Glace Bay Nova Scotia - Imagine for a moment the media attention and local buzz surrounding the announcement of a multimillion dollar government funded tourism development for a small Cape Breton community.
That development is exactly what took place in 1974 in the village of Port Morien.
The Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco) was a crown corporation formed in 1967 with the sole intention of phasing out coal mining in Cape Breton and diversifying the economy.
However, worldwide demand for coal was on the rise, and corporate priorities were amended to ramp up coal production.
At the same time, Devco's industrial development division was drawing on the economic strengths of the island.
Tourism was made a priority.
In 1973, Devco announced that a steam railway would operate between Victoria Junction and Glace Bay.
The "Old 42," a former Dominion Coal Company steam locomotive dating back to 1899, was leased from Mr. R.C. Tibbetts in Trenton, N.S.
It would run on the same tracks as the Devco coal trains.
The locomotive and the coaches donated by the Canadian National Railway were refurbished and maintained at the Devco Railway Roundhouse in Glace Bay.
The long-range plan to change the route from Glace Bay to Port Morien was bolstered by an impressive 14,000 passengers that first year.
Over the winter, the old railroad bed to Port Morien was cleared, upgraded, and tracks were laid.
Port Morien was to become one of the premier tourist attractions on Cape Breton Island.
In anticipation of increasing ridership, another locomotive was added.
It was called the Repton 926 and had spent most of its working life in England.
A train station was constructed in the back pit area on the site of the old Gowrie Mine.
Adjacent to the station were restored coke ovens, a mini putt golf course, a gift shop, and the "Yellow Caboose" snack bar.
Passengers were transported by double decker bus to the newly constructed chowder house restaurant or the Blockhouse area.
There, a small drift mine had been carved into the cliffs at the site of the old French Mine, dating back to 1720.
A fossil walk was also constructed.
My good friend Bucky MacLeod and I had a front row seat for all of this.
We were hired as students by Devco in 1974 and 1975, and worked at the mine site and the station.
In 1975, we worked the entire summer at the Morien train station complex.
The complex was a beehive of activity, especially when the evening train arrived.
The passenger cars were licensed, and there was often a party atmosphere aboard that train.
Entertainers were hired to perform on the train and at the station.
Local residents came out to meet passengers and take in the entertainment.
Over the years, the steam railway was becoming more difficult to financially sustain.
After running each summer to Port Morien for six years, with annual special runs to Iona, Devco announced that the Cape Breton Steam Railway would be shut down.
The Repton 926 was sent back to Britain where it was in service for a number of years.
Recently refurbished, it is expected to be put into service this summer.
Three years ago, I was touring a Nova Scotia Museum storage site, and to my pleasant surprise, there was the old 42.
I climbed the step to get a better look.
It was very similar to what I remembered four decades earlier in Port Morien.
Although its stacks were silent and its big steel wheels motionless, I envisioned the old workhorse still standing alert, smoke belching from the stacks at the Morien station, ready for the next "All Aboard!"
Nothing remains of any of the infrastructure of the Devco Steam Railway.
The tracks and station are gone, the lot long ago levelled.
It was a project of good intentions from a bygone era of generous government funding coupled with creative ideas.
However, the steam railway was a success in that it employed many local people, and it afforded the opportunity for thousands to experience the scenery, history, and culture of Cape Breton, and in particular, our little village by the sea.