NELSON/CRANBROOK – A day off. The troupe goes shopping in Nelson. Aaron buys a funky new brim. It suits him. Funny – we’ve just been discussing hats the day before on the road to Castlegar and he mentioned how when he graduated (obscenely recently – him being so young) he and the lads from the stagecraft program all wore fedoras, there being a Ska revival in Victoria at the time. We have to drive from Nelson all the way down to Creston and then turn up the highway to Cranbrook, retracing a lot of the route we’ve covered in the train. We stop in Yahk and browse through the Old Stuff store, which is full of, well, old stuff. Really neat stuff. All sorts of memorabilia: magazines, jewelry, Native masks, comics, crests, buttons and books. The books are the major purchases, including a collection of Canadian plays that Syd picks up. They even have old sheet music, and Caitlin is tempted, but she resists. By the time we get to Cranbrook, it’s almost time for the Tony Wards, and when you’re traveling with a bunch of musical actors, you MUST watch the Tonys. It’s early to bed, though, because tomorrow is a big day: the premier is coming to town.
Archive for June, 2008
NELSON/CRANBROOK – A day off. The troupe goes shopping in Nelson. Aaron buys a funky new brim. It suits him. Funny – we’ve just been discussing hats the day before on the road to Castlegar and he mentioned how when he graduated (obscenely recently – him being so young) he and the lads from the stagecraft program all wore fedoras, there being a Ska revival in Victoria at the time. We have to drive from Nelson all the way down to Creston and then turn up the highway to Cranbrook, retracing a lot of the route we’ve covered in the train. We stop in Yahk and browse through the Old Stuff store, which is full of, well, old stuff. Really neat stuff. All sorts of memorabilia: magazines, jewelry, Native masks, comics, crests, buttons and books. The books are the major purchases, including a collection of Canadian plays that Syd picks up. They even have old sheet music, and Caitlin is tempted, but she resists. By the time we get to Cranbrook, it’s almost time for the Tony Wards, and when you’re traveling with a bunch of musical actors, you MUST watch the Tonys. It’s early to bed, though, because tomorrow is a big day: the premier is coming to town.NELSON – We’re here at the waterfront t park in Nelson and because of the onfiguration of the venue, the train’s stage car is open on both sides. Both the players and the band have to switch back and forth, playing both sides of the crowd, but it’s all good here in the crunchy-granola capital of the Kootenays. In fact, Syd turns it into a virtue, playing one side off against the other:
“How are you doing on this side?”
Cheers and applause from the lakeside crowd.
“Oh, this side can do better – how are you doing tonight?”
The highway side roars “Alright!”
The show is more dynamic, with everyone having to play to both sides, and it gives a really nice energy to the performance.
During the finale, there’s a little girl, barely two, who desperately wants to dance with Laura, but is too shy. Syd is dancing with a white haired senior. And the band is really on, going way over the top, singing “a loooo-oove sing!” to the train. A beautiful night. A great show. A big crowd. It doesn’t get better than this. Or does it?
CASTLEGAR – The cast has signed autographs before and there are stories floating about that some have signed people’s shoes, but today the cast signed the cast. Here in Castlegar, they take their steam trains very seriously. No, serious is not the word: passionately. The train has been stationed at Nelson overnight and Aaaron has dropped the troupe off at the station so they can be on board for the short haul down to the venue. As we drive the touring van down just ahead of the train, every vantage point along the line is crowded with train spotters, enthusiasts… words cannot describe the emotional connection these folks feel with the Empress steam train. There are enough telephoto lenses and tripods to stock a large camera shop, especially around the very best spots on the hill overlooking one of the most picturesque river crossings. There is absolutely no chance of getting lost on the way to the Castlegar event – all you have to do is follow the line of train groupies.
The event itself, right by the museum, is packed. What? Maybe 600 people? Maybe more. It’s hot and sunny and there must be 50 kids sitting right up front, dancing along with the band and the players. It’s a great show and afterwards, the troupe is mingling with the folks when a woman wearing a cast on her left arm comes up to the gang and asks if they wouldn’t mind signing her cast. Of course, they’re delighted, and in a moment or two, her once-pristine white cast is covered in signatures. The lady is beaming as she leaves and the troupe looks touched. The connection with people on this tour is incredible. They identify with the characters the actors are portraying, they exchange stories with the band, they talk to the train crew about the technical details or tell them about how they or their relatives have worked the line. It’s heady stuff. Old hat to some of the train guys who have been on the holiday train circuit for year, but you can tell they’re tickled to answer the same questions about the Empress over and over again. And by the end of the performance, the band has put the train crew in the spotlight: they’vge written a song naming each and every one of them, including Gill, who makes the sandwiches and other goodies in the dining car. Everyone here has their part, and we are literally dealing with a cast of thousands.
CRESTON: You might say that the train troupe has gone postal – in a nice way. Here on the platform in Creston, the rain is hammering down so hard it’s bouncing off the concrete. That’s when it’s not hailing. None of this would be so bad if it wasn’t for the chilling wind and the forked lightning. A gorgeous double-forked bolt lights up the mountain behind us. The thunder breaks on our ears, drowning out the the sound of the train for a split second. It’s now raining so hard that you can’t even see the towering tanks of the Columbia Brewing Company, where they make the finest Kokanee beer and in Creston, that takes some doing. And yet (and this is where the postal reference comes in), neither wind, nor rain nor hail nor even friggin’ forked lightning can keep the show from going on. The band is ready to rock and the players are ready to roll – all they need is a little break in the weather and for the lightning to move on. And believe it or not, the crowd is hanging in there. There are a hundred braves, soaked souls determined to watch the show and a hundred more have already gone through the museum car with another hundred huddled against the rain waiting to get in. Now that’s dedication.Finally, the rain lets up enough, the car doors slide open and voila! The BC150 celebration song revs up the crowd and by the time the troupe takes to the stage… well, what’s this strange glow up there in the sky? Finally, finally, a ray of sunshine as the actors mingle with the crowd and the band plays the finale, “Rockin’ the Rails.” Despite the weather, over 300 people have turned out and stayed with us. Aaron and I are soaked, but happy to be going postal (in a nice way).
Enrique yaks with a Yahkite.
YAKH – There are about 150 people here, which may not sound like a huge crowd, but when the town’s entire population is 300, it’s quite a turnout. The local fire department and senior’s group are hosting and the little grassy patch between the tracks and the community centre is dotted with tents and chairs and the barbeque is smoking away. And here, coming down the road is every student from Yahk Elementary School, each one carrying their own chair. There’s a group of seniors here from Creston as well and everyone is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the train. The puff of smoke around the bend can be seen before the horn sounds and there she is – the CP Empress chugging slowly down the line…
Now, how could you not want to wander around in such a good natured crowd? And that’s what the troupe does after the show, smiling and posing for pictures. People shake their hands and greet them like old friends. They swap stories and hear about the community’s deep connection with the railway. This is the home of the Yahk burger (which may account for Syd’s opening comments about the “aroma of meat” – or not – we’re just not sure), T-shirts that say “I’ve been to Yakh and back,” and of course, a lot of good-natured talk (Yahking). Now, I have only just noticed that it’s Friday the Thirteenth. Well, so far, so good: so much for paraskevidekatriaphobia.
Molly eats a strawberry while waiting
for the CP Spirit of 150 rail tour
FERNIE: There is nothing cuter than little kids dancing to the music – unless it’s a little girl with a strawberry. Here in Fernie, the train is right in front of the station and there’s a grassy patch beside the tracks where the stage car is. The children dancing are a couple of little boys, perhaps two or three, and three little girls, about five or six. It’s kind of difficult to focus on the troupe as they put all their energy into the songs or the CP band as they rev up the crowd with their music. It’s a family crowd here and the sun is shining despite threatening clouds over the mountains. The only thing that can really compete in the cuteness index with the kids dancing is little Molly, two years old, sitting in one of the chairs set up in front of the BC 150 monitors, carefully eating two strawberries that are almost as big as she is. It’s a family show they’re getting this evening here in the southeast corner of the province. It’s nice to see so many families taking it in.
SPARWOOD – There is something about trains. Especially vintage steam locomotives. There’s a big crowd down here beside the tracks, many of them looking anxiously down the line, straining to hear that magic sound. Aaron and I have driven ahead in the Mortherlode touring van and are standing with the CP folks (first class crew they are too – consummate professionals, excellent at what they do) with our fingers crossed. The rehearsal earlier in the morning went well, but you just don’t know how things are going to work once the cars stop and the big doors open. Finally, right on time, we hear that sound – the steam whistle blows, reverberating down the Elk Valley, bouncing off the craggy Rockie Mountains. Around the curve, picture perfect, the CP Empress comes into view. Shutters snap, cameras roll and there’s a buzz in the crowd. The train slowly pulls to a stop, huffing and puffing. The doors to the stage car are thrown open and our very own Syd Sengotta (who is doing double duty as the Town Crier as well as Rowbottom) steps forward and the CP Spirit of 150 rail tour is under way. The crowd love it as the Theater Royal troupe gives them a 12-minute chunk of the show, packed with songs. They’re clapping along and tapping their feet and there are little kids with their mouths hanging open. They sound great and they get a big hand as they leave the stage car and make way for the CP Spirit of 150 Players, a band that plays a fabulous set. The folks are loving it, soaking up the music in the sunshine (and we are lucky because it has snowed here just yesterday). Then they line up for the museum car, designed and built by the Royal Museum of B.C. By the end of the event, over 220 people have gone through the train to look at the exhibits. It’s an amazing start – but there is no rest for the talented. The train packs up, the doors close and we’re off to Fernie!
Theatre Royal’s The Motherlode tour
on the stage car
HOPE – We’re competing against the circus tonight, and while it might not be quite a zoo in here at the Hope branch of the Fraser Valley Public Library, there is a definite animal atmosphere. That’s because the library is packed with over 30 people watching as Chief Ron John and Patricia John of the Chawathil Band present Stephen with a vest bearing their First Nation’s crest. Two eagles flank the sacred mountain, one face of which has a howling wolf bursting out of it.
“Not that we’re saying you’re a howling wolf,” says Patricia.
Everyone laughs and Stephen reciprocates by giving Patricia and Chief Ron a signed copy of his book. After the greeting and blessing, Stephen is off and running. There’s a long line up to have books signed and there are tons of cookies and other goodies. Inge Wilson of the Hope Visitor Centre, who acts as our host this evening. It’s a great night and the drive down to Mission is a pleasant one. Next stop, Xa:ytem.
Preaching history to the faithful in Yale
YALE – It’s game five of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight, a do or die match for the Penguins and Sydney Crosby, and there are over 20 people here in the Church of St. John the Divine, one of the oldest churches in B.C. That represents 10 per cent of the entire population of Yale and Stephen is thrilled to see so many folks. There’s no PowerPoint projector or screen, so we use one of the church’s book stands to prop Stephen’s computer up and herd everyone into the front pews so they cans see the pictures. Afterwards at a wine and cheese reception in the museum, it seems like the whole town is buying books. And making plans for June 26, the next time Stephen will be beyond Hope and at Hell’s Gate.
Stephen on the Alexandria Bridge
ALEXANDRIA BRIDGE PROVINCIAL PARK – It’s an old bridge, built in 1925 to replace the one that was washed out in the flood (just like the one before that – and the one before that). It’s scarred, covered by graffiti, and yet still grand. Set in a narrows of the river, the span runs in a short, graceful arch over the turbulent, brown waters. It’s absolutely, truly a magnificent spectacle – unless you make the mistake of looking down. The bridge deck is a thick steel mesh and you can see the river racing below, tearing along in full spate, boiling and churning and carrying debris down towards the sea. I think of Simon Fraser and his men, shooting this gap in their pizza-box strength canoes. And the First Nations who navigated these waters for thousands of years before that. Yikes. All I can say is thank heavens for jet boats…