Despite the harsh winter weather we experienced during February, efforts to help save the ACR Passenger Train Service steamed ahead thanks to the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT), the media and the many stakeholders involved. In light of the cancellation and the severe impact on people, businesses and communities serviced by the line, the ACR Passenger Service Stakeholder Committee was also established with the goal to preserve this crucial transportation infrastructure by keeping the run operating in the short-term while a longer-term solution is found.
There are now two awesome websites available offering a wealth of information as well as up to date efforts to save the ACR Passenger Train Service:
Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT): http://www.captrains.ca/
Algoma Passenger Rail: http://www.algomapassengerrail.com/
In addition to the many concerned citizens, out of town lessees and businesses, The Honourable Lisa Raitt (Minister of Transport) continues to receive letters like the following in support of preserving our heritage:
We are writing to you in regard to the 2.2 million dollar cut to the funding which has, until now, allowed CN Rail to operate the ACR passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.
For the past six years we have been devoting our time and effort into a locating and documenting sites along this historical rail line that became iconic symbols of Canadian nationalism through the paintings of the Group of Seven. One of the motivations behind our project was to shed light on an area of Canada that played such an important role in the development of this country, through the legacy of the First Nations, the subsequent opening of the territory to its vast resources by the Algoma Central Railway and finally the creation of a body of artistic work that would help define our country as we emerged from our colonial past. This project is unique in that so few places in the world can boast of a landscape that has remained relatively pristine throughout the past century of industrialization and urbanization. The photographic record that we have created of over one hundred sites attests to the remarkable preservation of these iconic places.
In doing our research we have discovered that there are small but vibrant communities dotting the entire length of the rail line and that these communities thrive on the natural legacy they have inherited. We have also discovered that there is a huge potential to develop sustainable, environmentally sound, ecological and cultural tourism, something very much needed in this often ignored part of Canada. Our project has attracted national and international attention. We are in the process of having our work published and we have partnered with White Pine Pictures and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection to produce a documentary film, travelling exhibition and website to highlight the Group of Seven in Algoma. This partnership has spawned a web of other significant affiliations that promise to lay the groundwork that would help our region realize the above mentioned cultural tourism potential.
Many of our long term goals however are threatened by the suspension of the passenger rail service. Accessibility to many of these sites is possible only by rail, as was the case in the years that the Group of Seven made history here. It would be a travesty to see the opportunities inherent in this cultural and educational infrastructure vanish with the swipe of a pen. We have already launched highly successful events which demonstrate the viability of our vision. We need your support and intervention to insure the continuity of that vision.
We have attached links to the Group of Seven- Glenn Gould Train Event and to the demo film for our documentary to give you a glimpse into our efforts.
Thank you for your consideration of this issue which is so important to not only our region but to the entire country.
As an artist and environmentalist I was horrified to hear about the potential closing of the Algoma Railway passenger service.
As an artist I consider the geographical area through which the train travels as a Canadian art history heritage area. The train is the way that Group of Seven painters traveled into the Canadian wilderness and creatively displayed those landscapes through their art. Their paintings of scenes along the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) have become Canadian cultural icons. I understand that art historian Michael Burtch and wildlife adventurers Joanie and Gary McGuffin have been conducting extensive, unique research along the ACR and have located over 80 sites of paintings made by various Group of Seven artists. This research is new to the field of Canadian art history and when their book and film are published will draw many tourists to the ACR tourism corridor. This will be a major boon to the tourist operators whose businesses are accessed only by this special train.
As an environmentalist I support public investment in train-based tourism and train travel in general as it is a way to reduce pollution and climate change and their destructive effects on the planet. Enhancing the Northern Ontario wilderness trains as eco-tourism rail corridors is a way for Northern Ontario to diversify its economy and lead to sustainability of its local communities in an environmentally respectful way . The Algoma Central Railway educates tourists about our fragile ecosystems as it travels through areas such as the world’s largest game preserve—the Chapleau Game Preserve.
I support the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT)’s request to the Federal government to reverse its decision to terminate the special funding for the ACR passenger train and treat it as essential infrastructure for the development of a rail tourism corridor through Ontario wilderness.
To help aid in efforts, Sault Ste. Marie Municipal Council pledged $50,000 towards the working committee to develop a long term plan to preserve the CN passenger rail line between SSM and Hearst. The working committee will commission economic impact studies and hire a part-time coordinator with funding coming from the Economic Development Fund. On February 27th, the ACR Passenger Service Working Group announced in a news release that BDO Canada LLP has been retained to assess the economic impact of the ACR Passenger rail line.
“We don’t fully understand the extent of the economic benefit and precise impact of the ACR passenger line, and this preliminary economic impact assessment from BDO will help us in formulating our business case,” said Joe Fratesi, Chair of the ACR Passenger Service Working Group. “It’s critical that the Federal Government and all parties understand the impact that cancelling of the line will have on Northern Ontario. The ACR is a key transportation link for our region.”
The line not only provides a crucial passenger service to remote communities, First Nations and municipalities in Northern Ontario, it also provides remote access to a broad range of stakeholders, including tourism resorts, lodges, small businesses, camp and property owners, as well as those who hunt, fish, trap and generally enjoy the rugged landscape made famous by Canada’s renowned Group of Seven artists. In light of the cancellation and the severe impact it will have on people, businesses and communities serviced by the line, the ACR Passenger Service Working Group was established.
The Canadian Federation of Students also stepped in with their support as witnessed from the following posting on the CAPT website in appreciation:
We wish to publicly thank the Canadian Federation of Students for their very generous cheque to support the campaign to save the ACR passenger train. The cheque was delivered by Kaitlyn Teller, Vice President External of the Algoma University Student Union. Kaitlyn expressed the students’ need for passenger train service when she said: “We need more passenger trains, not fewer”. Students find trains the most affordable, safest, most comfortable and environmentally respectful way to travel. It should be an option for Northern Ontario students just as it is for those in Southern Ontario.
Despite our early efforts to help out, releasing a story and establishing an online petition “All Aboard – Help Save Our Train!“, we were subsequently advised that these forms of petitions are not accepted by the House of Commons. Not to be discouraged so easily, we’ve left the online petition running as there are a considerable number of individuals and families affected by this decision who live well outside this area. We firmly believe they too deserve to be heard regardless of whether or not they are able to sign a paper petition.
To be completely honest, after hearing that this petition may not help current efforts to the extent desired, I really hadn’t taken the time to revist it. Regardless of the fact that there are now over 600 signatures, the weight that these signatures may or may not carry immensily pales to the heart felt comments being left by those signing it. In my eyes, many of these comments represent a significantly larger concern than just anger over the recent decision to cancel ACR Passenger Service.
It really does make me proud to be a Northern Ontarian and Saultite with so many supporters both in and out of this area rallying together to protect our heritage!