William 'Bill' McLeod says that one of Ontario's best kept travel secrets is the VIA Rail train that runs between Sudbury and White River, Ontario. along the Canadian Pacific Railway main line, which also forms the southwest border of the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve between Chapleau and Franz.
Writing in his 2004 book, 'The Chapleau Game Preserve -- History, Murder and Other Tales', Bill, who was born and raised in Chapleau notes: "Actually the train is not really a train at all. It is a Budd Car which combines a diesel locomotive, baggage car and passenger car into a single unit."
Given the announcement that the cars are going to be refurbished and a renewed interest in passenger train travel, I asked Bill, who has been a friend of mine since childhood, if I could do an article based on the chapter in his book. Bill. and his wife Sheryl, have made the trip on more than one occasion. He agreed.
Bill relates that the "BUDD" as everyone calls it "stops anywhere to pick up and drop off vacationers, trappers, hunters, fishermen, prospectors, cottagers, and anyone else doing business or pleasure along the line. The crew and passengers, most of whom know each other, are one big happy family who are quick to make strangers feel comfortable and at home".
"The little train goes through some of Ontario's most beautiful and unspoiled wilderness. Hundreds of lakes, streams and rivers roll endlessly by. Most of them nameless."
Bill points out many of the points of interest along the route, sharing how many of the places got their names, including a former logging community named after Dr. J.J, Sheahan, a revered physician who served the people of Chapleau for many years.
The train's first scheduled stop is at Cartier, about 35 miles west of Sudbury, once a divisional point on the CPR with an old station and "classic waiting room worth a look."
After passing Metagama, the train reaches Biscotasing, commonly called Bisco which is a very old village. It was an important community during the building of the CPR and was at one time a Hudson's Bay Post. Bill writes that another bonus at Bisco is the general store, owned by his grandfather, William McLeod, some time in the 1920s and in fact Mr. McLeod may have built it.
Next is Ramsey, also a former lumber centre, and then Sultan, which was the second largest community after Chapleau between Sudbury and White River. Between Sultan and Kormak the train crosses the height of land where all the streams now flow north, eventually to James Bay.
The train crew changes at Chapleau, and after crossing the Kebsquasheshing (Chapleau) River and for the next 81 miles, the area on the right of the train will be the Chapleau Game Preserve. About eight miles west of Chapleau, at Esher, the first whistlestop, the train crosses the height of land again where all the streams and rivers now flow west to Lake Superior.
Bill's grandfather, William McLeod, was instrumental in having the game preserve established. The details are in his book.
Next is Nicholson, named after G.B. Nicholson, lumber merchant, first Reeve of Chapleau and Member of Parliament in early part of 20th century. Nicholson is on north shore of Lake Windermere, a huge body of water that once saw millions of logs boomed to the lumber mill in the community.
Bill notes that the "biggest little town" between Chapleau and White River is Missanabie. If you watch carefully you may see the Missanabie Hotel.
Upon reaching Franz the Algoma Central Railway crosses the Canadian Pacific Railway. Other places along the way include Bolkow, Shumka, Dalton, Localsh and Amyot. In his book, Bill provides comments about the claim to fame about each of these places, particularly a number of murders and a strange disappearances that occurred along that portion of the rail line.
The end of the line for the trip is White River which was once considered the coldest place in Canada where it is said the temperature once dropped to 72 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. White River is also the home of the original 'Winnie the Pooh.'
Bill provides much more information about this trip in his book 'The Chapleau Game Preserve -- History, Murder, and Other Tales.' He also wrote "
'Murder in the Schoolhouse', the story of the 1954 slaying of Steve Klapouschak, the teacher in the one-room school in Dalton.
His newest book is headed to the publisher soon. Watch for details.
Having travelled this route so many times many years ago from Chapleau to our family's camp at Healy and to Missanabie where I worked one summer, and the Chapleau to Sudbury portion more times than I can remember, Bill brought back many great memories. His book is a good read and you can contact him at email@example.com to order a copy.
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