BOTB – The Real History Behind the Heritage Railroad

From: Darren D. MacDonald, staff

NORTH BAY – There is nothing more North Bay than trains.  The first train to come through what would become North Bay was the Lucy Dalton in 1882.  North Bay was founded because of railways and most of its street layout comes from where railways are and were.

North Bay has more than honoured their locomotive love with various train stations – turning the Canadian Pacific Railway Stations into the current Discovery North Bay Museum, and in 1998 North Bay opened the Heritage Railway at the Waterfront.

Uncovering the Tiny Truth

But there is one question that people can’t help but ask: what is up with the itsy-bitsy “iron rider?”

“Most people would tell you that it’s because it’s an attraction meant for kids,” says long time Heritage Railway conductor Al Trevithick. “But they’re wrong.”

“You see, as time goes on, things change.  The world changes, technology changes, and people change.  More specifically, in height.  The simple fact is that North Bayites were just shorter in the past.” 

Back in 1985, while going through old shipping containers, ONR worker James Reddy discovered something; two small steam engines, two  diminutive diesels, eight petite passenger cars, a cramped caboose and a relatively normal sized car barn considering the train’s size.  These weren’t miniatures of a train – but the train itself.”

“It became James’s passion project,” remembers Carol Reddy, James Reddy’s wife. “He spent nearly a decade on fixing it up and making sure that the people of the future could fit into the train.”

“Donating the train to the city in 1997 was the last thing James did before he died.”

Good News for North Bay

Reddy’s body was found in the garage next to the freshly painted, perfect condition Heritage train.  It was the only thing anyone could talk about in the months following.  It was clear that North Bay had a hit on its hands.

“Before the body could be moved, North Bay’s Mayor Jack Burrows had big plans,” recalls ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk Wilder, author of the unpublished book A Nano North Bay: Forgotten History. “They were going to put it at the waterfront and draw tourists from all over.”

And that’s what they did.  Shortly after getting the carousel, North Bay also received 33 tortured souls – each forever trapped in a carved wood horse – which they placed next to the railway.

“They had to use haunted trees to carve the horses, because it was the only thing that would contain the souls of the dead,” explains ‘Dirt Road’ Dirk. “That came with a heavy spiritual and monetary price.  The Heritage Railway was set to be a big hit, so they just plopped the carousel next to it, in hopes that it’d recoup some of the money, at least.”

Temporary Tiny Train Triumph!

The Heritage Railway (and by association the Horror Horses), were a hit right away.  But like everything else in North Bay, enthusiasm quickly faded.  In a couple of years it was still a crowd drawer but would never see the fame it once had. 

“We tried explaining to the patrons that people of the past were just shorter, but it confused the adults and made the children cry,” explains Trevithick.  “I’ll be honest, I’m a bit confused by it, but I just try not to think too much.”

Instead of educating people, Trevithick and others began to lean into the novelty of the miniature attraction.  In 2006 they introduced the “Little Lucy Dalton”, which some believe is a miniature recreation of the Lucy Dalton, but is, in reality, just a recreation of the Lucy Dalton. 

Maybe North Bay just wasn’t ready for that miniature part of their history.  Maybe with this reminder of the past, North Bayites will have a new appreciation for the Heritage Railway – and a new fear of murder horses that stare into your soul.

But you won’t see that in the history books.

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