Caboose gets visitors on the right track
By Sue Tiffin
Nancy Stinson remembers being a teenager in Haliburton, and standing with a group of friends watching the passenger train bring visitors to shop and play in the area. Years later, she now works in the iconic orange caboose that acts as an information centre next to the landmark railway station, welcoming a steady stream of visitors to Haliburton County.
“They come from around the world,” said Stinson. “They come in and tell me where they’re from and when they tell me, I say, ‘oh my gosh.’ It just amazes me how people find Haliburton County.”
Guests to the Tourist Information Caboose, sometimes more than a hundred in one day, and coming from as far away as Peru, Uruguay, the Netherlands and Australia – but also longtime locals – have asked questions about where to go, where to stay, what to see, what’s happening, for directions, recommendations, and how best to get outdoors.
Stinson, who said she’s “been on pretty well every trail you can think of,” and new ambassador Lorry Brandon can point out the most popular of sites and also the hidden treasures of information that it sometimes takes a local to know: where it’s necessary to bring a bug jacket or waterproof hiking gear, for example, what else to look out for off-the-beaten-path when visiting some of the most popular sites, how to play disc golf in the park (the discs needed to play can be borrowed from the Caboose) or where to best park on a busy day.
“I love the outdoors and I love living here, so I have hiked quite a bit and snowshoed and paddled and things like that,” said Brandon. “I’m really enjoying the job. When someone came in on the weekend and asked about hiking trails, I said, well, what kind of hiking are you interested in? They explained a little 3 km loop, so I told them about the different trails in the area.”
At the Caboose, Brandon and Stinson bring a wealth of knowledge to visitors and also represent the county as a friendly face helping to guide guests in whichever direction they’d like to go.
“Just helping people find information, even though there’s a lot of information on the internet, people appreciate the assistance of knowing where to go to find that information,” said Brandon. “One of my observations is that although we have the information on the web, people still like those tangible printed materials, especially when they’re travelling or when they’re at the cottage because some people want to be off the internet at the cottage, they just want to be able to sit and look through something, like the Summer Guide or the Explore my Highlands map that comes out every year with the map and all the activities going on throughout the season.”
The Tourist Information Caboose ambassadors seem to know every pamphlet and map available in the county – Stinson said she reads every booklet that comes in – printing one depicting where the boat launches are located for one visitor and having on hand a scenic driving map for a group of motorcyclists who came looking specifically for it.
Visitors come to the Caboose looking for information on what’s happening that day or that weekend, but also well in advance.
“They’re planning their summer,” said Brandon, who noted that in the short time she’s been working at the Caboose, she’s even met summer residents with a three-season cottage looking for a bed and breakfast they could stay at in the winter to continue their visits year-round.
Besides the convenient spot for information and approachable hosts offered at the information centre, the caboose itself is a draw to visitors.
“A family came in Sunday morning to get information about children’s activities this summer, they had two young children, they were fascinated by the caboose and walked back and forth,” said Brandon. “And then later that afternoon, the family came back and it was because the children wanted to walk through the caboose one more time. They kept calling it Thomas the Tank Engine, so I explained to them it was at the back of the train. It just warmed my heart that they came back to walk through one more time. Isn’t that cute?”
According to Kate Butler at Haliburton Highlands Museum, the caboose dates from 1922 and was obtained from the Canadian National Railway by the Rotary Club of Haliburton in the late 1970s, originally set up at the foot of Head Lake on its own tracks near the County Road 1 cut-off. Volunteer Rotarians staffed it before it was moved to its current location in Head Lake Park in June 1979, where upkeep and maintenance is overseen by the municipality with Rotary assistance.
The Victoria Railway began in Lindsay in 1874 and was completed to Kinmount in 1877 and Haliburton in 1878.
“Although the Victoria Railway never extended any further, it became an important regional timber and mineral carrier with a link to other systems at Lindsay,” reads a plaque once on site. “In the mid-1880s, it was taken over by the Grand Trunk Railway and later became part of the Canadian National Railway system.” A special service brought passengers during summer weekends up until 1955, and the train ran until spring 1978 before a major washout destroyed a part of the railway line.
Stinson said she loves using the “gift of gab,” to give both tourists and locals the information they need, so that they can see more of a place she loves.
“It’s an interesting place, we have everything you’d never think of,” said Stinson. “There’s a lot to see in Haliburton County.”
“I think that face-to-face or personal touch is really important,” said Brandon. “It’s not only providing information but it’s also a welcome to Haliburton County, we welcome you and these are all the wonderful things you can do here.”
The Haliburton Caboose team encourages local organizations or event organizers throughout the county to drop off information at the Caboose for display or distribution.
“We’re always trying to find something for people to read or want to know something, that’s the biggest thing we want to do, is find the information and hand it out,” said Stinson.
The Tourist Information Caboose at Head Lake Park is open now on weekends and Tuesdays from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and seven days a week in July and August until Labour Day long-weekend. Follow the Haliburton Caboose on Twitter @hali_caboose or Instagram at haliburtoncaboose or on Facebook through the Dysart et al, Dysart Culture or Dysart Rec pages.