Residential school survivor June Commanda had mixed feelings as a newly painted orange ‘Every Child Matters’ locomotive was unveiled by Ontario Northland on Monday.
Commanda, who is from Nipissing First Nation, shared her story of being taken from her home as a child, put on a train and sent away to St. Joseph’s residential school in Spanish, Ontario.
“Because I went from hating the trains, but I’m very happy with this, it just brought tears to my eyes,” she said.
Commanda later boarded the locomotive and gladly sounded the horn.
“It’s a coat of paint, it looks phenomenal, but it’s about raising awareness and it’s about listening and learning with open hearts,” says Corina Moore, President and CEO of Ontario Northland. “Like June said there’s so much history here that I don’t think people recognize the impact that it’s having on our generation and our children’s generation, and just having that compassion.”
The locomotive is part of the Polar Bear Express train and will be seen traveling through the region in the coming weeks – as it returns to service in-between Cochrane and Moosonee.
“It’s going to create that conversation so people take action, it’s time to take action,” Moore says.
Scott McLeod, Chief of Nipissing First Nation says the locomotive is going to have a positive impact and create awareness.
“Our communities are struggling with the uncovering of unmarked graves and this is such an amazing gesture,” he says. “It’s going to hit the hearts of our communities.”
Monday’s unveiling also included a smudging ceremony and drumming.