Moonlight Express poster (courtesy Winnipeg Beach by Dale Barbour)
You can tell a lot about a place by looking at how people travel. Winnipeg Beach, for example, was born a creature of the Canadian Pacific Railway and train travel helped define the community's life in the first half of the twentieth century. This was a shared moment for people who hurtled back to Winnipeg together on a raucous Moonlight Express after an evening of dancing or even for those who joined the crowd that flowed out of the train and onto the resort's boardwalk. It's through the shared stories of these people that we get a sense of Winnipeg Beach and the mythologies that have been created around it. A half-century after it stopped running, the train is still a vessel for transporting people's memories of the past.
I had about 30 hours to contemplate trains when I was travelling from Toronto to Winnipeg this spring on VIA Rail. The train used to be virtually the only way to get from East to West in Canada. Now, of course, it's a novelty; at least as far as people are concerned. The crowd includes a handful of budget travelers, European tourists, retired people for whom a journey by train is a notch on their to-do list, and a few for whom travelling by train is, as VIA likes to advertise, a more human way to travel. The journey through Northern Ontario offers moments of wilderness beauty but in this part of Canada the railway is primarily an industrial mover rather than a people mover. The VIA train gives way to freight trains and the stops earn their keep through timber and mining. As always it's the motivations and the experiences of the passengers inside that are far more interesting than the panorama that is flowing by outside.
Dale Barbour, author of Winnipeg Beach (Curtis Barbour)
Dale Barbour grew up on a farm in Balmoral, Manitoba and made a few trips of his own to Winnipeg Beach as a youth. A former journalist, he is currently completing a PhD in history at the University of Toronto.
This content is provided by Dale Barbour. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content.