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Monday, September 29, 2014

Call of the Northland - Out Now!

After more than two years of work, Call of the Northland goes on sale today. What started as an idea for a photo essay aboard the Northlander in April 2012 became a project to chart the history of the Ontario Northland and investigate the Ontario government's failed attempt to divest the corporation.

Throughout this endeavour, I met many interesting people and corresponded with even more. I am deeply moved by how many people believed in this project and offered all sorts of support to make it a reality. People I had never met sent me their research, unpublished manuscripts, old notes and other material to help make Call of the Northland the best it could be. I have tried my best to include as much of this material as possible. Thank you to everyone who helped make this book a reality.

However, this is about more than a book. It is about a government decision which left thousands of people wondering how they would travel, how they would connect with the rest of the world. After the dust settled from the divestment mess, a passenger train was gone forever, jobs and investment had been lost, and a telecoms company was still for sale. Was divestment the answer? Perhaps, but not in the way the government planned it. No money was saved. Jobs were lost. Government: you goofed. Big time.

More information and details for ordering Call of the Northland can be found at

I hope people enjoy the book and find it a useful source on Ontario Northland and the divestment issue. As always, please send me your questions, comments and corrections. Contact details can be found at

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Call of the Northland goes on sale Monday!


Failed ONTC divestment was flawed from the start, author claims in new book

September 25, 2014

Two years after the last Northlander pulled out of the station, a new book claims that the uncertainty and frustration surrounding the cancelled divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission was unnecessary and that the entire divestment was flawed from the start.

"Even if the financial case for divestment had made sense, the McGuinty government's complete lack of transparency and public engagement meant that divestment could never have succeeded," said author and historian Thomas Blampied, author of Call of the Northland: Riding the train that nearly toppled a government, which goes on sale on September 29.

"I've spent more than two years trying to understand the rationale behind the divestment plan and I’ve concluded that the numbers simply don't add up. Divestment would not have saved money. The government's claim of stagnant ridership on the Northlander was inaccurate. In fact, I believe that ridership was growing."

The book argues that the Wynne government's decision to end the divestment plan (choosing instead to ‘transform’ the ONTC) was an important development. But questions remain about why it took so long for divestment to be halted and why Ontera is still being sold.

"After the joint management/union business proposal was tabled in February 2014, the government changed its mind within a matter of weeks. Why did it take so long to reach this point? Why did Northern Ontario have to suffer through two years of uncertainty?"

Call of the Northland is an account of the Ontario Northland's history, from its earliest days in 1902 to the end of the ONTC divestment in mid-2014. The narrative is woven through the author's journey aboard the Northlander from Toronto to Cochrane in 2012.

Call of the Northland goes on sale on September 29 and will be available to purchase online through and in select retailers across Ontario.

For more information, visit the book's website:


About Thomas Blampied
Historian, author and photographer Thomas Blampied has published four books about railways in Ontario and his photography has been published on three continents. He has studied extensively in both Canada and the UK and currently lives in southern Ontario, where he is a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Toronto.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

10 painters laid off at ONTC

According to the North Bay Nugget, the ONTC has laid off 2/3 of its refurbishment painting staff due to a lack of work. Transformation doesn't seem so optimistic.

10 painters laid off at ONTC | North Bay Nugget

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Two Industries, One Photo

Two Industries / Deux Industries

Rail meets the road: CN 8808 and 5691 pull a string of autoracks out of the CN Oshawa Yard. The GM Oshawa plant dominates the horizon.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Closing of Ontera sale extended

The sale of Ontera, originally set to wrap up this past Tuesday, is now likely to take until October. While the Competition Bureau Review is part of this delay, the complexity of the ONTC is once again causing the government to have to slow down in its attempt to make a little money.

>>>Closing of Ontera sale extended | North Bay Nugget<<<

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Obligatory photo of Toronto's new streetcars

TTC 4403

After years of anticipation, transit nuts can now ride Toronto's new streetcars. Even the CBC has caught the transit-spotting bug. Walking down Spadina Avenue last night, I was able to shoot both 4403 (pictured) and 4400. The new cars will gradually replace Toronto's streetcar fleet over the next few years.

Tree Bark Rocks

In the August 2014 Model Railroader, John Longhurst (of the CP Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision fame) had a very good article about using tree bark to simulate rocks, rather than using the more traditional plaster mould method. I was just about to start refreshing the ONR Green Bank Sub, and I wanted to have more rocks.

Essentially, the tree bark method involves finding pieces of bark that resemble rocky outcrops, cleaning them up, and blending them into the scenery on your layout. John found his bark along a riverbank, so I tried along Lake Ontario. Tree bark floats in the lake for years, eventually washing up on the shore. By then, it has taken on a grey colour and looks remarkably like rock from the Canadian Shield. I collected my specimens and brought them home, where they immediately went in the freezer.

Tree bark is organic material, and all sorts of different organisms might be living in it. Before putting it on your layout, it is best to inspect each piece for anything obvious (moss, bugs, leaves) and then to freeze it for a few days. Then, I take the additional step of baking the bark in the oven, a trick I began using years ago to sterilize soil for use on my layout. Baking bark is dangerous and needs constant supervision in case it starts to burn. For my specimens, I found 15 minutes at 200c followed by 5 minutes at 180c did not damage the bark, but sterilized it enough for use. One warning: the baking process smells awful (like campfire gone wrong). With the bark as safe as it can be, I installed it on the layout.
Tree bark rock serves as the focal point in the front yard of Dufort's Antiques in Heron. Another piece behind the barn helps disguise the supports holding the backdrop in place.

I model the Ontario Northland, which runs through the wilds of the Canadian Shield. Rocky outcrops are an integral part of the landscape, often in cuttings blasted to make way for the track. I cut holes in my plaster-bandage scenery to fit pieces of the bark, which I glued in place. After using regular scenery materials to blend the "rock" into place, the effect is amazing.

Thanks to John Longhurst for the great idea and thanks to the Canadian Model Trains Yahoo! Group for advice on killing organisms in tree bark.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome'

Anyone who has uttered the word "awesome" in my presence will probably have heard me rant about how the word is overused. "Is Niagara Falls awesome?"I will be heard to say, "Yes! But since you weren't actually talking about it, whatever you said cannot have been awesome." As such I never use it. When I actually do talk about something awesome, I will usually replace it with awe-inspiring for emphasis.

Because this is a railway-related website, allow me to point out that the last train you saw is unlikely to have been awesome. The latest train video online was almost certainly not awesome. But, the invention of the railway, which helped to create one of the most incredible changes in the history of mankind by shrinking time and space while industrializing society was awesome. So, in a sense, trains are awesome, just not the one that just passed you. Take it away Jill!

Jill Shargaa: Please, please, people. Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome' |

Trainspotting hobby 80 years older than thought

The National Railway Museum has found evidence of the first trainspotter - way back in 1861. It was a 14-year-old jotting down locomotive numbers as trains came and went from Paddington Station. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this discovery is that said trainspotter was a girl. I think this makes trainspotting thoroughly gender-neutral!

>>>BBC News - Trainspotting hobby 80 years older than thought<<<