On June 5, 2012, I wrote about having been in the wrong place at the right time, also in regard to a trip to Toronto. I relived that sensation last week - although this time the tragedy occurred in Ottawa.

Last Monday, I took the 8:30 train to Toronto for my Ex Libris board meeting, which was on Tuesday. I stayed an extra day and night, returning to Ottawa on Thursday on the 4:20 PM train - which I selected deliberately as it normally is a non-stop trip from Toronto Union station to Fallowfield (ending at the main Ottawa station) and takes slightly less than four hours for the complete trip. This time, however, we were only able to go as far as Brockville by train and then had to board one of three buses - to Ottawa's main station, the Barrhaven (Fallowfield) station, or Dorval/Montreal. Which meant arriving over an hour late. If I'd waited till Friday to go home, I could have gone the entire way by train. And yet, if I'd gone two days later, it would have been so much worse.

News of the catastrophic bus-train collision that killed six people (and a number of others may still be hanging on by a thread) was all over the news on Wednesday - not just in Ottawa but also in Toronto, Niagara and no doubt elsewhere. Even the much-maligned Toronto mayor was making all the right noises, extending sympathies and offers of assistance (whatever that meant) to Ottawa and Ottawans. Of course, there were probably quite a lot of Torontonians on that train too! As a train passenger, I probably would not have been injured even if I'd taken the Wednesday train - physically, at least. The psychological and emotional turmoil, however, would have taken considerably longer to overcome! I do know people living in Barrhaven; I think I may even have met at least one of the people who died, though I certainly didn't know any of them well.

So where should we go from here? I'm not sure if we'll ever know quite what caused the crash. But additional safety measures could certainly be implemented. I think an overpass or underpass is definitely in order, although that obviously can't be built overnight. Meanwhile, I'm wondering what numbskull decided that trains mustn't blow their whistles at certain times of day - funny that the City can get exemptions to allow construction noise at Lansdowne Park at 3AM but trains aren't even allowed to blow their whistles in the suburbs of Ottawa during daylight hours!

Should the number 76 be retired? Although I have the utmost sympathy for the people involved in the disaster, I vote no on that one. The gesture would be at best symbolic. It's confusing enough when buses change their numbers without substantially changing their routes (as, for example, when the 71 became the 86 or the number 53 was used for a new route that was nothing like the old 53 route). And it's not like hockey or other sports players where a specific number corresponds to a particular person: there must have been dozens of people behind the wheel of the 76 over the years it's been in existence.

I still think that on balance, train travel is very safe. But that doesn't mean we should get too complacent, as this episode makes clear.
It's always a challenge to plan my trips to Toronto for a part of the week when I can get to the things I want to go to. Sleuth of Baker Street is now only open from Thursday to Sunday. Many museums and other attractions are closed Mondays. And my Ex Libris Board meetings are always scheduled for Tuesdays.

This time, the Ex Libris Toronto-based people had scheduled an optional tour of the Bata Shoe Museum and library, followed by lunch, for the Monday. So I decided to go to Toronto on the Sunday morning, arriving in time to get to Sleuth before their 4 PM closing time, sign up for the tour and lunch on the Monday, get to my Board meeting on Tuesday, returning to Ottawa on Wednesday. I stayed at the Holiday Inn on Bloor, about midway between the zillionaires' shopping strip on my left and the studenty area of all-night groceries and vegetarian eateries on my right. Also right near Remenyi Music, which sells instruments and related paraphernalia, as well as a good selection of sheet music.

The Bata Shoe Museum was directly across the street from my hotel. We got to see the special exhibit on Sneaker Culture (which included one of the pairs of sneakers Terry Fox had worn on his abortive cross-Canada run), as well as a fascinating library which can only be visited by prior appointment; they also collect socks for the Toronto homeless. Just along the street a couple of blocks was the Royal Ontario Museum, which to my pleasant surprise was also open on the Monday. I spent quite a while after lunch looking through the textiles area on the top floor, working my way downwards through a fascinating display of home decor through the centuries, followed by a brief visit to the dinosaurs, mammals and bat cave before returning to my hotel. On the Tuesday, my Board meeting was over by about 1:30, so I went over to the Art Gallery to visit a spectacular special exhibition of treasures from Renaissance Italy. The highlight for me was the illuminated manuscripts, in particular one of Dante's Divine Comedy. No matter how much digitization gets accomplished, nothing can compare to seeing it in the flesh... or do I mean parchment? I also saw (and heard and walked through) a number of the contemporary exhibits, one by Etrog somebody (a film that he made as well as static art inspired by Samuel Beckett, Ionesco and other theatre-of-the-absurd folks and various sculptural constructs) and a number of multimedia-type displays or installations or whatever by various artists.

But the Board meeting was the reason I was in Toronto in the first place. We've been protesting and raising awareness of the way Library and Archives Canada (LAC)and the library, archival and related resources and professions are being essentially rent asunder by the current regime. The response to our letter-writing campaign has been an exercise in the kind of pass-the-buck-ology that typifies bureaucracy at its worst. After failing to get any kind of response from Heritage Minister James Moore's office, our Ex Libris president some months later sent a letter to the Prime Minister - and actually got an answer from someone on his staff. It said that our concerns had been noted and that this fell under the purview of the Minister of Heritage who "will no doubt wish to respond shortly" or words to that effect. Well, lo and behold, we finally got a response back from Moore's office, indicating that the LAC operated at arms' length from Heritage and as such, we had been following the proper course all along in writing to Daniel Caron, the head of LAC (who likewise had not replied).

On Wednesday, of course, Caron announced his resignation. Did we have anything to do with that? Maybe. Maybe with that $5000 worth of private Spanish lessons under his belt, he'll be able to get another job in some far-flung country under our NAFTA employment exchange agreements.

So who will be his replacement? Will she or he be an improvement? I live in hope!
This past weekend, I was in Toronto for the Bloody Words mystery conference. As many people are aware, Toronto was an eventful place to be.

I took the 8:30 train Friday morning from Ottawa, arriving in Toronto around 1PM. If I had gone down Thursday morning instead (as most of the Ottawa-based members of Crime Writers of Canada did), I would have had to take a bus to Brockville to get a train the rest of the way. But by Friday, CP workers had been legislated back to work so the VIA trains (which use CP tracks between Ottawa and Brockville) were able to run normally.

The train got to Toronto more or less on time, and I was just a short walk from the hotel where the conference was to be held. Had it been an hour late or so, I would have been caught in the flood - Union Station was transformed into a sewage-plagued swimming hole when construction workers severed a water main on Front Street, and the subway station was out of commission altogether.

The weather was chilly and rainy however, so after checking into my hotel I decided it would be a good afternoon for indoor activities. I wandered up to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Picasso exhibit and a few of the permanent exhibits (Emily Carr and Group of Seven). Then I headed back to College Street and the Lillian Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, where I visited the Osborne Collection of children's literature and the Judith Merril science fiction collection (formerly known as the Spaced Out collection). I was back at my hotel in time to watch the news and see some incredible pictures of Union Station, and then watch Frank Foster get murdered on Coronation Street, before attending the first panel of the evening.

The main guest authors at the conference were Gayle Lynds, author of the Book of Spies, a mystery about the secret Library of Gold under the Kremlin; Linwood Barclay, who has written numerous bestselling thrillers; and Rick Blechta (who writes mysteries with musical themes). But there were many of my favourite authors there, including the usual Ottawa contingent, as well as some I had not heard of before but who will doubtless join my list of favourites.

Saturday morning I attended three panels, then left around noon for an extended lunch break and a visit to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookshop. As the next event I wanted to attend did not start till 3:30, I returned by way of the Eaton Centre food court where I stocked up on a few edibles. Of course, we all know what happened there just a few short hours later!

Saturday evening was the conference banquet and awards presentations and Sunday morning, I went to a presentation of a play: The State of New York vs. Peter Pan. It had originally been written and performed as part of a Fringe Festival and was really very funny. Tinkerbelle clearly isn't as naive as she looks (Disney might want to reconsider using her to introduce their show) and pixie dust should definitely be a controlled substance!

I had decided to stay over Sunday night as well, since I always find it a bit of a rush to get checked out of my hotel on a Sunday morning. So I had Sunday afternoon to wander about the city. I crossed York Street over to Harbourfront, browsed the museum of Inuit art at the Queen's Quay Terminal, and returned over to the east side of Front Street, ambling about the antiques stalls in the St Lawrence Market area. I went to Nicholas Hoare Books (soon to be the last in the country, if it isn't already), then up to Queen Street and back to my hotel. I had hoped to go into Indigo books but like the rest of the Eaton Centre, even with its separate entrance, it was "closed until further notice". I even managed a dip in the hotel pool. It would have been tempting to try to get tickets for the ballet version of Hamlet, which was playing at the centre right near the hotel, but by then I was rather tired and wanting to get packed and organized for my departure on Monday.

And so I survived my extended weekend in the big city, with lots of good reading ahead of me (and plenty of fodder if I ever get around to writing a crime novel myself!)



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