This is Cobourg?
It’s a memory etched on my consciousness ... standing at the very end of a Canadian Pacific train looking out at the disappearing Quebec winter landscape, the train causing powdered, backlit snow to blow and gently drift onto tall, disappearing blue spruces and swaying pines, a perfect Canadian landscape framed by the train’s window.
That was over 50 years ago. All these years later, I still enjoy train travel but, only recently, did I become truly aware of the blandness of Cobourg’s train station, brought further into my consciousness when a stranger to our town, having just disembarked onto the benchless platform of the architectural monstrosity that is the ‘new’ station, asked directions to the ticket office and where she could get a cab.
So I gave her the options – scale the Everest staircase (56 steps; ahh, research) to the elevated passageway crossing the tracks, plus 56 more steps down, or squeeze into a small space with the milling crowd (constantly activating the automatic doors, creating a wind-tunnel) to take the elevator to that passageway in the sky, crossing it to another elevator down to ... where? Another glassed-in space leading to more sliding doors and – Cobourg.
Well, the new station forecourt, the original station a short walk to the east and the hope the ticket agent hasn’t closed up for the night. For the first time, walking to my car, I realized what a stark, soulless welcome the station presents to someone from out-of-town. This is Cobourg? Why, I thought, doesn’t the town get together with Via Rail and be creative; showcase, promote our feel good town around the new station? Form a small, volunteer committee to invite local artists to create very original posters celebrating the town’s distinctiveness? Welcome To Cobourg, home of .... the Northumberland Players, beautiful unspoiled (well, so far) Victoria Park, the Cobourg Cougars (no, the hockey team), the Concert Band of Cobourg, the town’s dragon boat club using the finest harbour and waterfront (so far, also unspoiled – but just wait) on Lake Ontario. Design distinctive posters, works of art in their own right promoting local restaurants, the Northumberland Orchestra, poetry in Cobourg, the town’s hotels. Cel-e-brate our distinctiveness for newcomers arriving at the station. Get Cobourg council behind it.
And then there’s the original station, one of the few historic buildings left in Cobourg, a town that once, with its harbour, was a vital railroad link to points north. Now, the station is soulless space sporting dull, Via Rail posters begging for ... what? Perhaps local, rotating artists and photographers displaying their work? Being really creative, even a space for an artist to have an opening of her/his work, The Railroad Gallery, complete with wine and hors d’oeuvres and freight trains lumbering through – something different. Or, more benign, a photographic exhibit of early Cobourg in counterpoint to contemporary photographs illustrating how the town has changed.
“First impressions, first impressions, dear boy.” I recall someone saying to me from my school days. All these years later, nothing has changed. I suspect, for many people the train station is out of sight, out of mind. But it is a crucial gateway to our town and it’s time we sat up and took notice, took advantage of the opportunity to promote and celebrate our town – and refresh the station. Weeks later, I can still see that confused, lonely visitor trying to negotiate her way through the vast, bland, unwelcoming concrete space in search of ... well, Cobourg. Something needs to be done. Soon.
“Imagination, dear boy.”
Grahame Woods, a retired mental-health counsellor and Gemini-winning television playwright, lives in Cobourg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.