CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Peggy’s Cove

[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 27

The trip portion of this journey is officially over. The train rolled into Halifax early this morning while we slept. We awoke slowly, and moved sluggishly. While many are looking forward to going home, most of us are sad that we’ve come to the end of the line. Appropriately, it was raining.

Packing up our train lives was no easy task. We’ve accumulated a surprising amount of stuff over the last month — bags were literally bursting. We had about two and a half hours to clean our stuff out, which seemed ample enough to find everything. I wandered about the train a bit, sometimes tripping over others in the midst of finding all their clothes.

It almost felt like I was moving out of a favourite apartment and moving away from old friends. There was a certain sombre sadness of leaving the train after being on it for so long. We’ll only be using the train in coming days as a place to take meals. From here on, we’ll be staying in a hotel. We’re done riding trains. Not counting public transit, I don’t figure on taking a train until next year.

The time came, and VIA came around with a tractor to collect our bags. They’d arrive with the vans at the hotel later on. We gathered in the station in anticipation of our shuttles. Roger and Trish vanished to rent a car, as did Duffy and Gerry. While waiting, one of the VIA crew from our train (I think his name is Carl) handed me an envelope. He told me not to tell anyone, and not to open it until I got to the hotel.

We loaded our shuttle bus for our last hotel, a bare block from the CBC Halifax office. The driver lost me in the maze of turns. And I don’t get lost easily. The hotel is a fair distance from downtown, but it’s actually not too bad. We can feasibly walk the distance. The hotel is quite large, which is nice. It even has a small lounge. Something I’m sure the crew will make repeated use of.

We were unable to check into our rooms right away. Some managed to get rooms, but the majority of us stuffed our baggage into an unused conference room. Some simply crashed and relaxed for the afternoon. Some of us were more interested in adventure.

Roger, Trish, Amy, Stefani, Analisa, and myself piled into Roger’s rented Lincoln Navigator (upgraded thanks to several nearly-expired upgrade coupons) and bolted for Peggy’s Cove. The Bills, the Robs, Gerry, Duffy, Emma, and Lisa followed in two minivans. We arrived quite a bit ahead of them, no doubt in part to Roger’s ability to traverse distances in safe haste. Although we took the “long” route, we arrived in under 45 minutes.

It’s been about 22 years since I last set foot in Nova Scotia. Yet I remembered the area as we approached Peggy’s Cove. I wondered if I would, considering how young I had been at the time. As we exited the forest for the coastal spaces, I started to recognize a few things. Then a faint memory came to me … one I hadn’t thought of in years. A little over two decades ago, I got carsick into one of the many little bays. I dreaded a repeat show — my sister would never let me live it down.

Peggy’s Cove was, unsurprisingly, crowded with tourists. The streets were full of them, making driving a little treacherous. We finally arrived at the parking lot at the edge of the coast, next to the famous Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse and Post Office. It’s something to have postcards with a Peggy’s Cove cancellation.

Exiting from our safe, warm vehicle, we found the he wind was biting. Perhaps not as bad as the previous night’s mosquitoes, but it was still breath taking. Especially when, like myself, you’re wearing shorts. (Actually, I wasn’t that cold, but hopping from a warm car to the chilly air was pause for thought. Amy and I were a little cool, but didn’t suffer as much as Roger, Stefani, and Trish. Analisa played it smart and stayed in the gift shop most of the time we were there.)

We hopped over the rocks like mountain goats. Some hid behind them periodically, due to the cold. I marvelled at the water-rounded rocks, the cracks, the seaweed, the sky, the waves, and the undeniable smell of fresh saltwater. A month ago, I marvelled at a similar scene on the west coast. This was simultaneously similar, yet completely different. (And despite that the two massive oceans are connected, the Atlantic has a decidedly different smell than the Pacific. I’d love to know why.)

The two other vans appeared about 20 minutes after we arrived. Soon the rocks were swarming with CBC train staff. We would congregate in small groups, filter out across the rolling waves of stone, and regroup in other places. At a distance, we probably looked no different than seagulls as they ride the ocean.

We left about an hour after arriving. The goal was also to see Lunenburg during our tour of the province. As we left town, we started to look for the Flight 111 Memorial. On the night of 2 September 1998, Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Peggy’s Cove. All 229 passengers and crew were lost. The tragedy put the small town of Peggy’s Cove on the world map for a time, and has left a mark ever since. Only a few short kilometres away, visible from Peggy’s Cove, is a simple memorial to those who lost their lives, and those who were first on the scene: the fishers of Peggy’s Cove.

You can’t see the memorial from the road. It requires a bit of a walk down a gravel path until you reach a stone platform upon which are two stone discs, mounted perpendicular to the platform, at an angle to each other. One side of the discs is rounded, the inside flat. The inside faces out to the ocean, the surfaces engraved. One of the discs has three notches out of the top — 111. Supposedly, the notches look towards where the plane went down. You can’t see it from shore. The crash site is just over the horizon. Over three years have passed since the tragic events, but flowers still arrive here.

The two vans did finally arrive in Lunenburg — we did not. Although we had been headed in that direction, we hadn’t gone out to the highway (the fastest method), and were in no real hurry. In fact, we were sidetracked by an overwhelming need to eat. Luckily for us, you often find the best meals when you’re on the verge of getting totally lost.

Lost was exactly was I was beginning to feel like. With Trish navigating, Roger was bombing up and down hills in search of … well, probably not really in search of anything. That’s half the fun of exploring — knowing you really don’t need to find anything. That’s how we ended up in the middle of nowhere (actually, it was somewhere around Upper Tantallon, wherever that is). We stopped at a general store, where we got directions to the nearest good restaurant. Luckily, it was just around the next bend.

The Pilot House Cafe is definitely off the beaten path. So far off, in fact, that it was empty save for the sole waitress. The inside was cottagey, looking (somewhat) recently renovated. Apparently, the cafe is primarily for the lodgers of the adjoining cabins. When the tourist flow is slow, rogue travellers are eagerly welcomed. The first question was “who wants chowder?”.

The chef, Billy, knows his food. Seafood chowder so thick you could spackle a house (and came in the most darling bowls); calamari so fresh, soft, and tangy as to almost pierce the soul; and if you’d told me that you could put scallops on a pizza, I’d have called you crazy. The taste is otherworldly. I won’t mention dessert. Trust me, you’ll only drool over your keyboard, and that just doesn’t look attractive.

Packed to the rim, we rolled out of the restaurant and found our way back to Halifax. The trip took barely 20 minutes — we took the highway. We didn’t make a beeline back to the hotel, though. Tonight was our last (planned) full team dinner, at a restaurant called Soho Kitchen downtown. Analisa wanted to acquire a new pair of shoes for the event. This led to almost everyone thinking they could use something. Everyone except me. My bag are already too full — I simply can’t pack anything else in. If I buy any souvenirs in this city, it’s going to have to be small.

We sidled into one of the local malls, and we ducked into a Sears Outlet store. I hadn’t been in an outlet store for a while. I remembered why. Nothing to be found in sight. At least for Roger and I. Amy, Trish, and Analisa hunted around. Stefani didn’t seem all that enthralled, admittedly. Finding the store a bit of a washout, we returned to the car and pulled around front to the rest of the mall complex. This time, I stayed in the car. I was tired from all the activity (and the food). I slept for a few minutes while the others shopped.

We were a little slow recongregating. Roger and Trish were back early. Stefani was maybe a minute or two late. Analisa took considerably longer. But we could not find Amy. She’d vanished. We patrolled the mall, at first with our eyes, and then with the car. No sign of her anywhere. We checked the stores she’d said she was going to check. Nothing. We were getting a little worried. We thought that perhaps we had somehow managed to miss each other, and Amy had taken a cab back to the hotel. As we were making our last pass to make sure we hadn’t missed something, Amy walked out of the mall’s entrance. Relieved that we’d found her, we returned to the hotel. Tonight was our wrap party.

In theatre, you’d normally wait until the end of the production to hold the festivities. Our last show is Saturday, 5 October. But starting tomorrow, we start losing our staff. Lives need to be lived, and almost all of us have taken a month’s leave of absence from them. With our time together rapidly closing, it’s our last chance for a full team dinner.

We went to Soho Kitchen, on a recommendation from Daryl, a former and still-periodic Halifax resident. It’s a more local haunt, and definitely not a tourist trap. Crammed into a side room that barely fit us all, we outnumbered the remaining patrons. We easily overpowered them with volume. The menu items were so tantalising that it was extremely difficult to choose. Lisa took it upon herself to choose for me (I didn’t offer a lot of resistance). Thai scallops. Quite tasty.

Speeches that weren’t meant to be speeches followed dinner. Neil wanted to thank a few people who had made the trip happen, and memorable. Unfortunately, he went down the slippery slope of inclusion, and found himself having to thank everyone. It’s a dicey problem any of us could have walked into. If you don’t make just the right speech, you run the risk of offending someone — either by understating something they think was more important, or perhaps forgetting them all together. Still, I have to give Neil credit for at least trying to say something about everyone. No-one else had tried by that point, and I doubt ever will. It was a more emotional event than I think any of us really realized.

Following our repast, we adjourned to the Seahorse Pub, a local legend since 1948. The interior was … in transition. Renovations in the corner seemed to indicate that the bar had some work planned. It was almost impossible to tell when the last time the renovations had even been touched.

We toasted our success, and the people who would soon leave. Emma convinced me to join her in a game of darts. That was her first mistake. She suggested a game called “cricket”. That was her second mistake. I must laud Emma’s patience as she repeatedly taught me the rules, which seemed so complicated at the time. (In all honestly, speaking becomes complicated after enough pints of beer.) We never finished the game — neither of us could hit the bullseye after a while — but I still lost.

It was then back to the hotel. I don’t really remember the walk back, other than I felt a draining urge to get to my room as quickly as possible. We don’t have an early morning tomorrow, but sleep is still a wonderful thing.

Oh, what was in the envelope you ask? Hmm… I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Well, Carl and I had talked a bit on the train on our way from Montreal. He, like the other regional managers for VIA, could spot a railfan around the next corner. He could also tell that I was far from worn out from our little jaunt across the country. He had asked if I would be interested in riding the Bras D’or, VIA’s rail cruise from Halifax to Sydney, on Cape Breton island. I had replied at the time that I would love to go, but simply couldn’t afford it. Carl said he would see what he could do. In the envelope was a round-trip pass on the Bras D’or.

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

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