In Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, on April 12, 2016, over 80 residents from approximately 20 remote communities along the Algoma Central Railway corridor between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst met to found the Mask-Wa Residents Association. Mask-Wa is Cree for Bear. While several local associations have existed along the rail line for many years, this is the first time that residents from approximately 20 remote communities have met to form a single association. This association will play an important role as part of the evolving not-for-profit organization that will oversee the passenger train operations. Len Piccolo will be the MRA representative on the board of the future not-for-profit. Len expressed the residents’ gratitude to Dennis Henderson who has been the residents’ representative on the ACR Passenger Train Stakeholders Working Group over the last 2 years.
Those in attendance at the meeting are very pleased that they now have an organization through which they can reach consensus as to how their interests will be represented with regard to such aspects as schedules, fares and plans to work together with the other board members to ensure the long-term sustainability of this essential piece of our regional transportation infrastructure.
Chief Jason Gauthier of Missanabie Cree First Nation, current chair of the ACR Passenger Train Working Group, explained how the Working Group has been actively involved with the recovery of passenger train service for more than two years and asked that the residents continue to be active participants. The evolving not-for-profit organization will support the social, economic and development needs of the First Nations, communities, businesses and people of the Algoma region by providing effective, efficient, reliable and safe railway passenger services.
Chief Gauthier asked those in attendance to introduce themselves and where they are positioned along the railroad line. It was clear that there was representation from many different locations along the line.
Those in attendance were treated to a live musical performance by Jeff Hinich, David Zub, Jason Willet and John Kehoe who played “All Aboard the ACR”.
The Algoma passenger train is necessary for the First Nations to safely and reliably access the remote and wilderness areas of their traditional territories, including hunting and trapping grounds, culturally significant areas and socio-economic opportunities. First Nations in Algoma are also developing socio-economic opportunities such as ecotourism businesses, forest management plans and other resource based undertakings.
The 102 year old Algoma passenger train has been providing safe, reliable, all-season access to residents’ properties in the remote wilderness regions of the Algoma passenger train corridor for generations. It is necessary to the corridor residents as well as to tourism lodges and outfitters so they, and their employees, can safely and reliably access their businesses and so their guests can safely and reliably vacation at their businesses in one of the most beautiful wilderness recreation areas in the world.
The Algoma passenger train is very important to the communities and region of Algoma because the distressed economy and employment of our region needs the significant economic activity and hundreds of jobs the passenger train has supported. Accounting firm BDO Canada produced a study in 2014 for the Algoma Passenger Train Working Group. The BDO Canada study found that the federal government’s $2.2-million investment netted an economic impact of $38-million to $48-million annually. The BDO study also states that the Algoma passenger train supported 170-220 jobs and generated between $5.12 to $6.45 million in taxes. These jobs, economic impact and tax generation are vital to the Algoma region’s economic sustainability.