Grand reopening of Brockville Railway Tunnel

Celebrating city’s ‘tunnel vision’ By Wayne Lowrie, Postmedia Network Monday, August 14, 2017 12:44:33 EDT PM Visitors are in awe on Saturday as the become part of the first crowds to inspect the restored and reopened Brockville Railway Tunnel, Canada’s oldest such structure. (Wayne Lowrie/The Recorder and Times) With a nod to history and a […]

Celebrating city’s ‘tunnel vision’

Wayne Lowrie

By Wayne Lowrie, Postmedia Network

Visitors are in awe on Saturday as the become part of the first crowds to inspect the restored and reopened Brockville Railway Tunnel, Canada’s oldest such structure. (Wayne Lowrie/The Recorder and Times)

Visitors are in awe on Saturday as the become part of the first crowds to inspect the restored and reopened Brockville Railway Tunnel, Canada’s oldest such structure. (Wayne Lowrie/The Recorder and Times)

Pipers lead the crowd into the tunnel.Thousands packed the downtown to watch the tunnel parade.

With a nod to history and a lot of jokes about the “tunnel vision” that made it all happen, Brockville’s Railway Tunnel was officially opened to visitors on Saturday.

Thousands of residents and visitors gathered at the mouth of the tunnel to hear politicians proclaim the reopening as a great day for Brockville, and to be among the first to walk through Canada’s oldest railway tunnel.

The tunnel ceremonies were the signature event of the Brockville’s Rails and Trails festival, the four-day celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

The ceremonies were a mixture of jubilation, formality and fun with a dollop of slapstick. Entertainer A.J. Benoit interrupted former senator Bob Runciman’s speech by acting as a tourist buffoon to sing an ode to the tunnel.

The solemn part of the ceremonies was provided by members of the Masonic Lodge, who blessed a plaque marking the tunnel reopening. The Masonic ceremony was in recognition of the 1854 ritual in which the Masons dedicated the cornerstone of the tunnel.

Fortunately for the speculators fidgeting in the hot sun, the modern version of the blessing was only five minutes long, unlike the dedication 163 years ago that lasted two hours.

That 1854 dedication ceremony also inspired Saturday’s parade to the tunnel reopening. The parade followed the route taken by the Masons in 1854, heading along Church, John and King streets to the start of the tunnel by the waterfront.

The parade on Saturday tried to copy some of the elements of the original. Red-coated militia led the parade, followed by a pipe band and horse-drawn wagons. Brian and Renee Porter, in their re-creation of Sir John A. Macdonald and Lady Agnes, were in the parade, too, although John A., then 13 years away from becoming prime minister, was not in the original.

The parade had some modern flourishes, too. Police Chief Scott Fraser and a fellow officer zoomed ahead on Segways to do traffic control.

No parade to a rail tunnel would be complete without a train, so a miniature train hauled children along the route.

Thousand of residents lined the parade route, particularly on King Street, to watch the parade and follow it to the re-opening ceremonies.

Tributes at the ceremonies were paid to councillor David LeSueur and his Railway Tunnel Committee for leading the campaign to have the tunnel reopened.

LeSueur resurrected the tunnel committee in 2010 and it led the political and fundraising efforts to renovate the tunnel and open it as a tourist attraction

The tunnel, which will be free to enter but closed at night and during the winter, cost about $4 million to open.

The next “tunnel vision” project is a Railway Tunnel Park at the existing Armagh S. Price Park at the south end and the gorge end in the north.

It is planned that the tunnel and the gorge area will eventually connect the Brock Trail system to the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area, hence the Rails to Trails theme of the festival.