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

Signs in Homer, Alaska, offer inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael Armstrong-Homer News)
COLUMN: COVID-19 pandemic hits home

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

More than 20 days have passed since the last case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Lakeside Manor. (File photo)
Salmon Arm retirement facility reopens social areas after COVID-19

More than 20 days have passed since last confirmed case at Lakeside Manor

With a second case of COVID-19 confirmed at South Canoe Elementary, parents were advised Thursday, Jan. 14, that the school would be closed for up to two weeks. (Contributed)
UPDATE: Salmon Arm school to close temporarily after COVID-19 cases confirmed

South Canoe Outdoor Learning School may be closed for up to two weeks

Adams Lake Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse spearheads project to restore Upper Adams River early summer run of sockeye salmon. (File photo)
Adams Lake First Nation heads program to restore salmon habitat in Adams Lake

Chief remembers stories of Upper Adams River early summer run with sockeye weighing up to 40 pounds

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Most Read