Thirty years ago, Operation Lifesaver gave out its first Roger Cyr Award. Named after the founder of Operation Lifesaver Canada, it’s awarded annually to an OL partner or volunteer who goes above and beyond in promoting railway safety. Over the past three decades, the award has often been given to volunteers who work for the railways, such as engineers or police officers. But this year’s recipient is a little different.
For almost two decades, Lloyd Hobbs was a teacher and school administrator in Newfoundland. He then worked for the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, before ending his career at the Newfoundland and Labrador Safety Council, where he volunteered with Operation Lifesaver. Although he retired last May, Lloyd has made a lasting impact on rail safety, and we’re happy to recognize his substantial contributions by naming him the 2020 recipient of the Roger Cyr Award.
OL spoke with Lloyd Hobbs about receiving the award and why he’s so passionate about spreading the rail safety message to all Canadians. Here’s part of that conversation:
How does a teacher from Newfoundland get involved with Operation Lifesaver?
I've worked for the last 11 years with the Newfoundland and Labrador Safety Council, which is a provincial safety organization. The Council is the sponsoring agent for Operation Lifesaver in Newfoundland and Labrador. So, it became part of my responsibility back in 2010 to work with Operation Lifesaver—and I've been working with them ever since. In fact, I'm a little bit unique, I guess, because I've not even been on a train since I was a small child. It's actually a bit of a bucket list item for my wife and myself to take a trip across Canada by rail. But I was probably about five years old the last time I was on a train.
Why do you think it’s important to promote rail safety in Newfoundland and Labrador?
In Newfoundland and Labrador, we actually only have rail lines on the Labrador side of the province, which is the mainland side. The island part of the province did have a rail system, but it closed in the late 80s. So, we have not had rail on the island in decades and a lot of our population basically have no knowledge of rail safety. But many of our residents travel all across the country, and the minute they leave the island part of the province, they are faced with railway tracks—in fact, as soon as they get off the ferry in Nova Scotia. Because of that, we've always felt there was a need for our residents to have rail safety knowledge.
How have you tried to get the rail safety message out in the province?
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Safety Council has included rail safety in all of its safety services, beginning with its driver programs, because anywhere you drive in North America you can encounter trains. And of course, we've tried to promote rail safety in our schools by having Rail Safety Week proclaimed in the province by our provincial government. Most years we've been able to do that.
But a lot of our focus has been in Labrador West, where we actually have the physical tracks. For example, in Labrador West, we've always had poster contests in the schools. We’ve had mall displays. We've had leaflet handouts for truckers at the weigh stations on the highway. We’ve taken part in Bell’s Let's Talk
campaign in the high school and promoted rail safety as far as mental health is concerned... And we've done a number of exercises, including mock collisions at railway crossings.
For you personally, what have you gotten out of your involvement with Operation Lifesaver and rail safety?
Well, I have a teaching background and I've enjoyed being able to get back into schools and to share the rail safety message with children―to see their faces when some of them are winners of a contest or have their presentations on display, etc. And I've enjoyed the opportunity to talk to community leaders and political leaders about safety. In a small province like ours, it's usually relatively easy to get to see the Minister of Transportation, for example, or the Minister of Works and Services, to share that message. But I guess I'd have to say that everything that we have done here has been a team effort. So, this award that we're talking about today really is something that I share with a small core of interested people who have been on the committee with me for the past 11 years. And it makes me proud, I suppose, to be able to say that even though we're a very small group, that we're able to do our part to promote rail safety.
As a former teacher, why do you think it’s particularly important to reach kids with rail safety messaging?
When it comes to education, the earlier that you can get the message to kids, the more natural or normal the topic becomes. And it’s never too young to start teaching safety. I think you'll find in most cases, too, that talking to kids is a good way to get through to their parents. So, for example, if you were in Labrador West and you teach kids about what to do when driving over a railway crossing, then if they see their parents not doing that, in most cases, kids can be very quick to tell their parents what to do. Same thing with our drivers’ education program with our teenagers. I've talked to parents lots of times that said, “Oh my, I didn't realize that a crossbuck means ‘prepare to stop,’ until my teenager learned that when they got their licence.” I think getting through to kids is really the secret to getting through to everyone with the safety message.