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 ago. 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 arrives.
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 now.
Soon I hear "Toronto ten minutes". I pack up quickly and get ready to disembark. 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 conversations.
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 special treat.
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 disembark.
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 Canadian winter.
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? Not!
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. Nighty-nite.
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, Ontario.
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 breakfast".
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 minute stop.
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 there.
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 staff.
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 history.
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 six-thirty. 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 the day.
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 south. 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 settled in.
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 sight.
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 hours here.
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 area.
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 go again.
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 again?
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 breakfast.
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 great. 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 shorter time. 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 begin.
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 Churchill.
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 thing.
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 slept in.
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 bed early.
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 and Daryl. 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 celebrations.
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 the railway.
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 hear.
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 Uncle".
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 their school.
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 a.m.
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 truly awesome.
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 Amigo's" team.
Happy New Year to all! Darlene
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