Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Fall tour

To Collingwood, Ontario for Thanksgiving spending three nights at the Best Western near the centre of this town on the Georgian Bay (pop 16,500). Friday night fine dining at Wendy's.
To Tottenham on Saturday to ride the steam train on the South Simcoe Railway. Stop by Beeton on the way south to see the train reach the end of the line in a housing estate - there is no station here and the passengers cannot disembark.
They have about five miles of track on this railway and the steam engine #1057 pulls us through the countryside. They say that some 43,000 have ridden the train this season. The car parks are full when we were there. The railway owns more track to the south and can extend the length of the ride in future - there is no prospect of extending northwards.
We return via Creemore and take afternoon tea at the Mad River Tea House.
Sunday late start and call by the rebuilt replica-train station in Collingwood which now houses a museum and the Chamber of Commerce. They are laying a short section of track outside to display a caboose but sadly there are no plans to hook up with the local railway.
Brunch at the Harbour Cafe on the corner of Simcoe and Hurontario Streets. Home fries and country music. Afternoon ride through the hills to Thornbury past massive apple orchards still harvesting.
To Stouffville on Monday to ride on the York-Durham Heritage Railway for a round trip to Uxbridge and back. The journey takes about an hour one way and is 20km/12 miles approximately in length.
The train is pulled by a diesel engine dating from 1956, an Alco RS11 #3612 built at Schenectady, New York, pulling vintage railcars. Our coach, #4977 built by Canadian Car & Foundry, dates from May 1924.
This is a volunteer-run railway and the enthusiasm of the train crew is infectious. The railway shares Stouffville Station with the GO commuter double-deck train which runs on weekdays to Union Station in Toronto.
The railway isn't easy to find due to lack of signage on the approach roads. The local authorities could do more to recognise the effort made by this heritage railroad - they often apply commercial criteria to groups who are working hard for the love of it.
Ridership is "three to four thousand" for the season according to one of the crew. Thanksgiving had seen the best attendance this year. They identify shortage of money for publicity and the lack of a 'star' draw like a steam engine as limiting the number of visitors.
The restored "Witch's hat" station at Uxbridge is a gem with a small museum detailing the history of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway. A sign says that Toronto is 42 miles and Port Hope 68 miles.
By the way there is an art deco cinema in Uxbridge which is not to be missed. The church bells were playing "Singing in the rain" while we were there which is nothing if not different. The atmosphere is wonderful taking you back to a dream time when trains ran at a steady pace through the countryside and the passengers had the time to be polite.
My advice is take a ride on this train before it is discovered.

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