This week, I’m talking about Trinity Loop in Newfoundland. Once an engineering marvel of the Newfoundland Railroad, the Loop found second life as an amusement park when the railroad closed. The amusement park didn’t last, and was itself closed, and today the remains sit abandoned in the forest. This is the story of Trinity Loop.
Listen or read this episode of The Abandoned Carousel. Both versions are below.
The story I’m about to tell you is not the story I’d planned on telling when I set out to research Trinity Loop Amusement Park. I’d been going to talk about an empty Ferris wheel and an eerie old locomotive sitting on a hill by a lake. Maybe I had been going to talk about the block letters that still clearly spell out “Trinity Loop” up on top of a bridge.
I knew there was a train theme involved somehow. But to be honest, I never was much of a train buff, so I’d expected to gloss right over that part.
It turns out, however, that the story of Trinity Loop is so much more than any of my preconceived notions.
This is a story about historical preservation. This is the story of interesting engineering to solve a geography problem and connect a country together. This is the story of reuse and waste. This is the story of childhood summertime memories. This is a story about what we choose to preserve and what happens when we’re gone.
This is Trinity Loop, in Newfoundland.
Table of Contents
Let’s start with a wide view.
We’re talking about Newfoundland. Newfoundland is an island, the eastern-most part of Canada. Newfoundland was formerly a colony and then a dominion of the United Kingdom. In 1949, Newfoundland became a part of Canada.
Narrowing in, we look at Trinity. Trinity is a small town on the eastern side of the island. Historically, Trinity served as a major port for the export of the island’s fishing exports. I recommend browsing through the Trinity location tag on Instagram – a beautiful town, with brightly-painted houses, amazing sunsets, and lots of whale-watching. Certainly a feast for the eyes!
In popular culture, Trinity might be familiar as a filming location for the 2001 movie “The Shipping News”, which has a lovely soundtrack, as well.
The Newfoundland Railway
Now that you know where we are, let’s talk about the history of the railway in Newfoundland.
In the 1880s, the colonial government of Newfoundland began construction of a narrow-gauge railroad across the island as a vital way to transport people and goods across the island. This was before the days of cars or any sort of highway system. Ultimately, at a total length of 906 miles, the Newfoundland Railway became the longest 3’6” narrow-gauge railway system in North America.
Narrow gauge was chosen instead of standard gauge (which is 4ft 8 ½ in) as a cost-saving measure (reportedly costing roughly half of what a standard gauge rail would cost). This decision would save money in the short-term but spell the end for the railway in the long run.
Trinity Loop in Train Service
The railway was constructed as a key way to connect small towns across Newfoundland. Remember that Trinity was located on the eastern side of the island, far from mainland Canada – the railway would’ve been huge around the turn of the 20th century.
In addition to being a coastal town located in the bay, Trinity is surrounded by steep hills. A normal direct train route would’ve been too steep a grade for any train to pass.
To connect Trinity to the railway, then, some effort was required.
In 1911, engineer J. P. Powell came up with a solution similar to those seen in the western Canadian mountains in British Columbia. The train route was looped around a pond outside of Trinity, slowing changing elevation as it crossed underneath itself. Overall, the elevation of the track dropped 10.3 meters over 6,600 feet. This allowed the train to then safely finish descending into the town of Trinity.
The Trinity Loop is quite unique because of the visibility of the entire Loop.
The trestles were set for the train, and then earth was moved in great quantities to cover the exposed structure. This is quite the engineering marvel for hand tools in 1911 – think of doing this without a modern excavator!
Struggles for the Newfoundland Railway
Despite the influx of money from private investment by Sir Robert Gillespie Reid, the railway never turned a profit as the years went on. The narrow gauge of the railway meant its freight capacity was limited. The harsh winter weather at points, including Gaff Topsail (the north-central point of the railroad), meant constant delays and small fortunes in winter weather maintenance costs. And Newfoundland as a whole was a small island without enough traffic to truly support the massive train infrastructure.
After decades of operating losses, the government nationalized the railway, buying it back from the Reid Company in 1923. The railway passed from the hands of the British colonial government to the Canadian government in 1949, when Newfoundland became part of Canada as mentioned earlier.
As the years rolled over, the railway’s prospects continued to fall by the wayside, the casualty of the more popular bus and Trans-Canada highway systems, which were paved in the 1970s. This was reportedly not only due to preference of travelers, but also to the allocation of government dollars. In 1979, CN restructured itself after years of complaints about the railway and significant subsidies, renaming the Newfoundland operations as Terra Transport. Between 1979 and 1988, the Newfoundland railway was slowly shuttered, with branch lines closing in 1984 and the main line closing by 1988.
Closure and Preservation of the Trinity Loop
The train on the Trinity Loop operated from 1911 until the closure of the Bonavista branch of the railway in 1984, along with all other branch lines. With the line closed, the original plan was to disassemble, remove, and scrap the Trinity Loop, and all other parts of the shuttered railway, despite its recognized historical importance.
However, local researcher Clayton Cook, a former railwayman, took it upon himself to save the Loop. He began petitioning several of the local politicians and began a one-man campaign to save the Loop as a historical site and monument.
He ultimately succeeded, and Trinity Loop’s original tracks were left alone, some of the only original railway tracks remaining on the island of Newfoundland. The structure of Trinity Loop was preserved, at least in that it wasn’t destroyed.
The Trinity Loop became government property. In February 1988, the Loop was recognized as a Registered Heritage Structure in Canada.
Trinity Loop Amusement Park
Local Francis Kelly purchased the Trinity Loop by lease some time after its original rough preservation. Cook’s original goal for the Trinity Loop was reportedly a railway museum, but Kelly had other ideas. He began construction on an amusement park inside the area of the Loop. It was simply called Trinity Loop Amusement Park.
Kelly built a small miniature narrow gauge train to run on the former Loop tracks. After a few years, he added additional tracks to allow the train to circle the amusement park and connect to the start of the Loop. Visitors could take that historical trip around the waters of the Loop Pond, the Ferris wheel spinning merrily nearby. Plywood cutouts of popular early 90s cartoons at the time dotted the perimeter, an occasional surprise in the thick evergreens.
“Crossing over the bridge on the mini train on original track with my family and looking down at the pond, track and park was probably the most exciting moment of my childhood,” remembers local J. P. Coady.
The setting couldn’t have been more breathtaking – lush green forest, sparkling clear blue waters of the Loop pond, and the amusement park itself, set in a clearing in the middle of it all. Several former railway cars became part of the park – an old yellow Plymouth locomotive for patrons to climb in and on, several passenger cars, a sleeper car that could be rented for the night, and a boxcar as a small stage for performances.
Other Activities at Trinity Loop Amusement Park
In a lower clearing, the mini-golf game, the bumper boats, the little playground, the Ferris wheel..all that sat down closer to the water. To one side, the cabins and the petting zoo.
“My first memory was catching a brief glimpse of the mini train on top of the hill, briefly visible from the road heading to the loop.” remembers J. P. Coady. “Then cresting the last hill my heart raced as I saw a railway crossing sign (which marked where the original line crossed the old Cabot Highway; this crossing was know as breakheart crossing)rail cars and park entrance! After reading so much about the Loop, being there was such a big deal for me.”
Visitors Loved Trinity Loop Amusement Park
The park is a quick drive from the town of Trinity. Reportedly, it was popular for its free swimming, as well as its good food. The restaurant was called Conductors Choice Diner (great restaurant in a converted passenger car). Burgers and the popcorn chicken are both mentioned in fond remembrances online. Former workers remember taking breaks, sitting on the stoops of the railway cars, listening to the band play: the Singing Hobo and the Brakemen.
Scouting organizations took camping trips there (particularly the Girl Guides groups in the area). Visitors remember the area as being a nice place for a day trip, and a place they remember as kids (or a place they remember taking their own children). It was a place for families. Locals even called it the Florida or the Disneyland of Newfoundland.
Quote: “In the evenings they would have live music, on the upper part of the site by the RV park. People would drive up, or you could walk there, and the stage was a flat car on railway tracks. People would blow their horns in the cars or clap after each song. It was such a nice experience.” If you chose to stay on-site, you could stay in one of the Trinity Cabins, or even rent out the Terra Nova 2 sleeper car. From the back of the sleeper car, you could see the sun set over the water and the park, and listen to the band play.
Downfall of the Trinity Loop Amusement Park
As is almost always the case, there’s no one reason the park closed. At its peak, Trinity Loop amusement park attracted 35,000 visitors per year, which was a huge boost to the local economies of Trinity and nearby Goose Cove.
Quite a bit seems to have hinged on the downfall of the job and tourism industry on the island of Newfoundland. Work locally became hard to find during this time, so many left for the mainland for more stable employment. Employes became hard to find. Tourism to amusement parks like Trinity Loop also dwindled, and the park management didn’t shift their focus to include a more broad historical context that may have pulled in additional visitors.
Trinity Loop Closed Again in 2004
The park operated until 2004. At this time, the contract ended with the provincial government and the property returned to governmental ownership. There is some speculation about fees and back taxes owed, but this is only speculation and rumor.
After the park’s closure, the small miniature train (Trinity Loop Express) went to Avondale, NL, where it was rebranded the Avondale Express. The train lives at the Avondale Railway Museum and gives rides in the summer over the 1.5km of remaining track there at Avondale.
Trinity Loop began to decay, there on the eastern edge of Newfoundland. Images online show nature beginning to take back the park. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that things seem to really have gone downhill for the Loop.
What happened in 2010? In fall of 2010, Hurricane Igor swept through the area. This was the most devastating hurricane ever to hit Newfoundland. (Interesting sidebar: if you Google “Hurricane Igor”, a top result is the “Hypothetical Hurricanes Wiki” for a fictional 2028 Hurricane Igor. I love that people make up fictional hurricanes as a hobby. I can’t throw any shade on that and thought this was actually kind of fun. Hey, I do a podcast about abandoned theme parks. To each their own.)
Anyhow, back in 2010, the real Hurricane Igor did millions of dollars of damage to Newfoundland.
The abandoned Trinity Loop Amusement Park was particularly hard hit. Most of the original Loop track was left mostly unharmed, but most of Kelly’s later additions to track were completely torn up, washed out by the riverbeds. This led to one of the iconic images of the abandoned park – a twisted train track, suspended in the air. Rocks and sediment from the washed-out riverbeds spread across other areas of the park.
Despite the historic designation, neither the Heritage Foundation nor the Department of Environment and Conservation had any apparent interest in taking ownership of the park.
Despite interest from a number of people in the Trinity Loop site, the government reportedly only wants to sell the land as an entire parcel, not portions, and thus has not chosen to work with anyone interested in the Trinity Loop site specifically.
Abandoned Trinity Loop
Much of the park was left in place when it was shuttered in 2004. Some of the large train cars were sold, including the Terra Nova 2 sleeper cabin, which now resides at the Orangedale Railway Station Museum in Nova Scotia.
Abandoned Train Cars at Trinity Loop
Other large train cars still remain at the site, including the caboose and dining car that were used as restaurant and museum, as well as the cutaway car that was used as a stage for The Singing Hobo. The empty train cars have become increasingly vandalized as the years have gone by. Their interior paint peels, covered by bright graffiti tags. A torn red train seat sits perfectly positioned for “the” Trinity Loop Instagram photo.
The yellow Plymouth locomotive remains on the top of the hill, looking out across the scenic Loop Pond and the decaying remains of Trinity Loop Amusement Park. The locomotive has seen better days, now covered in rust and graffiti.
Another train car remains, as well, away from the main area. A car from the miniature train, this car appears to have toppled from the track by a vandal. Over the years, photos show it slowly sliding from the bank into the Loop Pond. Today, a wheel on the back of the car is all that’s clearly visible in the water.
Abandoned Ferris Wheel at Trinity Loop
Of course, there was a Ferris wheel. Yes, I do say “was”. The wheel stood for many years, even after Hurricane Igor, but it looked increasingly worse for the wear. Where once the wheel had brilliant primary-colored paint, now was only the color of rust, with the faded seats stacked in piles on the ground nearby. Based on social media photos, it appears that the wheel collapsed between June 20, 2018 and July 2, 2018 (probably June 26, 2018, based on Weather Underground weather history – there was a big storm that day with 30+ mph winds).
The collapse of the wheel of course has led to a darker tone in the social media imagery from the site – the whole place appears much more post-apocalyptic now.
The mini-golf course remains in place, a testament to the eternal properties of Astro Turf. In the most recent photos at the time of this recording, someone has taken to stacking cords of cut wood on it.
And the bumper boat pool is still there, empty. The other outbuildings are still all there too, increasingly vandalized and destroyed: the “Good Food” building, the Trinity Cabins where visitors once could stay, the barns where the ponies for the pony ride once were stabled. Most of the kiddie playground items are gone, with only a headless ride-on motorized pony still remaining.
And that historical, iconic looped train railway, part of the original 1911 Newfoundland railway…well, it’s still there. It hasn’t really been maintained since 2004, but reportedly it could still be restored. The red letters spelling out “Trinity Loop” still sit atop the upper trestle.
Popularity of the Abandoned Trinity Loop
Trinity Loop is more popular than ever these days.
Recent publicity from a Canadian Press article has encouraged even more visitors, beyond just the locals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The romance of the abandoned place, says JP Coady, has been quote “attracting a lot of people, which is good because that gives me a chance to say, ‘Well, look, this is why it’s here.”‘
Trevor Croft and J. P. Coady are names you see a lot researching this topic, and I’ve mentioned them already in this episode. They are two locals who have a passion for the history of the Newfoundland Railway, and are even more passionate about preserving history before it’s lost, as so easily happens. They volunteer at the Avondale Railway Museum, sharing their private railway collections as well as their extensive knowledge. Quote: “…they [want] to make sure that people experience the history, which is a lot more important than reading posterboards.”
The Avondale Railway Museum
I briefly mentioned it before, but the Avondale Railway Museum is located in Avondale, about 220km from Trinity and the Trinity Loop. The length of track at Avondale is the same as that at Trinity, interestingly enough, and they have the old Trinity Loop Express, now branded the Avondale Express. The museum is open in the summer months and is “wildly popular for those interested in rail history, as well as curious tourists.” There’s a great 20 minute documentary on J. P., Trevor, and the Avondale museum.
J. P. has been working on efforts to preserve the Loop since 2012, beginning with a Facebook group, letter-writing campaigns, and a petition to the local politicians and MPs. He added the Loop to the list of “Heritage Canada sites at risk”. His vision is for the site to be turned into a heritage operation, a working railway museum.
No Changes for Trinity Loop Yet
Despite the lobbying of J. P. and others for a heritage operation on the Trinity Loop site, the government response to date has been tepid at best.
The condition of the site hasn’t changed. Many people reportedly now blame the government for the decaying condition of the park.
Trinity’s mayor, Jim Miller, has reportedly addressed the issues of the unsafe site with the province. Nothing has changed yet, however, aside from some very “helpful” signs posted on the property. In a statement from the provincial Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, the possibility for restoration was indicated, though without any concrete timelines. They reportedly are working on arranging an inspection of the site regarding environmental remediation.
Memories of Trinity Loop
Many guests visiting the park after its abandonment describe the ghost-like feeling of the site. “Breaks my heart in a thousand pieces,” says one former visitor. So many visitors remember idyllic weekends and summers at the park.
“The whole place is totally destroyed.”
If you were to visit the park, you’d look out over the destroyed landscape. Despite the chaos, you could close your eyes and still almost hear the squeals of joyful children. You could almost see a generation of wonderful times. Like so many of the parks we’ve covered here on TAC, Trinity Loop as an amusement park was a classic local tourist gem: a small family place, for first jobs, first kisses, and friendly fun.
Quote: “You could look down over all the park from the cabins on the hill, hear the music, see in cars lined up in the evening to hear the local musicians play, the dancing, it was a magical place.”
Trinity Loop: More Than an Abandoned Theme Park
I told you at the beginning that Trinity Loop was about more than my preconceived notions. It’s more than just a rusty Ferris wheel and some abandoned, vandalized train cars, though. Truly, what Trinity Loop and so many of these sites represent are the idea of the past. These sites challenge our ideals. What do we value as people and society? What happens to us all when we’re gone?
Trinity Loop was preserved once, and it has the opportunity to be preserved again, if we and the right people act quickly.
History is about keeping alive what is left. History isn’t just dry old books in a library. If we don’t talk about our past or preserve our past, who will? If we don’t memorialize our past and keep it alive in common memory, it will be forgotten. It will be lost.
These are the lessons I’ve learned from Trinity Loop, and from The Abandoned Carousel to date. I hope you’ll continue listening and keeping the past alive with me.
This week, I’d like to thank J. P. Coady for talking with me about his history with the Loop. You should check out his Facebook group: “Trinity Loop Heritage Railway and Museum”. The CBC Land and Sea documentary called “Riding the Rails” is also well worth your time.
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I’ll be back soon with another great episode, so I’ll see you then. As Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.
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