Committee chair: The train is officially ours

Friends of Grand Trunk Railway 1008 update progress – Local preservation group, the Friends of Grand Trunk Railway 1008 launched their fundraising and preservation efforts in conjunction with the book launch party for Maggie Wheeler’s latest novel All Will Fall Together, held November 27 at Stone Crop Acres Winery. Pictured above, committee chair Gardner Sage updates the crowd on the groups efforts so far. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

MORRISBURG – Gardner Sage, chair of the Friends of the Grand Trunk Railway 1008, made a very welcome announcement at the start of a special Maggie Wheeler book launch fundraiser Saturday, November 27, at Stone Crop Acres Winery. “Our group now officially owns the train at Crysler Park. The St. Lawrence Parks Commission has transferred full ownership of the asset to our committee.”

This was very good news to those gathered at the special fundraiser, organized to help preserve and restore the classic engine and box cars, especially given the history of the “train rescue.”

As both Kirsten Gardner, board member, and Gardner Sage explained, well before the pandemic, the SLPC had begun a process for “selling off” the train to outside organizations.

“But the community rallied,” Sage said, “and insisted on keeping the train in South Dundas.”

Gardner and Jim Beckstead, another board member, authored a proposal that beat out nine other groups to ensure that the long-time, much loved asset would stay where it was. As the late South Dundas mayor Johnny Whitteker once put it, “This was the Great Train Robbery that did not occur.”

At the fundraiser, celebrating the release of author Maggie Wheeler’s new Farran Mackenzie mystery, ‘All Will Fall Together’, the committee provided guests with a slide show as well as a book of photos of the engine over several decades.

“We have a very traceable history of how this train was saved,” Gardner Sage said. “We put together a clear plan of how we hope to achieve our goals as part of our proposal. Jim Brownell and Eric Duncan supported us, and other supporters, many with skills that were very valuable to our project, also joined us. Our hope is that it will take two to three years to fully maintain the train, restore it, and then, eventually to allow the public access to it.”

Author Maggie Wheeler, treasurer of the FGTR 1008 committee, described herself, in her opening remarks at the fundraiser, as “privileged to be a member of the ‘crazy’ team dedicated to saving this train. Although it is in a substantial state of disrepair, we will figure out each level of work, find resources, and locate the ingenuity we need. We’re going to do it anyway. The train project,” she said, “will provide inspiration to this community long after we emerge from this pandemic.”

Author Maggie Wheeler describes to the crowd her inspiration for this final chapter of the Farran Mackenzie mystery series and what it was like for her to write during the pandemic. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

Wheeler book launch supports train fundraiser

MORRISBURG – Literary award-winning author Maggie Wheeler, known to her many fans as the “Seaway Valley’s Queen of Crime,” launched her latest Farran Mackenzie mystery novel, ‘All Will Fall Together,’ at a very special fundraiser held at StoneCrop Acres Winery, Saturday, November 27.

Wheeler, who is the author of five previous novels featuring the remarkable character she jokingly called “highly intelligent, stubborn, driven and loopy,” in her address, was also wearing another hat at the well-attended event. Wheeler is the treasurer of the Friends of the Grand Trunk Railway 1008. This book launch party for ‘All Will Fall Together’ was the first of a series of many planned fundraisers by the FGTR, supporting their preservation project. A portion of Wheeler’s book sales at the launch was donated to the project.

The character of Farran Mackenzie has appeared in Wheeler’s previous Lost Villages mysteries, including ‘All My Worldly Goods’ and ‘On a Darkling Plain.’ The characters in Wheeler’s books have been affected and shaped by the social, cultural and psychological impact of the St. Lawrence Seaway: Villages vanished and centuries old ways of life were forever changed.

She emphasized in her presentation that she continues to make a point of having conversations with those affected by the Seaway times “and their stories and ideas are there in my books.”

Mystery and even murder can grow out of that turbulent history. In ‘All Will Fall Together,’ Wheeler has deliberately used railway terminology to herald chapter headings, with her plot “unfolding like a train journey.” Farran must struggle with the fact that “everything she thought was true and real will be threatened.” She may even face an encounter with the supernatural, with the rumoured ghost train, the legendary Moccasin. And, through it all, her Jerry sits silently alone in a jail cell, accused of murder, and refuses to see her.

In two readings from the new book, Wheeler makes it clear that Farran has to connect with her own past, and with the mysteries of that past, despite her fears that she may be “stirring up an old hornets’ nest of ghosts.”

A fascinating part of Maggie Wheeler’s address also focused in on the whole experience of being a writer: she has lived with her particular character for more than 20 years. “Farran and I have an interesting friendship, because she is my friend. Now I say I grab her hand as, together, we jump into the next book.”

She also shared how difficult it has been for writers to weather the challenges and pain of this pandemic.

“Most writers have always had what I call a Dark Secret Wish,” she explained to the crowd. “We are regularly forced to work on our writing at very odd hours, often having to hold down day jobs to pay the bills, and to cope with the constant interruptions of daily life. Writers have always been sure that if we could just shut down all those distractions, why, we’d be able to focus and produce the greatest literature in history! Then came the pandemic. And suddenly we did have all this time on our hands….and nothing happened.”

She expressed her delight at speaking again to a live crowd for the first time in two years. “As Jackie Gleeson put it, How sweet it is.”

She discussed how coping with the new realities of life over the last two years has ultimately led her to adopt a new philosophy: stated simply, “we’re just going to do it anyway.” Whether it is making the time to research, plan, and write, dealing with the constant stresses of the pandemic, or facing the ongoing challenges of preserving and restoring a classic steam engine, “we have to flex that ‘do it anyway’ muscle.”

Like the settings of her previous books, Maggie Wheeler’s newest mystery, ‘All Will Fall Together,’ is firmly established in this region, “in the towns, villages, waterways and islands so familiar to us.” And while Farran Mackenzie may be facing the greatest challenges of her life, she will learn to “do it anyway,” just like her creator.

Wheeler closed her presentation with one final observation. “I have always wanted to write about The Moccasin. She was more than just a train: she was a lifeline and a legend. And we must take care of our legends – like the Grand Trunk.”

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