Wakefield shops adapt to life without train

A slow summer without the Wakefield, Que., steam train and its uncertain future has forced some shop owners to change their way of doing things.
The Gatineau to Wakefield run was closed because of rain damage to the rail bed in June. The tracks still need to be fixed before the train returns. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

With the future of the Wakefield steam train uncertain, business owners in the small La Pêche, Que., community are being forced to look for new ways to sustain themselves.

A few businesses have closed and others have changed hands after a summer with no train and a typically slow winter.

Marc Fournier has owned La Confiserie in Wakefield for nine years. He said the candy shop near the train tracks lost about 50 per cent of its business from May to October of 2011.

It is estimated more than 300 customers arrived in the small community by train every summer weekend. Without that steady flow of customers due to damaged tracks, Fournier found a new way to do business.

"We took a booth at Les Promenades de l'Outaouais, the shopping centre (in Gatineau)," he said. "We almost recuperated a little more than half of what we lost with the train, so it was really, really worth it."

Eva Cooper owns a clothing shop in Wakefield and is part of the coalition called Commerce Wakefield.

"I think people should be thinking about how to sustain their businesses within the community and not have to rely on the train coming back," Cooper said.

In December, the steam train was purchased by Compagnie de chemin de fer de l'Outaouais. The non-profit group predicts it will take about $6.7 million and another year to repair washouts on the tracks.