When you retire from your dream job to the two hobbies you love most, life is good.
Just ask Ron Salisbury.
The North York resident retired Jan. 31 after working 39 years at Humber River Regional Hospital, where he started off as a cook before becoming a groundskeeper.
Now, he is turning his attention full-time to his other beloved pursuits, cooking and trains.
Salisbury, who turned 60 last month, is hoping to repeat a six-month gig he had last year as the paid chef and all-around host and maintenance man aboard a railway car called the Pacific used to raise $1 million for Alzheimer’s research.
People rented the railcar, which was attached to a Via or Northlander train, to travel to destinations such as Windsor, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and Northern Ontario.
Salisbury, a trained chef, greeted his guests with a reception complete with complimentary bar and later laid out a lunch or dinner spread that could include shrimp cocktail, grilled chicken, salmon or steak with mushroom sauce, sweet potato Parmesan mash, baby carrots, snow peas, grilled brie and strawberry sandwiches, poached apples in ice wine with ice cream and caramel sauce, and tea and coffee.
The railcar sleeps six and accommodates eight people in the dining room for a sit-down meal or up to 16 people for a buffet.
This year, Salisbury is hoping a sponsor can be found so similar trips can be made to Western Canada to continue raising money for Alzheimer’s research.
The Pacific is owned by Paul Higgins Jr. and Michael Higgins, brothers who put it back on the rails to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their company, Mother Parkers Tea and Coffee.
They inherited the railcar from their father, Paul Higgins Sr., who battled Alzheimer’s before dying in 2004 in his early 90s.
Built in 1924, the Pacific was used by King George VI and the Queen Mother on a 1939 tour of Canada.
Salisbury knew the Higgins family because he stored five of his own railcars at the Mother Parkers plant in Ajax, east of Toronto. He often served as chef on the Pacific for the family’s private functions and charity fundraisers.
Salisbury jumped at the chance to spend months working as a chef on the railcar last year.
“The dream of all dream jobs,” he said, sitting beside his wife, Janet Bayly, in their condo near Sheppard Avenue and Don Mills Road.
Salisbury has always been drawn to trains.
“I love railroading. It’s the romance of the rails and seeing this country,” he said.
“When you fly, you look down but travelling by rail...”
Rail travel gives passengers the chance to get to connect with others, including visitors and newcomers to Canada, travel through bad weather and travel from one city’s downtown to another, said Salisbury, pointing out airports are usually on the outskirts of urban centres.
“I’ve been all over the country. There’s nothing like a Prairie sunset, doesn’t matter what time of year,” he said.
“Seeing the Rockies by rail is the only way to do it. Quebec City is the best city to see in Canada.”
Salisbury even met Bayly on a blind date during a food tasting event on his railcar, Northern Lights, in Ajax in 1991 and proposed to her on the Pacific on a run from Ajax to Toronto the following year.
They married in 2010.
Salisbury worked for Canadian Pacific Hotels, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in the early 1970s before joining the hospital.
At Humber River, he loved his job and enjoyed helping people find where they were going or answering questions.
“The staff are great, the doctors are great, it’s great to put a smile on people’s faces by giving a smile or answering a question,” he said.
It wasn’t just people he helped. Salisbury cared for more than one animal he encountered on the hospital grounds, even adopting a guinea pig after trying to find a home for it for two years.
At his retirement party, Humber River’s director of management, Brad Achtenberg, praised Salisbury’s dedication, cheerful nature and helpfulness.
“Ron, at many times, is the first hospital employee that visitors and patients meet. His kindness and willingness to help others goes a lot way in providing a friendly and caring atmosphere at Humber,” he said.
Achtenberg then turned his attention to Salisbury’s favourite pastimes.
“As many of you know, Ron has three hobbies– cooking, train antiquing and riding on trains. Most recently, Ron was able to do all three hobbies by participating in an charitable event sponsored by Mother Parkers,” he said.
“He was the host and chef on the beautifully refurbished Mother Parkers train, which travelled across Canada raising money for Alzheimer’s research. Ron, I think you proved you were the right person for the job.”