Ethan Thompson is using LEGO to pay tribute to his late grandfather. It may be unconventional, but it’s no less impactful. Check out the lifelike GO bus terminal and the bigger story behind the blocks.
Brick by brick, Ethan Thompson is building on his family’s transit legacy.
And the most important pieces add up to a tribute to his grandfather, and his life’s work serving GO Transit customers.
At 19-years-old, Thompson is a third-generation bus enthusiast from Niagara Region. His father is a fan, and his grandfather was a long-time GO bus driver.
But what happens when that love of transit clicks with an excitement for building worlds with LEGO?
The answer is pretty cool, but before we dive into that part of the story – let’s look at the building blocks of Thompson’s passion.
His love of buses all started with his grandfather, Garnett Thompson, known to his friends as ‘Garney’.
‘Garney’ Thompson worked as a GO bus driver for 42 years, starting in 1977. His decades long career with GO Transit took him all over the GTA, driving routes in Brampton, Hamilton, and Niagara – where he called home.
Thompson died in 2016, but his memory lives on in more ways than one.
Bob Lanigan, a current GO bus driver, was a long-time friend of ‘Garney’ Thompson. According to Lanigan, he always took new drivers under his wing.
“Garney was old school, he didn’t put up with much malarky,” said Lanigan.
“He had a tough exterior, but he was a marshmallow underneath and to his customers he was a really friendly guy.”
In tribute, Ethan designed an entire GO bus terminal.
Hundreds of hours of work and tens of thousands of tiny pieces later, Thompson completed the GO bus terminal in memory of his grandfather earlier this year.
“I just wanted people to know what I’m able to do with LEGO pieces, to show people what’s possible,” said Thompson.
Thompson based the terminal on Aldershot, Oshawa, and Burlington GO Stations – down to the PRESTO machines, bus shelters, and tactile yellow striping on the sidewalk. He studied photos of the stations for weeks to get the details just right.
A project this size couldn’t happen without a few helping hands along the way.
To get the graphics and fonts just right for GO Transit and PRESTO, Thompson and his dad designed the signage using computer software. Finally, they got them printed and glued them perfectly onto the LEGO pieces.
Thompson also relied on Bob Lanigan’s expertise. Lanigan was the young Thompson’s unofficial design consultant, always there to run plans by.
Lanigan’s help doesn’t stop there either. When Lanigan met Thompson, he immediately encouraged him to bring in his display to show GO staff.
“It was so great to see his passion for it, and his father was so encouraging. That passion is what you want kids to have,” said Lanigan.
So, at Lanigan’s urging, Thompson debuted the LEGO bus terminal at the Hamilton GO Bus garage earlier this summer.
“People were blown away by how realistic the buses looked,” said Thompson.
The next LEGO project
Thompson says his next project is going to be a LEGO model of the new Union Station Bus Terminal. He says if everything goes according to plan, it will take a few weeks to design and build.
As for turning his love of transit into a career, Thompson says he hopes to build on his LEGO success by following in the footsteps of his grandfather as a GO bus driver.
And it’s not like ‘Garney’ isn’t watching over it all.
Among the many LEGO people at the tiny bus terminal, stands one grey-haired figure next to a GO vehicle.
It’s an image of the younger Thompson’s grandfather, waiting patiently for customers to board his bus once again.
Story by Scott Money, Metrolinx News editorial team