Every weekday morning, the St. Catharines VIA
station acts like a magnet for the 50-odd Toronto-bound
commuters, seniors, lovers and students who congregate
around the double tracks as they gleam in the rising
Twenty minutes early, Internet-bought ticket
in hand, I join the pack and, since it is my maiden
voyage, hope I’m not standing in anyone’s
A veteran businessman strides confidently through
the crowd, ignores the thick yellow safety line,
steps between the rails and, with an ease of movement
that could only have come from daily practice,
pivots his trunk eastward and squints down the
line. “We’ve got a light—10 minutes,”
he announces with satisfaction.
This equivalent of “be seated” cues
the start of general conversation. Nine minutes
later (causing a few good-natured cracks from
the faithful to their lookout) train No. 90 halts
before us. With traditional Canadian politeness,
we obediently line up then step aboard.
There are two types of passengers: those already
in pairs who sit happily together and those whose
owners’ briefcases, books or papers demand a seat of their
own and whose attention is unwaveringly riveted
on the outdoor tableau until all newcomers are
Once safely aboard, I follow the old pros and
discover the “magic” of opening the
automated doors between cars. Soon we are comfortably
lodged at the front of the train, greatly reducing
the chance of sharing our journey with a fellow
human being even though adding precious seconds
to the disembarkation time at Union Station.
We’re stopped on a slight bend so, once
seated and my newspapers resting comfortably beside
me, I can see the next gated street crossing where
frustrated motorists, blocked by our approach,
are itching to ignore the flashing lights and
swerve around the barriers gambling with their
lives in order to arrive somewhere a little sooner.
Suddenly, a Buffalo-bound freight breaks the
reverie and flies past us, its tri-pitched horn
blaring. Luckily—this time—its path
was not blocked by those time-saving drivers who
just couldn’t wait.
We glide out of the city and are immediately
surrounded by the spectacular agricultural mural
that is drawn on the background of Niagara’s
dark, rich earth.
Fruit trees abound in orderly rows, many providing
protection to all manner of their less sturdy
leafy cousins. Vacant aluminum step ladders lean
in stoic expectation of the migrant crews without
whom the harvest couldn’t take place.
The barren dormancy of a few fallow fields lies
in stark contrast, like a long-suffering mother
who needs rest and repair before beginning another
cycle of bringing more life into the world.
Rivers flow beneath us; abandoned cement bridge
stanchions—replaced by more modern high-speed
models—have found new use as grassy flower
pots for the wind-planted seeds that are rooted
in permanent isolation but, like the commuters
around me, live far away from the masses.
Then Beamsville arrives and I strain my eyes
to catch a glimpse of the gas station where an
early morning “stranger-to-stranger”
abduction nearly succeeded in June. I feel a sudden
chill and wonder whether I remembered to bolt
my apartment’s balcony door.
An ever-increasing number of condominiums and
townhouses still dwarfed by the unmoving escarpment,
heralds the arrival of Grimsby. Despite the best
efforts of town planners and contractors, nature
still predominates here.
After the station stop, a sensibly suited resident,
who also knows the secret of the doors, joins
us up front. I decide to rebel, look her in the
eye and gallantly scoop up my reading material,
but to no avail as she announces in a voice that
could be heard in Vineland “Thanks, but I’ll
take the backwards seat—what’s ahead
is just too scary.” Another regular concurs
as we jerk forward. I block out their continuing
chatter by perusing the national news.
Yesterday’s multiple-murder suicide in the
town that was now so quickly receding dominates
the front page. The tone is of shock: “Grimsby
comes of age,” “How could this happen
here?” “We’ve lost our innocence.”
And, idly thinking that the illegal graffiti splattered
over the sides of an abandoned warehouse is a
huge improvement on rust and decay, I reflect
on our destination where its power-driven ambition
to become a world-class city has resulted in more
drive-by shootings, fraud and homelessness.
So many people use Toronto: They’re glad
of its employment opportunities but much prefer
to take their salaries and live in places like
Niagara with its clean, green and safe environment.
Growth is seen as evil once their needs have been
But human nature, prodded continuously by politicians
with plaque-envy and developers seeking profit
(does St. Catharines need its own arts centre?)
will ensure that, sooner or later, everything that’s
being avoided—smog, fraud, the homeless—will
come home to roost. JWR