It’s the end of an era today. At midnight tonight, Greyhound is suspending all services in Northern Ontario and Western Canada. The decision is justified, says the American-owned company, by a 41 percent drop in ridership since 2010.
Greyhound moves millions of Canadians every year, and has done so in British Columbia and Alberta since 1929. For those rural Canadians who don’t or can’t drive, losing the Greyhound means losing their ability to get to larger centres for services not available in their communities, like specialist medical appointments. It also prevents them from connecting with friends or family. And during our snowy, icy winters, travelling through mountainous BC is far safer by bus than by car.
It’s already being reported that 87 percent of Greyhound’s routes will be covered by smaller, private operators — including Indigenous-owned companies — which are ramping up as we speak. This morning the federal government announced funding to help fill the gaps and that it is working on a long-term national transport solution.
My student days of 18-hour Greyhound treks between Edmonton and Vancouver are (thankfully) long behind me. (I assure you, there is little that is more depressing than a 3 a.m. rest stop at Blue River in the dead of winter.) But I still regularly take the Greyhound for short hops between Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton. I typically take it during non-peak hours and the buses are always full. My fellow passengers are people of all ages and social classes. Many are tourists. Some of us choose to take the bus, while others don’t have a choice, In a country like Canada, with too much geography, public transit is not just a service. It’s a right.
This photograph is of the last Greyhound I will ever take in Canada, which I rode from Calgary to Red Deer last month.
While I was on leg one of my cross-Canada road trip, I made a small detour to Neepawa, Manitoba. It wasn’t a long detour — certainly not as long as my first detour to the Bulkley Valley. But seeing as Neepawa is not on the Trans-Canada Highway, it was, technically, out of the way.
I remember it being a spur-of-the-moment decision. While studying the road map, I turned to my sister (who had by this time joined me on my cross-Canada road trip) and I said, “Hey, let’s stop in Neepawa!”
Neepawa is the birthplace of Margaret Laurence, the much-lauded Canadian author. Back in the day, her novel The Stone Angel was required reading in most Canadian high school English classes. That novel put the fictional town of Manawaka on the literary map of Canada. And Manawaka was inspired by the town of Neepawa.
Our quick stop in Neepawa proved to be one of the highlights of that road trip. We didn’t know this until we got there, but the small town is an oasis in the middle of the Canadian prairie, filled with big, old leafy trees and big, old lovely houses. One of those houses, the one in which Margaret Laurence grew up, is now a small museum, which we made a point of visiting.
We also made our way to the cemetery where Laurence is buried and where the original stone angel stands. The statue is part of the headstone for John Andrew Davidson, a Manitoba politician who died in 1903. It has no wings, but apparently it was called an angel by the residents of Neepawa long before Margaret Laurence wrote her novel.
And here she is.