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Agawa Canyon trains axed on eve of Group of Seven anniversary

Uncoupled by COVID-19, popular tour trains won't run until Sept. 1
2017-09-09 Agawa Canyon Tour Train DMH-3
Agawa Canyon Tour Train file photo. Donna Hopper/SooToday

May 7, will be the 100th anniversary of the world-renowned Group of Seven's first formal exhibition, hosted at what's now the Art Gallery of Ontario.

In a cruel twist of fate, on the eve of that notable anniversary, the railway that regularly carried Canada's best-known landscape painters into the Algoma Highlands has quietly cancelled all Agawa Canyon Tour Trains until Sept. 1.

In notifications sent last week to local political leaders, Algoma Central Railway owner CN Rail served notice that the 2020 tour season, originally scheduled to start June 16, will be delayed until September.

Passengers hoping to revisit the sites that inspired the Group of Seven this summer are being advised that the decision was deemed necessary to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A full refund on all accommodation packages and train tickets is promised within 30 business days.

"We will re-evaluate the situation after the province of Ontario lifts the mandatory shutdown order," the railway says.

Agawa Canyon Tour Train was named "one of North America's most popular train rides" by National Geographic magazine in a feature that declared Agawa Canyon one of Canada's "50 places of a lifetime."

"Group [of Seven] member Lawren Harris even had a boxcar specially outfitted for fall painting expeditions along the ACR line," the magazine said.

"I received notice last week from CN that part of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train season would be cancelled due to COVID-19," Mayor Christian Provenzano tells SooToday.

"Obviously, I understand the decision in the context of the pandemic. I emphasized to CN the importance of the train to our local tourism economy and our accommodation partners.

"I am hopeful we will be able to salvage part of the season and I advised CN that the team at the city stands ready to support it and the resumption of the tour train at the earliest possible time," the mayor said.

"The Algoma Canyon Tour Train is a vital component of our tourism industry," said Tom Vair, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services.

"Our teams were working closely with CN on new opportunities to enhance the experience in advance of COVID-19 and continue to be in regular contact during this outbreak period. We look forward to the resumption of the service as soon as possible and to working together to attract more visitors to the tour train."

Travis Anderson, director of tourism and community development at the city, said he's hopeful the train will be able to run this fall if it's safe to do so.