Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2016 (1356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The old Winnitoba Station House, where cottagers have been picked up and dropped off for close to a century, has been turned to ash.
The train station, built in the 1920s, succumbed to the fire that swept through Whiteshell Provincial Park this week, north of Caddy Lake.
CN Rail was the only access to the cottage communities at Nora and Florence lakes for 80 years, until a private road was built in 1999.
"We traveled the Campers' Special," recalled Florence Lake cottager, Don Pincock. "It would leave Winnipeg at 6 o'clock on Fridays, and come back Sundays."
The train station was not the only casualty to fire this week. John Bartley of Rennie lost his trapper's cabin on North Cross Lake to fire.
Bartley, a fixture in the outdoor scene in the South Whiteshell, first started trapping when he was 13. He's now 82. His building wasn't just an old trapper's shack but a log cabin with a brand new propane fridge and kitchen range, and even thermostatic heat. He estimated the replacement cost at $35,000 to $40,000. His traps are also with the cabin.
"I've got to rebuild, I guess," said Bartley.
The Winnitoba train station was a social hub, a place where everyone was dropped off, and where they met again after the weekend while waiting for the train, which was always late, Pincock said.
There was even a song written about the Winnitoba community and station. "For just $7 and 50 cents, the CN will ship you with very few dents, down to our Winnitoba, that's W - I- N- N- I - T - O - B - A," went the song, courtesy of the memory of cottager, Thom Sparling.
The song was called "There's No Place Like Winnitoba," written by John Robertson. (Not that John Robertson, the former footloose and fancy free journalist, although it sounds like something he would do.) There was a recording of the song but it was mostly a campfire singalong, Sparling said.
The Camper Special was the same one that crashed in Dugald on Sept. 1, 1947, the worst train collision in Manitoba history, and one of the worst in Canadian history. It injured 85 people and killed 31 in an inferno that could be seen from downtown Winnipeg.
That night, families of cottagers from Florence and Nora waited tensely for news of loved ones who traveled that train. There were two Camper Specials that ran, and fortunately Nora and Florence cottagers were on the one that arrived safely.
The cottage communities at Nora and Florence lake were built in the 1930s, and claim to be the oldest in the Whiteshell.
The train service and station haven't been needed since the road was built, but it still gets used from time to time by cottagers. VIA Rail is required to stop if requested. "Some people still like to take the train once in awhile," Pincock said.
It can also be stopped in an emergency by waving a flag.
The station was quite small. There was a big sliding door on one side, where the luggage went. On the other side was a pot belly stove, and wooden bench. It had a wooden floor and a window. "If you sat there in cold weather, you could light the stove," Pincock said.
It was all still in place when the fire closed in this week.
Local people had painted and renovated the station as recently as 2009. Florence Lake cottager Ian Baragar hopes CN will support rebuilding the station.
The station house served owners of about 80 cottages there.
Cottages on Florence and Nora have escaped serious fire damage so far. One cottage on the west side of Florence, threatened by fire on Wednesday, was unharmed. Fire came to within about 100 metres of the cottage, but its being surrounded by rock helped keep flames away.
Updated on Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 12:51 PM CDT: Updates story, adds photo
3:23 PM: Adds map