We all know that Terror Trains don’t build themselves but I didn’t realize the amount of effort and creativity required until I met Robby Lavoie.
Owner and founder of Northern Screams, Robby is a local-boy-made-good. His commitment to and enthusiasm for the community he grew up in is contagious, maybe a bit like something that might ooze off one of his creepy creations for the annual Terror Train 6077 at the Northern Ontario Railway Museum & Heritage Centre.
Keep reading to meet the man behind the scream…
1. Why do you choose Sudbury?
“I love Sudbury!” answers Robby without hesitation. “Where else can you work all day and go fishing at night?! I’ve lived in Toronto and other places but home always pulls me back.” Born and raised in the Donovan, Robby says he’s never far from the tracks.
2. What’s your favourite spot in town?
The Sudbury Arena. My daughter is a goalie so we spend many hours there for games and practices, and of course, we never miss a Wolves Game. Some people call me The Voice of Section 20… I am loud and proud. I started going when I was 5 years old and have been going ever since. My daughter is only 12 but she’s pretty much a full time goalie, playing on multiple teams. I’m really lucky my work schedule allows me to spend so much time with my children at the rink. Sudbury’s Arena is the place where all that happens and where those connections are made with myself and the children.
3. What about getting out of town, where do you escape to?
I play baseball so I never get to escape, unless you include the baseball diamond! Maybe camping and fishing on French River or Manitoulin are my escape routes. You don’t have to go far to find amazing places to escape to! My family has deep roots in Manitoulin; something like 140 years ago my family was on its way to immigrate to Toronto but found Manitoulin and stopped for good. Wouldn’t you?
4. When family comes to visit, what’s the one thing you insist they do/see?
The Northern Ontario Railroad Museum & Heritage Centre (aka NORM) of course! It’s so different from other museums and even other railroad museums. It’s always growing with new things for visitors to see and enjoy. Have you seen the scale model of the city being built on the lower level of the Heritage Centre (under the old Fire Hall)? It’s amazing what those volunteers are building. You have got to check it out!
I’m so proud of what’s been achieved in just six years and that I’m able to be a part of it.
5. What do you think is the greatest misconception about Sudbury?
The people. Sudbury is such a diverse community with lots of open minds and great ideas. I don’t think people realise just how much brain power and energy there is up here. The old school way of thinking still seems to be the one people focus on. Don’t get me wrong, when I say “old school” I don’t mean old people. Seniors can be the most curious of all! I just don’t want people to forget how many creative people are bringing change to the community.
6. Who’s your favourite Sudburian of all time?
Rod McHugh. He was my basketball coach at Sudbury Secondary then at Northeastern. He had a huge impact on me and, I think, on a whole bunch of us.
7. Greatest Sudbury icon?
Hockey. Ya, Sudbury’s greatest icon is probably hockey. Just look at how many players this place has produced! The Wolves are the number one hockey factory for the NHL. Take a player like Mike Foligno who grows up here and makes it big. He’s representing Sudbury when he’s away but he always comes home. The whole family keeps giving back to this community; they are role models in what they’ve done for cancer research and other causes both local and universal.
8. Stripes or plaid? Why?
Plaid. Because it’s different. You always see somebody when they’re wearing plaid.
9. Drive or fly? Why?
I love to drive. Top down. Love to drive. I’ve driven almost right across Canada and the States. My favourite was probably a road trip to NYC where I got to see Yankee Stadium and the firehall where Ghostbusters was filmed. Ah, the highlight of that trip was playing basketball at Rucker Park in Harlem.
10. Hotel or camp? Why?
Both. It’s totally a tie. You know, it depends on what I’m doing. Camping = Freedom. The hotel is like a surprise, you never know what you’re gonna get. Most of my hotel stays these days are with my daughter for hockey tournaments out of town. Each place we stay at is a new adventure, especially when it comes to Wi-Fi, will it or won’t it work… that’s totally a pet peeve of mine.
11. What tip do you have for people who are considering going to this year’s Terror Train?
Get there early! Sometimes there’s a 2 hour wait to get in! The best time to come is early in the season, on the first couple of weekends, and earlier in the evenings. Don’t wait for Devil’s Night; come as soon as you can.
Also, come by bus. The city just started running a bus that’ll drop you off and pick you up right in front of the Northern Ontario Railway Museum & Heritage Centre. I think it’s the 703 and it runs every half hour. A lot of our actors use the bus because they are so exhausted by the end of the night that they don’t want to drive home.
Most of the actors within the Terror Train are volunteers – lots of them are high school students who are fulfilling their required hours by scaring people. How crazy is that?! A lot of them, though, sign up to volunteer on the construction of the Terror Train set. I teach them some construction skills and have had some kids come back the next year to learn more. It takes me and the volunteers about 6 weeks to build the set. A labour of love, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
To read more about Robby and his passion for the Terror Train, visit facebook.com/The-Terror-Train-6077
Every month we talk to someone new, encouraging them to share their secrets, insights and suggestions. Read all the Cultural Spotlights on sudburydiscoveries.ca. Share your own ideas, tips and Sudbury favourites or simply read those of others on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
 According to The Hockey News – Future Watch 2015 author Mark Kranjc, “When it comes to developing big-league talent, Michigan and Sudbury are the best amateur programs at turning prospects into NHL players.”