Friends of the Rail Trail kicks off 10th anniversary season
By Angelica Ingram
Feb. 7, 2017
The Haliburton railway has been gone for almost 40 years and 10 years ago a special group formed to honour its heritage.
This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the formation of Friends of the Rail Trail and a year of celebrations will begin with a night of two film screenings on Feb. 22.
Taking place at the Haliburton Highlands Museum at 7 p.m., the screening includes The Railway to Haliburton, which was written and narrated by Leopoldina Dobrzensky and filmed by Charles Taylor.
The film includes historical photographs of the railway, which spanned from Lindsay to Haliburton with stops along the way.
The second film, titled Old Rails, Remembered Tales, captures members of the community, some who have since passed away, sharing stories about the railway at a community supper held in February, 2007.
The supper, held at Camp Wanakita, was where Friends of the Rail Trail was born, said Pamela Marsales, one of the founding members of FoRT and current chairwoman.
“We sold our first two memberships that night. There was 85 people,” she said. “We came together because we were interested in showcasing the history and nature aspects of the Rail Trail.”
Marsales says members of the community had been invited to the dinner and asked to share their personal recollections of the railway. Those memories were then captured on the film.
The filming was done by what was then known as Highlands Media Arts (now Sticks and Stones Productions), which at the time was in its infancy, said Marsales.
“The idea to film it came about by accident, at the last minute,” she said. “As people called me up to reserve their tickets they started telling me their stories over the phone. I thought wow, these are really fascinating stories and this is oral history that should be captured for posterity.”
Some of the storytellers include Charlie Tyler, Marion Sedgewick, Guy Scott and Ev Stata.
“We hope as many of the original storytellers who can will be there,” said Marsales.
The railway ran for a century, with a grand opening in November of 1878 to the final ride in 1978.
The upcoming event at the museum is being held during Ontario Heritage Week and Marsales is hoping it will inspire the public to learn more about Haliburton’s past.
“The evening gives a really nice overview of how different and yet the same the railway days were,” she said. “For instance, before there were telephones in Haliburton County there was the telegraph connection related to the railway. It was the first high-speed communication. It’s just parallel to today’s high-speed Internet connection.”
One tale shared in the film includes capers where kids and teenagers would take the train into Haliburton to see a movie and hang out at a restaurant beforehand. However those who want to know the ending to the story will have to watch the film, said Marsales.
Marsales is also hoping the event draws more people who have memories of the railway, to connect with her.
“When we get a critical mass of new storytellers we will arrange a new event ... to record some more stories,” she said. “That will be an anniversary year project.”
The film night is only the beginning to a year of events marking the 10th anniversary of FoRT. In March, there will a membership month, inviting people to join FoRT.
The Sunday Rambles, which include walks along the Rail Trail, will return for the months of April and May.
Some summertime events will be open to members only, including an exclusive jazz evening.
Marsales is hoping to bring back some past events, such as the heritage farm tours, and is always open to new suggestions.
In the past 10 years FoRT has hosted some 90 events and has hundreds of members join the organization.
In its peak year there were 130 members, said Marsales.
The chairwoman has logs with the names of every participant from every Sunday Ramble during the past decade. Right down to the dogs who participated.
“The busiest Sunday Ramble had 55 in attendance,” she said. “We have rambled in all kinds of weather.”
The film event is pay what you can. Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP with Marsales at 705-457-4767. Refreshments will be provided.