August 23, 2019

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Back on track: train rolls into relieved Churchill; Trudeau joins party

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This article was published 1/11/2018 (295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CHURCHILL — Residents breathed a collective yet bittersweet sigh of relief as a visiting first minister delivered news they'd been waiting too long to hear Thursday.

After about 17 months out of service, the Hudson Bay Railway is back on track and will be carting passengers and freight to Manitoba's northern hub by the end of November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.

He also pledged more than $3.8 million for 40 projects geared at helping revitalize Churchill through tourism and other initiatives.

"You all know too well the kind of far-reaching consequences this has had on your community," Trudeau said. "Prices surged, projects had to be put on hold, plans had to be delayed. Families, students, workers and shop owners were left stranded... I know times have been incredibly tough, but the resilience and determination you have shown has been inspiring.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/11/2018 (295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CHURCHILL — Residents breathed a collective yet bittersweet sigh of relief as a visiting first minister delivered news they'd been waiting too long to hear Thursday.

After about 17 months out of service, the Hudson Bay Railway is back on track and will be carting passengers and freight to Manitoba's northern hub by the end of November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.

He also pledged more than $3.8 million for 40 projects geared at helping revitalize Churchill through tourism and other initiatives.

"You all know too well the kind of far-reaching consequences this has had on your community," Trudeau said. "Prices surged, projects had to be put on hold, plans had to be delayed. Families, students, workers and shop owners were left stranded... I know times have been incredibly tough, but the resilience and determination you have shown has been inspiring.

"You organized town halls, you made your voices heard and when things weren’t moving fast enough, you put pressure on everyone involved," he added. "You did everything you needed to do to make sure we got this done and that we got this done right."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged more than $3.8 million for 40 projects aimed at helping revitalize Churchill. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged more than $3.8 million for 40 projects aimed at helping revitalize Churchill. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

In May 2017, flooding washed out 29 parts of the railway. Former owner Omnitrax refused to make repairs, leaving the community in the lurch for months without an overland link; goods needed to be shipped in by air or sea.

On Aug. 31, a new ownership team, Arctic Gateway Group, took over operations, making the required fixes within 35 days.

A test run Wednesday evening saw the first locomotives arrive in town, sending Halloween trick-or-treaters dashing toward the now-unfamiliar sound of a train rolling into the station.

"As soon as that train honked, that was it — no more kids," said port worker Melvin Spence, who was supposed to be handing out candy, but didn't mind keeping some for himself.

"I think that was a nice present for all the kids, having the train come."

Khalee Palmer, 16, had been stressed during her entire senior high school year, waiting for the trains to arrive.

Patricia Kandiurin burns an Omnitrax banner at a party celebrating the opening of the repaired railway in Churchill. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Patricia Kandiurin burns an Omnitrax banner at a party celebrating the opening of the repaired railway in Churchill. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

"My biggest thing right now is I think a lot of people in town are mad at Justin," she said. "My Grade 12 year would have been so different had they just put the money into fixing (the tracks), you know? They had the resources, they had the power — they just didn’t.

"And I think a lot of us are feeling upset because (Trudeau) definitely was helping us, but he was helping us behind closed doors. So unless you knew he was doing it, all we saw was that we were struggling."

Word of the teenager's critiques at a town hall meeting earlier this year made its way back to Trudeau, who quoted from her in his remarks to the community Thursday.

The prime minister addressed hundreds at a street party he crashed on Kelsey Boulevard organized to celebrate the handiwork of the rail crew, residents said.

"I don’t consider it a Trudeau celebration. I mean, yeah he gave us money, but it shouldn’t have took that long," said Patricia Kandiurin, who threw an Omnitrax banner she'd hung on to for three years into a community bonfire.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton agreed that it was a relief to have rail service restored, but said Ottawa ought to have acted sooner.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enjoys some bannock at a street party in Churchill after announcing the re-opening of the repaired railway, which will start transporting passengers and goods by the end of the month. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enjoys some bannock at a street party in Churchill after announcing the re-opening of the repaired railway, which will start transporting passengers and goods by the end of the month. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

"It didn’t have to be this way. Clearly the repairs could have been done faster than they were," the New Democrat said from Ottawa.

The Liberals did not invite her to accompany the prime minister to her riding, and there were no representatives from the provincial government, either. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas was present, however.

"Churchill is a gem; it’s invaluable to our country," Ashton said. "Really, it's a community that requires the government to partner with it, to truly reach the potential that it deserves."

She also added that taxpayers deserve more answers on whether Omnitrax was paid or allowed to abandon its legal liabilities in the federal deal that transferred the railway and port into local hands.

Mayor Mike Spence emphasized how encouragement from across Canada helped Churchill citizens feel they weren't forgotten. "Know I'm Here" became the town's unofficial motto, freshly painted on a mural across the old navy base and printed on T-shirts and signs.

"People across Canada sent strong messages of support telling us clearly that they knew we were here, a very powerful message to us," Spence said.

The entire town of Churchill came out to greet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The entire town of Churchill came out to greet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We knew that once we got through this, we would be positioned for a greater and greater future, not just for us, but for Canada’s North."

At the street party, staff from the local school considered when they might know whether Churchill has truly bounced back after this year-and-a-half-long stalemate. It will be at least a few years before the town can properly analyze the results of the rail's absence and return, said educational assistant Ted Fenner.

"It was weird how emotional (the train arrival) was," he said. "You don't realize how important something is until it's gone."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

– With files from Dylan Robertson

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Thursday, November 1, 2018 at 5:05 PM CDT: adds video

11:12 PM: Adds with files from credit

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