The Canadian Press

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

Firefighters try to put out a structure fire on the Island Highway in Nanoose Bay early Saturday morning. (Nanoose Bay Volunteer Fire Department photo)
Horses in nearby stable saved as building burns down in Nanoose Bay

Firefighters called out in the early-morning hours Saturday

Nanaimo RCMP sought help in locating Jada Charlie-Carlson, 17. (Nanaimo RCMP photo)
UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP say 17-year-old girl who was missing has been found safe

Police sought help in locating teen who hadn’t seen her family members for a month

Brian McFadden, vice-president of the Vancouver Island Military Museum, shows elements of a new exhibit there that examines some of the horrors and hardships for women and children in prison camps during First and Second World Wars. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Women in prison camps persevered

Letter writer shares her mother’s recollections of prison camp in Java during Second World War

A light display on Northumberland Avenue was recognized as one of the best in the city last year. (Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce photo)
Nanaimo’s Christmas light-up event renamed Illuminight

Judging will take place the evening of Dec. 13

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read