Widow makes pilgrimage by rail to Churchill in memory of her late husband

Doris Reid decided shortly after her husband Norman died that she wanted to visit his hometown of Churchill. She originally planned to fly there on the anniversary of his death, but taking the train seemed much more appropriate.

'The train was so important to him': Norman Reid spent 3 decades working with VIA in northern Manitoba

Doris Reid holds her husband Norman Reid's funeral program. She brought some of the programs for relatives in Churchill who couldn't attend the funeral. (Rachel Bergen)

For Doris Reid, the first passenger train to Churchill in 18 months was much more than just a vacation.

Her husband Norman Reid died eight months ago after a hard battle with Stage 4 lung cancer.

The couple were married for nearly 50 years and Norman worked for VIA Rail in The Pas for more than 30 of those years, up until five days before he died.

"The train was so important to him. The people on the line were so important to him," Doris said.

She decided shortly after Norman died that she wanted to visit his hometown of Churchill. She originally planned to fly there on the anniversary of his death, but taking the train seemed much more appropriate.

Doris Reid's phone is a testament to her love for her late husband, Norman Reid. It shows a picture of the couple when they were young. (Rachel Bergen)

"It gives me serenity and peace to do this," she said.

Doris remembers Norman as a kind, compassionate man who took his job seriously.

"He looked after his customers and he was very proud of his job. He kept the station really up to date and clean for the passengers," she said. "Even to this day, people come to me and say 'We miss him.'"

Paper and crayons

Sean Nikkel, a VIA Rail service manager and cook on board the train, said he met Norman a number of times.

"Norman always had paper and crayons for kids and he kept the pictures that they'd draw him. You could tell he was well liked and thought of," Nikkel said.

Community members brave the cold to watch the first passenger train in 18 months arrive in Churchill on Tuesday. (Submitted by Arctic Gateway/Facebook)

On May 23, 2017, service on the Hudson Bay Railway was shut down after severe flooding washed it out in 20 different places. This severed Churchill's only land link into and out of town, affecting many outlying communities, especially those between Gillam and Churchill.

Doris said her husband saw the benefits of the railway in northern Manitoba every day, and worried for the people on the Bay line.

"He would've been very happy it's back up and running. He was very scared for people on the line. He always had hope the people would get the train back."

Doris Reid says to plans to take the train up to Churchill again in April, around the anniversary of her husband's death. (Rachel Bergen)

Moving forward

On the return trip back to The Pas, Doris says she feels at peace.

"It's a good day today. I did a little bit of grieving again but it's a good feeling and I'm happy today," she says.

She's isn't the only one on the train who feels that way. Those who knew Norman know Doris by extension and are working to make sure she feels comfortable and loved.

"It's pretty melancholy and serene on this train," Nikkel says. "She's telling stories about Norm that we hadn't heard before. His memory lives on through Doris."

Doris plans to take the train to Churchill again, this time with her son and two daughters, to mark the anniversary of Norman's death on April 4.