Michael Bryant has a bit of the dreamer in him. What better person, then, to notice an old, rusting trolley car sitting in a field and see it as an opportunity for community building.
The San Francisco-style trolley car was once owned by the City of Kawartha Lakes, but it fell into disrepair after the City stopped using it. When Bryant saw it rusting away in a field he contacted the Economic Development department to see if he could buy it.
Turns out, the rules dictated it had to go to public auction. Bryant competed there against many others from across North America and walked away (well, he couldn’t very well drive it yet) with his very own trolley car.
For the last 18 months, the restoration of this trolley car has been a labour of love, and not just for Bryant and his wife, Pauline Kiely. In fact, a number of people and organizations stepped forward to lend a hand.
The principal of Lindsay’s I.E. Weldon Secondary School, along with a shop teacher there and a small army of students offered to sand down its iconic wooden exterior and interior.
“They really brought it back to life,” says Bryant, who lives in Little Britain.
Little Britain Auto helped get it running. Classic Car Repairs has helped them keep it going. A lawyer from Peterborough offered his services pro bono, while two volunteer drivers from Little Britain and Lindsay help keep it moving. This is but a snapshot of the number of volunteers who have aided the trolley car’s new lease on life.
“I call it good karma — magical people have come out of the woodwork to help us bring it back to life. We’ve got some great people in our community,” says Bryant, including the City of Kawartha Lakes, which was very supportive of the new trolley owner.
The trolley car was built in 1998 on a GM Frame. It can hold 30 guests at once and even has a handicap lift.
The interior of the trolley car is constructed of oak and is designed like the trolley cars of a century ago.
A working bell, San Francisco style, clangs as it stops or arrives. On the modern side, it has a complete PA and sound system, and next year it may even have a flat screen with karaoke capability.
The trolley car isn’t the only thing Bryant and his wife, Kiely, focus on when it comes to community building.
Their farm, known as Dromoland, is named after an old Irish castle they both loved when they visited Ireland.
The Kawartha Lakes farm is “old Irish land that dates back to 1850.”
“We wanted a place to rescue some horses, and we revived an old apple orchard at the same time,” says Bryant.
Bryant and Kiely opened it for children, as a place where kids could have fun horseback riding, and to experience a working apple orchard, old fashioned cars, and, of course, the working trolley car.
“It’s a place for old fashioned fun,” he says.
They’re both big believers in helping out people with low income. That’s why they offer free pony rides and horseback rides in the spring on a day in April or May each year, as well as at Kawartha FarmFest in late September.
Dromoland also opens its doors to teach youth through the ‘Me to We’ organization throughout the summer each Wednesday, to learn about organic farming and apple trees.
“We do this for free to educate youth about nature, animals and farming,” says Bryant.
Last year, more than 2,000 kids visited Dromoland.
Bryant also wants to work with Kawartha Lakes Boys and Girls Club to get some of their kids out for a farm experience.
“Never mind the cell phones and computers – this is about getting a chance to get back into nature for a little while,” Bryant says.
As for the trolley car, it sees most of its work in Lindsay and is frequently put to work for weddings and special gatherings. Last year, 300 residents came for a free ride on the trolley during the last Farmfest.
One of Bryant and Kiely’s goals is to help seniors get out and have some fun – especially with children.
“There is tremendous evidence showing that getting seniors and young people together is very helpful for both older and younger,” says Bryant.
“Many older people would love to come out to the farm, pet a horse and see the kids playing,” he says.
To that end, next year the trolley car will pick up a busload of seniors and bring them out for a “nice time at the farm” along with a group of kids who will be able to enjoy the activities at Dromoland.
Bryant can even see a role for the trolley in some sort of official way, given there is reduced bus service in Kawartha Lakes compared to years past.
The trolley owner says Kawartha Lakes is “still emerging as a major tourist area, like Muskoka.”
He’s happy they’ve been able to create a few jobs. The trolley now employs drivers, cleaners and maintenance mechanics.
“I hope, eventfully, it will employ a tourism director.”
Right now, the trolley is available for charity events and private for-hire events. By May of next year Bryant wants to launch a tour to leave from Lindsay that would go to Bobcaygeon for lunch, then over to Fenelon Falls for dinner, and back to the Academy Theatre in Lindsay for a play.
On Basic Income
When it comes to the topic of community building, Bryant is very enthused that the Province chose Lindsay for the basic income pilot.
Basic income ensures that no one can drop below the poverty line, regardless of work status. In order to participate in the pilot, individuals must be:
- 18 to 64 years old (for the entire duration of the three-year study)
- living in one of the selected test regions (like Lindsay) for the past 12 months or longer (and still live there)
- living on a low income (under $34,000 per year if you’re single or under $48,000 per year if you’re a couple)
“I know a lot about the program and I absolutely agree with it 100 per cent,” says Bryant.
“We have to do something about poverty. I think if we sit and do nothing it would be a tragedy and what we’ve done so far is not working,” he says.
“We can’t keep putting our head in a hole.”
Bryant says there’s no excuse for poverty to exist in a country as wealthy as Canada.
As for Bryant and Kiely’s picturesque farm and trolley car, Bryant has high hopes that it will soon not only be moving plenty of people around the communities of Kawartha Lakes, but also pushing the community spirit barometer just a little bit higher.