Feature Story Monday, December 22, 2014
Full Steam Ahead for Hunger
The 16th Annual CP Holiday Train rolls through Agassiz
Canadian music icon Jim Cuddy sings on the CP Holiday Train in Agassiz last week.
pirits were high on Pioneer Ave. last Wednesday evening. The Canadian Pacific (CP) Holiday Train, billed as North America’s longest rolling food bank fundraiser, was due to arrive with its mellifluous cargo any time.
Within a few minutes, the crowd at the Ag-Rec building swelled to hundreds. One family had a spot staked-out and was busy roasting marshmallows. But all gazes were turned east down the long steel ribbons.
Suddenly, the train's unmistakable yellow beam cuts through the inky blackness and a wave of excitement sweeps over the crowd. The light grows larger and larger as the locomotive inches its way down the rails, and without a sound, the euphonious iron horse glides to a gentle stop in front of dozens of anxious kids.
Then, the postcard comes to life, when like the Friendly Giant's castle drawbridge lowering over the moat, a hinged stage swings down from the side of one of the boxcars. Behind it, Jim Cuddy, Tracey Brown and the Holiday Train Orchestra take their places to a spirited welcome.
This is the way Agassiz has kicked off Christmas for the last 16 years.
Each year, since 1999, two trains chug across Canada and the US, encouraging people in the towns they visit to bring food bank donations. CP also chips in with cash donations to community service agencies at each stop. All tolled, the Holiday Trains have raised in excess of $9.5 million and 3.3 million pounds of food for food banks across North America. For musicians on the trains, it’s no easy task. They’ll play about 150 shows in 3 weeks.
Blue Rodeo front man, Jim Cuddy, joined the train in Calgary on December 12, and rode it across western Canada until its final stop on December 18 in Port Coquitlam. Blue Rodeo has just released a new album of holiday-themed classics, called "A Merrie Christmas To You."
MP Mark Strahl (C) and Agassiz Mayor John Van Laerhoven spoke about the importance of the train to the town.
"The Holiday Train represents many of my favourite things about Canada – incredible landscape, great music, generous people and of course, the Holiday Train itself," says Cuddy, who was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013. "At each stop we will be playing to fans bundled from the cold and singing along. It is a great celebration and I am proud to be a part of it."
In 1998, Cuddy released "All in Time" which went on to sell gold in Canada. His next album, 2006's "The Light That Guides You Home", was released to critical acclaim and won the JUNO award for "Adult Alternative Album of the Year." In September 2011 he released "Skyscraper Soul", his third solo album. His voice, always a rich and soaring instrument, has never sounded better and Cuddy proves once again that his songwriting ranks with the best Canada has to offer.
The online #HealthyDonationsChallenge encourages patrons attending Holiday Train events to take a second glance when pulling food out of their cupboards to ensure their non-perishable donations are nutritious and heart-healthy. CP's goal is to have 20,000 people take an online pledge to underscore how important it is that everyone has access to nutritious food.
Food banks and food shelves welcoming the Holiday Train to their community this year are also being asked to commit 10 per cent, or more, of CP's monetary donation to healthy food initiatives or purchases.
"We're excited to once again see CP's Holiday Train travel across the country in support of community food banks," says Katharine Schmidt, executive director, Food Banks Canada. "When so many Canadians are struggling just to get enough food to eat, programs like this help to ensure so many families and individuals can access essential food."
This year, CP presented a cheque for $7,000 to Agassiz-Harrison Community Services, more than double their $3,000 donation in 2011.
“It's a tradition here and we are very pleased once again that the Holiday Train is gracing us with its arrival,” Agassiz Mayor John Van Laerhoven told The Voice prior to the train’s arrival. "They always participate with involvement in our Food Bank and we appreciate what they do for our other small communities across the country. If people have the means they bring a couple of cans of food. Our crews take it from them and they get it to the Food Bank.”
District of Kent CUPE employee Andrew Brohman was parked at a strategic point alongside the road with the trunk lid up. His car is brimming over with food.
"We volunteer our time to collect the food and donations," says the apprentice mechanic adding "There are four of us out tonight."
A cheque for $7,000 was presented to Agassiz-Harrison Community Services.
Brohman's been with the City for 9 years. He started as an equipment operator and made the transition to commercial transport mechanics two years ago.
"I've always had the passion to work as a mechanic," he said.
Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl was there with greetings from the federal government.
“What a crowd, what a great night!” exclaimed Strahl from the stage. “This is the official kick-off to the Christmas season. There are people from all over the Fraser Valley here tonight. Thank you to everyone who brought a food donation. The truck was full when I walked by. It's great to be part of this holiday tradition in Agassiz. On behalf of the government of Canada, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
The Holiday Train is holding a photo contest called Capture the Spirit. Follow on Facebook or Twitter @cpholidaytrain and post your photographs there for a chance to win a ride on the train and donations to a charity of their choice.
More information is available about the Holiday Train here. Who knows, maybe Canadian icons such as Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLaughlin or even Gordon Lightfoot will be on board in the future.
Tracey Brown - vocals
Murray Atkinson - keyboard and guitar
Anne Lindsay - fiddle
Pat Stewart – percussion, drums
Doug Ellioit - bass guitar
Randal Prescott - harmonica
Agassiz Community Services and the emergency food bank are located at 7086 Cheam Ave., Agassiz 604-796-2585
Hope Community Services www.hopecommunityservices.com
About the Canadian Pacific Holiday
About Canadian Pacific
See more photos below.
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