I lived in Moosonee
for five years, and this was how we got to and
from it. In summer it would take, I think, about four or five hours to
make the trip; in winter, it would take eight or more. It makes the trip
once each way per day; that's it. It's a long, long ride at any age,
let alone when I was a kid, and it consists of miles and miles of trees
s. If you've seen one stretch of it, you've pretty much seen
The cars were divided into two different seating arrangements: little rooms with
six seats that had doors, and a big common area. In the common area the seats were
two across, in two rows, and you could press a lever close to the floor
and swivel them around. There was a real art to walking through the
aisle in between these seats, because of the crappy tracks and the constant
resulting swaying of the train. If you were good you wouldn't hold on to anything.
If you only thought you were good you would fall into someone's lap as a result of
not holding on to anything.
The bathrooms were neat because of the toilets: when you pressed the little lever
by the floor with your foot to flush, you were just opening up a little hole in
the bottom and you'd watch your poo fall down onto the train tracks underneath. That
in itself was fascinating, especially since there wasn't much else to do,
and I'd hold open down the lever for minutes at a time watching the ground slip
away beneath. You weren't supposed to flush in town; being a good little
boy, I didn't.
There was a cafeteria on the train where you could get burgers, or beer, or what
have you. I used to get plain Hostess potato chips and cartons
of milk. Between that and the books I always read (I was a bookish
type even then) I would get motion sickness without fail. I wasn't
terribly bright sometimes.
Hunters or fishers or native Cree get off at various
points. Fraser River is the biggest of the stops, but the only thing that
distinguishes it is a sign with the name, as opposed to a mileage sign.
The name Polar Bear Express is a tourist-sucking misnomer. Not only is it slow as hell, once you get to Moosonee you see a sign at the train station
there about how the nearest polar bears are very, very far away (if
memory serves, Churchill, Manitoba was one of the closest). But by
this time, you're stuck there and you have another six hours before the
Fun pastime as a kid: putting pennies on the track, then looking for them
afterward. We destroyed any number of the Queen's coins this way. Another time,
me and two friends hiked a couple clicksalong its length
one day. Along the way, one of them told me his grandfather had
seen something like Sasquatch not too far from where we were, and I
questioned him incessantly about it (I was a true believer in Sasquatch,
the Loch Ness monster and UFOs back then).
One year a group of people from Moosonee, including a kid named Donald
from my grade 5 class and his father, hiked to Cochrane along the tracks
to raise money for cancer. Donald and his father hiked back, too;
everyone else took the train back. I envied him and secretly wanted to
go, but I don't think I would have done well; I'm the bookish type, remember?