The lights, the rumble, the music will all be diminished this Christmas season as the annual CP Holiday Train succumbs to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and goes virtual.
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train has been pulling into communities across Canada and the United states since 1999, raising money and food donations for local food banks along the way.
“COVID-19 has created many challenges for communities across our network and has only increased the need at local food banks and food shelves,” said Keith Creel, CP president and chief executive officer.
“It is our honour to continue to donate to communities across our network this year, even if the train itself will not run.”
Canadian Pacific makes an annual donation of about $7,000 to the Smiths Falls food bank, according to Natalia Soteroff, manager of the Smiths Falls Community Food Bank.
The Table in Perth receives an annual donation of about $5,000 from CP, according to Ramsey Hart, the organization’s executive director. These are important donations that are further augmented each year by donations made by the crowds of spectators who bring food and cash to the event.
“Last year we collected 1,360 pounds of food and $617 in cash from the event, and it was a rainy evening, the year before when the weather was good we collected 2,700 pounds of food and $1,356 in cash,” said Soteroff.
In Perth, The Table collected $1,500 in cash and 1,200 pounds of food last year. The cancellation of the event, while understandable, is a big hit for food banks, according to Soteroff and Hart.
“Especially because this year the Build a Mountain of Food event may not be happening as well,” said Soteroff.
Still, Soteroff says, the food bank has been receiving more donations and support from both individuals and community groups this year.
“I think CP is making the right decision and I think the generosity the community has shown in the past will still be there,” said Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow. “This year we just have to do things differently.”
While the Holiday Train won’t be running, the annual concert that draws the crowds will be continuing, albeit virtually.
“CP will use the virtual concert as a call to action, requesting that Holiday Train fans donate to local food banks if they’re able,” said Andrew Cummings, CP manager of media relations.
That’s important, because one of the things the event does for food banks is provide an opportunity for outreach at the start of each concert.
“There aren’t many other occasions that we can talk to a large group of people,” said Hart.
In Merrickville, the CP Holiday Train donations and event stock the shelves of three local food banks for two to three months of the winter, according to Merrickville-Wolford Mayor Doug Struthers.
The Merrickville Food Cupboard, the House of Lazarus and Food for All Food Bank out of Prescott all participate collaboratively at the Merrickville CP Holiday Train stop, said Struthers.
“It’s a significant event, that draws thousands not hundreds, and gets people into the spirit of giving – and boy do they ever give,” said Struthers.
Over the course of the 21 years the Holiday Train has run, it has raised $17.8 million and collected 4.8 million pounds of food for local food banks in communities along its route.
As important as the cause is, much of the appeal is the magic the event represents for families and especially children. Each Holiday Train is made up of 14 brightly decorated rail cars, each decorated with hundreds of thousands of LED lights and holiday designs celebrating the spirit of the giving season.
According to CP, this year’s modified program will be highlighting food security issues, while ensuring donations go to all food banks that would ordinarily receive them, including those that typically host a Holiday Train event in alternating years.
“Details of the virtual concert will be announced at a later date,” said Cummings.
Meanwhile the railway says it intends to resume operating the annual train tour again in 2021.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative, Brockville Recorder and Times