By Melanie Scott
We’ve had an awful lot of response to our various reports on the state of the old steam train and its falling-apart tracks. Those of a certain age will remember when the Canada Museum of Science and Technology kept it chugging along – it was one of the museum’s most important attractions, and was sold out on most weekends. These were the flush years: the mid-1980s seemed to offer a bottomless pit of cash for all kinds of wonderful things, from a thriving Canada Council for the Arts to the building of the new National Gallery.
Those years are over. As we struggle to cope with cutbacks to the most basic of services, anything ‘recreational’ feels a tad too luxurious. How on earth can anyone even consider throwing money at something that provides nothing more than a bit of fun when the basic necessities of life are in such disarray?
Thinking back to those heady years, the argument to be made is this: what is life for if it doesn’t offer any fun? This editor recalls visiting family in Prague in the darkest days of the USSR’s control over what was then Czechoslovakia. My relatives had no meat or toilet paper. Soap was hard to come by. Travel outside of any communist country was unthinkable. My aunt gave me a lecture about that kind of oppressive socialism that still resonates: living just for the sake of being alive isn’t living at all. It’s just surviving.
Investing in public infrastructure doesn’t just mean funding our schools and hospitals and repairing our roads. It means investing in our quality of life. What we need is better management of our resources, financial and natural, so that there’s some balance. What we need is to never again see our precious tax dollars being spent on boondoggles like a Quebec Charter of Values.
Those on both sides of the train debate should be lauded for their efforts to create something out of what is, right now, nothing. We could easily let the idea of either a resurrected tourist train or a multi-purpose path slide into the river, never to be seen again. The tracks would eventually be swallowed up by Mother Earth, perhaps to be discovered by some future archaeologist. But we have the potential to use the tracks for something that does nothing but provide pleasure. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the train or a trail. Let’s just not let it go to waste.
Kids who grew up beside the tracks have jars full of flattened coins. Amateur photographers have albums full of photos of the old 1201 as it hauled tourists up the line. Maybe all good things do come to an end. But the end can mean a new beginning. Here’s hoping that the current debate doesn’t drag on for years while the tracks sink ever further into the abyss.