The Jimtown Polar Express

That morning I was going to say "life's too much now."

Sawyer was eight months old and waking up inconsolable four times a night.

I'd been on strike for 11 months from my job at the Chronicle Herald and we were perpetually broke despite my varied hair-brained schemes to bring in some cash.

So I called over to Jamie's house to say "fuck it I don't have time for Christmas spirit this year."

But Jamie didn't answer because he'd already gone to town to start the float.

It was two weeks before the Antigonish Christmas Parade and we, the little community by the beach with less than a dozen year round inhabitants, were the reigning champions in the Best Non-Commercial Float category.

And Jamie, who had plenty of stress in his life too, had gone to town to make something happen.

Suzy, my wife, said "you'd better go."

In a bay of the mayor's garage, Eastern Auto, Jamie was looking at our neighbour's ATV.

We'd hatched a plan days after the previous year's parade to build a nearly full size locomotive pulling a train car filled with the neighborhood children based on the Polar Express theme.

The ATV, which is our neighbor's only form of transportation, was to be the motorized heart of this 20 foot monstrosity.

In the pan of Jamie's truck were plank ends and a few 20 foot long pieces hemlock that weren't good for anything else.

Our previous year's winning entry was the raft.

Our previous year's winning entry was the raft.

We drank coffee, sucked on the e-cigarrettes that were a poor, but inexpensive, substitute for the real thing, and hashed it out.

Over the next ten hours we scabbed the long planks onto the sides of the ATV with U-bolts to give us a structure. The mayor (AJ Sears) brought old lengths of bendy PVC pipe we hooped from side to side to give the shape of the giant boiler. We stole his garden fabric to wrap the whole contraption with and built a cow catcher off the front with staves.

Other neighbours dropped by with liquid refreshment as we worked into the night.

Someone gave us a few smokes, which helped.

As happens in Jimtown, Jimtowners heard about what was being built and started stopping by.

Some made decorations, others made signs and wheels, a friend lent a sound system to blast steam engine noises and soon it was complete.  

We got excited.

Then a blizzard hit on the day of the parade.

It was cancelled with no rain date.

The outrage of parents and children filled social media - we weren't the only group that had put hours of care into their float.

Most of it was a bit unfair though - the blizzard was bad and it's a big ordeal for a town to reschedule a parade on no-notice.

On a whim and without consultation with anyone, I made a post on the Town Facebook site saying Jimtown was now going to host a Christmas Parade the following weekend and everyone was welcome.

That was irresponsible of me.

We had no facilities, no room for tractor trailors hauling floats ... no public toilets.

But I also know my little community.

I called the Mayor - he said his Kinsmen group would bring hot chocolate. Instead of lecturing me, the few neighbours we have all volunteered to make it happen.

Jimtown would save Christmas for Antigonish County even if we made a bit of a mess of it.

But the town council reversed its decision two days later and scheduled a new parade.

We cancelled ours in the spirit of cooperation and self preservation.

So the Jimtown Polar Express chugged down the old Main Street of Antigonish towing a cart full of children slurping back hot chocolate. Carried before our proud contraption was the sign for Best Non-Commercial Float.

After the parade, with just Jamie and I aboard the 20 foot locomotive, we got her up to 60 kilometres an hour. Our eyes were nearly welded shut in the cold wind as we blasted down the highway back to the garage with decorations swinging and smashing off the sides.

And I thought to myself that my buddy was right, you can't let life get in the way of Christmas.






Aaron Beswick