MUSKOKA - Among the somber expressions and those utterances more cursive, young Jackson dances and jumps.
Northlander's last stop.
LAST STOP. Jackson Cook is beside himself with excitement about his first train ride Sept. 28 at the Gravenhurst station. It would also be his last on the Northlander, as the train service made its final runs last Friday.
Beyond the horizon of the trees and curve of rail rumbles the final Northlander train to Gravenhurst Station and he is going on his first train ride. The only manned station between Toronto and North Bay, the Gravenhurst stop is busy with about 30 people slightly less happy about their historic trip this Sept. 28.
In Bracebridge, the scene wasn’t very different; about 20 people waited for the final northbound Northlander train to arrive at the Bracebridge station Friday morning. Some rode the train as a farewell ride. Mothers, like Kayleigh Cook with son Jackson, took their children as a legacy. Others boarded the train as part of their regular lives that will now be changed forever.
“I wanted him to be able to ride the train at least once,” she said, his hands clasped to the iron gates and face pressed between, waiting in anticipation of the machine.
Dorothy Lajeunesse took her last annual journey on the train back to Timmins. Every fall she comes to visit her aunt in Bracebridge for a week to see the fall colours.
They came a week early this year just to make the train, Lajeunesse said.
Charles Close used to commute on the Northlander regularly in the 1960s, though he hasn’t taken it in years.
“It was a fun trip in those days. It seemed more people took it then,” he said.
Close used to get on the train at Union Station in Toronto at 6 p.m., arriving in Bracebridge at 11:30 p.m. He remembers one time he couldn’t get off the train because there was so much snow in Bracebridge.
The whistle of the last train brought sadness to Close.
“It’s not right. I don’t know how they ever let that happen. We didn’t have enough people complaining maybe,” he said.
When the five-car train stopped at the Bracebridge station, John Vanthoff, MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane, dismounted among about 20 people to shake hands with those standing beside the rails.
“It’s a day we thought would never come and I don’t think the premier actually understands what he’s done here,” Vanthoff said. “We need public transportation in the whole province, not just 20 kilometres around Toronto.”
The service that began between Toronto and Cochrane in the late 1930s was a boon to the station in Gravenhurst. Station manager Glynis Allen said she has already had to lay off two staff from their jobs.
“We were also responsible to make all the sandwiches for the passenger trains every day; that was a guaranteed daily income we’ve lost now,” she said.
The past couple of weeks have been difficult to comprehend, added Allen. “I’ve had to fight off some tears; I am finding it all very emotional and I think this is very sad.”
Gravenhurst, the only manned station, will retain a couple of employees including Allen to oversee the station and as the bus stop. Food services will also remain for the public and bus traffic. Allen said she has concerns that too may begin to dwindle.
“I don’t think the public realizes it’s not just passenger train service. Northlander is interested in selling off all of its assets, and that includes the buses,” she explained.