SOUTH RIVER – Long-time resident Gladys Gough took a moment to reflect as she sat outside the historic train station on Monday.
“I used to bring my grandkids here to put pennies on the track,” she said with a laugh. “That was the thing to do in those days.”
Gough remembered walking the rail line, grandkids in tow, after the train passed looking for the smooth copper pieces, which would heat up and stick to the wheels finally falling off sometimes metres down the track.
“They could end up anywhere along here,” she said.
Gough said she still has some of those flattened pennies at home as keepsakes. But times have changed.
Having been in operation since 1902, Ontario Northland trains will soon be decommissioned.
As Gough watched and waited, a passenger train came to a stop and about 80 people climbed off.
The group, having boarded the train in Huntsville, took the one-hour journey north as a tribute to passenger train service. The trip was filled with nostalgia as passengers traveled on the publicly funded Ontario Northland train, many for a final time, before the Province shuts it down next week.
Upon arriving in South River, passengers with ages ranging from four to 97 were greeted by local dignitaries and community members, including Gough.
“I see half the town came out,” said Lucille Frith, president of the Huntsville Train Station Society, an organizer of the sentimental voyage. “A lot of them are here for nostalgic reasons and to show that people do care about passenger trains.”
While waiting for the train to arrive, the crowd grew and stories of bygone days were enthusiastically shared.
Sept. 28 marks the final trip the train will take while under ownership of the provincial government. After being decommissioned, the rail line will eventually be put up for sale.
Frith said she hopes rail service will recommence once under new ownership.
“We were working to improve service and then the death knell came in March,” she said. “So we’ll fight to keep it and then we’ll improve it.”
Monday’s arrival came more than a half-hour late, but that didn’t put a damper on the event.
“It has never been very reliable,” admits Frith. “But trains don’t stop for snow storms or when the highway is closed.”
Frith noted the existence of Ontario Northland’s train service as an integral mode of transportation since being created by the government more than 100 years ago.
“It’s the oldest public utility, but it has never been marketed properly in Muskoka,” she said. “We’re an incidental market for them. Most people we have surveyed didn’t even know this service was available.”
Frith said she and her group hope to work in cooperation with the new owner, whoever that may end up being, to promote rail travel throughout Muskoka and beyond.
South River Coun. Jeffery Dickerson chose to join the group along with his daughter and wife.
“When I heard they were doing this, I thought we would take the trip,” he said. “It’s really nice to have this happen and draw interest to South River and our need for passenger train service to travel to Toronto and other places. We need to maintain what we have. I’m proud of it and I’m sad to see it go.”