Monday, November 20, 2023

On The Road Again

I'm pleased to be able to offer up something new, which is a little less heavy than my previous two posts. I thank those of you who reached out to me regarding my post about mental health and the situation my family and I find ourselves in at the moment. I'm happy to say that the situation has stabilized as the police have helped us restore calm for the time being. My mental health has improved and I am starting to feel more like myself again.

Recently, my family went on a short trip to Waterloo, Ont. for a music conference. This was a business trip for my wife, as she is the chair of a provincial music association. For me, I was giving a mental health presentation, but it was also a chance to get out of Ottawa and visit family in nearby Stratford. I have a pile of interesting pictures from Stratford, including some images from my summer visit, but I will save those for other posts.

I should also note that I had a chance to visit the Waterloo Central Railway yard in St. Jacobs and the CN yard in Kitchener, both of which yielded some cool, and even unexpected, shots. It was an incredibly productive trip for me as a train-starved railfan.

For this post, I wanted to share some images captured while my family was travelling to and from Waterloo. This has always been a fun game I have played while on Highway 401. In this case, we had incredible luck, as my wife managed to get some fantastic images of trains.

Our first meet was in Kingston, as we were approaching the Highway 15 interchange, where the CN Kingston Subdivision is visible from the highway. An eastbound local had made its way past the highway overpass (Ed note: A reader said the photo was likely taken near County Road 11A) when my wife captured this image. The train is being led by CN ES44AC 2933, with two boxcars and a long string of covered hoppers in tow. As we were going in opposite directions, I give my wife full credit for getting this shot. I have really grown to love these shots, which are from a distance and do not have any of the 3/4 wedge effect. It's almost a full-on parallel shot. I am of the opinion that a train image doesn't need to have the train as the dominant feature in the image for the shot to be compelling.

We didn't see anything else on our way, since we were driving fairly late and the darkness prevented any further shots. But I did get this shot of a fading western sunset as we were on the 401 in the Toronto area. I was in the passenger seat at the time, I should add. All these images, in fact, were taken from the front passenger seat. Safety first!

On the way home, we took the 407 toll highway, as we were leaving on a weekday morning and the traffic around Toronto was a major obstacle to our timely return to Ottawa. I'm glad we took the 407, since we were able to catch this image of three CN units resting near its Brampton yard. This is second time I've caught a string of units on this flyover. Unlike the other time I caught engines on this bridge, this time around, these are all heavy hitters. The last time, I remember catching an old GP9 warhorse. This image, again, is courtesy of my wife in the passenger seat.

A little further along, after we had rejoined the eastbound 401, we were travelling through Clarington on the east side of the GTA when we levelled up to an eastbound freight train that was moving at a pretty good clip.

My wife managed to snag a pretty decent shot of the DPU unit operating mid-train. Once again, I love that this shot captures more than just the train. The cloud bank in the sky and the scattered sunshine makes for a visually interesting image. You can see the DPU peaking out between some brush, as well as some lumber cars, a boxcar and a tank car. The DPU is CN 2222, an ES44DC.

Sadly, we were not able to successfully get the front end of the train, as the roadside brush and the differing speeds of the train and our car meant we couldn't find a clear line of sight, although I will say that the train was lead by a lone unit, possibly another ES44DC. I can't be sure, as I only had time to quickly glance over since I was driving.

As I have mentioned before, I always try to snag a few bonus train shots when I am travelling along the 401, as the CN mainline parallels the highway for a stretch in Kingston, as well as in parts of Toronto. We did pass by CP trackage a few times in our travels as well, but I was not able to catch any CP trains, which is a shame.

Much of my photography this year has been remarkably consistent in that the railways featured on this blog are predominantly CN and Via. In the coming weeks and months, I aim to change that, simply by sharing some great shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway in Straford and some shots of the Waterloo Central Railway in St. Jacobs. 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

A Remembrance Day story of bravery, second chances, gratitude and trains

I have often shared stories of my father's side of the family, since my grandfather and all my uncles worked for the Canadian Pacific or Via Rail at one point in their lives. One story I have not told is the story of my mother. And yes, railways play a large part in her story as well. I am sharing this story now, as it is close to Remembrance Day in Canada and this part of my family's story is quite compelling.

My grandfather on my Italian side (we called him Nonno) came to Canada following the end of the Second World War. He had been forced to serve in the Italian army under Mussolini and then had to retreat back to Italy while avoiding the Germans, when Mussolini was assassinated and the Italians left the Axis powers. 

The story about my grandfather goes that he and his friends found themselves disbanded as part of an occupying force in the former Yugoslavia. When the army disbanded, they had to ditch their uniforms and sneak across the entire country under the cover of night, to avoid Germans, who were hunting down Italians as traitors. My Nonno relayed to my uncle that they had to rely on the kindness of the people whose country they were occupying, to provide them food, clothes and places to sleep. What made things worse for his group was that one of their comrades was injured and could not walk. 

He told my Nonno and the other troops to leave him there, but they made the decision that he was not going to be left behind. Instead, they fashioned a sled and used their belts to drag him across the country until they safely returned to Northern Italy. The did it because they all agreed they couldn't face his family if they left him in Yugoslavia. It's an amazing story and it's the only war story that I know of in my family. It's hard to imagine someone I know being forced to survive like that. 

My Nonno came to Canada on his own and took a job as a track labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the Crowsnest Pass area in British Columbia. There he worked until he could earn enough money to secure passage for his family to come to Canada (Both of my grandfathers worked for the CPR). My Nonno never forgot what Canada had given him: A second chance. He lived in the Italian community in Windsor and was one of the people who built the Fogolar Furlan Italian community centre. To the day he died, he always had an Italian flag and a Canadian flag where he lived. This shot below is a rare image of him and my Nonna in Windsor in the 1950s. That little guy wandering around is my Uncle John (Giovani).

My mother came to Canada when she was seven years old. She didn't remember much of the ship that took her from her home in Northern Italy to Halifax. But she told me that her first memory of that time landing in Halifax at Pier 21 was how cold it felt, which shocked her. She told me as well that she remembered sitting on long wooden benches at the Pier 21 processing facility, as her family was brought into Canada. I had a chance to visit this historic site and it was a powerful experience for me, a first generation Canadian on my mother's side. Her entry in Halifax would have been around 1956. It's quite possible that she was brought to Windsor by a steam engine. Possibly. This would have been right around the full transition to diesel F units.

I wonder about her route. I doubt it took her through Ottawa. If it had, she would not have gone through the Tremblay Road station, as the downtown Union Station was still operational, next to the Rideau Canal in the 1950s. But if she was on a train with diesel power on CP, it would have looked something like this below, I think. This is the eastbound Dominion with an E unit in 1967. It would definitely have been on cars that were maroon and grey,

Could she have ridden on an old heavyweight maroon coach like these on the CPR Christmas Train in Finch Ont.? I wonder.

From Halifax, my mom only told me how utterly long and exhausting the train ride was that brought her all the way to her new home in Windsor, Ont. I can't imagine how much of a shock it would have been to immigrants to truly experience the immensity of this country for the first time, which is unlike anything in Europe. I don't know what railway she would have taken, but I assume it might have been a little of both the CNR and CPR, given where her trip started and where it ended. I can also imagine there were likely connections to be made in Montreal at the old Windsor Station (Windsor Station in Montreal, explain that to an immigrant heading to Windsor!) and in Toronto at the Union Station.

My mom ended up growing up in Windsor, where she graduated from an all-girls school, St. Mary's Academy, before embarking on a career in teaching. She told me growing up in Windsor was tough in the 1950s and 1960s, as Italians were subject to fierce discrimination, which is understandable given their role in the Axis powers under their dictator. 

But it was a happy ending for my mom, as she found a peaceful life in Canada, free of the uncertainty and poverty in post-war Northern Italy. She didn't tell me all that much about her entry into Canada, except to say that it was an eye-opening experience on the train. 

My Uncle John, My Nonno and me at Heritage Park in Calgary in the early 1990s.

I wonder how many other families have similar stories about this country involving a train bringing them to their new home. Every Remembrance Day, I have mixed feelings, given my family history. I am thankful for those who served for my benefit. I have only ever considered myself a Canadian. I am lucky that my grandfather on my father's side was exempted from military service, since he was missing a finger on his trigger hand. 

Despite my Italian family's history, which began on the wrong side of the Second World War, this country gave them a second chance, and much of that was due to the sacrifices of the brave Canadians who served for my family's freedom. For that, I am thankful and I remember.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Every picture tells a story, sometimes a story you don't expect

I want to share a few photos with you that tell stories that you would never know about, unless you took the photo. I am sharing these photos, some seen before, to illustrate a point. I have often sought refuge trackside amid the storms of my life. And when I mention storms, I'm not talking necessarily about tough times. Yes, we all go through tough times. I'm talking about the mental health struggles that I experience when some of these tough times pop up in my life.

Exhibit A is this photo I took of Via Train 59 last night in the dying daylight around 6 p.m. It was taken from the Hunt Club Road overpass. 

I have been taking a photo of this train each Wednesday for months. Most evenings in the summer, it was something to do while I waited for my daughter's dance class to finish. I intend to share all the different styles and angles I employed over the course of this year at a later date.

But last night, I allowed myself to think about the people riding that train. Were they happy? Were they going to see loved ones? Was their journey bittersweet as they might have been leaving family? Were they headed toward some exciting adventure in Toronto? Were they getting off at one of the stops in between? 

In many ways, the train is a microcosm of our society. There are so many stories being told on each train that takes people from Point A to Point B. The stories lie in the why. Why are people going where they're going? Why are they taking the train? Why this train? Why the evening? 

I had a similar moment like this in 2016 when I was a father for the second time and I was driving around my baby daughter to get her to relax a little bit. She didn't like me all that much and was not too happy when Mom went to work and she was stuck with me, a person who couldn't feed her. 

So, we went for drives in the country and one time, I took this shot near Twin Elm, which is one of my favourite shots of all time. I thought about the people in that train at that moment, and wondered about their stories and the welcome they would receive when they reached their final stop.

Here's one final image to share that is connected to the first two. In each case, merely seeing a train coming down the track has allowed me to leave my everyday worries, if only for a minute, and become a kid again, marvelling at this massive machine thundering toward me. That sense of awe has never really left me. 

This final image is from Sarnia in 2014, when I caught a train heading west into the St. Clair Tunnel. You can see it going downgrade pretty fast in the shot.

In each case, catching these trains and watching them offered me a break from everyday life. In the case of the image just above, I can clearly remember how much I was struggling with my mental health when I took some time for myself and went hunting down trains before meeting my friend for lunch. At this moment, I remember struggling with the effects of my antidepressants, which were wreaking havoc on my body. I remember hardly being able to hear my friend at lunch, since the medication was making my ears ring or buzz. This was the in the initial stages of a long process where I realized I had to stop taking certain medications to preserve my hearing. Now, nearly 10 years after taking this shot, I have surgery coming up to repair my hearing, which has been affected by medication and a rare hearing disease. I am hearing impaired, which I don't often admit.

In the case of the second image of the Via near Twin Elm, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety since life with a newborn is tough, especially when you're an insomniac, like I am. Another symptom of my anxiety disorder. At that moment, I recall how tired I was when I took that shot, but how much relief I felt in getting a cool image that made me happy and allowed me to share something compelling with my railway friends online.

The first photo, taken last night, is the hardest for me describe, because I am going through an extremely difficult time right now. My family has had to make use of the Ottawa Police to protect us from someone in our neighbourhood who is intimidating us and guests to our home. This week, we were successful in getting the police to warn this individual to leave us alone, which was met with a half-hearted agreement. We also have initiated the process to seek a peace bond against this person. 

We have spoken to the police far too many times since September 12, when this mess began. I won't get into too many details, but my family is now in the process of considering moving, as we don't feel safe in our own home. We had to resort to calling 911 last week, which was met with my wife being put on hold for 45 minutes before she was told there would be no response. That resulted in me filing an official complaint through the Ontario body that polices the police.

I was not at home when this last incident happened, which was awful for me, as I had to rush home, with two crying daughters, hoping and praying that my wife was okay.

Things have cooled off since last week, but everything in my life that should either be a priority or should bring me joy, is taking a back seat to this awful situation. My first priority is to ensure my family's well-being. This blog has not been on schedule as of late, due to this ever-present threat and my debilitating anxiety.

So last night's photo allowed me to think about something pleasant, if only for a few moments. That's why railways will always be a part of me. Ever since I was a kid, trains have made me happy. It's something that is in short supply right now. We really need to cling to things that bring us joy in life. 

This November, the Movember movement has expanded its mission to also focus on men's mental health, suicide prevention mainly. Men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women. That's a staggering statistic. I ask that if you know of anyone raising Movember funds this month, please consider a donation. 

And keep doing what you love. You never know how important the little things might become.