Niagara Gazette

October 27, 2012

LETTERS TO THE ISLAND: Riding the rails to Toronto

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Travelers — Cue the Monkees. The last train to Oakville has left the station. No more reservations. Actually, there never were.

One of the Niagara Frontier’s best-kept travel secrets, Via Rail’s commuter train to Toronto from the statuesque Whirlpool Station on the Canadian side, has gone the way of the buggy and the easy airport check-in.

In its later years, Via named it The General Brock. It departed just after reveille and reported to Toronto Union in time for most to start their workday. After a photogenic crossing of Twenty Creek, an eye-popping swing around Hamilton Bay, and a last pause at Oakville, its rolling panorama offered the guilty pleasure of cruising at 90 kilometers per past jammed traffic on the Gardiner and the “Q,” with Lake Ontario glimmering in the background.

Three years ago Doug treated his golf clubs to a ride on The Brock, playing two Toronto courses via only bus and subway and returning at twilight, seatmating a physical trainer from Burlington.

Another time Doug’s excursioning railroad club transferred from The Brock to Canada’s Northlander on an adjacent track. Clambering down and out of one car and up and into the other, we looked like a squadron of ants changing jelly doughnuts.

The same club made an annual Christmas-shopping daytrip to Toronto. While the exchange was more favorable then, the best gift of all was the companionship, particularly during the sleepy satisfaction of the return trip, the train dinging and hooting through the Peninsula grade crossings. One evening young hooligans pelted us with rocks. We all hoped it wound up in their stockings.

One train remains on the Route of the Brock, the late-afternoon Maple Leaf from New York, undependable because of the lengthy Customs check between our own Hyde Park-area station and the Whirlpool, and with a less convenient schedule even when it’s on time.

Those green and white accordion-shaped GO (Government of Ontario) Trains run here in the summer on a schedule designed to accommodate daytripping Torontonians.

And for the carless or the cautious, there’s still commuter service to Toronto – via GO Bus, which transports travelers to Burlington, to board GO Train from there. Somehow we just can’t imagine “Last Bus to Burlington” much inspiring Mickey Dolenz.

The General Brock, old soldier of Peninsula rails, has faded away.

Come visit. We’ve got pictures.

E-mail Polly and Doug at pollyndoug@hotmail.com