In 1997, the Canadian National Railway agreed to sell the tracks from The Pas to Churchill in Northern Manitoba to a US based company called Omnitrax. The sale agreement contained legal assurances that Omnitrax would maintain the service necessary to serve this community. Omnitrax now states it cannot afford to replace the flooded-out track, and that their agreement did not anticipate this unexpected added financial cost.
The Canadian government has demanded that Omnitrax replace the tracks in 30 days and restore the tracks and resume the only effective supply line to Churchill, but nobody expects anything to move on the situation before spring. Locals have told us that tourism has plummeted, down by as much as 70% with the lack of access to the area. In addition, any construction in the area has ceased as the materials needed that were ordered last fall are still at the rail stations in Thompson or The Pas.
So Omnitrax exerts no effort to repair the track. When the track washed out, they had a passenger train sitting in the station in Churchill. They sent a ship to collect that engine and cars – trains sitting make no money. But the only docks were owned by the Canadian government, who have denied them the access to move their engine and cars onto a ship. So, while this saga plays out, we walked over to see the hostage train engine and cars sitting dormant in the rail station in Churchill.
This actually afforded us a bit of a small bonus. We wanted to visit some sled dogs in Churchill at the kennel of David Daley, the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest, the most grueling sub-arctic sled dog race that currently exists. Normally a minimum of guests is required to get a visit. Bad for them but good for us, they decided not to enforce the minimum since their tourism rates have been so low, and the cost of maintaining the dogs has increased dramatically with the train out.
We had a great ride, and got a little bit of a puppy fix, since we are currently separated from Kona. We enjoyed our visit thoroughly, learning a great deal about the Metis culture – Dave is Metis. Metis literally means half-breed – born of the union of Cree natives with the French fur traders. They developed their own language, customs and culture, and survived the onslaught of the Canadian westward expansion, not at all unlike the native nations we learned more about in South and North Dakota.
Churchill has only about 850 full time residents. But it has plenty of interesting things to entertain the visitor. We would our way to the Prince of Wales Fort that was an early fur trading fort established by the Hudson Bay Company, the first ever corporation acknowledged by the King of England. Of course, because of the possibility of Polar Bears, our bus driver was armed with a rifle and he carried it with him as we walked around the fort, which is a Canadian National Historic Site.
Talk to you soon!