Strangers on a train: GO riders unite to help Syrian family get to their destination
Some 50 people came together to 'do the right thing'
When Valerie Taylor spotted a family of newcomers looking lost in the hustle and bustle of rush hour at Toronto's main Union Station on Wednesday, she offered to help them find their train. What she didn't know was that some 50 people would do the same, on a day that would turn out to be one of her most memorable trips home ever.
Taylor, a psychiatrist at Toronto's Women's College Hospital, said she was heading home on Wednesday after what had been a hectic few days. The heat was blazing, she was tired and looking forward to getting home, when she spotted a large family with two baby strollers and several heavy bags.
They looked confused, she said, and a young woman was trying to help them.
Taylor went over to see if she could lend a hand.
"Are you new here?" she asked. Only one of the children, who said he was 11, could speak much English.
"Yes," he said. They had just arrived from Syria four months ago, he told her, and were looking to get to Ancaster, about 85 kilometres southwest of Toronto, to spend a few days with family there.
'People started trying to problem-solve'
Taylor was headed in the same direction and offered to take them to the right train. To their surprise, strangers began to take notice and to help carry the family's bags up the stairs and onto the train, some riders even making room to give the family a place to sit, Taylor said.
But once they'd boarded and the 11-year-old showed Taylor the address they were headed to, she realized they were on the wrong train. It was London they were headed to, another 100 kilometres past Ancaster, and the Lakeshore West line they were on wouldn't get them there.
"Right away people started trying to problem-solve," Taylor said, some looking on their phones for the best way to get the family to London. "It was just: 'We have a goal, we have to get these people there.'"
Meanwhile, Taylor tracked down a GO Transit staff member on the train to try to find a solution, all the while the eyes of the second-oldest child — a nine-year-old boy — wide with wonder as she kept disappearing from their car and re-emerging with new information.
The staff member was able to speak to GO Transit's central control, and together they determined that the family could take a train to London from Aldershot station. The only problem: being a Via Rail train, it would cost a few hundred dollars — significantly more than the money they had in their plastic bag.
"All the other people on the train started helping again — people were trying to give money, somebody was calling their friend who spoke Arabic," Taylor said. She decided to accompany the family to Aldershot to make sure they got on the right train.
Acts of kindness
She'd also decided she would pay for their train tickets and helped them to enter their information into the self-serve kiosk.
If this was somebody who... was here from Victoria or Calgary or St. John's or Syria — it didn't matter.- Valerie Taylor
"The 11-year-old was a little bit suspicious, like, 'Okay, we've been in this country four months ... I don't know why everyone's trying to be so helpful,'" Taylor said.
But together he and Taylor entered the necessary details into the computer so that they could buy the tickets.
That's when a woman came running across the station and yelled, "Stop, stop! Don't pay for anything!"
It was a staff member. "I just got a call from the head office," she said. "GO is sending a bus."
In the end, though, Metrolinx, the agency in charge of regional transit, sent the family to London in two cabs, spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins told CBC News. The next train and bus weren't expected for some time so it was decided that was the best way to transport mom, dad and all six kids, one of whom was disabled and had a special stroller, she said.
It was yet another act of kindness in a string of so many Taylor witnessed that day. In total, she estimated about 50 people had helped in some way or another to get the family to London.
"It really was quite amazing," she said. "It was really just groups of random strangers coming together to just do the right thing and help this family connect with their relatives for the weekend."
'They're all connected'
"If this was somebody who ... was here from Victoria or Calgary or St. John's or Syria — it didn't matter," Taylor said.
Taylor said she was overwhelmed leaving the train station. Having missed her own stop to take the family to Aldershot, she got into a cab, where, she figures, the emotion of the day must have been visible on her face.
The driver, himself an immigrant, noticed and asked if she was OK. His concern only made her more emotional.
"I'm fine," she told him, "and you need to stop being nice or this is only going to get worse."
Amid all the chaos of that day, Taylor didn't get the name of the family and said she has no idea who they were. But it was a day she'll never forget, as she recounted in a Facebook post Wednesday.
"It really was one of the most moving things that I've ever had the privilege to be a part of," she said.
In particular, she said, she'll never forget the look on the nine-year-old boy's face as Taylor relayed information to and from the GO train staff member. He couldn't figure out how she could get from car to car.
"How are you doing that? How are you getting in and out?" he asked her at one point with what she said was a light in his eyes.
"They're all connected," she told him.