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Friday, August 31, 2012

Chris Selley: Like northern Ontario on wheels – demise of Northlander train a nostalgic blow

I would never have thought that comments in the National Post would support Ontario Northland, but here we have it.  It seems that a firm date for the end of the Northlander has finally started to wake people up.  Didn't Joni Mitchell once say that we only miss what we have when it's not there anymore?
Chris Selley: Like northern Ontario on wheels – demise of Northlander train a nostalgic blow | National Post

PCs would recind Far North Act to open mining exploration

While I do support the campaign to save Ontario Northland, I do not support an Alberta-style unrestricted resource exploitation programme.  The Ring of Fire has yet to be developed, let's start there and see if more land is needed.
PCs would recind Far North Act to open mining exploration

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ontario’s History from a train seat: my last nostalgic trip on the fabled northlander

Prolific author Ron Brown has travelled on the Northlander for one last time.  His journey is chronicled in this interesting piece for the Toronto Star.
Ontario’s History from a train seat: my last nostalgic trip on the fabled northlander -

Sidenote: Swastika's name was changed to Winston during WWII, not Churchill as is stated in the article.

Hurricane makes tracks for minister

A hurricane metaphor is perhaps appropriate for this time of year and it certainly creates a unified article.  Not only does this piece do a good job of recapping recent developments, but it also gives a potted history of Bartolucci's political history - notably that he is losing support with every election.
MacLeod: Hurricane makes tracks for minister | Sudbury Star

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Take the Last Train to Cochrane ...

Festivities, if you can call them that, are being planned for the last run of the Northlander next month.  It also appears that there will be yet another book about railways in northern Ontario.  It's sad that such outpourings of creativity are so often motivated by the passing of an era.
Take the Last Train to Cochrane ...

Book Research Continues

I haven't talked about it recently, but work on my upcoming book, Call of the Northland, continues.  I am currently researching the various political machinations that caused the ONTC to be put up for sale and the fight to stop it. 

Work on the manuscript is also continuing, but is only in the first draft at the moment.  There is plenty of work left to be done.

This project is new territory for me as my previous work has concentrated on small geographical areas, whereas this work must consider an entire region and, in some cases, an entire province!

If all goes to plan, Call of the Northland will be released next year.

Rogue rail car rolls undetected across bridge from N.Y. to Niagara Falls, Ont.

I first heard about this incident about two weeks ago and I am surprised that it has stayed quiet for this long.  This was a major security breach and makes me really question all the annoyance people must put up with when crossing international borders.
Rogue rail car rolls undetected across bridge from N.Y. to Niagara Falls, Ont. -

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MPPs are back and so are the accusations

Yesterday, MPPs returned to Queen's Park early in order to debate and pass a law that would force the province's English-language public school teachers to accept a new agreement and prohibit any future strike action.  Question Period also included several points in regard to the sale of the ONTC.

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli (Conservative) called not only for Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci to resign, but for the entire Liberal party to step down over their decision to sell the ONTC.

Meanwhile, NDP house leader Gilles Bisson accused the McGuinty government of accelerating the process in order to prevent opponents of the plan from mounting an effective campaign to fight the sale.

In a related development, the unions representing ONTC workers have been able to secure a copy of the documents outlining how the sale of the Commission is to proceed.  It is, in their words, a "fire sale" to be completed as soon as possible with anything left unsold to be be liquidated.

The debate over the new law for teachers is likely to take up most of the time in the Ontario Legislature over the next week, but the sale of the ONTC is clearly still on the table.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

North clearly not united

A somewhat amusing opinion piece on how Bartolucci seems to love Sudbury and despise the rest of his portfolio.  The one thing that has bothered me throughout the protests from the north is that they are protesting to the north.  It's time to bring the fight to Toronto.  Why not protest outside Union Station?  After all, the ONR is the north's GO Transit.
North clearly not united | North Bay Nugget

Train derails at ONR yard

Train derails at ONR yard | North Bay Nugget

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Long VIA

VIA 913 and 904 at Whitby with train 60

Most of the time, VIA trains in the Corridor are pretty uniform.  They are usually 3-5 coaches long and often identical consists for several days running.  Today was a little different.  I got a tip-off through the Canadian Passenger Rail Yahoo Group that VIA 70 (Windsor-Toronto) was unusually long this morning, with extra coaches (including VIA lounge Glen Fraser) and two locomotives.  After its arrival in Toronto, VIA 70 becomes VIA 60 (Toronto-Montreal), running through Whitby, thus allowing me to photograph it.  I was able to catch this interesting consist on what was a beautiful, albeit warmer summer day.

Northlander train service ends in September

So much of the discussion about the end of the Northlander is centred around northern Ontario.  However, let us not forget that the train serves Muskoka and even Toronto, a city entirely oblivious to this decision.
Simcoe Article: Northlander train service ends in September

GCA says Bartolucci's reasons to kill ONTC become ever more far fetched

More very interesting examples of how Metrolinx and the ONTC do similar jobs, yet are treated in very different ways.
GCA says Bartolucci's reasons to kill ONTC become ever more far fetched

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Calls for Bartolucci to resign grow louder

The unions representing Ontario Northland workers have joined the calls for Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci to go.  Both the North Bay Bugget and the Sudbury Star have good coverage of this development.

North's tourism workers fear ONR changes will slow visitors

Tourism has been declining in recent years, and with no train to carry people to the North, it is likely that it will decline even more.  I wonder, is the government trying to decrease ridership on the Polar Bear Express so that it can also be sold?
North's tourism workers fear ONR changes will slow visitors - CBC News

Monday, August 20, 2012

Airport-style screening to be considered for train and tube stations

Travelling through London using public transport is no longer as fun as it once was.  Ticket barriers scrutinise every passenger, causing delays while the constant presence of armed police and private security makes everyone feel like a terrorist.  One of the great advantages of travelling by rail is that it allows you to by-pass the hassles of airport security.  What next?  Check in times for trains?  Boarding passes on the Underground?

As for terror threat levels, they might as well be ignored today.  To leave threat levels elevated for months simply creates a new normal.
Airport-style screening to be considered for train and tube stations | The Guardian

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Update on 219

The Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre is currently looking for companies to transport #219 from Cochrane to Capreol and is calculating the various costs associated with the move.

Obviously, moving a steam locomotive across northern Ontario isn't going to be cheap, so the Museum is looking for donations to help make the move possible.  Please help if you can.

To contact the museum, visit:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bartolucci stands firm despite resignation call

This is an interesting twist.  The head of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce has called on the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Rick Bartolucci, to quit.  In brief, the Chamber argues that as minister, Bartolucci has the duty to protect the interests of the north and to help those who live there.  By actively pursuing the divestment,  he is in fact harming the very people he is supposed to represent.  Bartolucci is MPP for Sudbury, a town blessed with both CN and CP main lines in the area.  The divestment process is unlikely to directly affect Greater Sudbury in any meaningful way.  Not surprisingly, Bartolucci has refused the request, as he has refused every other one.
Bartolucci stands firm despite resignation call | Sudbury Star

Friday, August 17, 2012

Liberals fast-tracked end of Northlander: Bisson

A rallying cry from the NDP house leader.  If the government has indeed sped up the process, then the protests must also be amplified.
Liberals fast-tracked end of Northlander: Bisson | Timmins Press

More Coverage on the End of the Northlander

Despite the lack of coverage in the southern media, many GTA news outlets have picked up on the end to the Northlander.  Most articles are syndicated copies of each other, but there are a few more elaborate pieces of note.

'Sad day' for North: The North Bay Nugget

I feel that the government is making a mistake.  Two bi-elections are coming up and McGuinty thinks that there is a good chance that the Liberals will win - giving him a majority government.  I wonder if this is fuelling the acceleration of the project.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Day the Northlander will Die: Sept. 28

Everything went ominously quiet over the past few weeks regarding the divestment of the ONTC.  Today the silence was broken when the provincial government announced the initial stages of the cull.  Ontera, the telecommunications division, is the first business to be jettisoned and the bidding process is now open.  The Niksa I ferry from Moosonee to Moose Factory will be given to the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which already operates the formerly-ONTC Manitoulin ferry service.  The most damaging announcement is that the Northlander will cease to operate on 28 September, meaning a loss of 63 jobs.  This will end Ontario Northland rail operations south of North Bay after almost a century of connecting Toronto with northeastern Ontario.  The government insists that motorcoach service will replace the train, despite the protests of northerners.  The announcement comes one day after the Ontario Government announced substantial service upgrades and new services for GO Transit in the Toronto area.

While opposition to the plan has been vocal, the protests have fallen largely on deaf ears.  One of the proposed avenues for protest had been to request environmental assessments to highlight any detrimental effects to the northeast of Ontario as a result of the sale.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the government has exempted the entire divestment process from these assessments, meaning that few options remain to stop the process.  Critics of the plan accuse the government of trying to silence opposition by cutting services as quickly as possible.

Both NDP and Conservatives MPPs representing northern Ontario have expressed disappointment with the decision.  Vic Fedeli, Conservative MPP for Nipissing said that "when the Northlander makes its final run on September 28, it will indeed be a sad day in the history of the relationship between the provincial government and Northern Ontario," while NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson concluded that "if they [the provincial government] can shut down the train, they figure they can kill the opposition and the people of northern Ontario will stop protesting."

Unions representing the ONTC were summoned to a meeting this morning at which government lawyers made them aware of the updated plan.  Brian Kelly, spokesman for the unions, hasn't given up the fight, saying that "the Liberals intend to remove the Northlander service on September 28 and we intend to ensure that come September 29, that the Northlander is still on track continuing to service the rail corridor."  He further accused the government of an "increased level of disdain" towards northerners.

Hiring freeze causing hardship: Union

This really does feel like the government is trying to destroy the ONTC.
Hiring freeze causing hardship: Union | North Bay Nugget

Crime Stoppers needs help on theft from Ontario Northland

The ONR has enough problems as it is.  It doesn't need theft too!
Crime Stoppers needs help on theft from Ontario Northland - Timmins Times

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rail line apologizes for dining snub of native passengers

To me, this story sounds like an unforeseen number of passengers causing an unfortunate mistake.   I don't see any malice, but it shouldn't happen again.
Rail line apologizes for dining snub of native passengers - CBC News

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Discrimination at Ontario Northland?

According to CBC's World Report this morning, a native woman from Moose Factory has filed a complaint with Ontario Northland after she says that she was prevented from dining on the Polar Bear Express until a group of tourists had finished their meal. 

Ontario Northland say they are investigating the allegation and insist that the incident was accidental.  The woman involved, Agnes Corston, has received an apology.

No further information is available at this time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Postscript: Warrior Nation

I recently posted a review of the controversial new book Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.  It received about as much attention as I had expected it to (hardly any).  TVO's The Agenda in the Summer recently dedicated two programmes to an interview with the book's co-author Jamie Swift.  These two episodes offer an excellent summary of the book and its main arguments.

Part 1: The Warrior Nation

Part 2: The Peacekeeping Myth

Regardless of how popular this book will be, it is an important issue that merits debate.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Lindsay's Railway Park

Anyone travelling along Highway 7 in the Kawarthas will know that, as you weave through the picturesque villages and towns, you will see many disused roadbeds leading to the one-time railway hub of Lindsay.  The town has not forgotten its railway heritage and has displayed various items of preserved railway equipment at the Lindsay Memorial Park.  I was in the area so I decided to take a look.

TH&B 42, the centrepiece of the display, at sunset

I was heartened to see such a well-kept display.  Often, these types of memorial end up damaged, or spray painted by people who desperately want something to do.  Back in 2008, a young arsonist set fire to a caboose on the site, destroying a priceless artefact.  The town rallied and acquired more equipment to replace the loss.  The display is bigger and better than ever before, now including steam locomotive TH&B 42, a CN diesel switcher, two cabooses and two boxcars.

Lindsay isn't really on the way to anywhere, but it is worth a detour to see the display.

ONTC GCA calls on Liberals to come clean on mismanagement of pension fund

Pensions: not something that you really want to mess with.  One wonders for how long the government has been trying to dismantle the ONTC.
ONTC GCA calls on Liberals to come clean on mismanagement of pension fund

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Why I'm Not Watching the Olympics

The whole world seems to be obsessed with the Olympics, just like it is every two years.  Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I just don't see what all the fuss is about.

Disclaimer: Sweeping Generalisations Ahead!

The Olympics, a showcase of amateur athletics, is not so at all.  While some broadcasters maintain that it is, very few of the athletes are anywhere near amateur.  NHL players play on national ice hockey teams, runners train on a full-time basis, tennis stars play each other (like they do at countless other tournaments).  Anyone who trains as much as these people do, pushing so hard to win (not to participate, but to win) cannot be considered an amateur.  Their sponsorship deals and advertising campaigns also exclude them from the definition of amateur.

Scandals hit everything in life so they do not particularly concern me.  However, the rhetoric about the goal of participation over winning at the Olympics is entirely hollow when you see the things that athletes will do to win, from steroid use, to bribing judges, to throwing badminton matches.  There is no honour here.

The same countries dominate every time - the US, China, Russia etc.  Once in a while, an athlete from another country does win, a far greater triumph, but it is not common.

The United Kingdom is hosting the current Olympics and, somehow, they are going as planned.  The fiasco of poorly trained security personnel in insufficient numbers offered a great excuse for up to 1/5 of all British soldiers being stationed in London.  Anywhere else, that could be seen as the beginning of a coup.  There are rocket launchers on rooftops.  For goodness sake, there is an aircraft carrier in the Thames.  If this is what the world needs in order to have fun, then the world has a problem.

If anything, the Olympics are about money.  Enormous sponsorship deals make vast amounts of money for a few select multinational corporations.  The Olympic name is so protected that I could very well be opening myself up to legal action for having written this piece.  Little shops cannot use the term Olympics because they might somehow siphon revenue from this massive money machine.  If you pay enough, you even get your own reserved lanes on London's streets.  Those big companies who aren't part of the Olympic club suffer too.  London's shopping and tourist districts are reporting much lower sales as people stay away from the congested mess of a security zone that London has become (hopefully only temporarily). 

The media is also affected.  CTV is broadcasting over 12 hours of coverage a day.  Due to rights restrictions, other Canadian networks may only show still images.  This celebration of peaceful sport for the world is so revenue-centric that we can't even share in the footage.  Amateur photographers (at a supposedly amateur event) are unable to take photos in case this too infringes on the money.

Perhaps I'm wrong.  After all, it would seem that most of the world is watching as highly-conditioned superhumans compete for monetary gain.  Perhaps my view is too narrow and in fact all the patriotism is good for people.  Perhaps it is normal to say "Canada" as every second word in conversation.  Perhaps Canada's arrogant "Own the Podium" system is healthy (although, Canada isn't actually doing all that well).  Why participate when you can dominate?  Perhaps it is normal for the Canadian team to arrive in the UK, complete with noise and swagger.

I think my view is in the minority, but suffice it so say that I won't miss the Olympics when they are over.  Until then, I will try to find something else to watch on TV...

Failure and Photography

A photograph is a work of art.  Ergo, a photographer is an artist.  It thus makes sense that, like all artists, photographers would be very attached to their work and would only want to showcase their best stuff while hiding any mistakes.  This is also true in railway photography.  While usually more technical than artistic, anyone digging through the various railway magazines or edited websites (such as could easily think that there is a breed of photographers out there with the magic touch.  However, this is illusory.

What you don't see, because people only want to broadcast the good stuff (myself included), is all the failed shots, wrong settings and so forth.  This past week, I had a very futile photoshoot and I wanted to show people that, while most of the shots I post here I consider to be very good, not every shot is a winner!

This shot is not a winner

The trip in question was to try and photograph Pacific on the tail end of the Northlander on its northwards journey to Cochrane.  I had planned everything down to the last second, from how to get to the location to where exactly to shoot from.  Alas, it was not to be.  This particular morning, a person was killed on the Bala sub near the Oriole GO Station.  This closed the line for hours.  As a result, trains were diverted over the York and Newmarket subs to reach Union Station.  On a normal day, I would have expected the Northlander to reach my location, near the Brick Works in the Don Valley, around 8.50am.  I waited, and waited, before finally giving up at 9.20, thinking that it must have also detoured.  And so, with a heavy heart, I started to walk back towards the Brick Works.  Had I waited five more minutes, I would have had my shot: the Northlander rolled past me as I walked away.  I manage a few shots of shrubbery and this one documentary shot - enough to say I was there.  I had also hoped to shoot the southbound Canadian, but it too was delayed by the fatality.  I gave up waiting for it too, naturally missing it also by ten minutes.  This shows how even the best plans can go wrong.

What you see in portfolios and publications is the very best work a photographer has.  You don't see the rolls of film, or memory cards, of utter garbage.  On a typical shoot, I reject between 1/3 and 2/3 of all the photos I take.  Of those I keep, only three or four will actually be deemed good enough for me to print a paper copy for the album.

There is, of course, more that I could have done to succeed in this shoot.  I could have waited longer, I could stop being so cheap and could have bought a radio scanner.  What this incident shows is that failure is always part of photography.  You can try your best to get great shots, but you won't get every one.  Nobody does.

Is Your Neighbor a Democrat? Obama Has an App for That

I understand that this concept uses public-domain information, but it is still creepy.  Doesn't it call the whole concept of the secret ballot into question?
Is Your Neighbor a Democrat? Obama Has an App for That - ProPublica

Friday, August 03, 2012

Expanding the debate

Another take on the sale of the ONTC: if so many bidders have come forward to sing the praises of the ONTC, then why is the government selling it?  
Expanding the debate | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario