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Yonge and restless
Page 4 space
Saturday, August 4, 2001

  • Read other readers' Yonge street experiences and their reactions to Ken Wiwa's piece.

  • Related Reading
  • Yonge Street's History
  • Quick facts about a Long Road
  • Yonge Street in Pictures
  • Photo Gallery: Yonge Street: Then and Now
  • As I climbed onto the bus at 5:30 that morning and left her sitting in the restaurant, it occurred to me that I'd learned more about Janice Breton in three hours than I have ever managed to extract from my own sisters.

    As I curled into my seat, the bus moved off toward the rising sun and the train station in Cochrane.

    I was still half asleep when I had to break into a short sprint to reach the train before it left the Ontario Northland platform. I staggered into the carriage, wrestling with my luggage, and startled a young couple by demanding, "Which way does this train go?"

    Yonge Links
    Towns on Ken Wiwa's Yonge Street Trek
  • Town of Rainy River
  • Fort Frances
  • Thunder Bay
  • Cochrane, Ontario
  • North Bay
  • Hearst, Ontario
  • Beardmore
  • Kirkland Lake
  • Mattawa
  • Barrie
  • Toronto

    Stops along the way
  • Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship
  • Lake Superior

    Noden Causeway
  • Building of Causeway, 1958

    Thunder Bay
  • Terry Fox memorial

    Lake Nipigon
  • Parks Canada
  • Canadian centre for remote sensing

    The Yonge Street Story
  • Toronto tourism

    The Yonge Street Story, 1793-1860
  • An Account from Letters, Diaries and Newspapers

    Footpaths to Freeways
  • the story of Ontario's roads

  • Harry Oakes
  • Ben Okri

    Route 66
  • National Historic Route 66 Federation

    Dionne Brand
  • U of T bio
  • National Library of Canada bio
  • "North Bay and Toronto," the young woman replied with a puzzled frown. No, in which direction is the train moving, I insisted. She pointed to show me, and I sat facing the other way, and fell asleep as soon as the wheels began to roll.

    I had elected to take the train partly because railway development determined so much of Canada's human geography, the distribution of its towns and cities, and partly because it would be my only opportunity to see Yonge Street retrospectively.

    Travelling by rail imposes a different perspective on the world around you, a compromise between the expansiveness of flying and the intimacy of the road. In a car or bus, you really see only the road ahead, but on a train you have an opportunity, as Ben Okri once wrote, "of seeing not the landscape that you're approaching but another landscape that is receding from you."

    What he meant is that the truest way to travel is to stand at the back of a train and observe the future revealed as it simultaneously disappears into the past. Because that is how we actually live, with the past, present and future coexisting in the same time zone - in real time, as it were.

    The downside of trains is that there are no road signs, so you travel blind, especially if your map is wedged at the bottom of your suitcase. Travelling without maps is like moving to a new country. While everyone around you moves with assurance, you wander around, trying to get a feel for the place, surveying the landscape, laying down your cognitive schema, as novelist Dionne Brand once told me.

    And so, when I awoke to find us pulling out of a place called Swastika, I did a double take. Surely not, I thought. Was this some kind of joke? But there it was again - Swastika - in bold letters on a sign on the platform. I looked around the carriage, the lovebirds were fast asleep, curled up in each other's arms, and a kid with bleach-blond hair and bushy eyebrows that met in the middle of his forehead was sitting opposite me, nodding to the music on his Discman, lost in his own world.

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