The Great Train Ride

To the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

June 6th, 2000

Being new arrivals in Canada, we wanted to take in all the sights. This of course required us to take the famous train ride into the Agawa Canyon. At 114 miles and 8 hours it seemed far more then we normally attempt in a story. It had been quite a while since either of us had been on any train, much less a scenic one. We arranged a meeting with Mike Morrow, the train line's communication officer and got permission to do the story. Mike was gracious and full of suggestions as he introduced us to our train hosts, Mary Rowat and Cindy Burns. During the next 8 hours, these girls would prove to be indispensable. I was surprised at the number of people who were traveling with us. Mike told us that over 88,000 people ride the train to Agawa Canyon between June and October each year. Traveling due north, we quickly left the suburban life and entered the wilderness. For the next three hours we putted along between 35 and 45 mph through huge stands of forest, expansive still water lakes and babbling brooks. To facilitate the photographs that were needed, we were offered seats in an unoccupied coach directly behind the engine. During the ride up, Glenn Charlebois, one of the engineers came back for coffee and we struck up a conversation about his 25 years on the railroad, the railroad life and the engine which pulled us along. By the time it was time for him to return to his job, I had accepted an invitation to join him the cab of the engine after we arrived in the Canyon. Agawa Canyon's history dates back pretty far. The granite bedrock underlying the area, formed 2.5 billion years ago, is among some of the oldest rock in the world. Agawa Canyon was created through faulting which occurred 1.2 billion years ago. A series of ice ages subsequently abraded and altered the Canyon over a period of 1.5 million years with the last ice cover retreating about 10,000 years ago. The movement of the ice is credited with the shape of the terrain with its abundant still water lakes which we witnessed all along the way. The coaches we traveled in were right out of the 50s with their reversible seats, which for the most part are quite comfortable. An added attraction was the dining car. With scenes from black and white movies flashing in my head, I looked to see if Humphery Bogart was sitting with Lauran Bacall sipping wine as he discussed some great secret. The actors were missing but not the wine. The dining car is located, for the most part, in the middle of the train, and serves up its fare from 7:00 in the morning until 3:45 that evening, and yes wine is available as well as beer and mixed drinks after 11:00. There are picnic baskets available for those who wish to picnic at the two hour stopover in Agawa Canyon. To accommodate the breakfast rush, travelers are called to the dining cars by coach number. The train included one first class observation car, complete with a glass roof and elevated seating. Sandwiches and drinks were set out for the occupants. Being free to roam where we would, I spent a few minutes in this high class car to get the feeling of what it was like. The view is definitely better but much of the glass is above you and simply adds light. There are three significant water falls and one curving railway trestle which is somewhat exciting to travel over. These are mixed with panoramic views of Lake Superior, brooks, rivers and an assortment of hills and dales, broken up by dozens of small lakes. All the water in this area is brown, the result of staining by tannic acid (tea) which leaches out of the roots of the cedar trees. It does not interfere with the purity of the water.

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