Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Monday, October 17, 2016

by Karl Goodwin

A cold wind off Lake Superior slices through Fort William’s grain elevators and across the railway station platform. The sun surrenders little warmth. It is maybe twenty years ago.
            Fourteen of us await a passenger train coming in from the east and it’s 10 a.m.
            A phone call to the farm the previous night has informed us the train will be making a brief stop.
            Natives from the Queen Charlottes out in B.C. are returning home by train from Ottawa. They’ve been pleading with the Feds for a park…trying to limit logging in their territory out there…Train station…Ya….tomorrow morning….stopping only for a short time, no more than twenty minutes or so. I’d be nice to show ‘em some support when they arrive. Depot will be closed. But bring hot coffee when you want to…Ya. Ten sharp.
            I’ve brought my son Adam. He is about seven and somewhere in a space between sleepy and cold from the trip into the city. He huddles close to me in the lee of the station.
            10 a.m. No train.
            10:20 a.m. No train.
            We repeatedly look round the end of the station and up the track. I fantasize about kneeling down and placing my ear to the track to listen for train vibration—like the Indians did. Or was it the cowboys? What if my ear were to freeze to the track? 10:30—despite the depot sign saying “WESTBOUND – ON TIME.”
            Adam shivers and I retie the drawstrings on his coat and get him to wipe his nose. I ask him if he wants to leave. I ask him if he “has to go.” He decides we should stay “a little while longer.”
            Adam fidgets. I think of the CPR, the two glistening steel rails. Riel. The Metis. Sir John A. Lives lost and fortunes made “to tie the nation together.” Gordon Lightfoot’s Railroad Trilogy.
10:45 a.m.
Eventually the train pulls into sight, coming to a long slow squealing halt as a conductor steps off, footstool in hand. Four coaches down a dozen “not-so-native-looking” train-weary passengers disembark.
Finally the Haida. First a tall male elder with a small skin-covered drum, then two Haida women who step to the platform and unfurl a hand painted banner beside the train as the drummer beats the drum and sings a Haida song. He concludes by speaking in Haida as the wind whips the banner and the red and black button blankets of the visitors.
On the far side of the platform those of us greeting the arrivals and “offering our support” stand transfixed. No one has been delegated to speak for us. We do not know what constitutes an appropriate response! Does one clap for a drum song?
We stand our ground stationside. Trainside, the Haida stand their ground. One minute. Two minutes. They eye us. We eye them. We are “as deer caught in the headlights.
Adam confidently moves away from me, strides across the station platform.
            He gives the drummer a full hug. With the “ice now broken,” the rest of us follow Adam’s lead and cross the platform to greet out visitors. We chat all too briefly.
            “ALL ABOARD.’
The Haida fold their banner, climb onto the train, and they’re gone.
Experiencing Adam’s spontaneity on that day will forever remain one of my proudest memories. I understand that part of Gwaii Haanas is now protected. I have never been there.
Adam died in the North on January 9, 1999.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

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