CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Quebec City (Day 2)

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 24

Today is a travel day, but we didn’t leave Quebec City until almost 18:30. That gave us plenty of time to do the things we wanted to do, and hadn’t done the day before. For me, that was sleep in — the previous day had worn me out.

I was behind on my journals. Partly because I’d wanted to get away from a computer for a day, and also because I get easily distracted. (Trains, interesting cities, and shiny metal objects will do that.) After breakfast and helping Ivan with his email, I sat down for a few hours of solid typing and image manipulation.

It’s just dawned on me that you might not really know how I write a typical journal entry. It usually starts with a pivot event or two that happened during the day. If there was nothing particularly outstanding, then it’s a theme. If I’m really running short of something to focus on, then I’ll just tell the tale of the day. Hopefully, I’ll be able to punctuate it along the way with something interesting or humourous. I do like to set context, which is why you’ll often see historical content thrown in. Having taken pictures, I also have a visual record of what we’ve done, just in case that dusty expanse known as my memory doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Now that just covers half the problem — the text. (Well, not entirely. I also have to edit it, because things like this probably won’t make it into the official record.) I still have pictures to prepare. The easy part is actually preparing them — the hard part is selecting them. I take a lot of pictures — I’ve taken about 2,000 pictures already, and I’m far from stopping this trip. I’ve still got a long way to go. Once I’ve picked about a half dozen pictures, I run them through Photoshop, which has a couple of macros I built for myself. These resize the images automatically. Then all I have to do is connect to the Internet, and away everything goes to Toronto. Normally, it’s over the wireless system, but when the wireless doesn’t work, I use the hotel’s connection. In Quebec City, at least, I need only plug in the antenna.

Finishing up, I checked out of my room and put my bags in a holding room. I had no idea what I was going to do next — I I hadn’t really planned for anything else. I ran into Analisa and, Lisa in the lobby, who were going to Café Suisse, the restaurant we’d left early from last night. Not in the mood for a fondue, I wanted something else. As odd as it might sound, I wanted French onion soup. I had yet to find a restaurant that served it (which I found strange, in a stereotypical sort of way). Analisa wasn’t about to let me down, though, and asked the taxi driver … in French. Analisa was determined to practice speaking French. The driver suggested I try the Café de la Paix.

I had passed the place the day before and had paid it no mind. A small, basement-level restaurant with an unassuming sign, it was easy to see how the average person could walk by. I started going over French in my mind, and tried to figure out what I was going to say. This made me a little sad, actually — 17 years ago, I had caught myself actually thinking in French while walking through Basse-Ville. Now I had to make a concerted effort to translate my intentions into passable French. I took my seat and examined the menu. Then it was time to make an order. The staff seemed more than willing to humour my poorer-than-highschool French. Soupe l’onion gratinee (the waiter had to check to make sure the soup was even available) et salade cesar, avec une biere Blanche de Chambly.

The soup was outstanding. Not too salty, and the onion wasn’t overpowering. A thin cover of bread and a thick layer of cheese helped the soup retain its temperature. It was definitely home-made (well, as “home” as a restaurant can get) — Lipton instant soup this was not. I’ve had lots of Caesar salads in my day. I’d even go so far as to almost consider myself an aficionado. I know a good Caesar when I have one. The salad now holds the number two slot of my all-time favourite Caesar salads, following my family’s. The beer I’d had before, but was perfect for this sort of meal. I was in heaven. The only thing better would have been to share the moment with someone close to me.

I was proud of myself. I made it through the entire meal, including compliments (at least, I hope they came across as compliments) without slipping into English. Then I got the bill. It wasn’t the cost that threw me — I had no idea how to ask to break a $20 bill into two tens. I went through every last scrap of remaining French education in my head. Aside from the hollow echoes of lessons past, I drew a blank. I broke into English. The waiter didn’t seem to mind at all, replying to me in French. I tipped heavily.

I wandered a little aimlessly, thinking I’d head up Rue Saint-Jean and seeing what I could see. Along the way, I found Marc, and Rob W. (freshly returned from seeing The Who in Toronto) on their way to an Irish pub. They suggested I tag along. It sounded more interesting than what I had in mind. (I’d already spent a large portion of the last day and a half on my own, and social interaction was far more appealing.) Gerry appeared across the street. The three of us called him over. Whether he was going to the same pub, I don’t know. The four of us walked into the pub only to find several of our comrades, already enjoying the ambiance.

Duffy, Rob N., Bill S., Bill C., Tracy, Stefani, Emma, and Cliff welcomed the four of us almost like Norm had just walked in the door. It was a little peculiar trying to imagine that I was sitting in an Irish pub in Vieux Quebec. We could have easily been in any other city along our route. The only indication was a number of signs in French. We talked and drank well into the afternoon, until we realized that we needed to return to the hotel and retrieve our bags. Some took a taxi, but most of us walked. By then, we knew the city well enough not to get lost, and the walk wasn’t really that far.

We grabbed our things from the hotel, hopped a taxi, and were soon back at the station. (Yes, the train station was closer to the hotel than the pub. But our bags aren’t exactly light.) We then played our favourite and most oft-played game, “Hurry Up and Wait”. Our train wasn’t there, and couldn’t come in until after the 17:35 train to Montreal was gone. When the train did finally arrive, we were told we had 15 minutes to board so we could keep to schedule. VIA kept to schedule, now that the Renaissance train is no longer part of our consist.

As the train pulled out into the darkening Quebec City sky, rain was falling. Daryl was miffed because he couldn’t get a decent shot through the water-streaked windows. Rose and Colleen discussed the shocking news that Ron MacLean had not been resigned for Hockey Night in Canada. (Though both had the opinion that this revelation was far from over.) Cliff and Trish almost dread Campbellton now — they don’t want to have to field “why didn’t you resign Ron?” questions.

Following dinner, we broke into small groups to watch movies. Some in the Banff Park watched “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, some were supposed to gather in the Skyline to watch “Lord of the Rings” (but never did), and a couple of us took up shop in the dome of the Skyline to watch the director’s cut of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. We were at home again. For the next two days and three nights, our last on the train, we would live as we had started — on the railroad.

We were heading into New Brunswick, and our second-to-last province on this trip.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Quebec City

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 23

I haven’t been in Quebec City for 17 years. The last time I was with the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC), in the summer following Grade 8. One of the great things about old cities is that they don’t change quickly.

Today was the event day at the Gare du Palais, Quebec City’s train station. Normally, this would mean an early start, a lot of work, and a teardown. But plans over the last few weeks had meant only a half-hour’s worth of work before, and maybe an hour’s after. This was now a Radio-Canada affair, and our team’s presence was not required. We ended up with an unexpected day off.

Once the official word came that we were not needed, our group disappeared to the four winds. Some went to Vieux Quebec, some back to the hotel, some to various other parts of the city. I immediately headed towards Chateau Frontenac. It’s a landmark I felt comfortable enough to branch out in search of familiar things. The tricky part was getting there. (Sans taxi, of course.)

For the first few minutes, I climbed hilly streets I did not recognize. I rounded bends and turned corners I didn’t remember. Then, at the end of one street, I spotted a McDonald’s. It was the first time I’d ever seen a McDonald’s without one of the giant arches, 17 years ago. I was getting close.

I turned more corners, and began to realize that my memory wasn’t as good as I’d believed. I knew I was in the area, but my recollection of where I was going proved to be fuzzy. I found an alley lined with the work of starving artists. Nothing really remarkable to see, but it sparked a faint memory. I quickly skirted around viewers and buyers. About five metres from the end, I slowed down.

A deep feeling, long forgotten, swelled out. It was like frost growing across a cold window, only warm and familiar. I was 13 years old, walking out of the same alley, meeting up with my friends in the square next to Chateau Frontenac. We were on shopping sprees in Basse-Ville, I was buying a kite in a store at the foot of the staircase, eating at the McDonald’s, running around the Plains of Abraham and looking over the walls of the Citadelle. I was listening to the Art of Noise, wearing all-white clothes, making my first (rather poor) attempts at dating. A youthful grin swept across me.

I knew where everything was, though I could name little of it. Down Terrasse Dufferin, up the stairs to the Plains of Abraham, around La Citadelle, over to the Parliament Builings, and through the St. Louis Gate. It was all familiar, and completely new. Seventeen years vanished, and I was discovering everything for the first time again. I decided I needed to visit La Citadelle.

Quebec City is North America’s only walled city. La Citadelle is its fort, and is the largest fort in North America. It’s also still an active military base, something I had not remembered. (You can’t just wander around it, like at Fort Henry in Kingston, or historical towns like Black Creek Village.) It was a quiet day inside the walls, as most of those on staff were either hard at work, or away for the weekend.

La Citadelle, although originally a French fort and (obviously) based in Quebec, is a British establishment. When the Wolfe defeated Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the British took control of the fort, and greatly expanded it. Today, it’s North America’s largest. It is also one of the homes of the Governor General of Canada — a permanent residence is maintained for when Ms. Clarkson spends her time here in Quebec. (It’s mostly a political move so that the second-highest politician of the nation — after Queen Elizabeth — doesn’t show favouritism for English Canada.)

Leaving the battlements behind, I returned to the Chateau to head into the Lower Town (Basse-Ville). The stores and restaurants have changed (except the sex shop, which looks like the same one I’d seen 17 years earlier), but the landmarks were the same. While taking a picture of l’Escalier Casse-Cou, I heard my name called from below. I found Bill and Bill, enjoying beers at one of the restaurants on the stairway.

The tour took me through Lower Town, long the narrow cobble-stone streets, and slowly back up the hill. I rounded Université Laval, along the walls, and eventually back to the railway station. The event was in full swing, and I wanted to see what Radio-Canada was doing in our place.

The activity was high. Our tents were in front of the station, filled with Radio-Canada information, manned by Radio-Canada staff. The line to see the train ran from well inside the station, out the front doors, and up the garden path. The show outside was loud — cheerleaders and gymnasts cavorted to bad pop music. Daryl was filming, and seemed to have the same poor view of the show that I did. Radio-Canada had pulled together very little content — it almost looked like a high-school science fair. But everyone seemed to like it, so I guess it worked out in the end.

Inside, people waited patiently to see the museum. Out on the platform, VIA “entertained” visitors with loud music, smoke machines, and special lighting. It almost felt like a nightclub. This was the first venue, I think, where visitors didn’t really have much of a choice of where they went. It was carefully mapped out to go through the Renaissance cars first, and then through the museum.

Neil, Julie, Analisa, Debbie, and Rose remained to help Radio-Canada. I only saw Neil, Julie, and Rose. They were unsure of the event, as none of them spoke French well enough to determine how people were enjoying themselves. (We later found out that the line’s length was due to how long people were spending in the museum. Most of our visitors have walked through in 12-15 minutes. Some of the visitors in Quebec City were reading everything. There’s a lot of text in that museum.) I saw only a few people leave the line and give up on seeing anything.

As I was available, I was quickly tasked with a simple job: take more ballots out to the information table, and a lavender pillowcase to clean out the now-full ballot box. The staff out front didn’t know who I was at first. I managed to explain I was there to help. The new ballots did a lot to support that. I emptied the ballot box, as the volunteers there were quite busy.

Several people started asking me questions. In French. I couldn’t understand a word. I felt ashamed. I took French in school for nine years. In those nine years, I never learned to carry out a full conversation without asking for help. Over a decade later, I could barely make out a simple sentence. One of these days, I’m either going to move to Montreal for a year, or maybe even Paris.

I returned to the hotel to ease my weary feet. I don’t know how far I’ve walked today, but it’s not a short distance. It’s been a while since my feet have hurt this much. After all the standing, walking, hauling, and what-not, I thought my feet would be conditioned to this sort of abuse. I ended up falling asleep for an hour. Quite enjoyable, I must say.

When I returned for teardown, the event was already long over, and the only thing left were the tents. The technical crew were already hard at work. Although the rest of the team has become quite skilled at assembling and taking down tents, it’s something else to watch the professionals. They make it look easy. Bill C. doesn’t even use the Magic Prybar (the tool the rest of us use to pop the tent canvas of the frame) — he pulled it out like someone would tighten shoelaces.

We packed up the tents and took them back to the baggage car. The stanchions and tables were already put away. Then it was off to dinner. Some went one way, others another. Several of us headed up to Rue St-Anne in Vieux Quebec for a Swiss-styled dinner. Neil, Emma, Analisa, and I stayed only long enough for a drink. We’d sort of already had an idea to go somewhere else, but thought we’d at least give the restaurant a shot. But the service and menu didn’t thrill us. We bolted for something more significant.

At the railway station.

We had hoped to meet up with others at Charbon, a steakhouse in the railway station. We ended up meeting up with Daryl, who had arrived well before us, and had mostly eaten alone. While the four of us ate our meal, Daryl enjoyed a post-meal chat and apperatif at an adjacent empty. Marc, Tracy, Trish, and Cliff appeared later on, but sat away from us.

After dinner, most returned to the hotel before heading out onto the town. I returned to Vieux Quebec. I wasn’t about to let a perfectly good night go to waste. Not when there were photographs to be taken. (Can you tell I’m a little obsessed about photography?) Following a route similar to this morning’s, I circled the old part of town. Tourists were in bed, as were the locals. I saw no more than 20 people the entire time, and perhaps no more than 35 cars.

I finally had to pull myself away and return to bed, close to 02:00. As much as I love this city, I didn’t want to stay up all night.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Canadian Railway Museum

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 22

Were it not for banging pipes in the ceiling (I wasn’t the only one who heard them while at that hotel), I might have slept in longer. As it turns out, the noise got me moving a little faster, giving me more time in the day. We weren’t leaving town until after 17:00, which meant lots of time for us to see Montreal.

The technical crew (except Rob W., who was back in Toronto taking his kids to see “The Who”) left early this morning for Quebec City. They’re helping out with a broadcast using the tents we’ve been carrying in the train. (A Radio-Canada truck drove the tents out last night.) So today, it’s just the production staff.

Most of us had saved money to spend in Montreal. No longer Canada’s largest city, it still reigns as the fashion capital. It seemed everyone wanted to go shopping. Well, except me. Today was my day to be an outright train geek. I intended to spend the day out of town, in Delson/St. Constant.

For railfans in Canada, Delson/St. Constant is almost a kind of Mecca. It’s the home of the Canadian Railway Museum. Some of Canada’s most famous pieces of railway history are preserved there, awaiting discovery by the rail-curious. Ever since getting involved with the railway community, this was a trip I’ve wanted to make. When I was granted the honour of assisting with the CBC 50th Anniversary VIA Rail Train, and the schedule permitted, visiting the CRM became a personal priority.

Getting out to Delson/St. Constant was a challenge. It’s a bit of a distance out of the city. The “Museum Train” didn’t seem to be running, and public transit is completely out of the question. Naturally, I figured on a rental car. The nearest rental outlet, a Budget, was cleaned out. Calling around, I found nary a rental car was available in Montreal. That meant only one thing: a taxi. Worse still, my driver didn’t know where St. Constant was, nor had ever heard of the museum (admittely, not entirely unsurprising). And the CRM’s website had a vague map, but no details. (It turns out that the map is surprisingly accurate.)

A taxi ride from downtown Montreal to the distant outskirts is about $40. And that’s travelling on highways, with me navigating from the back seat. The museum itself is not visible from Route 209 in St. Constant. The only indication is Old Sydney Collieries 2-4-0 #25 that sits next to the road. A little further down is a sign that provides the real clue. Follow a short dirt road, round a corner, and the transplanted Hayes railway station comes into view.

I stopped at the ticket booth to purchase admission. The clerk cheerily said that admission today was waived for some cultural event. I’m not entirely sure what that meant, but free is always good! I headed on in, and made a beeline for the main station house and information centre.

Founded in 1932, the Canadian Railroad Historical Association is Canada’s oldest and largest historical railway organization. In 1950, the group took possession of its first piece of equipment, a retired Montreal streetcar. Nine years later, there were enough artefacts to open a museum. The Canadian Railway Museum was founded in 1961, and opened its doors in 1965. Currently, the CRM is working on an expansion called ExpoRail, which will provide a greater interpretive experience for those visiting the museum.

The museum currently consists of a large rail yard, ringed by an electrified rail for streetcars (they circle the museum, offering patrons rides). There are two stations at the museum, Hayes station near the entrance, and Barrington station at the opposite end. It is with some interest that I discovered that the Hayes station is named for, you guessed it, Charles Melville Hayes. The same guy whose middle name gave Melville, SK its name. The railroading world is a small one … and thankfully, without the singing dolls. Obtaining information at the information centre in the Hayes station, I quickly hustled down to the Barrington Station for my tour. The group also consisted of a model railroading group from Kingston.

Our tour took us only through the locomotive house, which was pretty much all we wanted to see. I had hoped that the guide would have extensive knowledge on the locomotives, where they came from, how they got here, and an interesting story or two behind them. The tour guide, sadly, wasn’t terribly knowledgeable in railroadiana. She knew the items we were looking at, but history beyond that, or of other items in North America she knew little. The modellers and I frequently added in extra information. (I frequently corrected not only the guide, but also the modellers. It scared me to realize just how much about trains I’ve learned in the last year and a half.)

The tour over, I returned to taking pictures. In the locomotive house are some of Canada’s most famous steam locomotives, including CN 4100 (the first locomotive the newly-formed Canadian National Railways ordered, and the last Santa Fe type steam locomotive remaining in Canada), CP 2850 (the original Royal Hudson that towed the Royal Train in 1939), The Flying Scotsman (donated to the Dominion of Canada in 1937 by Britain), and CP 5935 (one of two remaining Selkirks, the largest locomotives ever used on Canadian rails). It’s a steam buff’s paradise. There were also two vintage diesels in the house: CN 77 (CN’s first diesel electric, and possibly the oddest locomotive I’ve ever seen), and CP 8905 (the last remaining “Trainmaster” locomotive in the world).

I wandered around the yards, taking more pictures of equipment sitting in the yard. More steam locomotives sat out there, along with the majority of diesel electric locomotives. The diesels were mostly in good shape, a few that need restoration. I had to be a little watchful while walking around — the museum was running an active steam engine, a replica of the John Molson, back and forth on one of the open sections of track. (Most avid steam fans in Canada don’t really regard the John Molson as a part of the collection. It is a replica of the original, built in 1970 for use at the museum. I’ve heard it referred to as a “toy”.)

Most of the museum’s collection is in good order. Some of the items need painting, some a serious overhaul. Some other items in the collection, sadly mostly steam locomotives, are harder to look at: they are decayed, and probably barely salvageable. They sit in a nearly-hidden side track, down a path marked with a forbidden entry sign. It’s sad to look at these once-proud machines, knowing that with funding they could have been saved.

As I wandered, I learned that today was an auspicious day for the museum. According to the modellers (I kept running into them), in addition to it being a cultural day, there was a large announcement at 14:00. Luckily for me, that fit almost exactly into my schedule. Well, it ended up fitting into my schedule. Originally, I didn’t think I’d be able to stay that long without becoming bored. I suppose trains are pretty good at keeping my interest.

If any press attended the speed, I couldn’t tell. As most of it was in French, I also don’t know exactly what was said. I do know enough French to get the gist. Today was the official launch of a new book written by and for the museum. It’s a collection of portraits and text about the museum’s collection. As soon as the speeches ended, the book went on sale in the giftshop. I bought the first English copy.

I called my cab (the driver had given me his number), and waited for his arrival. This game me ample time for a snack (an ice cream cone — all I could find), and read my new book. Returning to Montreal, I had the taxi driver drop me off on the waterfront, near the entrance to the Lachine Canal. The sunlight cast wonderful shadows on the massive concrete grain elevators, and the rust on the metal portions exhibited classic industrial decay. And I wanted pictures.

Near the mouth of the canal was a large inukshuk. Unlike normal ones, this was made from … well, I don’t actually know. It’s hard to tell. It looked like a large wire mesh that contained peat moss, with grasses and small plants sprouting from all over. I can only assume that this was the original intention. Walking down towards the hotel, I found an old tugboat that had once plied the waters. An excellent black and white subject. I ran into Daryl along the way, returning from an excursion of his own around Montreal. He was off to find an external hard drive for his computer. I continued taking pictures almost until I got back to the hotel.

We congregated in the hotel’s lobby. It seemed everyone except me had gone shopping during the day. I get the feeling many of us will be mailing packages home just so we can zip up our luggage.

Around 17:15, when we departed for VIA’s Montreal Maintenance Centre. This was also when we ran headlong into traffic. Why the traffic was so heavy downtown Montreal on a weekend escaped us. But we had to escape it. The train would leave without us if we didn’t arrive on time.

I would love to have given everyone on our trip a GPS transmitter so we could have plotted the cabs. I can only imagine the scene of half a dozen taxis bombing around the city streets, weaving in and out of traffic, travelling a labyrinth of side streets. We all eventually merged back together as we arrived at MMC.

Our last VIA crew was there, waiting for us. We’ve had three crews already. Some long lived (Vancouver-Winnipeg), some very short (Winnipeg-Toronto). We were greeted with cards left on every berth and on every door. They are certainly off to a great start!

We pulled out of Montreal, watching the glowing skyline as we crossed the Victoria Bridge. We didn’t want to leave — Montreal is far too exciting a city to stay for such a short time.

The trip from Montreal to Quebec City was fairly brief. We arrived around 23:00, pulling into the Gare du Palais. It was a much faster arrival that previous stops. Probably because we didn’t split the train or do anything else fancy. We just wanted off. Grabbing our bags, we headed off, yet again, to a hotel. All these hotels are beginning to weigh on us, I think. There is a certain consistency to our train bunks.

We had to wait a long time for a cab. When one finally showed up, one of the priorities was to get Stefani in it. She was carrying Bill C.’s insulin, which he’d accidentally forgotten on the train. A few mildly concerned phone calls during the day had given us the impression that he needed his medicine quickly. As we drove, we spotted the technical crew walking back from one of the local bars. Bill didn’t seem as relieved as we’d expected.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Montreal

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 21

We came. They saw. It rained.

I’d been looking forward to the Montreal event. This is a great city to be in, and I was sure lots of people would come out. We were so certain of ourselves that there was nothing that could dampen our spirits.

Except the remnants of Tropical Storm Isidore.

When we’d set up this morning, we were prepared for rain. We all knew it was going to rain. The precipitation forecast was at 100%, and the predictions were quiet accurate. We laid down tarps, hung the tent walls, Roger even went out and purchased two large bags of disposable ponchos. We planned the whole day around it raining. And for a time, we were wholly successful.

Je ne suis pas bilingue, and I’m not the only one. Luckily, this was well-known ahead of time. Our local organizers provided fully bilingual volunteers, and the Archives staff who’d come to Ottawa came out again to run the show, for which I’m eternally grateful. When we arrived this morning, Radio-Canada arrived armed with signage, posters, and French-language video tape loops aplenty. (We gather the signs were very hastily made after Radio-Canada saw all the English signs in Ottawa, the batch finishing sometime early this morning.) In fact, there was so much help that once we’d set up the tents and equipment, we had little else to do.

Some of us, like Cliff, even got kicked out of our own tents.

Our set up this day was in Vieux Port (“Old Port”), the old shipping port on Montreal’s waterfront. Some shipping (mostly passenger) still runs out of here, but mostly it’s for touring and viewing the river. A freight rail line still runs through the area, which is what our train sat on. We were warned to look for trains, but never saw one the entire day.

The schools arrived early, as expected. Into the museum, and around through some of the tents they went. Organized and quiet, I saw little of them — I’m not even sure they came by the Nouveau Média tent.

The buzz on the walkie-talkies soon turned to Sheila, specifically Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. I had expected to see her in Ottawa. Instead, she made her appearance in Montreal. Her first visit was to the museum, as expected. I hovered around outside, waiting for a chance to take a picture. Ms. Copps travelled with an entourage that was a little difficult to shoot around, but not impossible. I followed her from the train to the Children’s tent, to the New Media tent, over to the Boutique, then through News (although I couldn’t get a decent angle for the picture), and finally to Sports. I didn’t bother with the radio interview.

I must say that Ms. Copps’ ability to speak French is impressive. For a Hamiltonian who used to do an excellent job of riling southern Ontario, she’s become a very respectable politician … if there is such a thing. She spent a lot of time talking with our staff (although I think it was limited mostly to Ivan, Patrick, and Amy — the local organizer steered Shiela from certain tents quite quickly).

Light rain was falling by the time I got back to the New Media tent. It wasn’t yet something to worry about, just something to watch. We did partially close one of the walls as a precaution. The writing was on the wall, though — rain was coming. It was just a matter of time.

The Radio-Canada staff and volunteers were running the tent like they’d been with us from the start. (Not that there was a lot to do, however — we weren’t exactly overwhelmed with visitors.) Like most of the others, I had little to do. Most of the people coming up to us were Francophone, and they wanted to talk to Francophones. My French is too poor to be of use, so I kept my distance. No-one seemed to mind.

The downside of not speaking the language was an inability to obtain feedback. Normally, I’ll talk with visitors and hear what they liked and disliked. I felt quite awkward asking Radio-Canada staff questions in English, let alone our guests. I was able to learn from others such as Ivan that those who did come were thrilled with the presentations.

The ground that the Boutique sat on was turning into a pond — the water pooled almost right under the tent itself. Though the merchandise on the counters were fine, the stuff in boxes was getting more than a little damp. In what would be their shortest stint out in the open, the Boutique closed before lunch, and everything packed and put back on the train. They would not be the last tent to go down.

Lunch was another problem. (VIA wasn’t with us today … well, our crew wasn’t with us. The Renaissance crew was out, but we rarely saw them during the show.) Analisa improvised and ordered from St. Hubert. She described it as “Swiss Chalet, but French”. That, it ain’t. It’s food, and I wasn’t about to complain. There was the issue of the order, though — specifically, how long it took to arrive. It was almost like a comedy of errors. Analisa placed the order, and we expected delivery. About 30 minutes later, we heard over the walkie-talkies that a guy in a chicken car was at the front entrance. He wasn’t delivering, though — he was comfirming the order. Another three-quarters of an hour pass, and finally the delivery arrives. Well, sort of. Someone reported that the chicken man was back, but then no-one could find him. The walkie-talkies started squaking and running afowl of chicken jokes.

During one of my stints in the New Media tent, an unfamiliar face introduced himself to me — Koceila, my new tent partner. Koceila was with the Radio-Canada Archives project, and would be running out the remainder of the trip with us. Koceila is Franophone, which is something I’m ecstatic about. Quebec City, Campbellton, and Moncton are either Francophone, or bilingual. I can’t handle that on my own. And like I’ve said before, I need someone who is passionate about the Archives site.

Koceila would not be joining us today, though. All he came out for was to install his visual aid into one of the laptops (Koceila has a slight visual impairment — the aid magnifies printed text with the use of a hand-held scanner). For the previous week (since about the 21st), we’d been trying to find out what laptop Koceila was supposed to be using. Brenda was not aware of any extra laptop for Archives, nor was I. The mystery was eventually solved when Analisa announced it was hers. So I let Koceila and the technician he brought loose on the laptop to install a PCMCIA card and the optical reader. An hour later, the two had to give up. Our laptops are all Windows 2000, and the drivers for the reader are Windows 95. Koceila said he’d get along without it.

Just after noon, Isidore paid a visit to Vieux Port. The rain fell harder, and things that had previously been dry started to get wet. The partially-closed wall in New Media was sealed shut. Other tents drew walls as needed. The Children’s tent put the mural away for fear of damage. (It later came back out under shelter.)

People kept coming. While I spoke with none, the Radio-Canada staff made them all feel welcome. Giveaways always seem to bring out the best in people. That, and dry shelter, which is what the tents offered. Many patrons lingered longer than in most places. I somewhat doubt the possibility of keen interest. The Archives site remained the big feature, as expected. Of course, that was on the “open side”, so was also easiest to see.

The rain continued to fall. Debbie came around asking what state the New Media tent was in. I wasn’t worried, at least not aloud. The water concerned me, but the event was going too well to stop it. I couldn’t help notice the mud along the edges of the tarp on the ground, and new that it would eventually start seeping under the tables. The computers would be fine — they sat on top of their packing boxes. But the cables were exposed. I’d put them on top of a crate earlier in the day, though that really didn’t matter. Water and computers don’t mix.

By 15:30, it was officially over for New Media. Water was now almost under the tables, and there were no signs of the rain letting up. The call came over the walkie: “Strike New Media”. While I wasn’t happy about it, I knew there was no choice. Daryl appeared in the tent only moments later to get my reaction on tape. I think I was polite. (I was frustrated, but not by any decisions that were made. It was the weather I didn’t like.) By the time the last computer was loaded back on the baggage car, water had crept under the tables.

Shortly after New Media started coming down, the other tents shut down. By 17:00, the tents were coming down. By 18:30, the only thing left standing was the New Media tent. Canada Now had appropriated it for a broadcast (which required four of us to carry it, fully assembled, through a garden to put it into place. Only the museum cars were still open.

We were soaked. Not quite as bad as Windsor, but it was a deeper soaking — sort of like leaving really dirty dishes in the sink overnight. We were cold, wet, and wanting to go back to the hotel. Once the last tent was down, just after 19:05, and the last of the items packed back in the cars, we broke for a hot shower and dinner.

Some took a taxi, but a fair few of us wandered through the rainy night back to our hotel. It felt so good to peel off the layer of wet clothes. My shoes popped off like suction cups. I almost instantly climbed into a shower that ran a good 10 degrees hotter than I usually can stand, just to restore the heat in my body. A warm, dry change of clothes certainly helped. I also had to dry my soaked shoes, as I didn’t really have anything else suitable to wear. (It’s amazing what 20 minutes with a hotel hair dryer can do.) Those of us heading out that way piled into cabs and disappeared into the night.

Next up on the table was dinner. Rose suggested we hit a restaurant that let you bring your own wine, a fairly popular concept in Montreal. I don’t fully remember where we ended up. It was an area of town with a lot of neat little restaurants. Definitely not a heavy tourist area. We each purchased a bottle of wine at a nearby depanneur (I could already feel a hangover coming on), and headed to our restaurant. Rose almost immediate suggested we leave — this was a restaurant she knew too well. We went to the one across the street. There were a fair number of us (those that I can recall include Neil, Julie, Rose, Roger, Emma, and I think Analisa), but we were the only ones there. Fine with us.

Isidore left town before midnight. With the rain gone, Montreal glistened like a gem. It could have been perhaps our best event, were it not for the weather. It’s days like these when I wish we had more than one public event in each city.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Ottawa and Montreal

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 20

Today was a travel day. It seems a bit odd, since Montreal is so close to Ottawa. But that’s the schedule. We weren’t about to complain. After an 18-hour marathon event yesterday (getting up to going to bed, that is), a day in travel was something to look forward to. Especially when we get to travel during the day.

Arising earlier than needed, I took the opportunity to wander around Ottawa, specifically the Parliament Buildings. Having lived in Ottawa before, I’d been to Parliament Hill many times. I needed pictures for the website, and also for myself (you never think to do tourism in the city you live — it’s not until you live somewhere else that you wish you had pictures). Clear mornings are the best for catching colour.

I got my requisite pictures of the Parliament Buildings, and proceeded to wander around. My original plan was to go around back, shoot the library, and maybe across the river. But as I rounded the West Block, I spotted something I’d never seen before.

In a fenced-area area off to the west side is something called “Stray Cats of the Hill”. Since the 1970s, cats have lived in protected seclusion, in a custom-built dog, er, cathouse. (I suspect the current cats are either descendants of the original stray cats, or are new additions.) Today, the “Catman of the Hill” maintains the house and feeds the animals (it is in no way associated with the Federal Government, in case you’re worried that your hard-paid tax dollars are going to the dogs, er, cats). An interesting thing to find while prowling the Hill.

Heading back to the hotel, I managed to catch the Supreme Court of Canada building in perfect morning sunlight. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if the roof had corroded enough to turn green. Replaced only a few years ago, the copper roof had only turned a dark brown. The green won’t show up for a few more years still.

We headed over to the train station at 10:30. There we had to wait for our train to become available. I asked John when we could get on, and he replied that there had been a minor complication with the train, so we were a little late. I was curious to know. At first, he wouldn’t say, but it doesn’t take much to get one railfan to tell another railfan what was going on. Apparently, someone had accidentally left the brakes on the P42 (#907) when returning from the museum during the night. The wheels were gouged, making the engine incapable of travel.

Somehow, I considered this poetic justice for the grief VIA had wrought on us since the Renaissance Train had joined us.

We boarded the train at Ottawa’s VIA Rail station around 10:45. We would not depart the station for a little over an hour, assumedly waiting for clearance on the track. As we started onto lunch, we began our journey to Montreal. Less than 10 minutes out of Ottawa, we heard the following announcement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the helicopter is now overhead. You can obtain a clear view of it through the Skyline dome.”

Daryl had arranged the helicopter in question. This had been a shot Daryl wanted since we left Vancouver. Ideally, it would have been in the Rockies. As we were travelling at night, the helicopter shot would have been wasted. Out of Kamloops, it rained. Saskatoon to Melville would have been excellent with the clear weather, but for some reason, all helicopters run from Melville, and the cost would have been exorbitant. Northern Ontario was deemed unsuitable, mostly due to timing. This, it seemed, was our best (and last) chance.

Originally, Daryl was to shoot from the helicopter himself. He had asked me if I’d like to come along. (Actually, it was more of an assumption than an inquiry.) Due to problems getting from the helicopter to the train, and due to cost, an Ottawa CBC camera operator flew in Daryl’s place. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to go, either.

As I couldn’t get pictures of the train from the helicopter, I opted for pictures of the helicopter from the train. But playing cat and mouse with a helicopter is no easy feat. I wanted a clear shot of the helicopter, preferably with the cameraman. Unfortunately, the train, the terrain, the vegetation, and the pilot didn’t always agree with me. I took at least 30 pictures, trying to get a nice, clean shot. In the end, it was a lucky shot out the vestibule window.

We covered the short distance between the two cities fairly expediently, arriving in Montreal roughly on time. (I can only assume we made up the time as VIA wasn’t really interested in getting us any more ticked off than we already were.) We had to run out onto the Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence River, before backing into the VIA’s Montreal Maintenance Centre. Our event tomorrow needs only part of the train, so some will be left behind here. The rest will be taken down and arranged for us. (I assume it’s too awkward to take our entire train to the Montreal station.)

Our train parked next to the American Orient Express, a very pricey luxury cruise train that makes curcuits of Canada and the United States. The cars on the train are similar in vintage to ours, but underwent an extensive (and expensive) refit to make them some of the most luxurious ever to ride the North American rail system. But even with all the glamour, I’d take our train in a heartbeat.

Piling into a line of awaiting taxis, we headed to our hotel in Montreal’s Chinatown. We had a few hours to spare. We also had few rooms to check into — most of us had to store our bags and wait for the rooms to become available. After checking in, we all wandered off to see what we could see. I love this city. I’d love to spend more time here. It’s energetic, it’s always interesting, and has some of the most beautiful buildings, streets, artwork, and people I’ve seen. The only thing better than Montreal on a sunny day is Montreal at night.

The entire group had been invited to a club that night for cocktails, all arranged by “Mr. Punctual” Fred. The only problem was that this place had a dress code: No jeans, and no running shoes. That immediately negated me, and probably a dozen other people. We hadn’t really carried such clothes with us — we never saw the need for it, and utility was more of a concern than appearance. Although I suppose I should have planned for that to some degree, considering that we were going to Montreal, and at least one night was likely to be fancy over the course of the trip.

Ivan and I decided to wander a bit and see what we could find. The goal was to track down a deli. The delicatessens in Montreal, although legendary, are nowhere near where we went, I think. We walked down towards Notre Dame Cathedral, east to Jacques Cartier, and couldn’t find a single place that even remotely looked like a deli. Not being completely familiar with Montreal, I can only assume the delis are more towards the original Jewish quarter of the city.

We ended up choosing a somewhat-touristy restaurant on the edge of the boulevard. Like most of the other restaurants we saw, they featured mussels and chips. (Apparently, it’s a common French dish. I’ve never seen it before.) Neither of our meals were extraordinary. When you’re hungry, you don’t really mind.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. Ivan was very patient with me — I was stopping every so often to take pictures of the city at night. When we arrived back at the hotel, Ivan headed upstairs — I went back out to take more pictures. I didn’t stay out too long, though. This stupid cold I’m harbouring is making me feel a tad icky. I turned in a little early (even when many others were heading out to some great club somewhere) to get this thing out of my system.

I ran into Stefani at the entrance of the hotel. She and Bill C. are running out to join the others at a club — a different one than everyone started off at. She was a little baffled at the picture I was taking of … well, traffic. I was interested in lights. I love light. And moving light is a personal favourite. I had to show Stefani and Bill what I was trying to do. Both suggested that I put my camera away (I wonder if everyone thinks the same thing) and join them. The thought of going out is very tempting, but I can just see this cold turning into something worse.

There are times I hate being responsible.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Ottawa

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 19

The tech crew had a really early call this morning — they were at the train long before the rest of us. They had to make sure that everything was ready with the museum cars before the schools started showing up at 08:00. We arrived by 07:30 so we could finish setting up tents and prepare for the expected deluge of people.

Terri, Elizabeth, and I began our set up almost immediately. Once shown how to set up one computer, they handled the remaining eight. That gave me time to find all the missing equipment and boxes. This is a constant problem. Although we generally pack things in the same place every time, the smaller items (the ShowVote ballots, bookmarks, pens, mousepads, and bags) have legs and are always moving around. It never fails: I always spend about 30 minutes looking for this stuff. Strangely enough, though, I kinda like it.

As the last of the computers were hooked up, three strangers arrived at our tent. Francois, Genvieve, and Christiane, from Archives at Radio-Canada in Montreal. They had come out to represent their interests and assist us with our display. Although at first confused (I wasn’t aware they were coming), I was very happy to see them. I didn’t want to travel the rest of Canada without an Archives expert, and they were all bilingual. (Ma francais n’est pas bien.) And although I had put in a request to make sure I got a French-speaking volunteer, we had a problem getting any.

Apparently, Brenda did know they were coming, but because of the hectic pace at which things were set up, she simply forgot to tell me. It wasn’t a big deal — having them there was a blessing. I hate running the Archives without someone who actually knows it. Debbie was amazing at promoting the Archives — she’d make a great salesperson. Francois, Genvieve, and Christiane were also exceptionally good, and answered virtually any question someone asked. I’d be really curious to know if the traffic to the Archives site goes up as a result of this trip.

The floodgates opened when the school busses arrived. I have no idea exactly how many busses there were, but we had more children before noon than we’d had people at both our Windsor events combined. Unlike our Winnipeg event, there wasn’t the chaos. Teachers ruled their students with iron fists and kept them all in check. Busy, but manageable. Everyone went away with smiles.

Well, almost everyone. Although I didn’t encounter this woman directly, we received a complaint that we were completely unorganized when it came to children’s activities. This had all of us confused. The Children’s tent has always contained activities for children, and all of our tents are child-accessible. Unfortunately, I never heard specific faults or what we could have done better. The only thing I could think of was that someone had expected actual events, like you’d find at museums (e.g. a “scavenger hunt” for information). Emma and Stefani have enough on their hands without running something like that.

Another visitor, a former employee of CBC, had warned us of a potential flood of people starting around 17:00, when offices were out and people started rushing to see the museum. It was a wise piece of advice, although there was little we could do to prepare for it. The rush never came, though. As noon turned to afternoon, the flood turned to a steady flow, trickling off in the last two hours.

The schools had primarily brought their students to see the museum. But some schools decided to make a little more of the excursion. (In other words, they planned the activities.) One class of students, from Riverview Alternative, were embroiled in a journalism contest. They were tasked with interviewing the CBC staff for their projects. When one of them found out I work for CBC, I was suddenly surrounded by inquisitive faces.

Okay, technically, I’m only a contractor. I’m not a full employee. But for the purpose of this trip, I was told very clearly by Brenda that I am a CBC employee, and I should always say that when asked. My actual contract doesn’t say anything like that, so I can only assume it’s to keep an air of consistency. It’s fine with me. Actually, I still find it quite an honour to be asked to help Canada’s national broadcaster in such a way. It’s almost like giving back to the company that gave me so much. (Almost — I still think I’m getting more out of this than I’m putting in.)

The first student was Peter. He had a list of questions, starting included my name, how long I’ve worked for CBC, what I like most about the events we do, and if I’d ever interviewed a student before. I answered all his questions (though I answered “I’ve been involved with this project for three months”, rather than say “I’ve been with the CBC for 25 days”), giving him time to write down his answers. Being one not miss a golden opportunity, I turned the tables. (Besides, it looks good for these journals.)

Peter, like those surrounding me, was from Riverview Alternative. Not wearing my thinking cap, I neglected to ask the grade. (As I’m not a journalist, my ability to ask questions off the top of my head is a little weak. It’s a skill I’ll need to work on.) Peter’s class had come to the museum on a field trip to see the CBC 50th Anniversary VIA Rail Train. Peter was also interested in seeing who would win the journalism contest. When asked what career he was working towards, he replied, “I’m working on that”.

Bent down on one knee, I was shorter than the children surrounding me. I had hoped it would make me more approachable. Either that worked, or these kids were really keen to be interviewed.

Taking a selection at random, I picked a girl named Samah. She asked me her questions, then I asked mine. Also in Peter’s class, Samah was here to see the train. Unlike Peter, she didn’t seem too preoccupied with the contest. I added a new question this time: what have you seen so far? (I wasn’t sure if they’d been through the museum.) Samah had already been to the Children’s tent, and had particularly liked the bubble table. (She said her class would see the train after lunch.)

A forest of hands accompanied with cries of “me next!” presented a problem — too many choices. I opted for Hanady, the next nearest person. She, like Samah, also liked the bubble tables most, but had also seen the New Media displays. I was quite happy to hear that. Hanady’s wish for later life is in law enforcement.

At that point, I had to call a stop — as much as I would have loved to interview them all, it would have taken too long. Though disappointed, they understood. One last boy, whose name I regrettably did not write down, asked for an interview. Very articulate, he asked the questions much in the matter of a television interview — clearly, and with deliberate articulation. At the end, he thanked me for my time, and even shook my hand. I see a future for him in journalism.

Performances from the stage came on and off all day. This included Anthony Maclean with Infomatrix, some from Wayne Rostad with On the Road Again, and of course, Frank Leahy and Friends (which we think will be their last performance with us — though there is a little hope of them coming to Halifax). One was from the Royal Canadian Air Farce. We’ve seen them several times now since leaving Vancouver. Their energy impresses me. (Mind you, the energy of the train crew impresses me far more. The Air Farce has only been out to some of our shows. We’ve had to do all of them, yet we still smile and are as energetic with every new person as we were with the first ones in Vancouver.) But it’s getting tiring … especially Luba Goy. Her duck impression is, well, annoying. And when she’s “Really On”, she doesn’t know when to stop.

Because there were six of us manning the New Media tent, I was able to spend more time wandering around the site. Radio-Canada made an effort to bring local television talent, especially from children’s shows. It was easy to snap pictures of them interacting with children. That also set me up as a target for Radio-Canada.

I was approached by one of the Radio-Canada staff — she wanted some pictures taken, primiarly of the local talent they brought in. But then they snuck in one more thing: They wanted pictures taken of all the signs. Why? One reason (at least that we can discern): All the signs were in English. Much earlier in the project, the management team had asked Radio-Canada for input. As none was ever received, the signs were printed only in English. Radio-Canada, at least from what I could gather, was not pleased. I can only gather they wanted the pictures for evidence. The request, however, was countermanded when Rose and Julie came up to me and asked what was going on. There’s nothing like getting caught in the middle. Making a decision wasn’t too hard, though — I report to the English side of CBC.

Once the schools began to depart, the site quietened down. This allowed more time to talk to those who came to the New Media tent. All of them were so happy we had come. Three women were looking for the Royal Canadian Air Farce, and were a little disappointed to hear they’d missed hearing them on stage. A man, who couldn’t be any older than myself, was almost crushed when I wouldn’t reveal what was really inside Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk. (If people only knew that it contains Duffy’s tools.)

As I wandered back from my late lunch, Daryl pulled me aside to meet a man, retired for 14 years. He has read my journals online, which brought back memories of riding in the Banff Park car, when it had been with Canadian Pacific Railway. This man was another early pioneer, having helped build the microwave network from Winnipeg to Vancouver, through the Crowsnest Pass. He seemed almost misty-eyed when telling stories of raising a 300-foot tower on top of a 3,500-foot mountain in the middle of the night, when the winds didn’t howl. Of the journey on which we are embarked, he had this to say:

“You can’t appreciate it if you’ve never seen it.”

I think this is the first real sign of a big problem we’re all going to have when we get back to “reality”. Sooner or later, we’re all going to get the question: “What was it like?” I have no idea how I’m going to answer that. We’ve done so much and seen so much that it completely escapes me how to explain it. I’m a big fan of experiences — some of my favourite trips have been insanely paced, much like this one. But they’re short, usually less than two weeks. It’s a little easier. But this is so completely beyond my abilities that I have no idea what I’m going to do. I guess the only thing I can hope for is that there will be a documentary on this.

Of the tasks I had set myself to accomplish, one was to take a picture of ex-CPR 1201, a Pacific-class steam locomotive currently housed by the museum. The last locomotive built by CP’s Angus Shop in Montreal, #1201 had been protected from the scrapper’s torch by the locomotive crews. (The story goes that when CP started looking for the locomotive, they could never find it — the crews kept moving it around and hiding it.) I wanted a photo of this locomotive. However, it’s stored in the Science and Technology Museum’s warehouse, and is not open to the public. I had hoped to eek my way through with the curator, but couldn’t connect with him in time. Serves me right for waiting to the last minute.

Instead, I settled for pictures of ex-CN 6400, the last of five streamlined Northern-class steam locomotives (sometimes referred to as Confederation class); and of ex-CP 3100, one of only two Northern-class locomotives built for Canadian Pacific. They are beautiful examples of Canadian steam locomotive engineering.

As afternoon crept along, I gave my friend Rebecca a call. Although I’d seen her and her family a scant couple of months earlier, I had hoped they might be able to come out and see the train. However, a few phone calls back and forth pretty much kiboshed the idea — too many things going on, and the traffic wasn’t really accommodating at that time of the day.

Twelve hours passes a lot faster than you might think. We had what I think was our best event yet. So many people came out to see our show, and so many walked away with memories anew and renewed. Before we knew it, the sun was setting, and our tents illuminated from the lights within. The crowds were thin. Slowly, we started to pack ourselves up.

Long days such as this can really wear one out. But though we were tired and exhausted, there was the feeling of success. We had gone through the longest day on our schedule without serious complications or complaints. There had been the odd hiccup, but nothing more serious than anything we had dealt with before … not counting Winnipeg.

When the call to break came, everyone bolted for the line of taxis waiting for us. It almost seemd a race back to the hotel, though why I’m not sure. I bade farewell to Terri and Elizabeth, as I don’t expect to see them tomorrow. It was across the street again for a post-event celebration. We’re getting good at these.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Eastern Ontario

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 18

Ivan and I met arrived at Union Station at almost the same time, but from opposite ends of the GTA. Both of us had taken the GO Train to downtown. We met, as planned days earlier, under the clock in the centre of the Union Station upper atrium. The arranged meeting time was 9:15; Ivan and I were a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule (mostly due to how frequently the GO Trains run in the morning — though for me, it was also making sure I was punctual). We grabbed a quick breakfast at the Harvey’s while we waited.

One by one, people slowly began to arrive. Sometimes in twos, but usually individually. While we were waiting around for more people, Daryl pointed out a book on sale at an adjacent kiosk. It was a photography book whose subjects were railroad-oriented (not necessarily trains). The pictures were mostly black and white. All of them were strangely mesmerizing — things you wouldn’t normally think to take pictures of. And for $10, you certainly can’t go wrong!

The crew had almost all arrived by 9:15, at which time we headed into the train. Although everyone who could go home (a few of us live out of town) enjoyed sleeping in their own beds and being with family, every second utterance I heard as we climbed aboard was “it’s good to be home”.

Many of us, including myself, are now fighting off a cold. Illness spreads quickly when people are in confined spaces for long lengths of time. (That, combined with lack of sleep and lots of stress, usually do a number on the human immune system.) Luckily, it’s nothing serious, just your run-of-the-train kind of rhinovirus. More annoying than debilitating.

We said farewell to Jason, Debbie, and Ingrid in Toronto. This morning, Lisa joined us to take Jason’s place. Hopefully she won’t feel too excluded from our group — I suspect it won’t take long for her to blend in. We have no replacement for Ingrid, and I’ll be on my own until we get to Montreal. For a while, I’ll know how Cliff must have felt in the first couple of weeks, before Trish joined us.

The trip to Ottawa was fairly expedient. I’d taken the train between Ottawa and Toronto only once before, but that was on an LRC from Ottawa. This time, I rode in the Skyline dome, watching the world pass by in a way I’d never thought I’d see. We were eating lunch when we passed through Kingston. We waved at the dozens of people who lined the platforms waiting for us to pass through

Our trip up the Alexandria Subdivision (Brockville to just south of Ottawa) took a little longer than planned, mostly due to a rail traffic jam. The Alexandria Sub is single track, and if one train is late, it throws the entire schedule off. We ended up a little behind schedule arriving at the Ottawa station. Unfortunately, we never recovered that time. Due to depart the station around 18:00, we didn’t end up leaving until almost 19:00. (I have no idea why.) At an agonizingly slow speed, we shunted around Ottawa until we could back up the spur to the Canada Science and Technology Museum. While it was torture for us, the train chasers who lined our route must have loved the slow pace.

Arriving over two hours late at the museum, we had to wait while VIA spent over an hour shunting the Renaissance train. The tension level on our train skyrocketed to an all-time high. Even the agony of Winnipeg seemed a dull ache compared to the fury rising in many people. The CBC staff and our VIA crew were about ready to start breaking windows and jumping from open doors. It wasn’t so much that we were stir-crazy, but that stupid Renaissance train has been putting us behind schedule consistently since we picked it up on the 19th.

Although we never admitted to it publicly at the time, we were ready to do something nasty to the Renaissance train. Something that would prevent it coming with us for the remainder of the trip The delays were intolerable, and inexcuseable. This was supposed to be our show, not VIA’s, and their constant delays were causing us to miss schedules and inconvenience everyone.

Finally, four hours after we were to start our partial set-up (tents and kiosks), we detrained and proceeded to quickly unload the baggage car. In just over an hour, we erected all the tents, and were ready to finish our set up the following day. We ended up having to do more work than we should have, but mostly because we had to make sure that the museum would be ready for operation in the morning — the schools would start early.

Taxis started arriving not shortly after we finished, and we all headed to the hotel to check in. Being a complete idiot, I left my wallet on the train. This made checking in a little more difficult. (It would also make going out troublesome.) I wouldn’t be able to access any services, but I could at least shower and sleep that night.

The phone in my room already had a message. Terri and Elizabeth, from New Media in Toronto, are joining me for the 12-hour event tomorrow. I’m very thankful they’re coming. Doing this with two people is difficult, let alone one. Stretch that over 12 hours, and I’d be about ready for a long stay in a rubber room by the end of the day.

We broke for a late snack at a pub across the road. I had to beg and borrow due to my lack of foresight (see my wallet comment). Despite all the grumblings earlier in the day, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. In fact, we seem to be really positive about tomorrow’s event.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Day off

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 17

For the first time since our trip began, I had a day where I didn’t see a single person from the train. It felt weird.

I spent the day with my family, after sleeping a few extra hours (sleeping in never felt so good). I had hoped to make it a whole day without having to move something. Fate, as it seems, had other ideas in mind. My mother, however, has not completed the move from her home to her condominium.

I’ll give you three guesses what I was doing for part of the afternoon.

Today I realized just how much this trip has meant to me. I’ve written many times about the camaraderie, the challenges, and the excitement. But it’s one thing to write about those things while you’re amidst the action — it’s completely different when you’re reflecting on it.

That’s what today was for me: my first chance to ruminate on what we’ve done. It’s more than just crossing the country by train, though that would be enough for me. It’s having seen the happy faces of visitors to our exhibits. It’s having people learn a little about the CBC, and in turn about the culture of Canada. It’s hearing about how people feel included in something. It’s about seeing humanity.

Even on board the train, we have our own culture. It’s a microcosm of life. We live together in a stainless steel box barely 11 feet wide, 20 feet tall (in places), and just over 700 feet long. Submarines have more room than we do. Yet we are happy to be there. We are happy to bring the CBC to places that wouldn’t normally see the museum. We are happy to tell others that they are as much a part of the CBC as anyone else.

Tomorrow, our trek resumes. I just can’t wait to get on the road again.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Toronto

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 16

Five of our team staying at the hotel met in the lobby at 7:15 to walk to Union Station. Only a couple of blocks away, it wasn’t a long walk. Carrying a full hiking backpack, camera bag, laptop, and duffle bag, I must have been quite the sight walking down Front Street.

Finding our train on Track 1, I dumped my bags in the Park car, and awaited instructions. We had to be ready for 11:00. And the train was pointing in the wrong direction. To solve this, we completely unloaded the baggage car into the Skywalk so the train could go out to turn around. We had one hour.

Packing and unpacking the train used to be stressful. It used to be difficult. Now it’s routine. The running joke was that we’d have it all worked out when we got to Halifax. Who knew it would be before Toronto?

We were setting up in two locations in and around Union Station. News, Children’s, and the Boutique took up home in the Skywalk. Sports and New Media were slated for outside, along Front Street. This wouldn’t have been quite so bad, except New Media’s home was behind the stage, downwind from the diesel generators. For the first time since this tour started, I was angry.

It seemed as if New Media had become an afterthought, wedged off in the corner because no-one else knew what to do with it. The fact that we were behind the stage was just insult upon injury.

I didn’t want to be outside, even with our lousy location. According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to rain. New Media has nine computers (with nine LCD monitors), and a plasma display. It’s possibly the most expensive display in our travelling open house. As far as I was concerned, it was either full set-up inside, or as we’d done in Windsor, a partial outside.

Debbie and I complained. I hate complaining, but we had little choice. Eventually, we won the opportunity to be inside. But all we did was go through the doors. We didn’t move any closer to the others. We were still isolated. No signage, no pointers, and now even the map was wrong. For the first hour, Debbie and I moped. We were not happy campers, but moving seemed out of the question.

For a while, the people passing New Media were interested only in VIA’s Renaissance train. This didn’t exactly make our mood soar. But then people started looking for us. Most of the others in the CBC team were amazed that we’d been dumped off in a corner, and I think a few people were directed to us. Although we never came close to the crowds we had in Edmonton, we were happy to have people come by, use our computers, and learn a little about the CBC.

Our volunteers were all from the CBC, and were extremely helpful. We all fielded questions, from the simple (“how do I see the train”) to the difficult (“do you have archives of [insert show here]”).

One such request came from a gentleman who had purchased the book “Looking Back”, which covers the history of CBC Television. He had a list of nine classic CBC shows. He wanted to know what month and year the shows had switched from black and white to colour. The five of us, including Julie, just scratched our heads. He didn’t walk away empty-handed, however, as Julie and Debbie were able to direct him to Audience Relations. A researcher will hopefully soon solve the problem.

As I was finishing helping a woman cast her ShowVote for Beachcombers, I heard my name called out. I turned to see a face I hadn’t seen for over three years: my friends Jason and Stephanie (with their two children). They had driven over an hour to come down and see the show, and to see me. We talked for a while, before I suggested they get in line for the museum before the line got too long.

About an hour later, our walkie-talkie crackled with “Geoff Sowrey, what’s your 20?” (That’s radioese for “where are you”?) A few minutes later, my Aunt Ruth and cousin Lauren appeared. I was having a field day of visitors. We chatted for a brief time, and I told them what our journey was like, and how much fun (despite all the bruises and lack of sleep) we were having. Little did I know, though, that the call for my whereabouts hadn’t been from my family.

Debbie (Hynes, not Lindsey) approached, toting two people she had guided down from the Skywalk. Emily and Sydney were looking for me. Both are loyal fans of the CBC, particularly radio. Emily regularly reads the cbc.ca website. That’s how Emily found the journal entries I write. She’s been following our exploits since the beginning, and she wanted to meet the person who’s been writing about them.

Then I got the biggest compliment I’ve ever had. For years, I’ve had a few people tell me that my writing is a little wordy (if you’ve read the previous entries, you’ve probably figured this out by now). I’m a descriptive person. It seems, though, that I have the perfect audience: the visually impaired. Both Emily and Sydney are legally blind. They can read with the assistance of magnifying glasses, or leaning in close to monitors using large fonts. That also means that they cannot see what I’ve seen so far on this trip. My wordiness, however, does allow them to imagine the sights.

Flounders can’t get any more flattered than I was. I’ve never had a total stranger come up to me and compliment me on the work that I do. Now I know how famous people must feel like. It’s very humbling.

While I was revelling in the compliment, Emily proceeded to tell me how she and Sydney lived on a fixed income. And with $16 of their last $20 of the month, had travelled from Hamilton to Toronto, using whatever means possible. Just so they could meet me.

I almost cried. My aunt and cousin, who were sitting nearby, took pictures of us for posterity.

We talked probably for over an hour before Emily and Sydney carried on their tour of Toronto. My aunt and cousin left shortly after. Then I finally got to have lunch, with my friend Kim and her friend Rob.

The afternoon disappeared quickly, and soon it was time to start taking down our equipment. Striking the set was immeasurably easier than putting it together, partly because there was no question where we were going. Also because our volunteers needed no guidance for putting things back in boxes.

Without trying, we packed up in two hours. After a quick debriefing, we were off in different directions again. This time, however, I was off to Oakville to visit with family. Tomorrow, we have our second day off. It will be the first day we’ll all be away from each other. The feeling is a little strange.

Originally going to take the GO Train, my family insisted I take a taxi. They wanted me home for dinner, and the train would have taken too long. I rode to Oakville, all the while thinking about how, in some small way, I’d made a difference in someone’s life. Someone who had never met my family, my friends, or me, had known who I was and come looking. I might not have signed any autographs, but that didn’t make the experience any less important. This is truly a day to remember. I have experienced my true 15 minutes of fame.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, London

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 15

If it’s the 21st, it must be London. We can’t tell you the day of the week; we just know where we are. Cities have become our days. We ask each other: “What day is it?” The answer is: “Melville”, or “Windsor”, or “Travel”. You could come up to us and say “today is Thursday”, and we’ll just nod our heads.

London is the first event that’s not really our event. It’s actually VIA’s. VIA is promoting their new Renaissance trains throughout the Montreal-Windsor corridor. We have a P42 and a six-car renaissance car consist as part of our train. We separate the trains when we come to a station.

This was another minimalist event — no tents, no kiosks. The museum was open, the Boutique and the Information desk were set up in the tunnel from the station to Tracks 2 and 3. There’s nothing like a captive audience.

At first, we thought the day would be a write-off. People were coming to see VIA — we hadn’t advertised our presence in London. But as morning became afternoon, more and more people came out to see us. For about an hour, we had a line-up at the Information desk at least 50 people long! It took three people to madly stuff items into the gift bags for the visitors. One thing I’ll give Londoners: They’re very polite, and very patient.

People streamed in steadily all day. Almost all of them signed their names and comments in our guest book. A few people, especially those aged about 28-40, repeatedly commented on the museum. “So wonderful that you brought it here”, and “I never thought I’d get to touch the Friendly Giant’s costume”. One older woman, who remembers the early days of CBC Television, simply said: “It never occurred to me that Maggie Muggins dress was coloured” (she had only ever seen the show in black and white).

Although London is a smaller market for CBC Television, many of us felt we should have done a full show. We had enough people; we had great weather. The only thing we didn’t have was a great deal of space. Perhaps in hindsight, the partial event was a better idea.

We did have enough space (and good weather) to lay out our tarps and tents on the platform to dry. The deluge in Windsor had left them all wet, and fairly dirty. As we wouldn’t raise all the tents again until Ottawa, we mopped them clean and let dry in the warm London sunshine. Bill S. took to swabbing the decks, so to speak. Not the sort of thing you see every day.

I took a break partway through the day to do my photo run. This is when I’ll wander around the site or general area to take pictures of the event. Based on some information we’d received, I made a side trip to the Covenant Garden Market.

The market is a new building, about three blocks from the train station. Inside are some wonderful stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, delicatessen meats, cheeses of the world, and fragrant flowers. Without my own personal refrigerator, however, anything I purchased would go bad in a couple of days.

By 4:00pm, the event started to slow down. The University of Western Ontario was hosting a football game that afternoon, and it probably drew a fair few people away. But that was fine with us — we had time to wrap up and pack things away. By 6:00, we were ready to leave.

The trip back to Mimico was a fairly familiar one, having rode the GO Train more times than I can count. Once at Mimico, we detrained and departed either for home (for those who lived there) or to a hotel (for those of us far enough out of town, or out of province not to have a room to call home). We arrived late enough, and had an early enough start the following day, that I opted for a hotel room rather than stay the night with my family in Oakville.

For the first time since we’d started on 4 September, we went our separate ways. It was an odd feeling, to say the least.