A new multi-media exhibition that explores history thru railway culture at the Algoma Art Gallery in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, will open November 7th in tandem with a panel discussion about passenger rail in the region. Train Dreams is an installation featuring the work of four artists; Luke Mistruzzi, Nick Keupfer, Simon Brothers, & Mark W. Preston. Animation, sound, and a range of video footage, both recent and archival, are the media by which questions of memory and time are considered via railway culture.
Following the exhibition’s opening reception, a panel discussion on railroads in the Algoma region will be moderated by The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT). CAPT is non-profit organization, comprised of various stakeholders, that advocates for both the preservation and enhancement of passenger rail service in the Algoma and neighboring districts.
CAPT has been instrumental in efforts to save the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst after the Canadian government announced this year it would no longer provide $2.2 million in annual funding after March 2015. The passenger service is operated by Canadian National (CN), which has stated it cannot deliver the ACR service without government support. The Algoma Central Railway has run the distance from the “Soo” to Hearst since 1914….100 years thus far.
In addition to the year-round travel the ACR provides to remote communities, First Nations peoples, and tourist operations, a study prepared by the chartered accounting firm of BDO Canada demonstrated that the total annual economic impact generated by the ACR service in 2013 ranged from $38.1 to over $48 million. To this writer, that is an amazing return on federal support for infrastructure. Further, as someone who grew up near Sault Ste. Marie, I can attest that there are winter days when neither driving nor flying are feasible but as many know, it takes a lot to stop a train.
CAPT has helped to broker discussions between interested third-party operators and CN, with the goal of a new operator taking over the passenger service. Several parties, yet to be named, have expressed serious interest. Additionally, a petition has been set up at Change.org to lobby the CDN federal government to maintain funding for the ACR. Beyond donations to support its own work, CAPT sells an annual photo calendar which can be ordered via Algoma Rails. The 2015 calendar has now been released & can be viewed at 2015 Calendar.
Panelists for the November 7th discussion include Chief Jason Gauthier of Missanabie Cree First Nation, Carol Caputo, the Executive Director of the Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association, and filmmaker Dan Nystedt, who directed De-Railed: The National Dream (2010). Chief Gauthier will share some of the First Nation experience of railroads built on traditional lands via expropriation and without consultation. He will also discuss the work that the Missanabie Cree are contributing toward an ACR service that connects to the needs of his people. Caputo will share the role of the ACR in transporting tourists to remote lodges and canoeists to otherwise inaccessible waterways. Nystedt’s 2010 film examined the challenges facing railway infrastructure and passenger services, including short-line operations like the ACR. Dr. Linda Savory Gordon, a professor at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie and CAPT member, will guide the evening’s discussion. Train Dreams runs at the Art Gallery of Algoma until February 7th.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)