coffee. Best of all great
conversations with good company. You can’t ask for a better way to
start your day. Saying our good byes, nice to have met you I returned
to the park car to reflect on what streak of luck brought me to this
place at this time.
Our next stop is Sioux Lookout. It is about 9 o’clock and we make about
a twenty minute stop for fuel and water. The whole area is most
picturesque and covered in a fresh blanket of white snow. One should
not miss a winter trip across Canada by rail. Sitting in the safety of
a warm coach with a winter storm swirling around outside in the middle
of nowhere. Well not exactly. This is Canada. It is a total advantage
to live in a country whose changing seasons allow for such diversity in
changing landscapes depending on the season.
I travelled this route in June but the trip is entirely different and
captivating. The reason is it’s December. Spring and fall I’m sure give
you an entirely different trip as well.
December has changed glistening lakes with canoes and boats to frozen
snow covered bodies of water now plied by snowmobiles, cross country
skiers and four-wheel drive vehicles. The lush green foliage of June is
now a complete picture perfect painting of this winter wonderland.
You’ve got to love it. New season, new adventure.
Speaking of new adventures, it is lunch time again. I had told my two
amigo’s I would not be dwelling on meals as there are only so many
adjectives to describe the ultimate in dining pleasure “but” orange
cake. Michelle, our server, announces the dessert tonight is orange
cake. I had missed out on this as the last time it was on the menu I
had the silver and blue delight (decadent chocolate). Lorraine has
raved in an ongoing “rub it in” way saying it was her favourite dessert
“ever”. I won’t miss it this time. Admitting Lorraine is right is not
the easiest thing to do but in this case she is right on. This little
touch of heaven is presented on fine white china. Four layers of the
lightest cake I have ever encountered. The weight of the orange mixture
placed between the layers must have been just enough to hold it on the
plate, otherwise, I’m sure it would have floated away, and the cream
icing was just sweet enough to balance the tart orange filling. An
orange sauce with two perfectly shaped raspberry sauce hearts decorated
the white plate.
Presentation...perfection. The ultimate orange cake. Lorraine, you are
right. “The Best Ever”.
After lunch we return to the dome car where picture taking and great
conversations continue. The passengers on this train are almost all
families returning from holidays with family. We make a quick stop at
Minaki and the snow begins to fall again. At about two o’clock we cross
the Manitoba border as the train makes its way westward and the snow
swirls on all sides. This is what the three amigo’s had wanted to see.
Blizzard like conditions. Half an hour out of Winnipeg and the terrain
once again changes from snow covered rocky treed slopes which caused the
train to snake through northern Ontario, to flat you can see for miles
vastness. The silver and blue darts like an arrow to its next
destination, Winnipeg, where we will begin the next most exciting and
looked forward part of our adventure. Our northern trek to Churchill,
just the thought makes the heart pound.
The snow has stopped falling. It is overcast but our spirits run high,
not overcast at all.
Three lines abreast large hydro towers dot the landscape near Anola.
Cargill and I spot my first grain elevator and a large mixer plant.
Once a farmer always a farmer I guess. A large number of C.N. cars are
lined along the tracks.
We arrived at the Winnipeg station at 3:30. We will not leave until
8:45 p.m. We check at the desk and are pleased to learn we can check
our bags now which gives us one less thing to think about. Dragging
luggage around for approximately five hours would have been a real pain.
We decide to walk over to “The Forks” a mall close to the station where
we find a lot of nice “stuff”. This is my word for things I can live
without. There are a large number of food shops of one kind or
another. The three amigo’s tour Winnipeg on our way back from
Churchill. More to come on Winnipeg. For now we just took a tour of
The Forks and had dinner at the B.B.Q. Pit. We sat by a large window
and watched kids of all ages skate on a large circular outdoor skating
rink. The young and young at heart seemed to be having a great time.
Skates were available for rent but we unanimously decided not to
partake. Going to Churchill in a cast or with a sprain of some kind
would not be a desirable thing. We walked about the Johnston Terminal
antique shop before returning to the comfortable train station. The
station, when entered from the front displays to perfection the grandeur
of an earlier time. My preference is always the early architecture.
The high dome with its beautiful colours invites you to look up, look
way up. The sound of voices resonate back in a unique sound that reminds
me of the sounds I heard as a child in the old Ottawa Union Station. I
travelled often from Bedell Station to Ottawa With my grandmother. We
would travel to the market and she would barter with the merchants for
the best buys, then we would reverse direction to the station and await
our train. The sound is yet another way to twig my memory to some happy
time long ago. I hope I have done the same for my granddaughter.
Lorraine and I took our granddaughters to Ottawa by train last summer.
It was the first train trip for both girls. Their excitement was very
contagious and our treat for them became a most memorable journey for
us. Excuse my ramblings.
As you leave the main domed area you enter the newer section. In front
of me is a showcase recognizing train crews for acts of valour. I find
a seat on a bench and as usual soon start up a conversation with a
mother and her adult son. Her journey home has been a long one. Her
son has driven her to Winnipeg from Thunder Bay. Her sons eight hour
drive will now be reversed as he drives home. Meanwhile, Mary must
disembark the train at 3:30 a.m. at a crossing at Kamsack, Sask. where
she will be met by her sister. It is quite a coincidence since my late
husbands family originated from Kamsack. She even remembered hearing of
the family. It is a small world. I had hoped I would wake up to see
Kamsack, but alas I slept through.
Laurie would relate to me at breakfast a tale of how she awoke when the
train came to a stop. As she sleepily peered out the train window she
witnessed a scene that she described as like a scene from an old movie.
A lady walking towards a set of headlights just barely visible in the
swirling snow. Head down, the swirling snow surrounds Mary and the
train attendant who is helping with her bag. Mary’s sister meets the
attendant and takes the bag. The two move quickly towards the car as
Mary waves goodbye as the attendant almost disappears from view in the
blizzard condition. Laurie had described this picture in such detail
that I could picture this scene as if I am there.
Sorry I got ahead of myself again. This is not an uncommon occurrence
so back to the station. Mary’s son could see that she had met three
fellow travellers that would keep her company so he opted to begin his
long trip home. This hour wait passed quickly as we talked and laughed
at the many tales told all around. Soon it was time to board.
We are greeted by Brad our car attendant/cook. He gives us a safety
briefing on the exiting and points out the hammer and procedures needed
to break the glass adjoining our compartment. He also explains that if
we smell clorox we should not be alarmed. With flu season and Norwalk
virus about, they are being extra careful. He advises us to wash our
hands often as an added precaution.
When we travelled to Vancouver last June we had met a wonderful big guy
Moe and his wife. He was an engineer on the Churchill run. They had
been returning from an east coast holiday to family and friends. Moe
had been a wonderful wealth of information to all who plagued him with
questions once they heard about his job. He had taken it all in stride
and answered all our questions in an educated and congenial manner. A
real public relations guru for Via. Imagine my disappointment to find
out he was not aboard. He had made this run to Churchill sound so
exciting that all who had listened to him thought it would become a must
do, someday on vacation lists.
Laurie and Lorraine decided to go for coffee but looking at that well
laid out bed I opted to climb under the covers. When Lorraine returned
she found the compartment too warm so asked Brad and he made some
adjustments. Both Lorraine and I are used to sleeping in cool rooms.
Lights off. Goodnight.
Monday December 30, 2002
I awake; lying in the top bunk I think it must be morning as I feel
rested and wide awake. The train had come to a stop. I could hear
Lorraine softly snoring. She will deny to the death that she snores. I
had no comprehension of time so I let about an hour pass. When she
finally reached for her watch I heard her state, “my watch must have
stopped”. I told her to get my watch out of my cosmetic bag. My gosh
it really was eight o’clock.
Disbelief is the only word to describe our alarm as sleeping to this
hour just doesn’t happen. Lorraine bounded out of bed, grabs her shower
kit and is off to the shower. Upon her return she tells me I’d better
scoot down to the shower as others have to shower yet and we are running
late. Luckily when I got to the shower I would find it empty. Just as
I was leaving, Carmelle came along and I heard “Last call for
I quickly jump into my tracksuit, hair wet down to the dining car we
go. Porridge, toast, jam and coffee was much appreciated. It is not
the Canadian. The coffee is served in plastic cups but the staff serves
it with the same attentive attitude. We sit with Donalda one of the
nicest ladies I have had the good fortune of meeting. She is a soft
spoken lady whose tenacity of spirit is hidden in her demure. She lives
on her own on a property shared with family who occupy their own home.
She shares many stories of the history of her area and her family. I
could write my own book on her many tales. Donalda sincerely invites us
to visit her if we ever get to Hartney Manitoba. She assures us she has
room and if not her son has a bed and breakfast. It is with reluctance
that our conversation must come to an end. I feel so privileged to have
met Donalda and will not forget her soon.
Carmelle announces it is fifteen minutes to The Pas and if we chose we
could leave the train and get some fresh air. We would have a twenty
I scurried back to our compartment grabbing boots, camera, and coat.
Sleeping in has left me feeling completely disorganized. As the train
comes to a stop, I can’t get wait to get out in the snow. We meet
Donaldas family and say our goodbyes.
As I walk in the deep snow, I breath deeply the cold fresh air. I feel
completely exhilarated. This reminds me of what I can describe as a
good old fashioned Canadian winter of my childhood. The deep, fresh
blanket of snow lends itself to the making of snow angels. The little
child in all of us every so often is screaming “let me out”. In front
of the station I kneel in a snow bank and Lorraine takes a picture. I
try to create the illusion of even deeper snow. What great fun. You do
feel like a kid again. It’s wonderful. We reluctantly board the train
again. We had spent some time in the freshly painted station. It was
bright and cheerful. Back in our compartment Lorraine and I try to get
our act together. We soon find ourselves once again organized. We vow
not to oversleep again. Both being early risers we seem to be playing
catch up all day.
In the dining car we talk with Nancy a nurse at the Churchill hospital
and Dave her husband. We get first hand information about Churchill,
its people and sites. This info will save us a lot of time when we get
Brad has gone over and above to see that we are comfortable in our
quarter. We can sit and write and read comfortably.
We make a stop in what seems like no mans land. Later I find out the
stop was to take aboard a snowmobile to be dropped off in Thompson. I
also learn that the particular stop can only be made during the winter
months when a road can cross the frozen muskeg. Those who choose to
live in this area must be a hardy lot.
The train crew wears many hats. As we sit at lunch Carmelle is our
server and Brad our cook. A cheeseburger and chips are visually
pleasing, presented with a wedge of orange and melon with a sprig of
parsley. Brad and Carmelle seem to compliment each other in the way
they work together. A true picture of teamwork. This makes your day as
a passenger relaxed and pleasant, knowing your in such good hands. At
Thicket Portage three teenaged girls scurry to the store to use a bank
machine. We have made stops at a few places that seem to be in the
middle of nowhere. They board the train with no tickets because there
are no agents out here, then must use the nearest bank machine to pay
for the tickets. It is good to know that the train service still puts
people first in this isolated area. Good for Via and its attentive
As we leave the village I spot a picket fenced in cemetery on the side
of the hill. Simple wooden crosses aged with time. This is one of many
spots that dot the landscape. You also see many frame churches on the
hills near each village. I have a keen interest in old churches and
cemeteries. Visiting them is one of the places we can gain so much
The train moves on and after a few quick stops we arrive in Thompson.
After being informed that we will have an hour long stop all three of us
get off the train.
The wind was blowing and this added to a feeling of colder than it
really was. It was minus 18 degrees. After taking a few pictures we
decided to go into the station. The train had left the station to pick
up a freight train for delivery in Churchill. The station was a cheery
place wearing a fresh coat of paint. There was a festive feeling with
the Christmas tree still in place. A large number of people mingled
around awaiting the train. You could see many knew each other. I
suppose with this train route you would have frequent travellers and
thus the familiarity.
A mom and young daughter entered the station bag and baggage in tow. We
assured mom we would help her as she boarded the train and watch her
daughter as she unloaded her rental car. The small girl of about four
or five is quick to tell us her name is Hailey and that she has been to
Calgary to spend Christmas with her grandfather. Santa has been very
good to her thus the extra luggage. Hailey proudly shows us her new
electronic game as she glides across the surface with her finger multi
coloured lights appear creating a new design. She also proudly shows us
her new snowboard and tells of a three tier hill she will use it on in
Churchill. I’ll start on the small hill she tells me. Her mom Echo
introduces herself and thanks us for our help and insists we take her
name and number and while in Churchill if we need anything we should not
hesitate to call her. She is a child care worker at “The Complex” in
Churchill and tells us it is a must visit.
Five fifty five and the train pulls up in front of the station. We
board and go to our compartment and remove our layers of clothing. Time
to just freshen up for dinner.
In the diner we are ready to enjoy haddock, potatoes and vegetables.
Green tea and a “special” decadent dessert finishes off dinner. Not to
worry Carmelle assures us as once again the calories have been removed.
We go back to our compartment and spontaneous laughter begins as we go
through a wonderful giddy time. I’m not sure what got us started. Was
it fatigue or possibly the no calorie dessert? Who knows but it was
great fun. The old remedy of laughter being good for you means we will
surely go home much healthier.
Well its P. J. time and we soon turn in. Come morning we will be in
“The Polar Bear Capital of the World” Nighty.
Tuesday December 31, 2002
Up at five o’clock. Don’t want to sleep in to-day. Lorraine is off on
her quest of first to the shower. She returns and away I go. This may
sound repetitive but that being said, I must repeat that early morning
shower just gives you that special lift of the most positive way to
start your day.
I had slept all night without waking. I am ready to face whatever this
day brings. Caught up on a few notes and off to breakfast at
Porridge, orange juice, two eggs over easy, brown toast and coffee. I’m
fortified for the day. We three sit and chat about our expectations for
Lorraine has requested a bagged lunch as we have been told that New
Years Day will see everything closed. Brad is happy to help us out and
three bagged lunches appear. With many thanks we return to pack up and
get ready to get our first glimpse of Churchill.
As we pull into Churchill, snowmobiles race along side the train. You
can see for miles, vegetation here seems dwarfed as compared to the
As we pull into the station I can’t help but be impressed by my first
view of the station. I know it will need more exploration once we get
As we say good-bye to Brad and Carmelle we are greeted by a smiling
gentleman who immediately starts loading our luggage into his tour van.
We call to Lorraine who has immediately started taking pictures. I can
tell the van is soon to leave. While waiting for Lorraine he informs us
of how he has retired from the railroad and finding time on his hands
now, operates a town van. He says coming to the station is second
nature to him. He pulls the van around and Lorraine comes running at
the toot of his horn.
We did not expect the whirlwind tour of Churchill but never the less got
it. Ten minutes later and twenty dollars we are at our hotel, the
Northern Nights Lodge. He had pointed out all areas of interest
including who worked in most places, where they lived etc. I get the
feeling everyone knows everyone in Churchill. He unloads luggage
quickly and with a farewell bidding of bye for now, and I’ll likely see
you around, leaves in a cloud of exhaust. Well that was interesting.
We arrived at the Lodge at ten past nine. From our first meeting with
the manager we were made to feel completely at home.
Our excitement is such that we go to our rooms and quickly put our
things away. As I glance out the window excitement grows and I can’t
wait to begin exploring.
I bundle up warmly wearing an undervest beneath my purple Arctic Cat
snowmobile suit. I chose this suit over a much more fashionable white
suit offered by my daughter Susan. She refers to my purple one as
tacky. I inform her mine was made in Winnipeg so I am confident I will
be warm. I must admit as I look into a full length mirror with my video
camera strapped around my neck and tucked inside the suit (to protect
the camera from the cold) and my hood pulled around my face I do resemble
“Barney the purple dinosaur”
I can see me now in the all white fashion statement worn by my
daughter. If I had met a Polar Bear it would have been love at first
Our first walk will take us down the main street. Kelsey Street is the
location of the shopping district so we will stop at a few shops as we
go. Our first stop is the Arctic trading post and we must walk past a
yelping husky pup who follows into the shop. The door was unlocked and
the store appeared empty. A voice calls out “I’m taking inventory but
feel free to browse, we will open soon”. This set the tone for our
day. The friendliest people, the open door policy and the willingness
to oblige in any way possible. This was our first sojourn so it was a
“we’ll be back” and off we go and tour. Laurie is a much more studious
shopper at this point so Lorraine and I go ahead. We found our way to
Gypsys Pastry Shop. Time for a coffee break and a donut.
Echo wanders in and we feel very much at home here as she greets us like
long lost friends. She comes bearing gifts for friends and shares with
us her special finds brought home from her southern jaunt. She once
again reminds us to call if we need anything.
Dave’s (the person we need to contact for our dog sled run) wife is in
Gypsy’s having coffee so Lorraine makes arrangements for a dog sled run
at one o’clock. She makes a phone call home and its confirmed. Just as
we suit-up to leave Laurie appears. She plans to stay on for a snack so
Lorraine and I trudge on.
The adrenalin flows high as we survey our surroundings with joy and
awe. Our early morning spontaneous tour guide told us a twenty minute
walk in any direction and we would have covered Churchill. We
thankfully found this fact to be true.
The walks in the cold fresh air is just what we need. The wonderful
meals on the train now need to be walked off. The R. C. M. P. offices,
post office, complex, churches, shops and half an hour later we are back
at the Northern Nights. The sun had shone with no wind and a balmy
minus 24 degree Celsius made our first walk about the best. A feeling
of exhilaration had built as the cold fresh dry air filled my lungs as
we had walked along.
Life is good! As we enter the lodge we find Laurie had arrived just
five minutes before us. I must mention that while on our walk a horn
had blown and I looked up to get a big wave from Nancy as she drove by
us. How nice to feel you are part of a community after such a short
time. Nancy and Dave have been raising their two daughters in Churchill
for fourteen years. The girls are now in College in Calgary but they
take the train to visit quite often. You could tell by our chats on the
train that these two care very much about the people of Churchill.
We grab a quick snack, suit up and head out for the twenty minute walk
to Wapusk General Store to meet Dave our musher who will take us on our
first dog sled ride. The log building is very rustic looking with
carved polar bears in stone on either side. of the entrance. The
interior has a warm and welcoming feeling. It has the feeling of a
private home with a wood stove burning. From the ever present T-shirts
to hand crafted pieces the choices are great in gift ideas.
Dave arrives momentarily and asked if we mind if his eight year old son
Wyatt and his friend George join us on our trek to the camp.
Soon our happy group is on our way in a small yellow school bus. Dave
keeps his dogs out of town and in exchange the town keeps the road to
his camp open. The road is icy but I guess driving on this terrain is
second nature so we scoot right along. “oops” that bump wasn’t here the
last time I was out, comments Dave as we bounce from our seats.
As we round a bend in the road we see many dogs tied up to small wooden
boxes. An ongoing chorus of yelping greets us. The air is electrified
as a sense of anticipation of a run seems evident in the dogs. This
knowledge seems to peak as Dave exits the bus.
The two young boys exit the bus and run from one dog to another. The
excitement rises and when the boys drag a new puppy out of its box the
yelping reaches a new height of decimals. I know the new, as yet
unnamed puppy, is male as Wyatt checks and informs me of the sex.
Dave quickly begins to harness his team. The lead dog is first and he
sinks an anchor into the snow to keep him in tow. He tells us this dog
is half wolf. You can tell that he is ready to go as he stretches
forward in a pose of readiness. As he systematically hooks up the rest
of the dogs he warns us to be ready to jump aboard the sleigh as he
hooks up the last dog. Just as he is about to do this he informs us we
will go two at a time. Lorraine who has been busy taking pictures pulls
her mittens on and bounds down on top of me pulling the blanket around
us and we are off. We laugh with excitement. A feeling of elation
comes over me. This is too good to be true. As the dogs lunge forward
with great abandon one dog nips at his team mate. Dave warns him to
behave or he will get his ear bitten. This statement seemed foreign to
me but sure enough the brakes are applied an anchor sunk and Dave bends
over and bites his ear. Our journey continues with a well behaved team.
We have opted for a half hour run but the dogs are ready to follow a
trail that will take us on an hour run. Dave calls on the dogs to turn
but he must put on the brake and turn the lead dog. They respond
positively and we are on our return run. The wind chill makes the minus
twenty four degree Celsius feel colder. It is a picture perfect day
with the sun shining and the bluest of skies above. As we pull into the
compound all the dogs jump onto the top of their boxes and the yelping
continues from the excited dogs.
An American lady joined our group and she hops on with Laurie and they
are off. As they depart Lorraine and I explore the area. There is a
large white canvas tent with a stove pipe poking out one end. A smaller
tent stands several feet away. One is used as a sweat lodge and the
family sometimes uses the larger one for family outings.
Laurie rides on the back of the sled with Dave, as the dogs and sled
round the corner and come back into view. Laurie is just beaming. Her
face reflects what we are all feeling. This experience was one all
three of us had looked forward to. We are definitely not disappointed
but rather our expectations are far exceeded.
Dave has brought food and now proceeds to un-harness and then feed the
dogs. The lead dog is always fed first and then the rest follow.
Back on the bus a quick stop at the store and Dave drives us to the
Eskimo Museum. We only have about twenty minutes. It’s New Year’s Eve
here and we have been warned that three o’clock is the time of closing.
What can I say about the Eskimo Museum? If you want to see the finest
collection of Inuit carvings and artifacts dating pre-Dorset through to
to-days modern Inuit times, this is the place to visit. Historic and
contemporary sculptures of stone, bone and ivory. Archaeological and
wildlife specimens are here for you to view. From polar bear, musk-ox,
arctic wolf, walrus, and many smaller specimens of all Arctic areas can
be seen here. The two librarians are always available to help in any
way and freely discuss the exhibits with you. I finally found the book
I have been looking for in this gift shop. Through the years
Churchill, North of 58. I highly recommend this book to anyone who
plans to visit or just wishes they could. This fine piece of work was
put together by the
Churchill Ladies Club.
The history behind this group is a most fascinating story in itself.
Started by four ladies in l947 their extraordinary strength of spirit,
determination, persistence and caring made a difference for their
families and their communities. This line is from the dedication in the
book but after you read the history of this group you know their
dedication to doing the right thing changed the face of the north in a
most positive way. To to-days Churchill Ladies Club members and those
who will continue in their footsteps I say “You go girls”.
Reluctantly we leave with the full knowledge that we could have spent
We quickly walk down to Gypsy’s and the Northland store to pick up some
supplies as we know everything is closed tomorrow, New Years day.
Back in our room we have a snack and talk about this exceptional day.
We have made memories to last a lifetime and the day is not over yet.
About six o’clock we decide to go for a walk. I do wish I had one of
the gadgets that record walked miles. The wind is up so we bundle up
well and go on a long walk in a large square around Churchill. As we
turn into the wind even though we thought we dressed well the wind would
burn the exposed parts of the face. We change directions and start back
to the lodge. Even this experience of extreme cold on the face is an
experience that I would not have wanted to miss. I can only imagine
when the temperature plummets what it would feel like.
As we enter the lodge the owner is on his way out to a New Years Eve
party. He bids us a quick good-bye telling us to help ourselves to
whatever we need and just make yourselves at home.
I go to the Laurie and Lorraine’s room and they flop on the bed. “A nap
is in order” they say, so I go to my room and slip into my P. J.’s. I
am wide awake with my mind awhirl with many thoughts. I sit and glance
through North of 58. This just seems to stimulate the mind and a
feeling of gratitude fills me for having been able to partake of this
northern experience. I form in my mind a vision of the early days in
this isolated area. The natural hardships and hardships thrust upon
them by less knowledgeable bureaucrats leaves nothing but admiration for
this hardy people. I glance at the clock and am amazed to see it is
11:40 p.m. I quickly move down the hall and wrap at the door to be
finally let in by Miss sleepy eyed Lorraine. “Get up, it’s almost
midnight” “What do you want???” Lorraine exclaimed. I want you both up
it is almost midnight. “New Years Eve in Churchill”. You can not sleep
through it I tell them. She agrees and they get up. This unique
experience at the almost top of the world would not pass unnoticed if I
had anything to do with it. We turn on the television and watch the
countdown. Three, two, one. We throw the balloons into the air and
yell Happy New Year. Through the opened window we could hear voices
calling out New Years Greetings as fireworks go off and shots sound
out. We had been warned not to be alarmed should we hear gun blasts as
this is a traditional welcome to a New Year.
“I’ll let you go back to sleep now”, I tell my friends. I go back to my
room happy in the knowledge that I had not let my amigos sleep while the
new year arrived in Churchill.
What an incredible feeling. Sleep came quickly.
Wednesday January l, 2003
The happiest of New Year’s from Churchill. It’s six thirty and I am
just reflecting my good fortune, counting my blessings and looking to
the new year with optimism. I take a leisurely shower and get dressed.
Daylight doesn’t come until eight-thirty so the need to rush is not
needed. I knock on the girls door and they are just getting up. I tell
them to knock on my door when they are ready for breakfast. As I look
out my window it’s just beginning to get daylight. All is quiet and
nothing is moving outside. I hear a knock on the door and am informed
it’s time for breakfast. It’s about nine o’clock.
Breakfast is a date square and orange juice. We decide to start this
first day of the new year on another walk-a-bout.
We start out about eleven o’clock. We walk first to the Via station.
New Years day-all locked up. Some pictures are taken and we decide to
walk to the Port of Churchill as we could see a tug boat placed on shore
for winter and we decided this needed investigating.
We spot a monument of stone and stop to check it out. The Son’s of
Martha Cairn, built in the l930’s erected by H.F. McLean, dedicated to
the memory of men who lived worked and sometimes died on major
construction jobs in the l920’s and 30’s. The cairn bears Kipling’s poem
honouring the working man “The Sons of Martha”.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock,
it is their care that the gear engages;
it is their care that the switches lock. (thanks Mr. McLean: Lest we forget.)
It is their care that the wheels run truly;
it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.
On the train we learned from Dave the conductor for Hudson Bay Railroad
that the Hudson Bay Railway operates over eight hundred miles of former
Canadian National Railway track. Passenger service is provided under
contract with Via Rail Canada.
As we approached a private property sign I discouraged our little group
to avoid going up the tracks and instead we walk down a side road and
past our hotel. We once again walk up Bernier Street and go down to the
shores of Hudson’s Bay. The ice is piled high on the shore. The sun
shining on it gives the ice a greenish colour. As I look across the
expanse of water we see some large ice flows. The locals have told us
that the nils winter has left the Bay basically unfrozen. The rocky
shore displays a blend of snow-covered and exposed rocks worn smooth by
centuries of being continually washed by the rush of the water and ice
of the Hudson Bay. We spend about half an hour walking about the shore
line. I pick up a few small stones for my granddaughter as we leave the
I want to stop at St. Paul”s Anglican church. We have been told the
door is always open and visitors are welcome. Sure enough the door is
unlocked and a welcome visitors sign greets us.
We had been told by our tour guide on arrival that history goes back to
l620 of the early mission work in the north.
At the library I learned in l890 the first church was built on the west
side of the river from lumber and iron cut and fitted in England. The
church was completed in the summer of l892 as is referred to till this
day as the earliest pre-fabricated buildings in Canada. It is the
oldest in the north still in use.
In l936 the church was moved by tractor-sled across the river during the
winter months. In l975 it was once again moved to its present site.
This final move saw the church placed on a basement.
With the demolishment of the Chapel at the military base, the furniture
and stain glass windows from the chapel were saved and installed in this
church. In l996 St. Paul’s became a provincial historical site. Much
more history is involved with this quaint church that its high on a
hill. There are a number of pictures showing the aurora borealis with
the church as a backdrop.
With this basic knowledge I enter the church. You get a real feel for
the beauty of this historic church. Four metal plaques adorn the
walls. I view this sacred place in awe. The beautiful stain glass
windows are truly breathtaking. With the sun shining in casting a
rainbow of colours on the oak pews and floor. Behind the wooden pulpit
a full wall is taken up with a beautiful calligraphy on metal of the ten
Commandments. Another to the left of the alter The Apostles Creed, and
to the right the Lord’s Prayer. On the right wall a plaque dating
l6l9. I learn this metal plaque was placed in l924 in commemoration of
Pastor Rasmus Jensen. The prayer and hymn books sit ready for use and
candles, collection plates a very early circular candelabra, all remain
out to be viewed. It reminds me of a time when churches in the south
remained open to the public. Unfortunately no more. I turn to leave
and view wall hangings with the hand prints of children on it. The
glass doors allow you to exit and I take time to sign a guest book.
Artifacts are available to view in this area as well. A notice by the
guest book requests the need for a Priest. Illness of the present Rev.
Hannah Bazlik prompts this request. A retired Priest would be most
welcome. I wish I had been here on a Sunday, judging from the photos in
an album the devotion to the church is very evident. I wish you well in
your search for a priest.
As we walk down the street I hear “Hi, here you are, I’ve heard you were
in town but this is my first spotting “. Now apparently the locals are
“Amigo Spotting,” I had not been aware we had become such a novelty.
Dany informs us she works at the administration office at the Complex.
Visiting a friend at the hospital, she had learned about three girls who
had come up on the train to greet the New Year. She filled us in on
some local tales and told us to come visit her tomorrow at the Complex.
We visit for a while and then move on back to the hotel. I hope you see
what I mean when I say “There are no strangers in Churchill”.
Back in our room we have lunch. Pepsi and an apple turnover and away we
This time we stop at the R. C. M. P. office to find a female officer
Fournier on duty. She informs us four officers man the office and with
two on vacation now its a busy place. We do not stay long as she is very
busy. We had planned to stop at the hospital but officer Fournier said
with the holiday it probably would not be a good idea.
We walk back to our hotel. Feeling coffee deprived I snack once again.
We have free run of the hotel as the owner has told us just make
yourselves at home. We do our laundry. Lorraine has even washed our
towels. Everywhere we have been here there has been a complete feeling
of trust in everyone. Doors unlocked, vehicles running and snowmobiles
are left unattended with the keys in the ignition.
Each time we leave the hotel the crows fly from the trees across town.
Do you suppose they are informing Churchill that we are out and about
About 6:30 Lorraine and I go out side to check for the northern lights.
One of our disappointments being that as yet only minor colours have
been spotted. We have been told we should try to whistle them in.
Folklore don’t you know. Well we have managed with our whistling to get
every dog in Churchill barking. We’ll try again later.
Back inside I write furiously to try and catch up on my notes.
Laurie and Lorraine are in the dining room and call me down for
sandwiches and COFFEE. Soon I find myself back in my room with one eye
out the window and one making notes, time passes quickly. It is our
last night in Churchill and hope springs eternal that tonight is the
night for the Northern Lights. Lorraine comes to my room and spotting a
reflection from the television on the glass decides that this is the
omen we need to go outside. A large pinkish red ball covers the sky
above Churchill. I comment to Lorraine that it gives the appearance of
wanting to drop down and swallow us up like some giant space ship.
We have joked about Raliens on this trip so laughing we go back inside.
I tell the girls to come and get me if anything happens. P.J.’s on I
read for a while. That is the last thing I remember.
Thursday January 2, 2003
7:00 a.m. and a knock comes to the door. I am greeted by Lorraine and
she tells me she has just got back from a walk to the train station.
Having found it closed she now wants to know if I’ll walk down with
her. “Give me a few minutes we’ll go” I reply.
A quick shower and into my snowmobile suit and away we go. The station
is open this time. This is our first time inside the newly renovated
station. The outside intrigued me upon our arrival in Churchill and now
inside we find an Inuit Museum and many exhibits. A most realistic
brush area houses a mother bear and two cubs. A caribou of the tundra
is part of another exhibit. A completely stocked tee-pee lets you see
what early people would have on hand. There are also audio-visual
displays. We spend about an hour viewing the many displays. We talk a
while with the Parks Canada clerk and then decide it’s time for
We walk to the Seaport to check out another new spot. Two eggs over
easy, toast, jam and coffee and we are fortified for another day.
Lorraine and I walk back to the hotel to pick up Laurie. Ready and
willing the three of us head out for Cape Merry. The walk is just
A balmy day indeed. The temperature is minus twelve sunny and no wind.
No private property signs along the road so I feel secure we are not
trespassing. We walk past the elevator at the Port of Churchill and
climb a hill and pass the abandoned Port building, down the rocks
passing an abandoned weather worn building. Laurie stops to investigate
as Lorraine and I continue towards the shoreline. The view across the
large expanse of blue water is breathtaking. Seeing large ice flows, I
tell myself I am seeing my first ice-burgs. Lorraine and I are
determined to walk to the very tip of Cape Merry since Laurie has not
had breakfast yet she heads back for some food.
We climb to a snowmobile trail and find walking very easy. It is a long
walk but a most enjoyable one. I don’t know if its the air here or my
own adrenaline but all the walking we do does not seem to bother me. We
look out across the water. A few buildings sit on what now looks like
islands of ice. A little further out Prince of Sales Fort stands on
guard. To our left ice jams and whipped snow paint a picture of wind
blown fury. The ice is piled high in many places and the snow that has
blown over it gives the impression of white caps on a very rough ocean.
Pictures would not do justice to this experience of seeing with the
human eye as the cold air swirls about you. This wonderful experience
will remain with me always.
It is truly a gift to stand with your face to the sun and back to
Hudson’s Bay and look over this large expanse, a feeling very personal
and hard to describe. Lorraine and I reluctantly begin our trek back.
Our pace is leisurely, inspired I’m sure by a sense of sheer
contentment. Almost three hours have passed in what seemed a much
We had neglected to take water with us so back to the hotel we go. This
being our last day here we immediately go back out as we don’t want to
waste a minute of our time inside.
The Complex is our next stop. Dany had told us it would be open today
so we will stop here first so as not to get side tracked. “Oh oh”
already side tracked as I want to stop at St. Pauls and take a few still
shots with my camera.
Being Anglican myself this spot for me has been a very spiritual place.
Its early history and continued use makes me think about all of the
people who have walked on this spot before me. The happy times and the
sad. If only these walls could talk what history they could relate.
Once a dreamer always a dreamer I guess.
The Complex what a most wonderful resource. Any community would be
truly blessed to have such an amazing building. Under one roof you find
a hospital, daycare centre school, library, cafeteria , pool, theatre,
large skating and hockey rink, and the municipal offices for the town of
Churchill. Many large cities would be envious of this accomplishment.
Although built in l976 it has the appearance of a much newer structure.
After having met Dany Allard I see the pride that must be felt by all
residents in this achievement. We went to the administration office to
quiz our new friend and found her as helpful at work as when we met her
on the street. She had arrived in Churchill in l983 with the
“Katimavik” program. Her job was supposed to last three months but she
is still here, and now working for the municipality. We tour the
complex with its glass windowed Hudson’s Bay View. This view must be
spectacular year round.
As we look down on the child care area we hear a “Hi guys”, it is Echo
also on the job. Haily, her daughter climbs on and over a large red
painted train. Moms and kids all seem to be enjoying their time
together. One wall by the cafeteria carries black and white portraits
of some of the most interesting faces. As we admire a large wooden bear
painstakingly put together with many small pieces of wood I wonder who
and how this was constructed. As we pass the cafeteria Haily calls out
to us. She wants us to see a beautiful baby girl who sits quietly in a
stroller. This is my aunt. O.K. I respond. There is much affection
shown for the baby to the point of bringing her to tears from all the
patting and petting.
Ready to make an escape Haily encourages us to go and see their lemon
tree. Sure enough in a large sitting area a number of large containers
hold trees. She proudly pulls back the leaves to expose the beginning
of small lemons growing. It is definitely not Florida but lemon trees
do bloom in Churchill. We glance down on the rink and see boys and
girls putting on skates and getting ready to go on the ice.
As we walk towards the exit we pass a very large library. Unfortunately
it is closed. Inside you can see shelf upon shelf of books. I notice
many displays of crafts, computers and wall hangings. This looks like a
most interesting place to spend time. Huge wall hangings adorn the
walls and entrance area. I could go on and on about this special oasis
in the middle of the frozen north but I must move on.
As we left we will walk towards the Polar Bear Inn to see if we can find
Leona. We pass a gentleman who stops for a second to wish us a Happy
New Year. He greets us with “May you be in heaven an hour before the
devil knows your dead” Isn’t that great? You gotta love these people.
As unassuming as can be he just walked on.
We stop at the trading post for one last look for treasures. None
found. Back to the hotel we catch up with Laurie. She is not hungry
for supper because she had such a late breakfast so will just have a
light snack and get caught up on her notes. Lorraine and I go to the
Seaport to grab some dinner. I enjoy some fish and chips. We don’t
linger as time is passing away too quickly.
As we pass the Northland Store I spot a taxi. Lorraine goes over and
makes arrangements for us to be picked up at 7:30.
We are waiting in the lobby when the cab arrives at seven thirty sharp.
He loads up the bags for the very short drive to the station. He was a
very pleasant person and helped us unload the baggage at the station.
Disappointed to find the museum at the station closed. We wanted to
share this spot with Laurie. We can live with the disappointment when
Jody, the contract agent for Via can not sell us a book and video. This
aspect of the business is run by Parks Canada and there is no one on
duty at this time. Procrastination has caught us again.
We board the train and I look back at a place I won’t soon forget.
Three wonderful days with these hardy, friendly people has left a
lasting impression on me. A cold frozen land where the warmth of its
people leaves a warm feeling to the soul.
We may not have viewed the full northern lights but we came away with so
much more than we came with.
A lasting feeling of trust in your fellow man. The openness of the
people we came in contact with showed itself in so many ways. The now
familiar shunt of the train and our journey home begins. It all has
seemed like a dream. “ouch” pinched myself. Not a dream. I join
Laurie and Lorraine in the dinning car and coffee and conversations
It takes only a few minutes to settle in and soon I am talking with a
mother of four from Thompson. I tell her how I enjoyed my time in
Mary tells me of how in her teens she thought she knew much more than
her mom and dad. Winnipeg seemed like the place she should go. She
spent thirteen years there and said that she only found true happiness
when she returned home. “I was lucky as mum and dad welcomed me back
with open arms” she states. She shares a number of stories with me and
then goes back to her car to join her four children.
Going to bed early tonight seems like a good idea. Much ground was
covered on our long walks on this last day but I wouldn’t have changed a
About eleven thirty I heard a commotion outside our door. Lorraine and
I are sharing a compartment. “Get up, get up, there here there here”
resounds into the top bunk. “What’s here”, I ask. The lights, the
northern lights she replies.
Lorraine and I literally bound out of bed. I narrowly miss Lorraine’s
head as she climbs out of the lower bunk and I fly down from the top.
What an amazing display fills the sky as if a farewell wave of good bye
from the heavens. I have viewed northern lights from home but never
anything like this. The sky is filled with what appears to be dancing
of different hues of green infused with white. For about an hour we
watch in sheer amazement and delight. As quickly as they came clouds
move in and a dark curtain ends our private show. All of our great
expectations have now been met. To sleep perchance to dream.
Friday January 3, 2003
I hear the door open. Its Lorraine coming back from the shower. Our
late night vigil had caused the impossible to happen yet again. We
I rush off to shower as haste is in order if I want breakfast. Ah, made
it. Porridge, toast, jam and coffee. This is great. I feel now able
to pick up a pen and do some catching up. This I can see will be a day
of reflections. The Thompson stop sees many people leave the train. We
end up with the whole sleeper car to the Amigos. Lunch of a
cheeseburger and coke with a salad was great. A quiet afternoon of
reading and writing wuited me to a tee.
We had been advised that the ride north would be slow and rough. This
just wasn’t so. It was slower but definitely not rough.
Dinner was a chatty time as most of the day had been spent getting
caught up. Since we will be in Churchill in the morning I was off to
Saturday January 4, 2003
Up at six and by 6:30 Lorraine is back from the shower. I take my turn
and get dressed for breakfast. We were meeting someone in Winnipeg for
breakfast, but Stephan had the porridge on and Lorraine was having some
so what could I do?
With the knowledge that we will soon be in Winnipeg I now get the
feeling our adventure is just about over.
Never take anything for granted. The door from Churchill may be closed
but Winnipeg lies ahead. Little did I know the leisurely pace of
Churchill was about to be replaced by a whirlwind tour in Winnipeg. As
we said our good byes to yet another super Via crew, we are met by Ken
They looked harmless enough as they kindly helped us with our luggage.
The car looked standard enough but by the end of our tour I would feel
sure that a high powered engine lay beneath that hood. We will see more
in the next nine hours than you could ever imagine.
Breakfast at “The Forks” is great. Ken and Daryl tell us about their
business Rail Travel Tours. They produce a photo album of a tour they
had guided and share experiences they have had. Breakfast over and Ken
goes off to work. You may have heard of Super Dave well Super Daryl now
takes over and we are off in a cloud of smoke. Dropped off luggage at
the hotel and our first stop is St. Boniface Basilica built in l908 it
was destroyed by fire in l968. The stone walls rise high and a large
circular hole once held a beautiful stain glass window. We walk through
this elegant facade to the new church structure. A modern design, it is
still very impressive. A church service is just finishing so we leave
quietly. We walk out into the cemetery and here Daryl points us to the
grave of Manitoba founder Louis Riel. There are a number of flowers and
wreaths placed on the spot. Laurie stops to read a few cards but it is
time to head for our next destination. As we speed away next door,
Daryl points out the St. Boniface Museum, the largest oak log building
in North America.
We pass by the old city hall, and Daryl points out Canwest baseball
field. Lorraine had said on the train that if we had time in Winnipeg
she would like to stand on the corner of Portage and Main, “isn‘t this
noted for being the coldest windiest corner in Canada?” she asked , he
laughs “maybe so” we didn’t get a chance to stop, but Lorraine did snap
a picture. He showed us the Royal Bank building which was the first
office tower in western Canada, then by the Centennial Concert Hall and
on to the Manitoba Museum. The pace slowed a bit as we toured galleries
depicting Manitoba’s natural and human history. Life like scenes of
aboriginal buffalo hunts, moose in the wild, wolves and all creatures
great and small are mingled with interpretations of early fur trading
and merchandizing. A replica of the Nonsuch Ketch built to scale using
authentic tools sits in a depiction of an early Hudson’s Bay port. The
workmanship is superb, and it’s wonderful to be in this museum for
everyone to enjoy. A quick glance in the gift shop to pick up another
film and we’re off. We toured along the exchange district with its well
preserved turn of the century warehouse and commercial buildings. It
looks like a shoppers paradise. With a quick swing through China Town it
was time for lunch so we darted around a number of streets then came to
an abrupt stop. We were here. I must say Daryl knows Winnipeg. I was
very impressed with the large number of tree lined streets. I can only
imagine how beautiful it must be when the leaves are on.
Alycia’s is the name of the restaurant. It looks like a very
unpretentious clap board sided house. We are quickly seated at a table
covered with red oilcloth. I haven’t seen those in years. The decor is
Ukrainian and it appears to be a very popular place. As we sit, a
customer stops to tell us about the great food here and makes some
suggestions as what I might like. I order a plate that is a combination
of all specialty items as I want to try them all. Stuffed with potatoes
and cheese the perogies are served deep fried, pan fried or boiled.
Having two of each I preferred the deep fried. Cabbage rolls were
great as well. Laurie had a bowl of borscht which she said was great.
Lorraine had a combination plate and loved it she said. Lorraine was
taken on a tour of the kitchen and talked with some of the staff. She
tells me they make l,000 dozen perogies a day. A television show The
Great Breakfast is coming Monday to record Ukrainian New Year
Daryl tries to find a trash and treasure store described by our Cook
from the train. I did find a little something but was a little
disappointed not to find that long lost treasure. We had been given
fifteen minutes here, we are out in ten.
We stop next at the Hilton Hobby shop. A hobby railroaders delight with
model trains, books etc. It’s a bustling place and the small shop is
full. Lorraine is introduced to the owner and takes some pictures.
We dart past the Exchange District once more and pass the new City Hall
then head on a quick jaunt into a district of very expensive looking
real estate, River Heights I think and Daryl points out some homes of
interest with family names we have heard of.
From there its on to Osborne Village then out what looks like a country
road and we pull into the Fort Whyte Centre. We view stuffed animals,
aquariums of fish and turtles. I spy Daryl and Lorraine in the duck
enclosure among the many species of ducks. There is a large super
toboggan run that ends onto the iced pond but once again we decline the
opportunity to break some bones. Daryl gets the car while we glance in
the gift shop. A bison herd roams in a field as we exit .
It is starting to get dark, undaunted we head to Assinaboine Park. We
pull up in front of Park Pavilion and a quick look at the lobby and
beautiful gift room then outside at the rear was a large pavilion. As
we squinted across the large expanse of lawns we could make out some
people skating on a pond. It was now dark and the Pavilion was decked
out in the most beautiful light display which we glimpsed from the car
before we were off again.
The next stop is the Legislative Building. The majestic limestone
building is truly most impressive. Daryl tells me it is close to Main
Street and the train station. Daryl has a family dinner at 6:30 so
drops us off at the hotel at 6:00 p.m. Never in my wildest dreams could
I have imagined seeing so much in such a short time. Thanks Daryl seems
inadequate. Our breakfast turned into a tour to remember. so much in
such a short time.
Back in our room I open my luggage. We had checked our large suitcases
in the baggage car on the way from Churchill so I get out the clothes I
want for tomorrow. When I spied my second set of P.J.’s I feel I would
like to put them on and flop on the bed but alas we must go to dinner.
We agree if we don’t do it now dinner may become breakfast. Luckily a
Pizza Hut is just across the street so we decide that is as far as we
want to venture.
We are soon back at the hotel P.J.’s on and ready to settle in.
Lorraine is under the covers first. I follow shortly after while Laurie
sits at the desk writing. Even the television did not keep me awake.
I do wake to see Laurie lying on her back, with hands folded across her
chest. I get up close the blinds, shut off the television and check to
see if she’s breathing because of her corpse like position. If there
had been a flower around I would have placed it in her hands and taken a
picture. I know, a weird sense of humour. I chuckle to myself
thinking I should have taken a picture anyway.
Sunday January 5, 2003
2:00 a.m. what is that noise: Ah... Laurie and Lorraine’s Choir. Laurie
snores and Lorraine responds. I actually found myself directing them.
Lying on my back I would point from one to the other as if conducting an
orchestra. This concert continued for a while then Laurie rolled over
and Lorraine fell silent.
The silence is deafening but at some point I fell back to sleep.
O.K. here we go again. This time it is sniggering laughter. Lorraine
was laughing in her sleep and woke herself and me up. She tells me of
an amusing incident that happened in Churchill and now we are both out
of control with laughter. Laurie is now awake and we all laugh
uncontrollably. I guess now we are just laughing at each others
laughter. You had to be there.
Our wonderful room at the Sheraton Winnipeg is equipped with a coffee
maker so as Lorraine, Miss first in the shower is having her shower
Laurie makes coffee for all.
The shower begins to make a mournful sound and also a vibrating sound.
Laurie and I question as to whether Lorraine can hear it or not. Laurie
and I laugh as we contemplate the plaster falling from the ceiling in
the next room. Lorraine comes out checking to see if we heard the
noise. Heard it, we respond, we actually felt it.
It is my turn to shower. With much trepidation I enter the tub as I
turn on the water everything seems fine. All of a sudden shampoo in
hair and body soaped it begins. What to do? As I start to turn off the
shower I accidentally find that if you allow some water to run from the
tap into the tub the shower immediately becomes normal.
Lorraine now decides she wants to play hairdresser. A suppressed desire
I’m sure. Laurie becomes her willing guinea pig Maybe Lorraine missed
her calling as the results of her work are very positive. Laurie is
happy with the results as well.
We tease Laurie about how this may be just the thing she needs to find
that rich husband. Lorraine and I are trying to find for her. With her
good sense of humour Laurie goes along with our teasing. Our evenings
have been one big girls pyjama party. Good company, good food and
plenty of laughter. They say laughter is supposed to be good for your
health thus we are all going home much healthier I’m sure.
We leave the hotel at l0:15 and take a cab to the station. Here we
check our bags and with an hour to spare take a walk to The Forks. It
sure is nice to see what the powers that be are doing in this area.
Once the home of the Canadian National Railway’s maintenance shops it
now is being converted into a nine acre interpretive park adjoining the
Forks Historic Park and Assiniboine River Walk.
There are many outdoor attractions and inside the market or next door to
Johnston Terminal you can find unique shopping and dining. I make just
one purchase and skip breakfast and tour the facility instead. Now time
to go back to the station I see Laurie and Lorraine sitting in the
waiting area enjoying a courtesy coffee. I partake of a warm blend of
complimentary tea and soon we board.
We are welcomed aboard by Robert our car attendant who shows us to our
rooms. It feels like coming home when we board The Canadian. We feel
secure in the knowledge we are in the best of hands.
As I enter the Park car I am greeted by yet another most personable
Robert. Roberts and Dave’s seem to be the names of choice for this
trip. Robert is giving a history lesson of the area and train travel as
well to a gentleman from the U.S. Robert tells us this afternoon we will
partake of wine testing and the proper way to approach drinking wine.
Great. Jack another passenger who coincidently is a wine importer just
happens to be sitting across from me. Jack’s wife had fallen upon
leaving their hotel this morning and an obliging crew member was taking
meal choices from them so that they could eat in their room. I tell you
the truth they go the extra mile if needed.
The second seating is called and I go to lunch. The special of the day
is vegetable lasagne, Caesar salad, tomato juice and for dessert apple
crisp and ice cream. My combined breakfast/lunch worked out well.
We sit with Fred who is travelling alone back from holidays in Winnipeg
to his job in Toronto at St. Michael’s Hospital.
After lunch I sit and visit in the park car with Ethel. Sudbury is her
home and she travels at least once a year to visit her daughter on
Vancouver Island. A recent widow she is a very busy lady with her
volunteer work. She talks about her love of train riding. Travelling
alone she feels safe, is well looked after and meets so many nice
people. She was truly one of the nice people I can say I met also.
Robert arrives with a tray of small glasses of red and white wine. With
great assurance he guides us through the process. How to hold the glass
by the stem, smell the bouquet taste swirl again, bouquet, taste. Ethel
knew her wines and proved to be the expert. She named the types before
being told. Robert made this time not only educational but also most
entertaining and great fun.
From Newfoundland a gentleman told us many tales about the Newfoundland
Railway and his sadness over it being lost. The tracks ripped up
immediately and a system lost forever. The bus trip he had taken across
Newfoundland was not one of his favourite memories. He was enjoying the
train trip as he returned from Victoria. He had worked for 27 years for
An exchange student from Italy living and going to school in Sudbury, a
successful music producer born in Newfoundland, worked in California
giving up his career to go back to York University to pursue a career in
law. Imagine all the great diversified conversations you get involved
in. One of the best part of train travel is the opportunity to meet and
talk with such interesting people. Usually we go to the first dinner
seating so was not aware of the great snacks placed out for those who go
to the second seating. Yummy Yummy. Dinner was a lake trout, Caesar
salad and Parisian potatoes. I had ice-cream for dessert. Green tea
was sipped as we visited with our dinner companion.
The evening was spent sharing conversations and lots of fun. I check my
watch twelve o’clock before I turn into a pumpkin. I will rush off to
bed. I hear Lorraine come in about one o’clock.
Monday January 6, 2003
Showered and dressed I am off to breakfast at 6:30. I sit with a
gentleman who is in the transportation industry in N.Y.
He is on vacation having visited friends in Seattle then taking a train
from Vancouver to Toronto. From Toronto he will return to the U.S. and
take a train home to New York. His train knowledge is great and as we
talk he tells me he is familiar with Trainweb. This is always good to
Gogama. I look at my watch l0:00 a.m. This small isolated town was
home to my uncle Garnet when he was stationed here as an Ontario
Provincial Police Officer. He had just passed away in November. The
name of this place brought warm thoughts of him. I missed most his
Christmas card this holiday season always just signed “The Greatest
I need a diversion so off to the park car I go. Just in time to see
Robert setting up his golf putting range. It’s boys against girls.
Lots of close calls, one hole in one, soon a few more balls sink in and
the males defeat the females. Lorraine has taken a number of pictures.
Everyone in the car participated. One gentleman who had come and gone
several times just nodding a hello, joined in when Robert handed him a
club. He did well and seemed to feel more at home and sat down and
started talking with other passengers.
At dinner this gentleman waved and said hi. Robert introduced us to
“Zak” Some young students from New Mexico had sent him on a trip from
A stuffed animal he is acquiring moments as he goes from place to
place. One book he carried for people to write notes in was full and
now some kind person had given him a new larger journal.
He is dressed in a Via rail hat now and carries a small Canadian flag.
He wears little work boots. The class hopes he will be back home by
May. He is on quite an adventure. Zak had been handed to the Via crew
in Vancouver with a note from the last handler of Zak saying he wanted
to see the C.N. Tower. A P.R. person from Via is planning to send him
on his way from Toronto. Who knows if Zak will make it back to New
Mexico but as we talked all in the Park car sure hope he does.
We now need to pack up as we will soon reach Toronto. In Toronto
good-byes are said and we disembark and take the escalator down and
await our luggage to come. Laurie and Lorraine watch the belt as I sit
with our carry on luggage. Bag and baggage we go to the Panorama Lounge
to relax till our train comes in. We will have about three hours wait
till our over night ride home to Brockville. I help myself to a cup of
complimentary hot chocolate.
The television is on and I watch for really the first time in ten days.
It seems to help pass the time. I also visit with a couple who have
been on the train with us from Winnipeg. They will get off in Dorval.
An attendant from the Renaissance comes along and tells us he will be
pre-boarding us. He gives me tags for my luggage and when I tell him
one is my carry on he informs me I will be carrying them all on. My
advice to anyone coming back on the Canadian to check as soon as you get
off (if you are to board the Renaissance) as to your baggage handling.
No red caps are available at 11:30 and trying to juggle ten days of
luggage, one large, one handled carry and one carry on up an escalator
and a long way down a platform alone is not a pleasant experience.
By the time I got to the storage car I was exhausted. I then had to
hand the two up to the handler in the baggage car. This was above my
head. I’ll definitely make some changes next time. Aboard we go to our
room and I went quickly to bed. As the train moves out Lorraine and I
smell fumes which really don’t seem to go away. We slept with the door
open. At 4:00 a.m. the attendant brings our breakfast and tells us we
are in Brockville. We go to the lounge and eat at a small table.
Fruit, danish, cheese and coffee. The train departs Brockville at 5:30
so we stay on the train as we are going to be picked up and we know the
station will not be open. Ken arrives so we leave the train at 5:30
What can I say about this latest adventure? Churchill Manitoba a home
for the hardy and most accommodating people I have met anywhere. They
embrace their unique history values and people. A stranger in the form
of a visitor is not a stranger for long. I felt as welcome as a family
member returning home.
The rare beauty of this rugged northern landscape will stay in my mind
forever. To have walked where our earliest Canadian history began was
To share this experience with best friends truly a blessing. Contrary
to some, three people can travel together well. We are all able to
function well on our own, this may be why we did so well as “The Three
Happy New Year to all! Darlene
Click here to view the photo highlights!
Click to view each set of detailed photos below:
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Sunday, Jan 5, 2003
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Monday, Jan 6, 2003
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Click here for Lorraine's Rail Trip to Churchill, Canada!
Click here for Laurie's Rail Trip to Churchill, Canada!
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