The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan residents help passengers on frozen train

Residents of Saskatchewan town lauded for helping passengers on frozen train

Tributes are pouring in from across Canada for residents of a small Saskatchewan town who sprang to action on Christmas Day to help stranded passengers on a frozen train.

“God bless all of the people that helped out yesterday. It was a really wonderful thing for us,” said Robbie Hancock, a musician who was on the Via Rail train with almost 100 other passengers when it suffered a mechanical problem and pulled up in the tiny community of Spy Hill early Monday.

Hancock and his partner, Carrie-Ann Leippi — who are based in Victoria and perform together as Weathervane — were on the train from Vancouver to Toronto as part of a Via Rail program where they get free fare, food and lodging in return for signing and playing for passengers.

Hancock has made the cross-Canada trip with the program six times, but it was Leippi’s first. The trip was extra special because she was going to meet Hancock’s parents for the first time.

But they woke up early Christmas morning and told they would have to get off the train because it had no heat.

The train pulled onto a siding in Spy Hill, a community in eastern Saskatchewan near the Manitoba boundary with a population of less than 300, where the temperature was -43 C with the wind chill.

“When we came out, there was all the townspeople that were already there that were coming up in trucks and helping us take all of our luggage and everything off the train and into the Lions Club hall there,” said Hancock, speaking from a taxi on the way to Winnipeg’s airport on Tuesday where he and Leippi would board a plane for Toronto.

“Thanks to all the farmers in the community there and all the firemen, of course, that came out in Spy Hill,”he said. “They got everybody from the train into the hall very quickly and they had already started making breakfast for us.”

The passengers were soon eating pancakes and drinking coffee prepared by Via cooks and local volunteers. Toys were brought in for the kids. Hancock and Leippi volunteered to entertain and the townspeople quickly set up microphones.

A large family had planned to use the hall that day, but they moved their party to the curling rink. Hamburgers and salads were served for lunch, and everyone sang Christmas carols.

“From a setback into something special. What a story — Canadians always find a way to help each other out,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Tuesday, along with a link to a news story about the stranded train and actions of the people in Spy Hill.

Many other Canadians also lauded the little town online for their Christmas spirit.

Via Rail said Tuesday that all 98 passengers were bused to Winnipeg later Monday, and that they were on their way to their final destinations by bus or plane.

There’s no details on the malfunction, but company spokeswoman Mariam Diaby said Monday that it was due to “extreme cold weather.”

Via Rail said since the train that stopped in Spy Hill needs to be repaired, the Toronto-to-Vancouver train scheduled to leave Tuesday night is cancelled, and there won’t be another one going that way until Saturday.

Hancock said even though he’s seen a lot of small-town hospitality on his cross-Canada trips, Spy Hill was a cut above.

“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, especially through the Prairies, but I was a bit surprised in how amazing and generous they were,” Hancock said.

—by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Esquimalt explores creating portage beach for choppy Gorge waters

The portage beach would add safety to the Victoria Waterways Loop

Decline of Canadian manufacturing hurts men, according to new study

A five per cent drop in manufacturing drops the weekly wages of men by at least 6.9 per cent

Number of U-Hauls entering Victoria plummeted in 2019

Data compiled from two million one-way U-Haul transactions

Six months to Francophone Games, 600 volunteers needed

Online applications open on Jan. 14

Tech consortium invests $25 million into four University of Victoria research projects

Investments come with goal of developing, implement technologies created by Canadians

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

PHOTOS: Braves beat Storm in shootout at the Brindy

Saanich won 4-3 Saturday night in Campbell River

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Most Read