Hundreds come together in Churchill to celebrate return of northern town's 'lifeline'

Hundreds gathered at the Churchill Town Centre on Tuesday night to celebrate the arrival of the first passenger train in 560 days.

Locals in the mood to party after arrival of first passenger train in a year and a half

Sandra Cook, left, and Karin Motschko volunteered at the celebration preparing food. (Rachel Bergen)

Hundreds gathered at the Churchill Town Centre on Tuesday night to celebrate the arrival of the first passenger train in 560 days.

Locals contributed bannock, hot dogs, cookies and their time to welcome the travellers on board VIA Rail train 693. The celebration also included music and games for children.

Valerie Schweder, a single mom and student in Churchill, kept her kids home from school on Tuesday so they could see the train arrive. It was originally scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m., but didn't come until about 12:30 p.m.

Schweder contributed food for the party.

"I didn't have that much time, but I did have time to get out 65 pieces [of bannock] today," she said. "At least the bannock was warm when we arrived here."

Although the mood in the building was celebratory, Schweder said her family has struggled to make ends meet over the last 18 months.

Service on the 400-kilometre Hudson Bay Railway was suspended after severe flooding washed it out in 20 different places on May 23, 2017.

That cut off Churchill's only land link out of town, causing the cost of living to rise throughout the north and affecting many families, including Schweder's.

The single mom of four says the increased cost of food and gas put a lot of pressure on her family.

Valerie Schweder fried 65 pieces of bannock for the celebration at the Churchill Town Centre on Tuesday evening. (Rachel Bergen)

"Everything gets very, very pricey and it's a lot to handle. My grandparents are older now, my aunt lives on her own, but they help me as much as they can. Even still, we've have to stretch our money," she explained.

Schweder said she can't help but wonder when life will return to normal in the north.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said the train's arrival Tuesday afternoon was a welcome sight.

"This is a lifeline to communities like Thompson and the outer world," he said.

"Now the community can go about and feel a lot more, I think, excited and knowing that the future ahead of us is going to be bright. We're looking forward to brighter days and greater opportunities and into prosperity."

From left, VIA Rail service attendants Estele Lafreniere, Colleen McFee and Martin Duclos decided to take part in the festivities, even after long shifts working on the train. (Rachel Bergen)

Along with the locals in attendance at the celebration were many of the train's passengers and even VIA Rail staff.

Martin Duclos, a senior service attendant on the train, took part in the festivities, even after a 36-hour trip and with another 36 hours ahead on the train back to Winnipeg.

"We've got to celebrate when there's something to celebrate," he said.

Kids play basketball at the Churchill Town Centre celebration on Tuesday evening. (Rachel Bergen)


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