Saturday, November 25, 2017

VIA Rail from Toronto to Windsor, with a Gratuitous Newfie Bullet Joke Thrown in

Train 85 arrives in Kitchener

Lloyd had never been on a train before.

Now retired after owning a plumbing business for 45 years, he was on his way to London to see his niece.

Lloyd was sitting beside me on Train 85, VIA Rail from Toronto to London in November. I was only going as far as Kitchener this day.

As the train—all two cars of it—rolled through the southern Ontario countryside, he exclaimed about the views out the window.

“You see a city differently from a train than from the highway,” he said.

Later, as we rolled through the countryside, we talked about the many fields and farms you could see from the train—things you couldn’t see from the highway.

Train 85 at Union Station.

It’s not that Lloyd was unfamiliar with trains. He grew up in Newfoundland near the narrow gauge tracks that carried the famous “Newfie Bullet.”

The Bullet—it’s official name was “The Caribou”—was much-loved by Newfoundlanders.

It got its ironic and affectionate name because of how slow it was, taking 23 hours to traverse the 900 kilometres from St. John’s to Port-aux-Basque.

Lloyd told me a joke about the train’s slowness.

A pregnant woman asked the conductor if the train could hurry up—she was about to have a baby and needed to get to the hospital in St. John’s.   

“Well,” said the conductor, “if you were pregnant you should never have taken the train.”

The woman replied: “I wasn’t pregnant when I got on it.”

Union Station concourse.

I had boarded Train 85 at Toronto’s Union Station. Construction started in 1910.

I travel through Union station several times each year, either taking VIA or using the Union-Pearson Express between downtown and the airport.

Whenever I’m there, I look up at the arched concourse roof and think of my father.

During the war years, he worked making armaments at a factory in Peterborough.

He had tried to enlist in the army, like his friends, but poor health prevented him from doing “his bit” in that way.

So he made the materials that helped the troops win the war.

Being from St. Catharines—my hometown—he made frequent trips by train between Peterborough and that southern Ontario city.  

Each time, he would have changed trains in Toronto. And when I am at Union station, I think of him: Did his eyes turn upwards at the same roof? Did he walk the same platforms?

Sometimes the walls between past and present collapse in one’s mind and I can see a young man in his mid-20s, waiting for a train in a long coat and fedora.

My dad.

The renovated train shed.

But that’s not what you can see these days. The day I was there a couple of VIA trains were on nearby tracks, and a GO Transit train entered and left the station while I was there.

I left Lloyd when I de-trained in Kitchener for the night. The next day I caught the same train (85) to London, where I changed to Train 73 to Windsor.

Snow was falling when the train arrived, and we traveled through it to London.

Train 85 arrives in the snow.

My seatmate that time was a woman who put in her ear buds and checked messages on her phone during the trip; no conversations with her.

But that’s OK. I enjoyed the rocking of the rails and looking out the window as we slipped through the snow. 

Arrival in Windsor.

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