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Orillia’s Rotary Train has entertained generations at Couchiching Beach Park

August 2022

Couchiching Beach Park in Orillia, Ontario, is a 14.5-acre waterfront park that is a jewel to the town that bills itself as The Sunshine City.” Couchiching Beach Park plays host to many special events throughout the summer months, but it’s also a multi-purpose park, with a playground for kids, a marina, a beach, a waterfront boardwalk, walking and running trails and a visitor centre that doubles as a ticket office for the Island Princess Tiki Barge, which gave sightseeing tours of Lake Couchiching.

Another popular feature of Couchiching Beach Park is the Rotary Train. Run by the Rotary Club of Orillia, the miniature train takes passengers on a 10 minute ride around the north-west corner of the park, in old-style open carriage cars, for $5 per person.

The first miniature train in Couchiching Beach Park operated for a few years in the 1950s, operated by Hugh Grant, a local businessman.

In 1963, another Orillia businessman, Gordon Smith, decided to revive the train. He purchased a steam-powered train and moved it from Ottawa to Orillia, calling it the Mariposa Special. Pulled by a steam-powered engine built in 1854, on a 15-gauge on 1/4 mile track, it had previously been used in other parks throughout Ontario.

The Mariposa Special ran until about 1969. The Rotary Club of Orillia bought the train from Smith in 1981 and four years later, the track was re-located to its current location.

In 2003, the current Rotary Train, a 24-gauge diesel-powered train, was brought into service.

The train begins running around the end of June until the beginning of September on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The ride begins and ends at the replica gingerbread-style Atherley Junction railway station, which serves as the ticket office.

The original Atherley Junction railway station was built in 1931 for Canadian National Railways, three miles east of the park in the former Village of Atherley. The replica was built in 1995/96 as a project by construction students at Orillia District Vocational Collegiate Institute

Sources: – City of Orillia – Couchiching Beach Park, All aboard! City to celebrate 40 years of Rotary Train Saturday – Orillia News (orilliamatters.com), Ramara – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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