Who’s behind it?

 the planner

The initiative for  comes from David Watts a public servant for 11 years, a writer-educator for 30 and public speaker/sometime broadcaster for 20 with 16 years’ organizing trains for special events. In Canadian Classroom… he brings these strands together.

Public Service

In his present day-to-day work Watts leads the Proactive Disclosure Initiative of Alberta Environment and Parks, a program releasing environmental information to the public outside of the access request process. This is the only unit of its kind in the Alberta Government. Watts also served as a leadership mentor in an inter-ministry program. His office is recognized as a Green Workplace.


*  taught all ages from preschool to post-secondary (college/university)
*  university faculty consultant, supervising education students in senior practicum
*  holds Alberta and BC certification, also taught in England, Scotland and Québec
*  taught in Catholic, protestant, public, private, alternative, home school streams, to gifted  and special needs, on line, outdoors, in bilingual and immersion schools.
*  Has written curriculum, presented at teachers conventions, professional dev’t days
*  a three time recipient of the Hillroy Fellowship for innovative classroom projects
*  one of his favourite learning adventures: helping pre-literate 6-7 year olds “read” a national newspaper story using cues in the pictures and recognized key words; believes children can infer meaning before being hooked on propaganda/message.


first published piece, “Principality of Alberta,” won first prize in a competition for satire (1980); a regular freelance contributor to the Edmonton Journal since

articles have also appeared in the Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, Ottawa Citizen (Canwest chain) on Opinion, Travel, Religion pages

individual pieces in Financial Post, Moneywise Magazine, The Times (London – Educational Supplement), Up Here: life in Canada’s North, Canadian Geographic

most frequent contributor to CBC Radio “Commentary” from 1990-2002; also pieces for CBC morning/afternoon shows in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver

beginning with “The Canadian Connection” has recorded 20 scripts, some to a background of classical music, on Canadian historical, cultural and spiritual topics

Rail-based education

In 1973, with four others, mostly students, Watts founded an organization to restore and operate rail passenger coaches to promote awareness of Canadian geography, history and culture. Unlike the revival of private railcar travel at the time, the group was not intended as an activity for an élite. Unlike rail clubs, it was not made up mostly of rail fans.

Rather it envisaged using the rail travel medium as a venue for … educational activities targeted at a broad audience including those who, “by reason of economic or other circumstances, would not have access to similar facilities or programs elsewhere.”

One of its early slogans was “rediscover a sense of community … [on the rails]”. The group was modeled on the concept of the colonist cars, the spartan economy sleepers provided by the railways for immigrants arriving in Canada and for the armed services.

Its coming-out activity was a 1975 train for an Edmonton visit by Lord Strathcona, great grandson of Donald Smith who drove the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Passengers on the “Strathcona Special” included a cross section of seniors, youth, and business and educational members of the community as well as dignitaries such as the Mayor and councilors, Lieutenant Governor and Cabinet Ministers.

Later Colonist Railcar Society activities in which Watts was involved included:

branch line excursions on the former Northern Alberta Railways, British Columbia Railway, Central Alberta, CN and VIA Rail

a Folk Festival on Rails that ran for 5 years from Edmonton to Fort McMurray and back following the annual Edmonton Folk Festival

an onboard art show and other static displays and exhibits

an 11-day Rail and Sail operated in conjunction with a songwriter workshop on rails, that ran from Alberta to the Gulf Islands

consulting services for rail-related initiatives including the Canadian Discovery Train spurred by the first Parti Québécois victory in 1975

participation in the second US-based “Canadian Explorer” train into northern BC, northwestern Alberta and the Northwest Territories

The Canadian Connection” choral speech that traveled by rail and presented at the Citizens’ Commission on Canada’s Future.

The Bruderheim hearing of the Commission that Watts’ Canadian Connection opened was described by the Assistant Commissioner as “the best he ever attended” with its positive affirmation of Canada that kept the event from becoming another gripe session.

From the Canadian Connection initiative emerged “Canadian Specific Enterprises” that outlived the Colonist Railcar Society. CRS disbanded in 1997; Two of the three railcars it owned are now Alberta restaurants, the third still operates on Alberta Prairie Excursions.

At 22, David Watts discovered the country by rail when he won an exchange scholarship to the University of New Brunswick and traveled there from his home in Calgary. It was his first time outside the Western provinces, the first time he saw the Canadian Shield and the first time he walked platforms and streets in places where most people speak French. He covets these experiences for later generations of Canadian youth from all regions.

David has since traveled the country many times by air, road and rail, and has hiked and kayaked closer to home. He has harvested grain on the prairies, picked fruit in the Okanagan, “sailed upon the waterways and walked the forests tall” (Gordon Lightfoot).

Rail remains his favoured mode of travel, when available, because of its closeness to the land, its possibilities for group interaction along en route and as a jumping off point for side trips. Where rail is not an option, he looks for parallel “on the ground” experiences.


Je tiens à vous signaler combine j’ai apprécié le fait que vous vous soyiez prêté si professionnellement à témoigner des caractéristiques spécifiques de votre région d’origine … J’estime que vous êtes de ceux qui contribuent à donner raison aux homes politiques canadiens de promouvoir le bilinguisme et le biculturalisme.

Roger Desbiens, Directeur, École Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Laval Québec (1983)


David has presented workshops for teachers in our district over the years that are of the highest calibre.

His most recent presentation … provided a stimulating session which integrated our new Social Studies and Fine Arts curricula… One participant called it the best professional development activity he had attended in 32 years! …

… David’s record with our district has earned him great admiration and respect as a presenter. I also feel confident in endorsing any new educational projects David chooses to develop.

Erika Godfrey, Coordinator, School Services
Greater Victoria School District #61(1999) _____________________________________________________________________________

As I worked with Mr. Watts, I kept being impressed with his genuine love for children, his sharp mind, his hard work, his knowledge base in many directions, and especially his creative restlessness that sees connections where others don’t …

Adrian Peetoom, Director Educational Research & Development
Scholastic Canada Limited, Toronto (1989)