Skip to content

All aboard! Orillia to celebrate 40 years of Rotary Train

Unique attraction at Couchiching Beach Park is 'something people think of when they think of Orillia,' says Rotary Club's local president

The community is set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Orillia Rotary Train in Couchiching Beach Park.

The celebration will start at noon on Saturday, June 25 and will include free rides for children. Ledbetter Foods will be handing out barbecued hot dogs. There will also be live music.

“It’s all about the community that day,” says Rotary Club of Orillia president Allan Lafontaine. “Rotary has had a long-standing tradition (of) working together with the City of Orillia, and they have supported the train as a great tourism opportunity.”

The train gives families a low-cost, fun summer activity, he adds.

“The kids love riding on that train,” he said. “It’s part of Orillia. It’s something people think of when they think of Orillia.”

Rotary Club volunteers worked hard over the winter to improve the "tunnel experience" where the train runs through as part of its circuit and is stored. The service club also received a grant to hire students to operate the train this summer.

“We intend to be running that train for the foreseeable future,” Lafontaine said. “Where else can you ride a train through a major park in a city like Orillia?”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the train was kept off the tracks. It is finally set to chug through Couchiching Beach Park again June 25 and will operate Thursday through Sunday this year during the day until the Labour Day long weekend.

“The train is a great experience,” Lafontaine said. “Seeing the kids enjoying it and seeing families out doing something that doesn’t cost them too much money is really great.”

It costs $5 per person to ride the train, and each ride lasts about 10 minutes.

Rotary member Cliff Whitfield has been doing research on the train. He says the first train to run through Couchiching Beach Park did so in the 1950s.

“It was operated by a local businessman named Hugh Grant,” he said. “It only operated for a few years.”

In 1963, another Orillia businessman, Gordon Smith, purchased a steam-powered train and moved it from Ottawa to Orillia. It was called the Mariposa Special.

“It was an old train; it was actually a 15-gauge engine built in 1854,” Whitfield explained. “It had been maintained and used in several different parks in Ontario. When he brought it to Orillia, he did extensive repairs and restoration to it.”

The Mariposa Special ran until about 1969. The Rotary Club of Orillia bought the train from Smith in 1981 and operated it in the park until 1989.

“It was requiring an awful lot of maintenance,” Whitfield said. “A decision was made to search around for a new train.”

The current Rotary Train was purchased around 1988 and has operated in the park since.