Posts Tagged ‘musings’

I’m back. My week-long break from blogging over, I’m using today to introduce a new feature, Musings.

Now, I read a lot. I start each morning perusing on-line newspapers and then I open The London Free Press which is delivered to my door. The stuff I read often makes me think, and often it’s The London Free Press providing the seed around which my thoughts crystallize. So, if I seem to focus on The Free Press, please do not assume that I do not like the paper. I do. That’s why I read it.

Recently, columnist Larry Cornies wrote a piece entitled “Ontario can’t miss this train” in which he discussed the proposed high-speed rail link to run the length of the Windsor–Quebec City corridor. He began by recalling the fierce debate that surrounded the construction of Ontario’s 401 superhighway running east from Windsor all the way to the Quebec border.

Cornies’ take on the mood at the time was dead-on. I was born in 1947 in Windsor and the heated discussions surrounding the construction of 401 continued in my home well into the ’50s. Cornies writes, “As plans for the massive project were unveiled, significant numbers of Ontarians firmly opposed it.” My father and his friends had been among those naysayers.

They would sit in our living room and loudly argue about, as Cornies writes, “…the bisection and destruction — especially in Southwestern Ontario — of some of the province’s richest farmland. A single interchange along the highway, they said, would gobble up enough land to sustain at least one family, maybe more.”

It is hard to imagine the outrage that greeted the first cloverleaf interchanges.

It is hard to imagine the outrage that greeted cloverleafs when they first appeared on the highway scene.

My father had been born on a farm, as had many of his closest friends, and they would rail against 401 as four lanes of concrete desecration, a destroyer of irreplaceable Essex County farmland. A sin. The monster highway was slicing hundreds of family farms completely in two as it carved its way across the province. A crime. They looked at the cloverleaf interchanges, the large looping curves trapping even more rich farmland, and shook their heads. A travesty.

My dad was not wealthy. He worked as a drapery salesman in the days before minimum wage. My mother had been a teacher but she quit work to devote her time to raising her daughter and later her delightful little boy — me.

The first family car from my boyhood

The first family car from my boyhood

My dad had a ’38 Chevrolet but having a car didn’t mean we drove everywhere — no, far from it. When my mom did the shopping, we usually walked. If she had to go downtown to Bartlett’s department store or visit the family doctor, we took the bus. I say we because I was too young to leave alone and my parents could not afford a babysitter. I never, not once, had a paid babysitter. She hauled me everywhere and without a car.

When we travelled to Brantford to visit my grandparents, we often took a bus to the Canadian National train station (now gone), rode the train to Brantford and finished our trip by taxi. None of this seemed odd to me nor did I feel hard done by. You see, even though my grandfather was a pharmacist running his own drugstore, he walked to his store, used taxis for longer distances and took the train if he had to journey to Hamilton or Toronto.

In the my young eyes, grandad was quite the success. He had a huge fridge in his store filled with tubs of ice cream; He owned a brick home with a big front porch and not one but two staircases — a large one right at the front door and another much narrower one off the kitchen. If a man as well-off as my grandfather didn’t need a car, there was no stigma to travelling by bus or by train.

TrainToday if one sees smoke on the horizon, one immediately thinks “building fire.” When I was a boy, one thought “locomotive.” They were everywhere. The Essex Terminal Railway ran right through my residential neighbourhood and its shunting to and fro often blocked the few through streets that continued across its steel tracks. (The ETR provided such a needed and efficient service that it is still running today.)

Missing tracks denote withdrawn railway service.

Missing tracks denote withdrawn railway service.

Trains carried everything, or so it seemed — car parts, produce, raw material going into factories and finished goods coming out. We watched freight cars loaded with stuff slowly disappear down sidings, sidings which have themselves now disappeared.

Cars were good. Cars were even necessary at times. But trains and buses, now they were indispensable.

A few years ago my wife and I stayed in a century farmhouse facing 401 in the eastern part of the province. It was an elegant bed and breakfast filled with lots of original, beautiful, dark, carved wood. The farmer who built the home obviously had a very successful farm. The farmhouse is still in the family but not the large farm. 401 squats heavily on acres of the once huge tract. The farmland on the far side of the four lane highway was essentially orphaned and had to be abandoned and sold. With no nearby overpass, the fields were now miles distant by tractor.

I mentioned 401 to the aging owner, just a teenager when the highway construction destroyed the family farm and a rewarding way of life. I heard once again my dad’s arguments against the superhighway — arguments that I now know were made by thousands of others.

It’s possible Ontario has already missed the train. Cornies is right, let’s not miss this one.


For an interesting, in-depth but a bit long, take on high-speed rail, read the New York Times magazine article: Getting up to speed. The article focuses on high-speed rail proposed for California but draws on the experience in France with the original TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) and the newer AGV ( Automotrice à Grande Vitesse). I’ve taken the TGV and found it to be a great way to travel. Loved it.

Read how the Strasbourg line, about 300 miles long, has exceeded ridership projections and has expanded rail’s share of that travel market to about 70 percent from 40 percent. (The ultimate goal is 90 percent.) And reflect on how high-speed rail would impact on travel along our Windsor-Quebec corridor.

Could this be in Canada's future?

Could this be in Canada's future?


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