Friday, September 21, 2012

Lure of the Train...Part I

              It is dusk in downtown Toronto...low-hanging clouds in the darkened sky.
              The Royal York Hotel takes center stage in this scene ~ the “grand lady”
              that she is , displays her magnificent red-awning-facade with hundreds
              of interior lights ablaze with activity.  The front entry welcomes visitors
              with its pole-mounted flags...colourfully a-flutter in the evening breeze.

              Three steam-engined trains with smoke swirling into the night sky,
              enter the scene from the right....puffing gingerly along as they leave
              the prestigious Union Station on Front Street (across from the Royal
              York Hotel...for those, not-in-the-know, there is direct tunnel access
              from the Station to the Hotel's lower level and to numerous trendy
              shopping boutiques along the tunnel walkway.)

              The scene is of a “bygone era”, it seems...more like a desirable
               painting  to wall-hang in one's home. So glorious! These powerful
              locomotives are an engineering feat as their wheels clickety-click,
              clickety-click along dual rails carrying passengers or cargo to
              designated towns and cities.

Many times, I have traveled to and from Union Station to reach destinations
west, east and north.  What a vital transportation people-hub this is!  Recently,
Diana Krall, a Canadian chanteuse of  “torch music” performed live in the vast
foyer of the Station with hundreds of listeners appreciating her renditions.

Friends recently attending a cross-Canada conference held at the Royal York
Hotel (while TIFF ~ the Toronto International Film Festival ~was in full
progress), sent me a few photos of the famed of which was the
night picture as described above.  The trains portrayed, especially captured
my attention and clicked into my memory bank of train experiences.

Train Whistles

From my childhood farm, we could see freight trains as they rumbled the rails
a couple times a day...delivering and taking on cargo as they chugged from
station to station.  My father enjoyed the “whistles” as they crossed the
several intersections and was elated, when driving, to stop and revere
these locomotives with their snake-like trail of cars, tailed by the red
caboose.  Secretly, he yearned to be a “train engineer”.

Visit of Queen Elizabeth and King George VI

It was a huge world event when the royal couple visited Ontario on their 44-day
tour across Canada.  Brantford was only a “whistle stop” ~ the King and Queen
stepped onto a platform to welcome the immense standing crowd and receive
their ovations while gifts, flowers and flags  were presented to them.  To me,
this was the decorated “Queen's Train” as my Uncle Jim  held me in his arms
so I could see the royal couple. Today, this scene is vividly remembered!

Thousands of Miles by Train

While at College in Toronto, I longed for adventure and a summer paying job. 
With a friend, Jane (from Springfield, Mass.), we traveled by train from Toronto
to Vancouver  (“student rates”) to be assigned jobs in rural British Columbia.
We conducted 2-week camps for children, teaching crafts, games, overseeing
recreation, instructions in music and Christian principles. The summer gave us
four different locations in the mountains, the rolling hills amid lakes and rivers.

Living “on the train” 3 or 4 days each way was a true adventure.  At “whistle
stops”, we bought food stuffs for sandwiches and drinks.  At night time, we
washed our “undies” and often were fortunate to locate double seats facing
each other upon which to sleep.  Returning with Jane, we by-passed Toronto
to reach Montreal.  There was no train to Springfield until next morning.
We slept on hard benches in the station overnight.  Jane's family welcomed
me while we spent several days prior to our train return to Toronto and
studies for another year.
     Of  Interest:  Following graduation, Jane returned to 100 Mile House
      in British Columbia to marry Henry....whom she had met three years
      previously when we were there! Of course, she traveled by train.

CNR Station (Canadian National) in Hamilton

A Hamilton High School teacher friend left his position of  teaching French,
Latin and English to become a Presbyterian Church Minister.  Three  years
he spent at Trinity College (University of  Toronto) to gain his Theology
Degree.  Many Sundays, I traveled by train from Hamilton's CN Station
to Union Station in Toronto.  There, we'd attend an afternoon rehearsal
of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall at reduced ticket cost.
Following dinner together, I'd return to Hamilton and he to his classes.

Today, the old CN Station, once elaborate in its original architectural
design has in recent  years been the center of “movie takes”.  It has now
been remodeled and updated, retaining its former beauty and attraction.
Now called LIUNA Station, it functions for social, political and
commercial events.  She was and of Hamilton's Grand Ladies!

               Train Travel was Enjoyable! 
               By car or bus, I could not read without headaches.
               Trains allowed me to walk freely from “car to car”.
                I could stand at the rear of a car to feel the wind through my hair.
                I could openly view the scenery as we sped past
                I could leisurely enjoy a beverage and food  in the dining car.
                Its uniformed conductors were friendly and polite.
                Scheduled timetables were reliable.
                Accesses to and from stations were convenient.
                The train and its silvery rails were a great avenue of travel.

Story Vignettes continued on
Lure of the Train…Part II

Merle Baird-Kerr…written September 16, 2012
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  1. Merle....
    We were there at the Royal York and its a special feeling as it is built on the past and future of a great city and country. Train Travel was the thing to do if you were on your way in life.Its wonderful to be there with that great Union Train Station right across the street.And the Hotel is under extensive remodelling so we all know its going to last forever ! Like Us !
    My Honey and I have yet to take an overnighter together on a train... like the old days !

  2. The Royal York Hotel is an absolute "gem" in
    downtown Toronto. I am so grateful for the years I spent in this vast city and for all the "train experiences" I've had. The history of train development, its construction and asset to our fabulous country is amazing! Thanks to our forefathers who had great vision.