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STEAMING UP THE GATINEAU: THE HULL-CHELSEA-WAKEFIELD STEAM TRAIN

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Author: 
Matthew Farfan

At the station, Gatineau. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)One of the Outaouais region’s most highly acclaimed tourist attractions is the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train. The train, which runs between Gatineau and Wakefield from May to October, has carried well over half a million passengers since it first brought passenger rail service back to the Gatineau Valley in 1992.

One of the last authentic steam trains in operation in Canada, it is popular with railroad buffs and the general public alike. Kids especially love the sound of the whistle, the sight of the steam as it plumes out of the big, black locomotive, and the clickety-clack of the train as it moves along the rails.

Disembarking in Gatineau. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

The locomotive itself is, of course, a curiosity. A 93-ton steam engine, it was built in Sweden in 1907, and used in that country until electric engines were introduced in 1945. Mothballed for twenty years, it returned to service for a short time in the 1960s, but was again mothballed until it was finally sold and shipped to Canada in the early 1990s. The story goes, the government of Sweden had been so worried during the Cold War that invaders might destroy their electric train system that for decades they stored their obsolete fleet of steam engines as a back-up.

Autumn display, Gatineau station. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

Today’s Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train departs from a station on Devault Street in Gatineau (formerly Hull). Travelling north, passengers are treated to a splendid view of the hills of Gatineau Park, which looms to the west. To the east is the majestic expanse of the Gatineau River, famous for its logging heritage.

A scene on the Gatineau River. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

Along the 64-km round-trip, passengers can relax in climate-controlled cars, while being entertained by tour guides and musicians, who are always happy to share some of the region’s colourful history. They will also be pleased to tell the unusual story of the steam engine that all the while can be heard chugging up the track towards its destination.

Welcome sign, Wakefield. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

After passing through Chelsea, the train arrives at its terminus in Wakefield, a charming village known for its shops, restaurants, historic mill, covered bridge, and lovely setting on the banks of the Gatineau. Passengers have two hours to explore the village before boarding the train for the southbound journey. They may take a guided tour of the local attractions, go shopping, take in a short musical concert in the park, or inspect the inside of the cab of the steam engine. A highlight of the visit is the pivoting of the locomotive on what is Canada’s last operating manual turntable.

Covered bridge, Wakefield. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

The round-trip takes five hours in all, and includes a two-hour stop in Wakefield and a one and a half hour trip in each direction. The train’s seating capacity is 504 passengers. Wheel chair accessibility is limited. There are seven regular coaches, a coach with a licensed snack bar and souvenir shop, and a luxury car (the Club Riviera).

Firing up the engine. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

Passengers have the option of travelling regular coach or Club Riviera. The latter is a stylish period car which includes breakfast pastries served on board, a light lunch at the Trois Érables B & B in Wakefield, or (during evening trips) a delicious five-course table d’hôte meal. Fairs vary depending on the time of year (ie., regular or fall foliage season). Special excursions include the Sunset Dinner Train and the Sunday Brunch Train.

On all trips, passengers have the option of coach service or Club Riviera. Group rates and charters are available, and a number of package deals are offered.