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 I do like to set context, which is why you’ll often see historical content thrown in.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.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Windsor

[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 14
So much for good weather. When I checked the weather forecast this morning, it said rain. That meant a slight different configuration in our New Media tent arrangement, and fewer people out to visit us.
For the tent, two tables instead of four, six computers instead of nine, and no centre triangle. This would allow us room to let people into the tent to view the content if we had to roll the walls out when it rained.
It’s a good thing we did, because it rained. A lot. Not all day, thankfully, but enough to make us a little damp. It also damped the spirits of our potential visitors. We ended up with fewer people out to see us. This was a blessing in two ways: less chance of long line-ups, and easier for us to interact with others.
Most of the people I spoke to didn’t mind the rain — they liked it because it would keep the crowds away. They were ecstatic to see the museum (I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t like it), and were surprised to see all the other material we’d brought along with us. It makes me wish we could put out our full event at every stop.
One other thing that helped a lot were our volunteers. We had a lot of them. They were all go-getters, willing to go that extra mile. One of the volunteers at the New Media tent, Mark, was also a local historian. While at lunch, Debbie strongly recommended that I talk with him. (I should mention that I love Debbie — she’s been watching out for me like a mom.)
The VIA Rail station is not downtown Windsor — it’s in an area called Walkerville. Walkerville, in 1858, was the home of the Hiram Walker and Sons Distillery. It was a company town, with appointed mayors and officials. The town serviced the needs of its sole employer, the distillery. The company built row housing for employees, and mansions for its management. At the centre, against the banks of the St. Clair River, is the distillery.
The neighbourhood still exists today, though it is decidedly more upscale than in its past. The row houses are well-kept, and probably well sought after. The larger houses are still here, too, including the large mansion built by Hiram’s sons. (Hiram himself lived in Detroit.)
Shortly before our dinner break, my partner Debbie (like I said, she’s my Guardian Angel) got me the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the new VIA Renaissance equipment. Analisa tagged along when she heard that we’d be climbing into the locomotives. This was courtesy of John, our new train rider. (John took over for Peter when we got to Mimico.) Like Peter, John’s a train fanatic, which is why he still loves his job.
John took Analisa and I first into #6403, the CBC F40PH-2. This was the same locomotive Peter had guided me through in Melville. After a brief stop, we climbed into the new P42. It’s like climbing into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I’m used to the valves, knobs, and gauges of steam locomotives. The computerized console of a P42 is something almost foreign to me. And I’m a member of the digerati!
A standard VIA P42 diesel electric locomotive (which are almost the same as Amtrak P42s) has five computers to keep the unit running. If these crash, the locomotive doesn’t work. But you can control virtually any aspect of the locomotive, and record every last shred of information about the locomotive’s operation. I still prefer a firebox to a diesel engine.
Then John took us through the Renaissance cars. These were originally European passenger cars built in England. When the order fell through, the cars remained undelivered. Transportation company GEC Alstom stepped in, bought the entire load, and then resold them to VIA. After some modifications to bring them to North American standards, VIA will put them into use in the Windsor-Montreal corridor, and on the Ocean train.
The coach could be right out of a slightly more futuristic airplane. The seating, the layout — all you needed was a pair of wings out the windows, and you couldn’t really tell. The sleeper cars were significantly different, though. Many of the rooms (the deluxe rooms in particular) have showers, toilets, and sinks. It’s quite impressive. The space is small though, and I think they lack the charm and personality of the stainless steel Budd equipment that we’re using on our trip.
Rain hit us hard a couple of times during the day, but rarely for more than 10 minutes. For most of the afternoon, it was relatively nice. Right up until we started to strike the sets, barely a minute after the computers had been loaded onto the train. I don’t think Noah had to content with that heavy a downpour.
All of us got wet. Actually, “wet” isn’t quite right. “Thoroughly soaked to the bone” is a little more accurate. And “all” isn’t entirely correct, either. Some of us took shelter under partially collapsed tents. Some of us, including myself, didn’t care. We just plugged away at our job, just wishing that we had a bar of soap so we could make full use of the shower. The rain wasn’t too cold, so we didn’t freeze.
Despite the weather, we managed to pack up in less than two hours. In fact, it took us less time to pack than it did for VIA to remarshall the train and depart. This should have driven us crazy, but merely annoyed us. The biggest problem was that the internal power had to be shut off while we waited. We watched the full length of “Shrek” in the Bullet Lounge of the Banff Park before power came back on (oh, the joys of battery-powered laptops).
Next stop: London!

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Southern 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 13
Today was primarily a travel day. Awaking to the rising sun of the smog-filled sky of Toronto, I bade farewell to the VIA crew who had brought us from Winnipeg. It was time to welcome a new crew. Today, we also said goodbye to Jeannine and Peter, who return to Vancouver. (Peter, who has been sick for the last two days, has been uttering almost nothing but “home” since leaving Winnipeg.) We also gained a new person this morning: Trish, who’ll finally supply the support Cliff has desperately needed in Sports.
We already miss our Vancouver crew terribly. They were great people, who enjoyed having fun as much as we do. Our newer crews seem a little more green, a little more by-the-books. Maybe in time we’ll be able to break them.
During the night, VIA had attached a second train to ours — a new VIA Renaissance consist that we would tow from Toronto to Windsor and back, and all the way out to Quebec City. VIA is actively promoting these new trains, especially in the Southern Ontario / Southern Quebec corridor. At our next six stops, the VIA’s train will be promoted alongside ours.
We departed VIA’s Toronto Maintenance Centre just after 9:00am. We backed up east of the Mimico GO station, and began our first trip west. For the next 20 minutes, we travelled along a rail line I knew well — CN’s Oakville subdivision. Living in Oakville most of my life, and having taken the GO Train for more years than I can remember, I knew the line quite well. It was a different experience seeing it from the dome of a VIA Skyline car.
Richard Homme, the bassist from Frank Leahy’s band, was waiting in Oakville. Although we didn’t see him, he saw us. At least that’s what he told me in an email I got this evening. If nothing else, the fact that a well-known member of Canada’s musical and cultural scene will keep in touch with us is a sign of how well our team has worked.
Leaving the Oakville Subdivision, we entered onto the Dundas Subdivision. I’ve never been out this far on a train, at least in memory. I vaguely remember a day when my mom, sister, and I travelled to London on VIA to visit with my father, who was working in London at the time. I remember nothing of the trip itself. To travel the distance again was not only gratifying, but helped restore a memory long forgotten.
We zipped through London and entered the Chatham subdivision for Windsor. We thought we might arrive early — about 15:00. We thought we’d have lots of time for setting up and shuttling to the hotel (several of us were in desperate need to do laundry).
How wrong we would be.
My copy of the 2002 Canadian Trackside Guide doesn’t mention any sidings on the Chatham subdivision. In fact, there are a few. I know this because we sat in one for at least an hour. For no apparent reason. This had a few of our group a little agitated. But no more so than when we got to Windsor. Already running late according to our travel schedule, we were also pushing the limits of having the museum ready for its 18:30 show.
Then the real grief began. We first had to wye the train (that’s railroadese for turning it around). Not too hard — there’s a wye about four kilometres from the station. That was easy. But those last four kilometres took forever to cross. The slow progress was making us lose our collective minds.
Things got worse when we finally got close to the station. VIA detached the Renaissance consist, then backed our train in. (That’s actually the short version. VIA paid so much attention to their Renaissance train that sometimes I felt like we were being ignored.) We had hoped that we would be able to take our equipment off the coach car (also known as our office) before the rest of the train was moved to an inaccessible location. Next thing we knew, the front half of the train was pulling away.
After managing to quickly pull the train back in to remove our equipment, we proceeded to start unloading for the shows. We have two in Windsor: one tonight for VIPs, and another tomorrow for the public. As soon as we had enough set up to open the museum, we started to pitch tents for tomorrow.
We had hoped to set up tents, kiosks, and all the difficult stuff. We only got as far as tents. Rolling thunder and sheet lightning made us decide otherwise, and we packed it in after the tent flags were flapping in the stiffening wind. It rained torrentially on our way to the hotel.
While most of the others went for dinner, Stefani and I opted for laundry. We were out of clean clothes (I had a pair of swim trunks and a sweatshirt left). The hotel had one washer and dryer. Why hotels have only one baffles me. The Vancouver hotel had three! It also means you spend a lot of time waiting, which was exactly what happened to me.
Stefani beat me to the washing machine. No big deal — she offered to call me and let me know when she was going to remove her things so I could use it. True to her word, I got a phone call just as I hopped out of the shower. I hastily gathered my things and was just about to go out the door when the phone rang again. Some woman had decided that waiting in turn didn’t apply to her, and filled the washing machines with her shoes. I finally got in after the (rather odd) woman removed her runners and left. Cliff and Tracy started after me, and even popped in two more loonies when my jeans failed to dry completely.
Tomorrow is the full public event. Our fingers are crossed for good weather and nice people. Though nice people would be enough.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Sudbury

[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 12
Last night was long. I rode in the Skyline dome with Angela, Tracy, Roger, Cliff, Debbie, and Marc until we arrived at Oba. By then, only Angela, Tracy, Marc, and myself remained. We switched onto the Algoma Central, crossed the diamond and began our trip south. An hour later, I was the only one watching the train’s journey.
I’ve always wanted to ride the Algoma Central, particularly in the autumn. Sadly, it was not yet time for the trees to turn, and it was in the middle of the night. Yet I sat there, staring into the night, only able to see what the locomotive’s headlight illuminated far ahead of me.
As much as I hate to admit it, I think I was depressed. This group feels like a family to me, yet there are times I feel strangely isolated. I know I’m not being actively excluded — it’s probably me not being a CBC employee. I’m a contractor. Everyone else has the commonality of actually being there. They can talk about certain people, they can talk about places or events. I can only listen. I guess I’ll always have that outside feeling.
I retired to bed before I stayed up all night. The last thing I want to get caught up in is the spiralling dismay at a lack of a relationship or lose hope in the future.
I awoke at mile 54 of Canadian Pacific’s Nemegos subdivision. During the night, we were held up at Franz awaiting clearance to proceed. We were running late. Originally, we were to arrive at Capreol in the mid-morning. Now we were aiming for arrival in Sudbury around 11:45. That left barely an hour to set ourselves up for the event.
The delay had a benefit — we got to see more of Northern Ontario. Steam rose from lakes warming in the early morning sun. Trees grew impossibly from billion year-old rock. You could almost hear the call of the loons through the windows.
It reminded me suddenly of a National Film Board short called “A Rail Trip West”, featuring silent legend Buster Keaton. Although years since my last viewing, I could remember Keaton’s character climbing into a speeder (which was used to inspect rail lines) and travelling all the way to Vancouver. The movie fascinated me as a child, and ever since I’d wanted to travel the country by rail. This trip has largely fulfilled that desire.
As we got closer to Sudbury, the fog lifted and the clouds began to part. It was like coming out of a dream. All yesterday, we’d dreamed and rested. Now we were coming back to reality, and the purpose of our cross-country expedition.
Arriving for our updated time, we immediately proceeded to set up for our partial event. Having a platform made things significantly easier — we didn’t need an elaborate rig of boxes and shims as we’d had in Melville. In just under an hour, the museum, part of the Boutique, and the Information desk were ready.
People were already there. And people kept coming for the entire four hours. It was a steady flow, mostly of older people until the schools got out. People were nice, friendly, and happy to come down to see us. There wasn’t one disparaging comment the entire afternoon, even when we had to tell a family of four that we’d closed for the day, and were preparing to leave. This was the stop we needed.
Fairly early in, I decided I needed to get pictures of Sudbury’s famous Giant Nickel. Only problem was, I didn’t know where it was. So I asked the VIA station staff. One of them kindly offered to give me a lift to see it (the distance wasn’t easily covered on foot). I grabbed Daryl, since I was reasonably sure he’d want to get the Nickel on video. The three of us hopped in a car and off we went. The man, probably in his early 20s, was perhaps the single worst stereotype of male chauvinist pig that I’ve ever seen. I actually felt embarrassed being in the car with him. (Anyone who leans out the car window, while driving, and shouts “Hey baby!” while passing attractive women really needs to be removed from the gene pool.)
At least Daryl and I got footage of the Nickel.
CBC Radio was roaming around doing interviews with several of the crew. I was interviewed twice — once by a woman (whose name and radio station I now sadly forget), and once by the Points North show, for CBC Radio One in Sudbury. It was a short interview, and mostly about the ShowVote program. It was my two minutes and thirty seconds minutes of fame.
Five minutes before 19:00, we pulled out for our journey to Toronto. We sat, ate roast boar stuffed with venison (we somehow snagged one of the Silver and Blue chefs, who has spoiled us rotten since leaving Winnipeg — not that I’m complaining), and watched the scenery slowly slip into blackness.
Around 22:00, we started to gather in the Park car. The official intent was to play Pictionary. The unofficial reason was to say goodbye to the Service Manager who’d been with us since Vancouver, Jeannine. She had been our mother, best friend, assistant, and guide over the last 12 days. We were sad to see her go.
Presented with a token of our esteem, a book (which we’ll all sign), a hat, and a sweatshirt from the Boutique, we also indulged in a forbidden pleasure: drinking on the train. Jeannine joined in, even though it was more of a no-no for her than for us. We, of course, won’t tell anyone.
I eventually returned to the dome of the Skyline to watch our approach into Toronto. Soon, things became recognizable: the Oriole GO station at Leslie and the 401, the Don Valley Parkway, Pottery Road, the Bloor Viaduct, and finally, downtown Toronto and the CN Tower. It felt a little like home.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Sioux Lookout and Northern 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 11
And on the 11th day, they rested.
I awoke as the train pulled into Sioux Lookout, ON. This isolated town is the launching point for excursions into the north, and for sportsmen heading out for fishing and hunting expeditions. It’s also a divisional point on CN — we were again changing engineers.
Gerry’s father-in-law hailed from Sioux Lookout, and Gerry has some ties to the town. No sooner than we arrived, he dove out to find a church to which the family had donated stained glass windows. I sufficed with photographs from the train.
The train pulled out not long after I’d finished breakfast, on our way to the next divisional point, Armstrong. I took up residence in the dome for a while to watch the scenery before I realized I was about to fall asleep. I returned to my lower berth for some additional rest. At around 11:15, 139 miles further down the line, we pulled in for train orders. I felt more awake than I had in days.
The battle for the shower began about two minutes out of Armstrong. Ingrid, Stefani, and I all wanted in. Somehow, though I had been waiting longer than the other two, I ended up going last. There was probably some chivalristic thing going on, but it was probably that fighting over something that trivial only succeeds in making people angry.
[I should note that a couple of days later, I found out that I’m a hipocrite. Earlier in the trip, Emma and I had run into a similar situation. I can’t honestly remember doing this, so either I was completely out of my mind — a plausible situation — or I was being a jerk. I jumped into the shower ahead of Emma after she’d declared that she needed one. How chivalristic of me…]
The day passed wonderfully slow. We talked, slept, ate, napped, read, rested, and didn’t think about what was coming next. It was a day spent doing nothing but watching relaxing scenery and goofing off. Our first true day off since we started two weeks ago.
I sat watching out windows. The scenery up here is gorgeous. “Ontario” means “Land of Shining Waters”, and it’s easy to see why. I couldn’t hope to count the number of lakes we passed between Armstrong and Hornepayne. The trees screened the lakes, a slow tantalizing reveal as we moved along. As I stared at the near-blur of trees, it became a kind of strange martial art.
Xen and the Art of Passing Trees. As the tree passes, look at its shape, it’s colour. How does it differ from those around it? Is it attractive? Is it happy? Does it look healthy? Would the tree be a good friend, or an enemy? As you contemplate the tree, can you see the forest behind it?
We arrived in Hornepayne around 19:15. Another divisional point, it still retains some remnants of its former railway glory: the coaling tower and an engine house. Here we expected to leave for Capreol, where I had hoped to take pictures of ex-CNR steam locomotive #6077. It’s a sister locomotive to the Rocky Mountain Rail Society’s #6060, one I work on as frequently as I’m able.
It seems fate, however, is not on my side today. A derailment on the CN line has blocked our exit. As of 22:44, as I write this, we are still in Hornepayne. Although the plan is not yet entirely clear to me, we are to continue to Oba, south to Franz along the Algoma Central, and then along CP to Sudbury. We completely bypass Capreol. #6077 will have to wait.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Winnipeg public

[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 10
It’s hard to say much about today that’s positive.
We could analyze the events of the day to try and determine what went wrong. The exercise would be fruitless and pointless, except to determine what not to do next time. Not enough space, too many people, combined with poor local organization and a train location that proved to be nothing short of a nightmare led to a disasterous show. We had a lot of happy people, but far too many unhappy ones — and they were usually us.
We love running this show across Canada. Sure, we’ve had rough times and stops that we didn’t think were great. But never before as this team been so entirely upset about trying their best and being told it isn’t enough. It was disheartening to be berated by patrons and even volunteers who don’t know how much sweat and tears that has been spilled since the start. It was enough for us to want to close down early and run screaming.
Although we suspected from yesterday that Winnipeg would be hard, I don’t think any of us thought that Winnipeg would be our Waterloo.
It all began just after noon, when the schools started arriving. From 12:00 to 15:00, we would run group tours (in other words, schools) through the museum. This also meant, of course, all our other exhibits.
The Boutique and New Media were in the rotunda of Union Station, along with Radio-Canada and a production set for a live broadcast starting around 16:00. It was cramped, but bearable. Throw in a few hundred children, and cramped becomes contemptible.
I remember being a student. I remember field trips. We were bloody murder on teachers. But I also remember having some serious strict discipline if we ever got out too far out of line. Most of the CBC crew remember that. Either we were being too critical, or a large number of the children who came were complete terrors. To the point where hidden keyboards were pulled out, computers almost hacked (we had to keep a very close eye), and children who almost ruined the Friendly Giant’s costume in the museum.
The chaos in the rotunda came nowhere near the level of mayhem in the back parking lot. Sports, News, and Children’s tents were under siege from a thousand hands, all wanting something. Few thank-yous were heard, almost no eye contact, and virtually no interaction. At times, it was like watching piranhas strip a body to its skeleton. None of the tents had volunteers. We were on our own.
Things went from worse to terrible. Apparently, one of the schools had disadvantaged children. On such child had anger issues. He hit Franklin, hard enough to crack the helmet inside the head. Luckily, the volunteer wasn’t injured, but the damage was done. Emma was beside herself — how on earth could a child like that be allowed to attend something like this? How Emma made it through the day without screaming (or a few stiff shots of scotch) is amazing.
By 15:00, we were all ready to pack up and leave. But people had already started arriving for the public event. We still had five hours to endure. We held hope that it was just the children, and that the public would be more understanding. To a degree, they were. But the temperamental individuals more than made up for the nice people.
Barely an hour into the show, one of the volunteers in the rotunda — an elderly man — came up to me and asked who ran the show. A bit of a vague question, I asked for clarity. He then asked who ran the museum. The answer was Ivan. The man offered a suggestion on how to improve things. My “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” alarm went off immediately. I took a chance and asked what his idea was.
“Move the train.”
The man had a valid point. The train was parked in a very awkward location, making it difficult for people to get to it. But that was the best we could do — we didn’t have a lot of options to play with. Such was the nature of the site. I tried my best to defuse the man’s insistence, offering the thought that this situation had been addressed a lot in the last few weeks, and this was the best we could do. My suggestion fell on deaf ears, and the man pronounced that he was going to do something about it.
“Geoff to Julie, urgent!”
“Go for Julie.”
“I need you in the rotunda, ASAP.”
I never knew humans could turn such an interesting shade of red. Had Julie been a more predatory animal, say a lion, I’m sure she would have taken the man’s head off. He was encouraged to leave immediately. He lingered a while longer, complaining and pointing at me … but soon he was gone and it was one less problem to deal with. But when you’re having a day full of problems, one less problem doesn’t really do much.
Neil, Julie, and Debbie were the breakwaters against the hurricane of trouble. How they got through the day without either breaking down or blowing up I cannot fathom. I watched as one person decided to cut deeply into Neil, claiming false advertising when the tickets to the museum all sold out before she arrived. I felt for him. I can’t imagine how much that must have hurt.
In our larger venues, we give out tickets to the museum. This is to control the flow of visitors. We’ve had a few complaints about it — why don’t we just let people fend for themselves? The answer is easy: fewer people will get through the museum, and we’ll have more angry people who didn’t make it in. At least this way, we can manage the crowd, and let people know that they won’t get in.
Probably the single biggest issue was the local organizer, Raydene (or maybe Raylene … like it matters, we know it’s just a pseudonym for “Satan”). This woman was supposed to have organized everything in the area, so we could concentrate on what was going on. But she didn’t organize anything, it seemed. Volunteers disappeared regularly, didn’t show up when we thought they were supposed to, she didn’t allow for feeding the volunteers or provide water, and we heard things like this all day over the walkie-talkies, never hearding the expected responses:
“Debbie to Raydene.”
“Neil to Raydene.”
“Analisa to Raydene.”
“Emma to Raydene.”
“Julie to Raydene…” [said while spitting fire through gritted teeth]
As the day progressed, we started making plans for packing up. This was going to be a stash-n-dash. This was our shortest pack time, and has been worrying us since Vancouver. We had a short period of time to strike our sets and pack everything up. This concerned me a lot, because the New Media kiosks take a while to pack up. But our Fearless Leaders had a plan.
Sports, News, and Children’s tents would come down at 19:00, an hour early. At 20:00, New Media and Boutique would strike. The theory was that by 20:00, the other three tents would be packed, and everyone would help strike the remaining two. (It was also loosely necessary because of the live broadcast that went on right next to our two displays — we had to wait to do our packing job.) It gave me a bit of pause, but I put faith in the plan. At that point, faith was about all I had left.
The last two hours in the rotunda were the worst. All day, bright spotlights had made the temperature soar. Starting around 17:30, hundreds started to filter into the rotunda to watch the live broadcast. It started to get warmer. The small space caused further problems — everyone had to pack in tight. This rendered both Boutique and New Media almost inaccessible. This was both a blessing (fewer things to watch for) and a curse (couldn’t keep an eye on what was happening).
Just before 19:00, the radio chatter started. The tents outside were coming down, and instructions aplenty bantered back and forth. The mood over the radio had changed. Earlier in the day, it had been tired, distraught, even tense. Now it was driven, determined, and focused. The end was in sight, and everyone wanted out.
At 19:30, Debbie and I started to close down New Media. It was time to close out another ShowVote category. By 19:50, the six computers featuring ShowVote were off. We were disconnecting cords, wrapping up cables, and preparing for the imminent rush.
It was now really tight. The broadcast (now featuring Fred Penner) had shifted to the celebration, including the largest birthday cake I’ve ever seen. It was wheeled in right between New Media and the Boutique, cramming people against both booths. Although the broadcast finished just after 20:00, we had a serious people problem — people were leaving too slowly.
The rest of the team arrived, armed and ready to help. Tabletops were removed, computers packed, tables flattened. The screwgun arrived and the centre triangle came down. The monitor boxes contained within the triangle were rapidly filled with monitors, and the plasma screen packed away. Over at the Boutique, unsold merchandise returned to their respective boxes, taped up, and loaded on a VIA luggage cart. Within 30 minutes, we had taken down both booths.
Luckily, the crowd had filtered out when we started to haul things upstairs. When we’d set up on Sunday, the freight elevators were trouble. We were a little worried that they would slow us down, or worse, malfunction. Instead, they probably saved us a great deal of time. The process worked so well, we finished by 21:20, a full 40 minutes ahead of our departure time.
Neil, Emma, and Rose were on their way back to Toronto. None of them were leaving us permanently. Rose has a lot of business to handle, and will rejoin us in Windsor. Neil and Emma need to see their families, and tackle pressing issues. Both will return when we do our Toronto show on the 22nd.
I ate a dinner I originally didn’t want. I was far to stressed and tired to be hungry, but Debbie convinced me to eat. I took a table right next to CBC celebrities Ian Hanomansing, Diane Swain, Peter Jordon, and another woman who was a radio personality (unfortunately, I’m not well up on my CBC radio names). I was so tired I didn’t even notice they were there. It wasn’t until I heard Ian’s voice that I realized who was behind me.
We were exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. We all needed showers and about two days’ sleep. We wanted to leave. We had to wait. We needed a new locomotive.
Our train has two diesel electric locomotives: #6403, which is our CBC-decaled lead locomotive, and #6412, a second VIA locomotive that’s mostly backup. We lost #6412 outside of Biggar when the crankcase exploded. (That’s why you have a backup.) We had to pick up another locomotive before tackling northern Ontario. It’s a long ride, and you don’t want to cross it solo.
Taking #6412’s place was #6449. It had come in on the #2 train the day before (eastbound Canadian), pulled off due to mechanical failure. Repaired, it was turned over to us. Once the both engines were fuelled, they were reattached and air brakes tested.
I was in the Skyline’s dome when the train started forward. There was a sudden overwhelming rush of relief as we pulled out of the station. While I had been excited to come to Winnipeg, like everyone else I was ecstatic to depart.
Almost instantly, people began to slowly unwind. Some went directly to bed. Others sat and watched the dark scenery pass. The train was quiet, save for the blats of #6403’s horn, and the clanking of the train as we rolled along.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Winnipeg employees

[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 9
We arrived in Winnipeg somewhere around 05:00. I use the vagueness because I’m not entirely sure. I was quite tired, and still don’t know what possessed me to open the window and look. When I saw us arriving at Union Station, I returned to my slumber.
The sounds of activity eventually pulled me from bed, and into action. Though that was mostly due to my bladder. Unfortunately, Winnipeg was our first stop without honeypots (the large barrels that collected human waste from the toilets). We had to hike into the station and track down the bathrooms in there. Fortunately, Winnipeg’s Union Station isn’t like Toronto’s — no steady stream of passengers to see us so dishevelled first thing in the morning.
Breakfast soon woke me up, just in time to meet our new crew member. Today, CJ finished her time with us. We gain Debbie in her place. I am sorry to see CJ leave. Although we started off on the wrong foot, we ended good partners. I look forward to seeing her in Toronto. We’ve also gained a replacement for Enza’s position: Ingrid. In a way, I kind of feel bad for her — I hear a lot of “I miss Enza”. It’s not directed at Ingrid, but she does have a legacy to live up to.
CJ wasn’t the only person leaving. This morning’s breakfast would be the last for our entire initial crew (not counting [[CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Remembering 9/11|Enza’s departure]] five days ago). Today is the first rotation of personnel. Most of the VIA crew rotates out here, with only Peter and Jeanine carrying through to Toronto. Perhaps the most depressing part for many people is that the band is also leaving. Due to prior engagements, Frank has to leave us here. Frank, David, Paul, and Richard all want to stay on board, and at one point tried to rearrange their schedules to see where they could come back. We will see them again, but probably not on the train.
In commemoration of the crew change, we took a full cast photo in the rotunda, including the VIA staff. It was a sad affair, as we said goodbye to new friends and comrades. It’s been a great week — I can’t wait to see what the next weeks bring us.
Following breakfast, I took a wander around the station. Everyone I know from the Winnipeg area has been telling me for a while that I needed to see Union Station. They were right — it’s quite beautiful. Originally opened in 1911 by the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern railroads, Winnipeg’s Union Station is a shining example of Beaux Arts architectural style. (And if you’re wondering, I got that snippet from a plaque hung on the wall.)
Of particular note is the rotunda. This large room has welcomed countless waves of immigrants and visitors to Winnipeg, it’s cavernous ceiling alluding to the wonders that await beyond the doors. Aside from cracks in the rotunda floor, the building has survived the years well. The cracks stem from the platoons of soldiers who marched through this station in the 1940s. Their combined weight and rhythmic step caused the floor to flex and break.
Also of note is the railway museum on Track 1. When railway traffic declined in Canada, Winnipeg was left with a mostly-empty station. (Toronto’s Union Station became a commuter rail hub.) The unused space was rented to Winnipeg Railway Museum. They brought in their vintage equipment including the Countess of Dufferin, the first locomotive in northwestern Canada. I know this because one of the VIA staff had a key to the door and let me in. I just had to be quiet and quick, so the museum staff wouldn’t catch me in there.
Today’s event was for Winnipeg CBC employees. A lighter load for some of us, it still required a full setup. This was the hard part. It was our first multi-level setup — the train is on the second floor of the station. Our equipment went either to the rear parking lot or to the rotunda, both underneath. It took nearly twice as long to set up as usual. I tried to show Debbie what CJ and I have figured out over the last week, so she’ll have fewer bruises. But with the nature of our layouts, things always happen.
The setup was far from perfect. It took a long time to get equipment downstairs, mostly due to a sudden breakdown of the freight elevator. This stranded Neil and Cliff for the better part of an hour, along with a cart full of equipment destined for the rotunda.
By roughly 14:00, the New Media area was complete, and it was time to break for the hotel. I desperately needed a shower. With the on-train services suspended in the station, and several hours of labour, I felt a little more dirty than I cared to admit.
Before we left, a small group of us took lunch at a hamburger stand across the road. Angela had sworn these were the best hamburgers to be had. They were tasty, indeed, and most importantly filled the hole that had since formed in my belly.
Again, our hotel was way out in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t CBC’s fault — I can only assume it’s Holiday Inn (when you get free rooms, you get what you’re given). We’ve had one hotel downtown: Vancouver. The others have been substantial drives from the train and from downtown. (Although in Saskatoon, we were reasonably close to good restaurants and nightclubs.)
Clean again, I returned to the station to explore a bit. I caught a cab with Daryl — he went for lunch, and I went down to The Forks. The Forks is old railways land just to the east of Union Station. Back in the Golden Age of railroads, this was CN’s yard in the downtown. Roundhouse, ice house, car shop — it was all here. (It’s now in the Transcona Yard to the east of the city.) The Forks is now trendy area of downtown with parkland, restaurants, and shops.
CN and CP had a great ability to always choose the best land in town. In many other cities, the abandoned land eventually came very expensive condos, golf courses, or sports stadiums. Winnipeg had enough sense to make it into parkland and public places. They even kept the old railway lift bridge — it’s now a stationary pedestrian bridge.
The event was dead. Cemeteries see more life than the New Media booth did. Sadly, the other booths outside and the museum were hammered with visitors. We assumed it was because the free food was out there. We noticed one thing that did worry us — the people seemed a bit testy. Western Canadians are general an agreeable folk, who are generally easy-going. These people seemed itching to take someone’s head off. We shall see tomorrow if that continues.
When closing time arrived, we didn’t pack up. Because we’re setting up in the same location tomorrow, all we had to do was turn everything off. The tents outside brought the expensive items indoors, and walled off the booths. Back to the hotel, a brief beverage in the lounge, and we were off to bed. We need all the sleep we can get. Based on how today went, tomorrow will be a long day.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Melville

[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 8
We’ve been on the road now for a week. It feels like a month. We started working together as a group 10 days ago in Vancouver. Then, we were a collection of small teams and individuals linked by a common project. In the last week and a half, we’ve grown into almost a small family. Our team is strong, almost to the point of being able to read each other’s thoughts. It’s caused a little trouble every now and then, but on a whole we’re quite close knit.
We’ve come to see the train as home — many people have welcomed their tiny berths after spending a night in some cavernous hotel room. The train is large enough for us to spread out and find a quiet corner. Likewise, we can also group together into a room and have fun as a group. It’s our home, it’s our office, it’s our museum and storage locker, and it’s our safety blanket.
After spending the night off the train, we were excited to get back to our home away from home. Too many nights away from the bed you know and love can be troublesome. With the schedules we’ve been keeping, stability is necessary. And with little time for relaxation off-train, we sometimes overcompensate.
That’s what happened to us this morning. The previous night had been a long one, and some of us were a little late to start the day. I awoke when my biological panic alarm told me I was going to miss the train. I leapt from bed at 07:34, did a rudimentary clean, and quickly changed. I was out the door by 07:45. I made it with time to spare, and took the shuttle bus with the rest of the group.
Others were not so lucky. Fred, our VIA representative, was actually late arriving at the train. Yes, this was the same guy who had reinforced the necessity to be punctual, on almost a daily basis. Unfortunately for Fred, this means an endless string of punctuality jokes for the remainder of his stay onboard.
We headed across the prairies to Melville, a four-hour trip. Originally, Daryl and I were to fly in a helicopter, so Daryl could shoot video of the train, and I could take pictures. (The big need was for video. I would have been a fortunate side-effect.) For some strange reason, all the helicopters are based in Melville. The cost to fly them from Melville, pick us up and take us back was just too prohibitive. It’s the second time I’ve almost had the chance to chase a train from a helicopter, but missed out for some reason beyond my control.
The trip to Melville clinched the desire to travel only by rail. I own a car, but use it only when I have to. I fly, because my family lives in Ontario and it’s too far for me to drive. I would take the train, but passenger rail service no longer goes to my home of Calgary (though many of the VIA staff assured me it will return next summer). But as I sat in my seat in the dome of our Skyline car, I started wishing and hoping for VIA’s return to the southern Prairies.
Melville is named for Charles Melville Hayes, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific railway in the early 1900s, which chose the site of Melville as a divisional point on its line. Hayes was one of the fateful passengers of the Titanic years later.
Today, Melville is still a divisional point on a railway, only now it’s the Canadian National. It’s roundhouse and support facilities are all gone, washed away with progress. However, the yard is still large, and locomotive crews change in and out at Melville. Tourism, however, isn’t quite as large a draw. (The CN station is closed, save for CN Operations, but the VIA station is still open.)
Parking on a siding next to the platform track, we proceeded to unload our equipment for a partial event. This was a challenge enough, though — the track sat high, and there was a significant slop away from the track ballast. It would take nearly every apple box (a small wooden box used for many purposes, including steps and supports) to keep things level.
At every stop we do, the technical crew has to assemble the stairs. This is how people get in and out of the museum cars. Normally, it’s not too big a deal. A little shimming here and there, and the stairs magically line up. But normally, we have flat surfaces. Even in Biggar, the ground was fairly flat. This required a lot of planning to even get the stairs erected, let alone stable. But the end result, as always, was a perfectly level set of stairs.
As with Biggar, people started arriving almost as soon as the train pulled in. We were officially open between 16:00 and 20:00. Melvillians seemed unable to wait. By 15:30, we were open for business in our front tent, and the museum lineup started to form.
The other line that formed was for bug spray. The field we were setting up on was home to a mosquito population equal to Toronto, and at least one grasshopper for each person in Melville. While the grasshoppers were enough to make a few people queasy, the mosquitoes would prove a far larger problem.
While the sun was out in full force, we had little to worry about. People kept arriving, checking out our front desks, listening to Frank Leahy and Friends, and visiting the museum. As dinner time rolled around, however, fewer people came out. At first, we thought it was just for dinner. But it wasn’t human dinner at issue … it was humans for dinner.
In the span of about a half hour, the mosquito swarm quadrupled. They hadn’t paid me a second glance for most of the day. Now it seemed they were thinking: “Hey, we haven’t eaten him yet!” Before long, those of us outside were in long pants, and arm-length fleeces with collars. It wasn’t helping much.
The bugs were so bad we closed early. Our official strike time was 20:00. Everything, including a complex stair configuration, was loaded by 20:20. Our departure time was 23:30 (our first window in the train schedules). It was enough time for some of the crew to find the local watering hole. I regretfully stayed behind to catch up on work.
I’ve decided that we’re doing much more than just the celebration of CBC’s 50th anniversary. That’s our official job. Unofficially, and more personally for the crew, we seem to be conducting our own little tour: the Trans-Canada Pub Crawl. Ever since Emma tried to find that bar in Kamloops, there’s been an overwhelming desire to hit bars and pubs in every town we arrive in.
They should do a beer commercial about us.
While waiting for our comrades to return, VIA’s on-board mechanic, Peter, offered me a chance to climb into the cab of our lead locomotive. The work would wait. Peter, like myself, is a railfan. The main difference between him and I is that he turned his hobby into a full-time job. It gets him close to the things he loves, and gets him in the doors of other similar interests.
VIA #6403 is our lead locomotive, and is the one that we decaled for the trip. It’s followed by #6412, painted in regular VIA livery. VIA will swap out #6412 in Winnipeg before we go across Ontario. It blew out a crankcase somewhere around Biggar, and has been useless for two days. That’s assuming the eastbound Canadian doesn’t get our replacement first — #6443 on that train caught fire around Edson, and has been removed.
I’ve been in the cabs of several steam locomotives. I’ve been in the cabs of a few diesels, including an early F7. But I’ve never been in an F40PH-2 (the workhorse of VIA’s fleet). It’s a newer locomotive (although already 25 years old), armed with a HEP (head-end power) generator.
Modern diesel cabs are quite simple. Aside from the obvious training needed to operate on a modern Class 1 railroad such as Canadian National, a child could use the controls. That’s assuming, of course, that they don’t play around with the electrical system. That’s a little more complicated. And very, very dangerous.
While Peter explained the operation of the locomotive (it didn’t take too long), the engineers arrived for the next leg of the trip. They didn’t seem to mind at all that I was in there. I took a snapshot of the cab, and then Peter took me through the engine room.
There four basic parts to a modern diesel electric engine: the wheels (with the electric motors), the cab, the alternator (which produces electricity), and the engine. I’d never been in an engine room for a diesel electric locomotive. I knew the engines were big. I just had no idea how big.
The floor of the engine room is lower than the cab. The engine is sunk in the floor. Yet the engine still towered above me. And it was noisy. The Who don’t have concerts that loud. And it wasn’t under load — going in there while underway without ear protection is a really bad idea. Leaving Peter to his job, I returned to the coach car to try and finish typing out profiles.
At around 22:30, Darryl set up his Mini-DV player to show a montage of scenes he’s been filming since we started this madcap adventure. The show has been just Daryl. He shoots the film, edits the film, and edits the sound. Originally, I was the one fingered to do the job. In hindsight, the decision to bring on Daryl was certainly the right one. I couldn’t imagine doing all that I am, doing all the Daryl does, and producing anything remotely as good as what he has.
When the movie preview finished, there was a quick presentation to Julie, Neil, Analisa, and Debbie. The four of them have been keeping this project moving smoothly, and they’ve all lost sleep as a result.
With that, we all retired. It would to be a long day in Winnipeg.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Saskatoon

[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 7
Friday the 13th has never been good for me. Some say it’s just superstition. Experience tells me otherwise.
Today started at 03:00. For most cities, it’s an unruly hour. For Saskatoon, it’s downright ungodly. Nothing happens in Saskatoon at three in the morning. Except, of course, us preparing for an eastern broadcast. Julie and I whisked our way down to the VIA Rail station for a live broadcast with Colleen Jones. Luckily, we sort of knew where we were going. Aside from almost missing the turn off for the main road south, the rest was easy to find, even in the dark. (You can’t miss the grain elevator down there.)
While I would love to say that I got to be on TV with Colleen, that’s not the truth. Colleen is a one-woman show, and is perfectly suited for the job. You want impressive? Try reading off the weather forecast for the entire country while having it read to you through an earpiece and make it sound natural. I have a hard enough time relaying messages over the phone to people who don’t care what it sounds like.
So why was I there? Colleen wanted to review the New Media kiosks. This is my little jurisdiction. Paranoia, and a far-too-good in-depth knowledge of how computers behave told me that I needed to be there. Originally, I offered my services. Then I insisted that I be there. I’d rather lose a couple hours of sleep for sanity of mind.
I’ve never seen a television broadcast before, certainly not a live broadcast. It’s quite an experience to see how this is all handled with a camera operator, another person whose role I never really figured out, and Colleen. Julie and I were there for answering questions (off-camera, when Colleen wasn’t live on the air) and covering the technical issues. (During a couple of breaks, I whipped in for a few pointers.)
By 05:30, the show was done and we were on our way back to the hotel. My intention was to sleep a little while, do some work, and then prepare for our event. Instead, I rolled around for an hour, and ended up groggy for the whole day. In addition to that, I lost my cellular phone, my gloves, forgot to tell Stefani when our shuttle was leaving, and probably said a few things I didn’t mean to say because I was too tired to think straight.
In short, Friday the 13th was continuing its historical trend.
About the only thing that’s gone right so far is the journals. After wrestling a position on the hotel’s “office” computer (we’re without wireless access again), I managed to email my files to Toronto for posting on the website. Brenda’s decided to streamline the process a wee bit. Due to connectivity problems, we simply can’t do the “every day” posting we’d wanted to do. So instead of me sending templates, I’ll just send text and pictures, and let Elizabeth and Terri sort out the details. And that’s just fine with me.
When we arrived at the VIA Rail station, my booth was most set up. All we needed to do was erect an extra table for the paper ShowVote ballots and prepare a few configurations on the computers. We had ample time, and didn’t rush our last part of the set up.
The wind outside was terrific. All the tents were staked down. Dust was constantly in the wind (Bill S. wrote in his journal: “‘Saskatoon’ is Indian for ‘shit gets in your eye'”.) Many of the stand-ups had to retreat to the baggage car, or at least be tied to the tent poles so they wouldn’t blow away.
As usual, people were arriving long before we were done. This seemed to be a trend I doubt we’ll ever get away from. But it didn’t matter to those who came early. They seemed quite happy to wait for things to start happening. I love the patience of the prairies.
Our previous events had primarily been our show, with the odd bit of content thrown in by the regional organizers. In Saskatoon, we were now dealing with Radio-Canada (the French version of CBC), who not only occupied a significant amount of space, but also ran much of the live radio broadcasting. We seemed to have our first true CBC celebration — not just the train.
Guests arrived in a fairly regular flow. We weren’t hit with the surges we’ve received in previous stops. Our regional organizers were quite good in setting up other activities — like face-painting — that not only evened out the flow, but probably attracted people to stay in the station building, where the Boutique and New Media were located.
The face painters were amazing. I’ve never seen face painting like that outside of a couple Cirque du Soliel shows I’ve seen. It was an assembly line, where one person laid down the foundation, and another person marked the details. I think they had three lines going all at once. It got to the point where nearly everyone — including CJ and several of our volunteers — had painted faces. What really impressed me was finding out that they were all former street kids, who had been hired by the company, taught to do their trade, and are hugely successful. At one point, Julie even muttered something about wanting to have taken them on the entire trip, had she known about them.
The day skipped by quite quickly. Well, for me, anyway. I crawled into my bunk on the train and snoozed for a couple of hours, lest I pass out at the kiosks. (Not that it really helped much.) Despite this being our longest event to date, we arrived at the hour of 19:00 far faster than I had thought.
In all our previous attempts at packing, our best time had been around three hours. This was not only unsuitable for some of our needs, it would mean missing one or more of our departure times. But for the fist time, our striking and packing of the baggage car took less than two hours. It was reason to celebrate.
Neil, Julie, Analisa, and I tried to celebrate (after returning to the hotel) by finding either the VIA crew, or the rest of our CBC crew. This brought us to Overdrive, a bar a few blocks north of our hotel. We arrived at the front door, all donning some sort of CBC outerwear. When they tried to ding us for a cover charge, Analisa went to work…
Doorman: Two bucks.
Analisa: We’re with the CBC. How about just letting us in?
Doorman: What’s the CBC? [Yes, he actually said that.]
Analisa: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation?
Doorman: [Blank stare.]
Analisa: CBC TV?
Doorman: [Blank stare.]
Analisa: Hockey Night in Canada??
Doorman: Oh, you guys do that? Okay, yeah, you can go in.
I think if you looked closely enough, you could have seen Analisa doing the Jedi mind trick.
Once we bypassed the cover charge, we came to realize that we were all too old. This took about 20 seconds. The music was earbleedingly loud (and nauseatingly bad), the oldest person looked about 10 years younger than me (and I’m the youngest of the four of us), and we couldn’t find a single VIA or CBC person there. We felt like narcs wandering around … ‘course all the stares we were getting didn’t help much. We wisely abandoned the place and headed back towards the hotel. That’s when we found Fred, and we headed to our venue of the evening.Jax used to be a warehouse. In the years since storage, it’s probably been many things. The second floor is now Jax, a rather strange little nightclub. Strange because it’s gaudy. I think that’s also it’s appeal — people go to Jax to avoid the brain-vibrating noise of other clubs. Most of the walls are painted in near-atrocious colours, purely for the fact that at about 23:00, the black lights come on, and everything lights up. There’s nothing like a neon nightclub to set things right.
By 01:00, everyone who had left the hotel (which was almost our entire crew, including VIA on-train staff) were at Jax. Most had taken to the dance floor for their song of choice. (Neil requested “Crazy Train” before hunting down the Technical Crew at another venue not far away.) To say the music mix was eclectic is to say Frank Zappa was a little off-kilter. Destiny Child’s “Bootylicious” followed by Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Crazy Train” only to be upstaged by Eminem’s “Without Me” certainly does make the mind wonder.
I ended up leaving early. I have a slightly distorted sense of duty, mostly because I have to get these entries back to Toronto for publishing on the website. And hey, for 15 minutes of fame, I certainly will go that extra mile. It’ll probably be my only chance.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Biggar

[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 6
Most Canadians have heard of Biggar, Saskatchewan. Well maybe they haven’t, but I’m sure they know someone from Biggar. It’s the home of Olympic gold medal curler, Sandra Schmirler. While I doubt that’s what brought us to the small town of barely 2,500, we more than happy to have visited.
Colleen Jones joined us this morning to do her broadcast. Because her broadcast is featured from 06:00 to 08:00 Eastern time, many of us were up at 03:30 Biggar time to set up stairs and access to the museum, turn lights on, and be available in case something is needed. Luckily, I was not up this morning. We’ll be pulling early mornings for the next couple of days (my turn will likely be tomorrow).
Although we were to start at 09:00, people started arriving at 06:30. We started early. I guess there’s not much to do in Biggar, and something like this attracts a lot of attention. By the time I woke up, at least 30 people had already toured the museum. We were such a large attraction that entire classes of children appeared in small school buses to view the exhibits. I wished we could have done a full event.
The kids knew we were coming to Biggar. They’d seen the information on CBC’s website and made plans for it. The interesting thing is — the town of Biggar didn’t know until not long before we arrived. Had the town known, so they told us, we would have waked that morning to a home-style pancake breakfast. While we loved the VIA food, there’s something to be said for pancakes. We turned like ravenous wolves on the management to make sure that succeeding towns knew we were coming.
But the major and the town council still showed up. I’m not sure if they’d found out we’d be there through “official” channels, or if they’d been asked to come down for Colleen’s broadcast. All I do know is that the mayor gave each of us pins and keychains bearing the town’s slogan: “New York is big, but this is Biggar”.
The town’s slogan is actually the result of a joke. An American survey crew visiting the town in 1909, after spending a little too much time in a tavern, wrote it on a sign. But instead of being offended, the townspeople rather liked the idea, and adopted it as their own.
Frank Leahy and Friends were in their element here. In most places, they have people who like the music, tap their feet, and listen. Here, the people participated. Frank even dressed up in a light blue plaid shirt and jeans for the occasion. Kids visiting from one of the schools even got the band to play the theme to “Hockey Night In Canada”. Definitely a different tune when played with a fiddle.
Due to the lack of activity at the train, I took the opportunity to find the Sandra Schmirler park. Asking a woman whom I thought was native to the area, I not only engaged myself in riveting conversation but also found someone to drive me to the park. It turned out that the woman and her husband were not from Biggar — they had driven over an hour from North Battleford just to see the train. (But they weren’t the long-distance champions. Some people came over six hours to see us.)
The Sandra Schmirler Olympic Gold Medal park is subdued. Somehow, I doubt Biggar nor Sandra’s family would have allowed it to be any other way. It’s a children’s playground. Biggar wanted a nice, safe playground that everyone could enjoy. It’s large. I wish I had a playground like that growing up. The park will serve many generations of Biggarites (Biggarians?) to come.
Biggar has got to be the most friendly place I’ve ever been. Everyone is happy to see you. And if you look like you’re lost, people will not only direct you, but offer to drive you to where you want to go without you having to ask. It’s difficult to say “no”. Walking back to the train was difficult. Not because it was far, but because I had to politely refuse rides from nearly every car that passed. Biggar’s hospitality is near-legendary, and for good reason. The walk back also gave me a chance to see small town Canada more closely. Living in places such as Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary, I rarely get to see what rural Canada is truly like.
I walked down Main Street (missing the Biggar Museum, only because I didn’t know about it), taking in the glory of Biggar. Think I’m joking? Then you’ve never been to a small prairie town. There’s a calm, relaxing air about this sort of a town. You feel calm, and completely safe. These people probably don’t even have locks on their doors. They don’t know the troubles or the pressures of the big cities. That kind of peace is hard to find.
At the foot of Main Street is the railway station, originally built by the Grand Trunk Northern Railway in the early 1900s. It became a CN station when Grand Trunk was taken over, and used until CN abandoned its passenger service and VIA took over. CN closed the station, forcing VIA to a small “hut” next door, which served barely more for a ticket office and waiting room. In 1995, the VIA station was closed. VIA no longer serves Biggar. It was apparently quite a fight to get the train to stop there.
I found Angela and Tracy standing on the road in front of the station, holding one of our CBC signs. Apparently, we originally were to stop at the station, but due to logistics, ended up on the south side of the yard, next to a fertilizer plant. Tracy and Angela were directing traffic to the south side. But only Tracy was wearing her black CBC crew shirt — Angela was sporting the newest fashion craze: a T-shirt emblazoned with the Biggar town logo. The woman parked next to them told me I could find her back at the train, which was where I left my wallet.
While taking photographs of the old Grand Trunk Northern railway station (I love the look of old railway stations), I ran into my friends from North Battleford. Again, they offered me the chance to ride back to the train. Our train was on the opposite side of a very large rail yard, which I could only cross about a kilometre away. This time, I accepted. It was either that, or risk crossing the tracks. And it’s a big yard.
Biggar is a major divisional point on the Canadian National Railway. It used to be much larger, featuring a large roundhouse, car shop, and bunkhouse. Today, it’s a crew change location — CN maintains a newer modern bunkhouse on the north side of the yard. The roundhouse still stands, but today houses a turkey farm that processes 100,000 birds every year. (Luckily for us, it was empty for our arrival. We were told the smell is something to behold. The mayor had been extremely annoyed when he found out we were being sided downwind from the farm.)
When I returned to the train, the T-shirts were on sale. They featured two designs: the town logo, and a cartoon of New York with the caption “Big” next to a cartoon of the town with the caption “Biggar”. The daughter of one of the curators had made the design while a starving artist in New York. We bought most of her supply.
Eleven o’clock arrived too quickly, and time to pack up again. We wanted to stay around longer — Biggar was such a nice place, and we were certain we could entertain the entire town. But schedules must be kept on a railway. It was off to Saskatoon.
The VIA station in Saskatoon is in the south end of the city. On one side are a few houses (mostly industrial space), the other farmland. But the platform is large, and the station building available. Although we had no show in Saskatoon today, we did get an early start for tomorrow. It’s a seven hour show we’re putting on, and the less time we spend setting up, the more energy we’ll have.
Colleen wants to broadcast from the train again tomorrow, and wants to showcase the New Media set up. That meant we had to do a complete set-up so we’d be ready for tomorrow morning. Or rather, so Colleen would be ready. And I need to be there. I wasn’t really asked to be there, at least not directly. Funny thing about responsibility, though — it’ll get you out of bed at really early hours of the morning. I might not be a full employee of the CBC, but I want New Media to look good.
By 17:00, we had set up what we could and cleared out for our hotel. Showered and feeling better, several of us headed down the road to a railroad-themed restaurant, where we indulged in good dinner and great conversation. We started off strong, but towards the end we were beginning to drop like flies. Neil was the first to exit, nearly falling asleep onto his steak.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Remembering 9/11

[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 5
A year ago today, North America’s security blanket was ripped away, and we were thrust into the global issue of terrorism. Today was a solemn day — one that Canada has been working towards for a week. Even before I left Calgary, there had been talk of “September 11th”, or “9/11” as I’ve often heard it. Funny how the media likes to place “cute” names on something so tragic.
I wrote of the [[Reaction to September 11, 2001 (9/11)|event]]. I wrote how I’d seen people I’ve worked with for two years left in a complete daze, how little work we actually accomplished, and how I’d spent hours in front of the television when I’d got home, just so I could see the same horrific images over and over. Suffice to say, I had more than a few moments of pause a year ago.
Today is considerably different. No-one mentioned anything about today’s anniversary. It wasn’t acknowledged by anyone with the CBC or VIA. At least, not on the train. The broadcast media, CBC included, did do their part to mark the occasion; we did not acknowledge the CBC’s anniversary — we simply moved on with our day. I didn’t even really remember the date until later in the day; but I heard not a peep from anyone.
I know what you’re thinking: How could I possibly forget? As bad as it sounds, I was a little preoccupied with a few problems on my laptop that needed resolving. Remember the problem Daryl had? Just when I thought I’d had the problem licked, it hit me too.
I hate computers.
I had to get my computer fixed. I needed to get caught up in journals and photos to upload to the New Media group for the website. But with my system giving me trouble, writing was a significantly larger challenge. Especially with the looming departure deadline. This didn’t exactly make me a happy camper.
The process I’m currently using is one we’d worked out some time ago. I take a template, write out the text, insert the images, and then upload the files to the server to be seen. But editing the template has been extraordinarily difficult, and the upload to the server agonizingly slow. It’s taken me upwards of an hour just to handle this simple task. And with limited range on the wireless systems, I’ve been running quite franticly trying to get it done.
One of the things I had wanted to do today with my free time was to visit the Alberta Railway Museum. As I’d begun in Kamloops, I was going to make a go of doing as much historical rainfanning as possible. Given, I live in Alberta — Edmonton is about three hours away from my home. But you have to take advantage of situations when they present themselves. My computer, however, needed my attention. That kept me busy for hours, not only ruining my plans, but also setting back my publishing schedule for these journal entries.
Our official goodbye to Enza took place as we boarded our vans to head back to the train. It’s amazing just how much our team has gelled since we first met a week ago. I feel sorry for Enza — she wanted to stay on, but couldn’t spend any more time away from her job. (Like myself, Enza is not with the CBC.) I can’t imagine what I’d feel like if I’d had to leave early.
We left our hotel at 14:30. Having loaded the night before, there was little to do but climb aboard and settle in. I continued to wrestle with my electronic arch-nemesis until we were out of Edmonton’s wireless communications range. While I did lose out on the wireless connection, I did win the battle and restored functionality to my computer. That earned me my first break in the day.
The single largest problem the crew has when we’re on the train is entertainment. We often have long stretches of time between stops, and time before bed, with little to do. Some read books, some listen to music, others play games. Remember, we’re in a ten-foot wide, nine-foot tall steel can with windows. There’s not much in here, and for a generation brought up on television and living with Internet addictions, idle time is painful.
Tonight, we decided to do something different. One of the advantages of travelling with Frank Leahy and Friends is goading them into doing something. Tonight, we convinced them to lead a jam session in the Bullet Lounge of the Banff Park car.
A few nights earlier, Neil had passed me a CD. It was a little bit country, and a little bit rock ‘n roll. It was Neil — an album he’d recorded. At first, I didn’t even recognize the voice. He has a singing voice that should be selling records. Tonight was a chance for him to show everyone what he could do. The rest of us joined in on songs that we knew, and picked up on choruses that were fairly easy to figure out. And we could clap along without too much difficulty.
Naturally, Daryl and his camera were everywhere. He wanted to get as much of this on film as possible. But so did Rob W., whose old-school VHS camcorder is beginning to be a familiar sight. That’s not counting the dozen or so still cameras that popped flashes for the next two and a half hours.
The band did some music on their own, and sometimes included featured guests, including Neil, and two of the VIA people: Fred and Dennis. Dennis plays with a band in Vancouver, and has the most beautiful singing voice I’ve heard in years. Of Jamaican background, he regularly pushed “Frank and the Boys” to new heights by playing reggae and rock songs. There’s nothing more interesting than listening to “Brown Eyed Girl” being played with a reggae rhythm by a band that primarily plays fiddle music.
People slowly began to trickle out after a while, until finally the small handful that remained called it a night. Tomorrow will be another long day. Colleen Jones joins us for CBC Morning, we have an event in Biggar, and we arrive in Saskatoon tomorrow night. No rest for the weary.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Edmonton

[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 4
There was a neighbourhood outside my lower berth window. As we weren’t moving, I could only assume we had arrived in Edmonton. At first I thought that maybe we hadn’t completely arrived yet — the sound of airplanes flying overhead was misleading. Further investigation revealed that the Edmonton VIA station is across 121st Street from the Edmonton City Centre airport. It’s only used for small planes.
Our event would be from 15:30 to 20:00, giving us ample time to set up our tents and displays. Even then, people started arriving at 10:00. It seems that no matter where we go, people want to come early for the big show.
The VIA station has a large field next to it (for what reason, I don’t know). This was an ideal location for putting out all our equipment. The local CBC had already erected a large tent (for news broadcasts, a stage for the band, and for serving a free barbecue dinner). We filled in the area around it.
Our first injury came in the late morning. Bill, one of our technical crew, strained his knee. While not sounding serious, at first we were worried he’d popped it out. He was taken to a hospital where the injury was proclaimed a strain, and Bill was told to take it easy. There was a time when we thought we would lose Bill for the remainder of the journey. (And during take down in the evening, we really noticed Bill’s absence.)
I hopped constantly from setting up displays (I ended up leaving CJ being the only person setting up for quite some time) and doing user support. I needed to repair Daryl’s computer. Without it, he couldn’t edit video, and that would put him far behind schedule. While I was fiddling around with Windows 2002, I was also talking with technical support in Toronto trying to sort out why our wireless connections weren’t working.
I think I’m going to become a luddite. That way I won’t have to deal with computers any more. I hate computers.
While on the phone with nearly everyone in CBC’s IT department, we managed to find the culprit to our computer woes. (A very odd conflict between printer driver and the CD-ROM burning software.) Within minutes, Daryl’s computer was running again. Before I could solve the wireless problems, though, I was called back into the field to finish setting up the nine computers in the New Media tent.
More support calls. But this time to get the passwords to access the kiosk computers. Six of them had a rather annoying bug that prevented people from using our ShowVote application. An easy fix, but without the password I couldn’t edit the file. Then the Archives needed a small fix, which required another password. Unfortunately, that came too late to make this show. Next time.
Advertising had gone well in Edmonton. The field was full of visitors. For the first time, our tent was busy. Our volunteer, Rob, was outstanding. He worked almost every person coming through, managed to give away hundreds of pens and bookmarks, helped out countless people, and stuck around helping with take down. Rob even showed us a thing or two about giving things away — tucking a pair of bookmarks under the penclip suddenly meant we could dispose of even more bookmarks. We actually had to tell him to go home. I wish we could take him with us.
Line-ups were many. The museum line, like in Kamloops, was enormous. I don’t know exactly how many people saw the exhibits, but we estimate about 2,000 visitors walked through in the four and a half hours. The line for the free barbecue was even larger. At one point, there must have been at least 300 people waiting for their dinner.
The Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, the Honourable Lois E. Hole, came out to visit. She was interviewed by the CBC, as were several other celebrities including Dakota House (of North of 60 fame) and Sharon Lewis from ZeD.
People kept arriving, right until 20:00. I felt sad for having to turn people away. But we needed to pack everything back into the train. Although we were staying in hotel, the train needed to move from the station — though for what reason I’m not entirely sure. Either way, we’re not about to leave our equipment outside all night.
The sun set, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. We didn’t get much of a chance to shiver — we were too busy paking everything up, and hauling it back to the train. The crew had to pull the lights not long after it got dark, requiring flashlights to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Soon, the field was (relatively empty) and all that was left was to put everything back on the train. That was right about when my left forearm started going numb. It wasn’t from the cold — I think it’s Repetitive Strain Injury. Having spent the last half of my life parked in front of a computer, I suspect my forearms are due for total seizure before too long. Add that with hauling a lot of heavy boxes and stands around for a few hours a day…
Finally, around 23:30, we broke for the hotel. We were all exhausted. Especially Neil, who had stayed up until 02:00 the previous night until the train was in Edmonton. He slept during the drive to the hotel.
Several of us started to gather in the hotel’s atrium to sit, relax, share stories and a few drinks. We ate pretty much nothing but peanuts. The conversation was lively, and even after a hard day no-one seemed to be tired — mentally, that is. The group would carry on until well into the morning; I headed to long before them.
Tonight, we bade farewell to Enza. She is the first of our group to rotate out. Enza was one of our coordinators and Jill of all trades. When we needed something done, there was Enza. She now returns to her life in Banff. Of course, we wish her well.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Jasper

[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 3
I awoke to the sun peeking through my blind. Outside, the sky was partly cloudy, the sun climbing over the mountains, and elk traipsing through the CN rail yard. It was then I remembered the morning activity.
The night before, Ivan had suggested we visit a glacier while we were in the area. Most of the group had never seen a glacier before, and it would have been shame to have the time and not use it well. I’d visited the Athabasca Glacier two years ago, but hadn’t been to any others. Besides, I’m a sucker for a side-trip. I hauled myself out of bed and went to see if plans had formulated during my rest. Ivan came through with a plan to see Mouth Edith Cavell.
I skipped breakfast, preferring to take in the gorgeous Jasper morning (the last time I’d been there, it was overcast almost the entire time), take a few pictures, and walk around a bit before our shuttles appeared. That’s not to say that our food service has not been exquisite. VIA’s Chef Paul has an uncanny ability to create a meal that could make Ghandi break a fast. (Yes, that was a pun. Deal with it.)
Our tour buses (vans that can hold ten passengers) arrived and whisked us away. Our guide, Murray, had been in the area for 14 years and was an expert on Jasper National Park. He began his tour as soon as we pulled away from the train. This involved local history, descriptions of flora and fauna, and stories of things he’d seen and done, peppered with answers to questions we asked along the way. And we had time — Mount Edith Cavell is fairly close to Jasper, but as it is a mountain, there’s a 45-minute trip to the start of the hike. There was plenty to see and hear along the way.
Part of the drive was along the original Icefields Parkway, built by Depression-era labourers. By hand. Back then, heavy equipment was too expensive or too difficult to use in the area. Besides, it kept hundreds of men working at a time. Eventually, the road was replaced with a faster, more modern road. The original still serves a vital connection into the mountainous areas, and allows visitors a chance to get closer to the natural beauty of the parks.
The temperature was noticeably cooler when we arrived at the parking lot near the base of Edith Cavell. We gathered into our respective groups (one per van), and headed out to the trails. One went up on the lateral morraine, allowing a spectacular view of the valley, the other along the valley floor. Both under the nose of the mountain.
Mount Edith Cavell is named for a World War I British nurse stationed in Brussels. When the German army occupied the Netherlands, she stayed behind to take care of the captured soldiers. What the German Army didn’t know was that she was also smuggling them out through an underground railway to safety. When the German Army found out what Edith was doing, she paid for her courage with her life. In tribute, the Canadian Geographic Board renamed one of the most majestic peaks in Jasper National Park in her name.
Once upon a time, barely a few hundred years ago, ice filled the valley. With the changes in global weather (not all as a result of global warming), the ice has receded to form two glaciers: Angel Glacier, which flows along the bottom of the valley; and Ghost Glacier, which hangs down from the peak. In a few years, there won’t likely be any glacier left. It’s almost all melted.
We met at the glacial pool. The view was unearthly. Shaped blocks of ice surrounded by jagged blocks of rock, a brisk wind, diminutive trees, and huge walls of rock and ice towering over our heads. The Athabasca Glacier had been a new experience two years ago. I didn’t think Edith Cavell would be much different. Instead, I’ll say it’s something everyone physically capable should see.
Having a time restriction, we couldn’t stay too long. After a few minutes at the pool (and retrieving a few stragglers who were venturing too close to the glacier’s edge), we made a hasty return to the train to begin set up for our afternoon event. It would be almost the same as the Kamloops event, just with a different station and train configuration. The trick was that most of the equipment we needed for the event was on the wrong side of the yard. A borrowed cube van solved that problem.
While the others headed off to set up, I started trying to resolve a problem with our network connectivity. Among my duties is system support, liasing with the IT group in Toronto. CBC has spent a large amount of money trying to get us wireless network connectivity across Canada. However, we haven’t had a wireless signal since Vancouver. A few people were anxious to check email. Nearly two and a half hours of phone calls produced little more than an earache. It wasn’t IT’s fault — Telus, it seemed, didn’t have a compatible wireless network in Jasper.
The earache became a major headache when Daryl’s computer began misbehaving. Oddly enough, about when we were testing the wireless connection using his system. (Daryl and I have the same model of computer. In fact, mine is a mirror of his. It’s meant as a backup should his ever suffer a catastrophic failure. My system, thankfully, hadn’t had the trouble Daryl did.) Soon, he was almost entirely unable to work on his video clips. Having a background in user support, I used my bag of virtual tricks to try and fix his laptop. But it rebelled, and soon I had to give up, lest I destroy his work. We will need to address it in Edmonton.
Leaving the train, I headed over to the event to take pictures and help out. But help was not needed. Due to confusion in advertising, the event wasn’t properly promoted in Jasper. The crowds we expected were not to be had. We did attract a lot of tourists (especially when Frank Leahy and Friends were playing), but few of them had even heard of the CBC.
The afternoon passed slowly. It drizzled periodically for flavour, and didn’t really ever get that warm. Rose wandered the streets passing the word. Debbie donned the Franklin the Turtle costume for the kids. (She tragically fell to the adolescent male dream of kicking a costume character in the groin. Luckily, she found it humorous. Hysterical, actually. To the point where the only reason she had to get out of the suit was that she couldn’t stop laughing. Roger didn’t find it even remotely funny, and cast a bone-freezing stare at the boys when they came through the museum. He refused them access to “Be An Anchor” until they’d apologized to Franklin.)
One thing that filtered out during the day was some of the previous night’s activities. (You hear all sorts of interesting stories as the day moves on.) Most of the crew ended up at the Athabee — that much you already know (see [[CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Kamloops]]). It’s what happened after we left… The group I was with managed to get back to the train. No harm there. The thought of looking for a bear apparently didn’t last long, and soon was abandoned. But that was us … the remainder of the band, however, had an interesting night.
The story, or at least as I understand it, was that the band returned to the train after us. Only they didn’t take a taxi, and didn’t know the route around the rail yard. So they went through the middle of it, just missing an incoming freight train. They found their luck had held when told (upon reaching the train) that they had narrowly missed meeting a bear in the darkness of the yard.
We mercifully closed down at 18:00, allowing us to get packed up and wait for the train to reform at the platform. Don’t get me wrong — Jasper was really nice. But with so few people out in attendance, we really had very little to do. It was mostly for boredom that we wanted to pack up. I think all of us were concerned this might become a trend.
The train pulled away from the station a couple of minutes behind schedule, and headed on its way eastward through the park. This was a stretch I’d wanted to see since my trip out last October. But sadly, it was dark by the time we’d reached Jasper Lake. It was too dark to see the Prairie Creek Trestle at all — though we could hear it very clearly. We passed Hinton without fanfare (or notice) and I was barely awake enough to spot Edson.
Tomorrow is another day, and another full event.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Kamloops

[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 2
Most of us didn’t go to sleep right away. We may have climbed into bed, but those of us with windows opened our blinds, and watched the stars, the curving of the train, and the hollow blackness of the tunnels. The sharp blats of the horn echoed eerily in the treed valleys. It’s not a sound we’re used to hearing. All of this left us a little groggy when we awoke to the rising sun. Our train had arrived during the night, parking at the Lorne Street train station in Kamloops.
Kamloops was our second show. This time we would only open the museum cars — what we called a partial event — we did not have enough time to do a full event. Even with the lessened load, we still had to set up stanchions, signage, and stairs in and out of the cars. It was a far easier show than the full event, for that we were thankful.
Like with Vancouver, people arrived before we were ready. A lot of people in Kamloops are CBC fans — we soon had a line of hundreds of visitors. We were expecting the smaller communities to have proportionally larger turnouts, but this was a pleasant surprise.
My job for the day, not having a group of computers to watch over, was greeting visitors and handing out stickers and tattoos for the kids. This was a welcome change of pace. The New Media tent is a little quiet, so having to welcome passers-by opened the door for conversation. Stefani and I guarded the north entrance, welcoming people and answering questions. It was also a chance to get to know another new friend.
About an hour after the event began, I started my photography circuit. One of several duties, I take all the pictures for the website and for archival purposes. As I took pictures of the stage, I happened to notice an otherwise innocuous number just to the left of the stage’s awning: 2141. One of my personal tasks as this trip proceeds is to find vintage railway equipment. This was my first find: ex-CNR #2141, a 2-8-0 Consolidation steam locomotive.
Entering the office, I inquired about the possibility of seeing the engine before the train left. Unfortunately for me, today was supposed to be an operational day for 2141. But since we were sitting at the station it would use, there would be no steam on the tracks today. Luckily, one of people in the storefront was the wife of one of 2141’s mechanics. She graciously volunteered to take me over to the train, housed in a shed barely 100 metres from our train.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken my camera with me to take pictures of Julie and Neil’s faces when I asked if I could disappear for 15 minutes to take pictures. It was perhaps the most incredible look of “What???” I’ve ever seen. Up until that point, I don’t think either of them really knew just how much of a rail fan I am.
For the last eight years, the Kamloops Heritage Railway have toiled over rebuilding the engine to working condition. It had been on static display in Riverside Park for 33 years, and needed a lot of work. When donated to the KHR, they had to reduce it to spare parts and start almost from scratch. Many of the parts had to be rebuilt. Just last year, the engine was moved to its current home where the Heritage society keeps loving care of it.
The firebox was still warm from yesterday’s excursion. Every unpainted metal surface gleamed. (6060’s surfaces, by comparison, need a lot of cleaning and polishing.) I marvelled at the craftsmanship the Kamloops Heritage Railway had put into the rebuilding. 2141 looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line. Not bad for a 90 year-old.
I had a short period of time, so took my pictures quickly. As I ran around the engine, my personal guide told me of the story of restoration. It was a tale I would love to tell, but there were simply too many details to remember. I need to remember to bring my notepad in the future.
Returning to the train, we left 2141 sitting proudly in its house, a little engine that did.
I wasn’t the only one working on side projects — Emma was off on a quest of her own. But it wasn’t to find a train. (I would find out later that Emma would have liked to come with me to see 2141. I’ll need to keep that in mind when we get to Montreal.) She was looking for the nearest bar. It sounded like a really good idea — get in a quick drink, and then off to our next exotic location! Capital thinking, I say.
The line-up had continued to stretch during my time away, and we were only open for another hour. We felt sorry for those who wouldn’t make it into the museum before we had to close the doors. In hopes of lessening broken hearts, we started telling visitors that they might not be able to see the museum. Very few turned away. When the doors did finally close, those who were turned away were understanding. In all, we think about 1,200 people managed to go through the museum in the three hours!
Being such a small event, we were able to pack up our things much more quickly. Within an hour, we were ready to leave. Only mid-afternoon, we were promised glorious sights as we headed into the mountain passes.
So, of course, it rained.
There’s something strangely comforting about rain. We sat in our cars, working, resting, playing, and glancing out through the water-streaked windows. The rain seemed to make the forests pop into life and the mountains to gleam. Everyone fell into a relaxation that made it feel like we’d been together far longer than we had. A few people read, some glanced out windows, Patrick even did some magic tricks. Apparently, he did a stint with the Cirque du Soliel!
I spent some time in the dome, sitting near David and Paul. The two of them stared out the windows like the rest of us. But instead of looking for scenery, I think they were scanning for a punchline. Sure enough, it came when we passed a field full of horses. Paul’s comment: “[Those are] funny-looking cows…”
The train snaked its way through the forests, stopping periodically to let a freight train pass. The rain dwindled as the light faded. Just before it got too dark to see anything, we were fortunate to pass Pyramid Falls. Too dark for a clear photograph, I opted for a short snippet of video. Daryl, our videographer / video producer, got a similar pass with his video camera. I can’t wait to see how clear his version is.
We arrived in Jasper at about 23:00 MDT, well ahead of schedule. This left us ample time to have nightcap. When word circulated that bars were open until 02:00, almost the entire CBC crew fled to the Athabee — a bar in the Athabasca Hotel. The band nearly tripped over each other trying to get out of the train. I couldn’t move fast enough (we had to shut down all our computers so the train could be split), and had to wait until everything stopped moving.
I waited for Neil, Julie, and Debbie to get everything sorted out before we walked over. As we waited, the VIA crew split the train. This doesn’t sound like much, until you’re near the brake line. It’s a loud bang when the line couplers come apart and the air-pressure explodes out. I’ve heard it many times. Debbie, however, had not. The sound caused her to leap about four feet in the air, near-screaming a Newfie blurt of surprise (something like “Geezusmarymurphy!”), leaving Julie, Neil, and I doubled over laughing.
Confusion soon reigned. Julie and I somehow managed to lose Neil and Debbie. Then we couldn’t find everyone else. We checked surrounding bars, just in case. Nothing. We did find Richard, though, who had decided the bar wasn’t for him and was heading back to the train. We did eventually find the team, though, buried in a corner of the Athabee lounge. There we remained until roughly closing time.
Our group, not only the CBC crew but also Frank Leahy and his band, are a lot of fun. There’s nothing more frustrating than travelling with people who don’t enjoy the journey. Part of every journey is stopping and smelling the roses. While we weren’t smelling all that great when we left, the time we spent sharing silly stories and making fun of each other was well worth the lost sleep we would experience.
Things got more interesting when we tried to get back to the train. While we were at the Athabee, VIA cut the train in two pieces. The museum cars, the Banff Park, and the generator flat car were left at the station platform. The rest of the train, including our beds, were on the south side of a large, busy rail yard. As we left the train, VIA told us how to get back. But we couldn’t find a taxi, let alone the three or four we’d need. So we walked.
It’s a long walk. You can’t (nor should) walk through a busy rail yard. That’s just asking for trouble. (Trains can come in very quickly, and without warning. Cars in the yard can start moving without sound. And you can’t see all the nasty stuff sitting on the ground.) Having run around the Jasper yard from my trip with the Rocky Mountain Rail Society last October (see [[The Great Jasper Run, CN 6060 Stettler, Red Deer, Edmonton, Hinton, Jasper]]), I knew where we were going and how to get there. Wearing only a T-shirt in the nippy night air just made the trip a little more urgent.
A few people in our rather large ensemble decided, upon arriving at the train, that they needed to find a bear. (The logic of drunk people is just stunning sometimes.) Knowing much better, I crawled into bed, and was soon dreaming of trains.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Vancouver

[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 1
I awoke this morning feeling quite drained from the last few days of toil, and the previous night’s sake. But within minutes of my rising, adrenaline was already flooding my veins. It was going to be a good day. That was assuming the weather held. It wasn’t looking very promising glancing out the window. The Weather Network said it wouldn’t rain. I wasn’t too sure. Many times I’ve seen the forecast proven wrong in Vancouver.
Breakfast was early, and fast. We had to be checked out, with our bags at the train this morning. We would have no time to return to the hotel to get anything. By the time we arrived at the station at 7:40, the technical crew had already started pulling out our equipment. We had until 11:00 to get it all set up before the crowds started arriving. Though we had done it only once before, set up was becoming a practiced routine. We had little worries of making our deadlines.
Through the chill of the overcast morning, we pitched tents, set up tables, erected stands, powered computers and televisions, and set out the giveaways. We didn’t have to wait long — the crowds arrived and were lining up before we were done. I’d been expecting more of a sudden flood of people as the doors officially opened, but that never happened. People just started showing up. Before long, we had people everywhere. It was a bona fide event.
It looked like a small carnival. Only without animals. And rides. We had clowns, though, and lots of performers. So all in all, it wasn’t too far off. The show drew out friends of mine from Vancouver, including my friend Joel and his family. Joel nearly cried when he saw the Friendly Giant’s castle, and was thrilled to meet some of the local CBC celebrities. Joel is possibly the largest fan of the CBC I have ever met. And he doesn’t even watch hockey…
Celebrities weren’t exactly out in droves, we had a lot more than I thought we would. The cast of Edgemont (a show that, admittedly, I’ve never heard of) were signing autographs. Not far away was the cast of Royal Canadian Air Farce. Brian Williams frequented the Sports tent, when he wasn’t wandering around meeting people. There was also another sports icon, whose name I’ve already forgot.
The next five hours flitted by like hummingbirds — bobbing, weaving, and very quick. During that time, we entertained several thousand loyal CBC viewers and listeners. The only way we really knew time was passing was when bands changed. Most were good, but didn’t attract a lot of listeners. One band, Cherry Bomb, got attention by playing “Time After Time” and had people guess who they were covering (Cyndy Lauper). A lucky fan got a free CD.
Our two museum cars, including the “Be An Anchor” exhibit were extremely popular. I have no idea how many people ultimately went through the cars, but those who did only raved about what we had brought along. For many, most my age, it was seeing the castle from The Friendly Giant, and the treehouse and Tickle Trunk from Mr. Dressup.
As the day went on, the clouds parted and the sun blessed our celebration. The temperature rose along with spirits. But time was disappearing quickly, and the crew knew it. We were excited, and also nervous. We had a huge hurdle ahead of us, and I don’t think any of us felt confident enough to say that we would make our deadline. Positive outlooks, however, do wonders.
Before we knew it, Colin James (the last performer) was taking the stage. That was our sign to start striking our sets. We had to take things apart discreetly, as not to interfere with the concert. It was a little tricky, though — we had to make sure our equipment was protected until collected for the train.
When Colin James finished, the remaining crowds started to disperse, and we moved into high gear. The train was leaving at 19:00, with or without us. Our previous experience had told us that it would take an hour and a half to pack our equipment into the baggage car, not counting the time to strike our sets. The added complexity, however, was that we couldn’t just pack everything into the baggage car. Transport Canada rules (and VIA rules) stated we had to keep a corridor open so we could move through the baggage car.
To avoid the problems of our last repack, Neil and the technical crew created a list of items in order of loading and unloading. This would prevent the flood of items appearing at the baggage car, and would suggest what order we had to pack things up. For CJ and I, this meant we had to pack computers early on — they were packed in the dark, secure recesses of the car — so they had to go in relatively early. We won’t see our computers again until Edmonton.
We reloaded in less time. Almost. We would have if we didn’t have to create an access way through the car. The passage hadn’t existed before, and the crew had to whack together sheets of plywood and tie it all down before we could roll out. With a great deal of relief, we finished just in time for our departure.
Boarding the Skyline car, I took a place in the dome along with most of the CBC crew. Some of us were very excited to begin our historic journey. Most were just happy to sit down after another hard day’s work. (Chris was the first person in the crew to take a shower, and looked much happier for it.) I bore a grin that ran ear-to-ear. Riding on trains is something I’ve always loved, and something that gets stronger with each year. My dream of riding coast-to-coast was about to start. I felt 10 years younger.
A slight jerk, and the train started rolling forward. We waved to those still on the platform as we pulled away. We didn’t get too far, though — we needed to pick up our generator, which was waiting on the adjacent track. Once the VIA crew had done their brake test, we were officially off.
As we slowly left the yard, I started to notice people standing on hills, bridges, piles of wood — whatever could be used to look over fences. Not a lot of people, just a small handful scattered about. Train chasers. They were following the train, and taking pictures. This time, I would be the fox instead of the hound.
The trip out of the Lower Mainland has always been one I’ve wanted to take. However, the setting sun and rolling clouds reduced our visibility. It was dark by the time we reached Surrey. We never stopped looking out the window, though — everything was a wonder. We spent as much time staring at the passing lights of Greater Vancouver than we did at our dinner. I don’t even remember what it was. I think it was also a reward. After all the hard work everyone had put in, this beginning to the trip was a treat far tastier than the most decadent dessert.
Travelling with us is Frank Leahy and his band — Richard, David, and Paul. The four of them have deadly humour streaks, as we’re beginning to find out. They kept us laughing most of the way out of the Lower Mainland. Having them as trainmates is a blessing.
I haven’t been this excited about a trip since … well, it’s been so long that I can’t honestly remember the last time I’ve been so giddy. Neil and I are almost in competition to see who’s the most childish with glee. I think he’s ahead at the moment. But then, he’s been working on this a lot longer than I have. He definitely has reason to be happy.
I think I may have a very difficult time getting off this train when we reach Halifax.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Safety training

[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.] T-Minus 1 day
Unlike previous days’ preparations, we would not haul equipment today. For this, we were very happy. Most of us sported bruises and strained muscles (the puncture wound in my left palm was still sore). A day of lessened physical activity was welcome. But we were not without tasks to accomplish.
The first, and most important, was a safety briefing from VIA Rail. We would not be allowed on the train without it. It was so important that we were held to a tighter schedule than any previous day. The rules were similar to those I’d received last October when travelling with the Rocky Mountain Rail Society when taking our locomotive out to Jasper (see [[The Great Jasper Run, CN 6060 Stettler, Red Deer, Edmonton, Hinton, Jasper]]). VIA’s rules are different than CN’s rules — mostly because we wouldn’t be working on the train itself, so some of the safety rules (such as hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety vests) never came into play. (That said, I had a pair of steel-toed boots with me, just in case.)
Fred and Marie-Claude, our VIA representatives, took us through the train and explained the details and the dangers the train, including specifics of each rail car. Among them: always wearing footwear. (Inside the cars weren’t such a danger, but going between cars could result in serious injury if you weren’t paying attention.) Water was rationed — we have a limited supply between stations. As such, showers are timed. We can’t flush toilets in stations, unless we’re told otherwise. (VIA’s Budd cars do not carry black water retention tanks — waste dumps directly onto the tracks.) And above all else: we had to be punctual. VIA’s trains run at the blessing of CN’s schedules; to vary the time of departure is to invite many delays.
The briefing shifted from the train to a classroom in the Maintenance Centre. (The whiteboard was covered with instructions on how to perform a proper fill weld.) The safety briefing mostly took place here, with Earl conducting most of the more serious stuff. Daryl floated around the room, his video camera catching almost everything.
We were to go to CBC’s Vancouver office at 10:30 for an employee celebration. The orientation ran long, however, and we ended skipping the party. No-one seemed to mind too much, preferring to take the afternoon off for relaxing and get in a little sight-seeing. It would be our last day before the trip fully began, and some had never been to Vancouver before.
For me, it was time to do laundry. I had been away from home already for a week, and I doubted I would be able to wash clothes before Edmonton. Luckily, the Holiday Inn had three washing machines, none of which were in use. All I had to do was obtain change (which I got from the front desk) and some laundry soap. Fabric softener, for the traveller, is a bit of a luxury item. That, and I was too lazy to buy any. A tiresomely trivial task, I did allow myself time during the dry cycle to get lunch at Kitto, a Japanese Restaurant on Granville Street.
Post-laundry was my Vancouver photo shoot. Having lived in Vancouver for two years, I was already familiar with the sights I wanted. So why bother taking pictures? For starters, I didn’t really have any decent pictures of Vancouver. It’s a common theme — you never take pictures of the city you live in. Part of my job is to take pictures for the trip, and because we’re in Vancouver, I need pictures of this city for the website. But also because I knew a lot of the people on the trip wouldn’t get to see very much, and I wanted them to see what Vancouver has to offer.
I moved quickly from the hotel down to Burrard Inlet to obtain a panorama of the harbour and mountains. I passed Amy and Chris coming the other direction. I guess they didn’t see me, as I said “hello” and got nothing in return. (Mind you, they claim the opposite. Who knows what happened!) I took pictures of the waterfront, then moved down to Waterfront Station (CPR’s second railway station in Vancouver) for a few more pictures. Then it was to nearby Gastown for a picture of the neighbourhood and the famous steam clock. I thought about a return visit to Granville Island, but I decided the pictures I shot there (see [[Visiting More in Vancouver]]) were good enough.
By the time I returned to the hotel, my feet were pounding. The activities of the last few days had turned my poor feet to greasy spoon-grade hamburger. They, and I, needed a rest. I thought about just sitting around until the feeling came back into my soles, but I made the mistake of laying down for a moment when dropping things off in my room.
I woke just before 17:30, which was when we were meeting at Panama Jack’s, a bar attached to the Holiday Inn. There, the Executive Producer of the 50th Anniversary Project, Pia Marquard held a cocktail party for we brave souls.
I hadn’t really met Pia before, having only heard her name a couple of times. I expected a stereotypical television producer. Instead, I found her a wonderful person to talk to — and she was actually interested in things I had to say! Not being a CBC employee, I’ve never dealt with a television producer before. All the stories I hear about producers generally make them evil in ways that chill even the hardiest of souls. I felt a lot better about the trip when I realized the person in charge really cared about what we did.
At least until she mentioned that she produced the first Survivor. We all laughed, nervously.
We toasted the work we had already done, commented on the work that was yet to come, and lauded Julie and Neil. They truly are our Fearless Leaders, pulling a very large rabbit out of a very small hat. I just hope that all of their hard work is seen by as many Canadians as we hope to see. It would be a tragedy if all these efforts go to waste.
CJ and I also had a detente, and reconciled. I was very happy to put our disagreement behind us and move forward. We have to rely on each other extensively to pull this little trick off, and having two people at odds with each other was only heading towards disaster.
Everyone talked, mingled, tried to get to know one another a little better, and snacked a little on the pub fare circulating the premises. But when you’re in a city like Vancouver, bar food really doesn’t quite cut it. I mean, when you’re in a world-class city, you want to eat world-class food. It sounds a little petty, perhaps, but it really does add to the experience.
For the last couple of days, Emma and I had been discussing the need for good sushi. Although I’d had some for lunch, there is no comparison, no contest for good sushi. Luckily, Emma and I knew of a place: Hiro. Or at least that’s what we thought it was called. No entries in the phone book, nothing even hinted of by the hotel staff. How Emma eventually found it, I’m not sure. I can be certain that after all this grief, I’ll never forget the name “Shiro” again.
We would have been off with eight others, but suddenly our sushi crew disappeared on us. Emma and I had to settle for an evening gorging ourselves on what we think is the best sushi in the Lower Mainland, and possibly Canada. Fresh unfrozen tuna, fresh wild Pacific salmon, and rolls so luscious that I still salivate at the thought. Two bottles of sake only added to the experience. (And also got up the gumption to try deep-fried shrimp heads. Although surprisingly tasty, they are slightly unattractive.)
We pitied those who decided to go somewhere else. We took pictures for posterity. And for gloating.
We wanted to stay much longer. Have more sake, eat more sushi, try other things on the menu. Responsibility tends to put a damper on things, and we ended up leaving after only a couple of hours. Tonight, we will sleep well. For tomorrow, the show begins.

CBC 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Opening Event Pacific Central Station

T-Minus 2 days
I think it’s safe to say no-one left today’s event pain-free. This was the VIP Event day. This was when we had to be near perfect, as the executives from both CBC and VIA would be on hand, along with many other invited parties and members of the media. We had to shine. We had to be as close to perfect as we could be, considering none of us had put our displays together before.
One thing this day did bring was an introduction to Catherine (also known as CJ), my tent-mate. I’m responsible for New Media and Showvote. CJ covers the Archives material.
Somehow, I ended up being the tent chief. That just means I get to carry a walkie-talkie. It’s the first time I’ve ever carried a walkie-talkie. There’s an etiquette to using walkie-talkies, which includes using “roger” and “over” during transmissions, and waiting for others to finish conversations. It’s fun, but I was always a little nervous before broadcasting to the crew.
We started in the morning hauling out all the equipment, and then putting it all together. By 11:00, we’d had almost everything in place. This surprised even me, considering we had nine computers, and an awkward (and heavy) central triangular stand. Yet CJ, Brenda, and I managed to put it all together. We tweaked the configurations well into the afternoon, though, finishing just as the executives began their walkaround.
One of the purposes of the VIP event was to raise awareness of CBC Television’s 50th anniversary. The other was to provide the official kick-off, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony. I’ve never been to one that large. It’s a bit of a thrill, despite the pretentiousness.
Volunteers started arriving about 30 minutes before the start of the event. These were local people, either from the CBC or from local schools. Our volunteers, Jaiman and Peter, were both students who received the call through email. They didn’t need to do much – just ensure that people were able to use the systems. Other volunteers needed to watch activities and help hand out giveaways.
Among the crowd were several celebrities, mostly with the CBC. Announcements came from Ian Hanomansing and Gloria Macarenko, both of whom feature prominently on CBC news. The big speeches came from Brian Williams (of CBC Olympic coverage fame) and Luba Goy from the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
Ms. Goy seems to have two settings: On and Really On. When motioned to stretch her speech due to time restrictions (we were going live with Canada Now, and had to synchronize our activities with their schedule), she dove off into tangents and accents that had many people crying.
Finally, the moment came, and Carole Taylor, the Chair of the CBC, took centre stage. A very eloquent woman (but with some trouble annunciating French), she made a wonderful speech about how CBC has changed Canada and moulded Canadian culture. (If you don’t think so, answer this: can you hum the theme to Hockey Night In Canada? The Friendly Giant? Do you know what a Tickle Trunk is?)
Following Ms. Taylor was the Honourable Jean Pelletier, the chair of VIA Rail Canada. Mr. Pelletier’s speech echoed the thoughts of Ms. Taylor’s, but with a decidedly stronger slant to railroads.
At the end of this speech, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Pelletier took a place in front of the ribbon, while Luba and Brian finished off the ceremony. Then all eyes turned to the gold scissors as they cut the tape away, opening the train, and starting our journey.
The event soon faded away as people went through the train, and disappeared into the oncoming evening. We were to wrap up at 19:30, but a couple tents started at 19:00. This, sadly, caused me some friction that nearly ruined a good team.
I was using Neil as my touchstone for when things were to happen. According to Neil, we were to strike at 19:30. So I wanted to hold off. However, CJ was told to start striking. This caused miscommunication, and temperatures rose far higher than should have been allowed.
We persevered through the difficulties, and finished packing up. This is where we ran into our second snag. Having never fully repacked the baggage car, we didn’t brought everything back all at once. This has the effect of trying to empty a bathtub into a garden hose all at once.
Gerry (our Crew Chief) managed the repacking, but had to make a lot of decisions when faced with the flood of returned equipment set materials. It took nearly an hour and a half, but finally the last item disappeared into the baggage car. Total time: nearly three hours. Two times as long as we had hoped for. (In Winnipeg, we have only an hour and a half to do the same job.) Although disappointed, we were too tired and too sore to worry too much.

CBC 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, First day on the job

T-minus 3 days
I awoke with my alarm ready for a day of discovery. That was important because I had only met three people in the crew of 30-odd. When I arrived in the restaurant for breakfast, I stared at a seemingly endless sea of unfamiliar faces. I ate breakfast alone, partly because I still have a weird shyness complex, and also because I needed to review my notes. (If anyone asks, I’m sticking with the latter reason.)
Walking into this entire affair, I’d had many questions and concerns. I had many reservations. I didn’t know whom I could rely on for help. Over the last two months, I came to know the management of this project. With that familiarity came comfort that things were under control. Today just reinforced that.
I boarded the shuttle to Pacific Central station, barely knowing a person. I didn’t even know who my tent-mate was. I had talked to her on the phone, but you really don’t get an impression for them with a short conversation. We had work to do, and all I could do was just follow the crowd and fill in the blanks as I went along.
The first big help was courtesy of Ivan, the Museum curator. He had made name tags for everyone in the crew so we wouldn’t have so much trouble with names. (And also so guests would know who were are.) Besides, “Hi My Name Is” stickers look a little goofy.
We started off slowly — there was little we could do until VIA switched our train (or as much of it as was available) into the station so we could start unloading our stuff. Everyone milled. Some people knew others, but many (like myself) were total strangers. I figured out who Daryl was early on — he had the video camera. Ivan and I met in the opening stages, as well, learning that we were both part of historical rail societies.
This was our first practical introduction to everything we have to work with over the next 37 days. Some of us had attended a meeting in Toronto a couple of weeks earlier that included basics with the tent. I saw a video. So actually getting a chance to fully set the equipment up was not only important, but helpful.
I had never been on VIA’s Budd cars before. (These are the stainless steel passenger cars most visible on The Canadian.) Formerly of the Canadian Pacific Railway, VIA inherited the cars when taking over passenger service in Canada. As we wandered through the cars, it suddenly became real. This was really happening.
For the last two months, I was living in a bit of a daze. When Brenda had approached me with this project, I felt like someone had a conduit into my dreams. Though I was active in planning and development, I still felt separated. Now I was in the thick of it. These were the people on the train. I would work and live with them for over a month. This was the train. There was no doubt any more, not even a hint of possibility. This was it.
Today was my introduction to the team. I hovered rather than directly introduced, allowing time for acceptance and for adjustment. The team is going to be everything for the next month, and I want to get off on a good start. Besides, I don’t want to bombard them with the Full Geoff. (Sometimes, I’m a little much.)
We set up tents in the morning. The original plan was to do full set ups and strikes (taking everything down) as many times as possible so we’d be comfortable with the system. But an unexpected arrival of the Rocky Mountaineer from Kamloops derailed us, and we had to stop.
During our break, Earl (the director of VIA’s Vancouver Maintenance Centre) took us into the maintenance building to see our lead locomotive. VIA #6403, a GMD F40PH-2 diesel electric locomotive, sat in its CBC 50th Anniversary decaled glory. It sat proud, looking like a cat that had just finished cleaning itself, ready for petting.
After lunch, we emptied the baggage car and made an attempt to see what we could make of the equipment. I was happy to see that all the computers and monitors had survived the trip. I was ecstatic to see that all the problems I’d seen in Toronto had been solved. Blake, one of the wunderkinds of the CBC interactive group, had worked magic that even Gandalf would not challenge.
We worked the whole day, at least when we weren’t halted by a train or by some other activity that needed our attention. Tests, checks, experiments, and finally decisions. When we were done, there was a feeling of accomplishment (though a few people thought we didn’t do enough), and of confidence.
Packing everything back up was a bigger challenge. Pulling things out of a baggage car is immeasurably easier than trying to get it back in again. Especially when it needs to be in a specific order. We finished around 21:30 that evening. We called it a night, retiring to the hotel for a rest. The day to come was going to be our real test.
Brenda had arrived in the hotel by that time. She had come out to see how her labours were paying off. Brenda had lost countless days of sleep, and probably gained a few grey hairs working out the details for her department. Now it was time to see if it was all worth it.
Running into Neil in the hotel lobby, he invited me to join him, Brenda, and several others at the bar next door for a quick drink. Brenda and I ended up talking shop the entire time. I told her what I knew. She asked more questions. But in the end, the truth wouldn’t be known until the next day.

Visiting More in Vancouver

T-Minus 4 days
First order of the day was to move out of Joel and Michelle’s piano room. Although I greatly appreciate their hospitality, I do need to be with the rest of the CBC. The show starts tomorrow morning.
I dropped the car off at the Budget Rent-A-Car shortly after 9:00. The car was in the same shape I had received it, save for a few extra kilometres on the odometer. I cabbed it from there to the Lougheed Mall Skytrain station on the new Millennium Line (which opened for service yesterday). No sense in not taking a train when the possibility exists.
The trip on the new line would have been better had I been in the new cars, but they’re not as frequent as the old ones. But a train ride is rarely bad. Arriving at the Commercial stop, I disembarked and boarded an Expo Line train for the Granville station. From there, it was a 10 minute walk down to the Holiday Inn at the corner of Howe and Helmcken.
Holiday Inn was another important partner in the 50th anniversary celebrations with the CBC. They, too, are having their 50th birthday this year, and have supplied the CBC with hotel accommodations across Canada. For free.
This trip gets better each and every day.
I checked in, dumped off my things, and got to my second order of business: a shower. (Lugging all those things around is a fair bit of work.) Then it was time for the third thing I needed to attend to: lunch.
Every time I come to Vancouver, I have lunch with my friends from Radical. When I used to work there, I would listen to them talk about the projects over Chinese food. Now I listen to them talk about projects in code, so I won’t hear anything important. The code is sometimes so vague they even stump themselves. Inevitably I can piece things together, but I’m bound by an informal disclosure agreement, not to mention respect, not to talk about it. So don’t ask.
Following lunch, I bade farewell and headed towards False Creek Ferries. They’re my favourite means of transportation to Granville Island. (That, and I forgot about the trolley car.) Picture a bathtub roughly twice the normal size, with an inverted-T top. It’s small, it doesn’t move very fast, but it’s a graceful way to move around False Creek.
No matter how long I’m away from Vancouver, I always try to visit Granville Island. It’s by far my favourite place in the city. The smells of fresh fruit and vegetables and breads, the taste of fresh fish, the ambiance of a large community market, and the comfort of a friend. It’s always worth a side trip.
I had wanted to visit my friend Katrina during my False Creek excursion. (For those of you following the program, this is the same Katrina who had moved to California. Since then, she and her husband moved back to Vancouver, much to everyone’s delight.) Alas, I had forgotten her phone number in Calgary, and her cellular phone wasn’t on. We connected later in the day, but only by voice. We tried to make plans to get together that night, but Katrina had to pack for her trip east. Sadly, we will not meet again until later.
Dinner was with Lee and her boyfriend Matt. (You might remember Lee as my “Fearless Leader” from my days with the Rad Sox softball team.) We were later joined by Neall and his girlfriend Mel. We hoped for more, but in the end fewer people make for better conversation.
We started at a somewhat mediocre Indian restaurant just off Denman. My experiences with Indian cuisine on the West Coast are generally positive. This one was neutral. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but I’ve had worse. We moved later to the Sylvia Hotel’s bar. Slightly on the tacky side, it’s also lightly travelled, and a place to spot the stars.
We would not have a late night. Though tempting, we all had to work the next day. I didn’t want to be late.

Touring West Vancouver, Dinner with Greg

T-Minus 5 days
Today was supposed to be tourist day. It was supposed to be sunny and warm, with nice little chirping birds and happy people out enjoying the “last day of summer”. (School starts tomorrow.)
So naturally, it rained.
Out here in Maple Ridge, it teemed. I hoped that by the time I got to Howe Sound that either the rain had died out, or was reduced to spittle due to the mountains.
To a degree, I was right. But there was one thing I didn’t count on – traffic accidents that snarl up the Sea to Sky Highway. That pretty much ended my excursion to Britannia Mines and the West Coast Railway Association. Maybe the next trip out.
The whole highway thing was a little interesting. As I sat in my rented Chrysler Neon (which I can now confidently say is a poor excuse for a car), I thought about the problem. Whistler wants to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. That means a lot of people driving to and from Vancouver. As it stands, the Sea to Sky Highway (also known as Highway 99) can’t handle that traffic. And in winter conditions, the next Olympic demonstration sport will be the Traffic Accident Slalom. There’s a lot of problems that the BC government will need to solve before the games start.
I ended up in Horseshoe Bay. The only reason was to have Trolls’ fish and chips, which I remembered quite fondly. But it was an off day, a general slump in quality, or my memory of the fish was distorted. I was not impressed. And they appeared to have taken salmon off the menu. Salmon fish and chips was a delicacy I missed.
On the way back, I stopped into Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. The wine shop I had once been to was still there. I bought a thank you for my gracious hosts for the time and place. Besides, it was a great excuse to go wine hunting – something I never get tired of.
I had dinner with Greg. It’s almost bizarre how well Greg and I get along considering how little we see of each other. We worked in the same department for a little over two years, but during those years we were more co-workers than friends. It wasn’t until I asked him for help when I moved to Calgary that things changed. Since then, he’s been a good, trusted friend.
Tonight, we had more time together than our last few meetings. This allowed for a nice long steak dinner at a local Joey Tomato’s, and time to catch up on all the things that had come up in our lives over the last year.
Greg’s always been an active person who strives to keep himself busy. If he’s not working, he’s rock climbing, working in the Hungarian community, or more recently, acting. Personally, I think Greg’s ideally suited to acting … for his looks, if nothing else. Hollywood stars should be jealous of him. Acting will let him extend himself past the algorithms he works with all day, and into a stronger right-brain skill set.
We saw a movie following dinner (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I recommend highly to anyone who’s had or seen to too many nuptials in the last two years). We laughed. A lot. A part of me wishes we could have just sat down, shared drinks and talked all night. Greg and I can do that easily. But Greg had to work the next day, and I had to move to a hotel.
Tomorrow is my last “free” day before the real work begins. I can’t tell if I’m excited or terrified.

Visiting in Vancouver

T-Minus 6 days
Today was much quieter than the previous two days … if you don’t count two kids, that is.
After waking and spending a morning with Joel and Michelle’s family, Joel showed me his new pet project. Joel is working on an addition to the Microsoft Flight Simulator, called Squawkbox. It allows virtual pilots to communicate using voice (instead of chat) with virtual air traffic controllers. It also links pilots other pilots. The end result is a simulation that is eerily close to the real thing.
Joel even demonstrated the existing system. He prepared his flight from Boston. This required him to talk with the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) who “managed” Boston. There are two such people: Tower control, and Approach control. Although probably not even in the same city, these two people hand off control to each other, just as would happen in real life. For the end user, the experience is nothing short of completely engaging. I can see why Joel gets so excited when he talks about the system.
Following our virtual fly by of Boston, Joel took me to get a car. Joel and Michelle have been most kind to give me a place to stay. However, being so far out of town, it does require me to rent a car (public transit, though preferable, isn’t really an option). It’s not as bad as it sounds. I actually like having the car. It gives me more freedom.
The primary reason for the car was a local wedding reception for my friend Nigel. He’s an former coworker from Radical Entertainment (he’s still there … I’m not). Nigel married his wife, Patricia, the day after my sister and in the adjacent town. [Insert singing and dancing dolls here.]
The party was held in Heritage Hall on Main St. in Vancouver. Until I was a couple of blocks away, I didn’t know the place. But as I turned onto Main St., suddenly I remembered. Nigel’s theatre group (Tempest in a Teacup) had put on a show in the basement that I’d seen a few years earlier.
Not many Radicalites were out, but those who did come still work there. I still miss the company, the people, and the excitement. In the last few months, I’ve been regretting more and more having left. While I really want to go back, I doubt there is little room for me in the organization. It was a really fun place to work, and despite the hurried schedules of releasing game, Radical had an energy that Critical Mass could never hope to have.
Greg and I had a long talk. It had been a long time since we’d seen each other, and we had much to discuss. (These journals don’t cover every detail of my life.) We chat very rarely, on account of how busy we are.
Within a couple of hours, most of the people I knew had filtered out. Those who remained were personable, having talked with several of them before the Radicalites arrived. But I was getting tired, and had an hour drive back to Joel’s.
I didn’t make it out of downtown. I tried to drive towards the east, but the lure of the city lights drew me downtown, and out to Stanley Park. An imposing feature at night (no lights inside the park), the edges offer some of the best shots of Vancouver at night. I was an hour late getting to bed.