During the pandemic, entertainment is sometimes just a hop, skip – or LRT ride – away

Jon Willing’s son, Miles, enjoys a safe ride on the LRT. Photo Credit Nicole Willing

In all the years I’ve been writing about the Confederation Line, I never guessed I’d be joy-riding the LRT system simply for something to do.

So thank you, Canadian taxpayers, for providing our family with a $2.1-billion amusement ride during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Activity-starved families like ours have been reaching far into their bag of tricks to keep kids busy as museums, community buildings and recreation programs adjust to the changing course of the public health crisis. Reduced hours, booking systems and all-out closures have restricted weekend outings.

Outside-the-box parenting, we’ve learned, and especially during the pandemic, involves taking advantage of whatever resources are immediately available to keep busy.

Lucky for us, we live near one of the 13 LRT stations and it has become a major attraction for our two-year-old son during the pandemic.

Miles and other toddlers in our neighbourhood are infatuated with Bayview Station. There are paths and stairs connecting the two levels of the station and a small pedestrian tunnel with its echo adds hilarity for the howling thrill-seekers.

But the station is just half the fun.

As ice coats play structures over the winter, Nicole and I, having exhausted our list of activities to do with Miles, decided to pass time by riding the rails.

We rode the train when it made the most sense, during off-peak hours when a single car with a 300-person capacity only had a handful of passengers. (We didn’t pleasure-ride the LRT system during the strictest government orders to stay at home.) Sometimes there was a destination — like the BeaverTails stand in the ByWard Market — but often, it was simply about the journey.

We watched the sky turn orange and pink over the Rideau River as our train pulled out of Hurdman Station at sunset, rumbling around the tight curve toward Lees Station. We counted down the seconds until our train emerged from the western end of the downtown tunnel after passing Lyon Station.

At Pimisi Station, we got off the train, rode the escalator to the Booth Street exit, and then took the elevator back down to explore the new landscaping around the aqueduct.

The writer’s son, Miles, along the aqueduct outside Pimisi Station. Photo Credit Jon Willing

We also seized the opportunity to practise wearing masks with Miles, something that could be required in enclosed public settings, like public transit vehicles, for months to come.

For several weeks, he wanted to see the trains arrive and leave the station from our bedroom window, assessing if they were eastbound or westbound trains. As part of Miles’s bedtime ritual, we recited the names of the stations, in order, first from east to west, and then west to east. Sometimes it took repeating the station sequence 10 times before Miles finally fell asleep.

I’ll admit, it’s delightful seeing Miles take an interest in trains.

I’m by no means a rail wonk, but travelling by train has always been special, going back to my childhood, when we hopped aboard a Via Rail or Amtrak train to visit family. I remember watching with awe the hulking locomotives pulling passenger cars into the Kitchener train station as bells sounded the last warning clangs at a nearby intersection. It was an event. Still is. Between stations, my eyes get stuck on landscapes and I scan small towns wondering about life there.

Travelling by train is an education in geography, even in your own city. I hope one day Miles one will appreciate that, too. In a few years, we’ll have more tracks to travel as the O-Train network expands. There will be more chances to explore the city — and thankfully, many more station names to recite at Miles’s bedtime.