In China there is a saying that one is not really a Chinese unless they have walked the Great Wall. There isn’t really a Great Wall equivalent in Canada, but we do have an interesting national train journey.
Moving up through northwestern Ontario I received the impression that this section of the province isn’t doing to well. The train didn’t stop that often (maybe only thrice) but each of one of these communities (Hornepayne, Longlac and Nakina) were considerably rundown around the CN station. Boarded up, or abandoned buildings were the norm. Rail remains a fringe form of transport in Canada, so I wasn’t expecting Union Station qualities, but the towns were not looking too hot. The murals near the Hornepayne station didn’t seem to offer much in the way of economic assistance to the town. Definite echoes of Siberia and the Soviet Far East as the train moved past closed up sawmills and abandoned industrial buildings.
I think it was going past Longlac that I noticed a Northern outlet. I didn’t think that company still existed. We used to have one in Mackenzie. We also used to have Boots Drugstore in that town as well…I didn’t think those existed anymore either until I ran into one in Bangkok (I believe it was in the mall that was recently torched during the riots).
I was surprised at the large amount of rail waste along the sides of the track. Thousands of discarded rail ties stacked up and thrown over the right-of-way. Equally numerous numbers of creosote (or some kind of oil) buckets scattered everywhere. Rails, concrete ties, shacks and white trash (probably from work crews) was quite common. The old telegraph lines still follow the track but probably won’t be standing in ten years time.
The first major stop was Winnipeg, and I had about three hours to take in some of the city…meaning the downtown area. Being Victoria Day, the place was a ghost-town and it was hard to find even a breakfast place at 9am. I quite liked what I saw though. There are quite a few heritage buildings in the downtown area, some gentrified (The Exchange District) and some in a serious state of dilapidation. Lots of old murals which I thought added a layer of uniqueness to the buildings. Where can I get stomach powder?
One of the first buildings one sees from the train while arriving in Winnipeg is the Mr. Nutty building. It seems at one point in history, Mr. Nutty controlled some prime real-estate in the downtown. Presently, I suspect his famous high-quality candy empire is no longer dominating Winnipeg’s downtown core. I also randomly wandered through Winnipeg’s Chinatown which appears to have seen better days…although there is a rather interesting modern-styled Chinese mixed-use building anchoring the community.
Winnipeg also has a Union Station. Union appears to be the default name for train station in North America. Apparently the name is used to describe the ‘union’ of several rail companies that shared the facilities.