By J.E. Fairweather
[I had just spent about six weeks to my sister in Perth, Ontario, having travelled to her from New York overnight by Greyhound (it took around 20 hours). I was on my way to Los Angeles by train. I had to travel from Brockville, Ontario to Toronto to pick up the sleeper to Vancouver. We left Brockville around 5 p.m. and arrived at the Gothic Victorian station about 8 p.m. I had arranged to meet an ex lodger of mine whom I had not seen for over 20 years. It was good to have someone with whom to spend the two hours before the train left.]
I was looking forward to the journey, for as the Route Guide says:
This spectacular four-day journey offers some of the most breathtaking scenery found anywhere in the world, from the Muskoka Lakes to the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies to the vast expanse of the prairie grasslands. I was not disappointed.
The Vancouver train left on time, full to capacity. I later discovered that it had 17 cars, each car twice the length of a BR train. It must have been at least half-a-mile long. It had two dining cars and four viewing cars. There were different categories of accommodation: Economy, which were upright, comfortable seats; Section, which are seats which fold out to single beds but which in the daytime have no privacy in that the public passageway passes between them. At night a curtain is drawn on either side of the passage. It looks like the train scene in Some Like it Hot. There are roomettes, which consist of a small room sitting room, a shower, basin and toilet. There is also a room with both a curtain and a glass door which locks at night. This can also contain a basin only, or a basin, and toilet over which the bed folds down. Each is priced differently. There is a new class called Prestige, which forms the last two cars on the train and are the only cars that have doors which open automatically between cars. The cars are lined with wood and the rooms are luxurious, with double/single beds. They are more like hotel suites.
The journey was really worth taking. By the first morning we had reached the countryside and it got more and more spectacular. The longest part was where we passed lake upon lake upon lake. I believe there are over 1,000 lakes in Canada. It was so good looking out at these during meals. The dining car was really comfortable with real tablecloths, which are changed after each sitting was finished. There were three sittings for each meal with seating for around 40 in both dining cars. (This was for three days. Working out the number of tablecloths used on each journey boggles the mind.) The food was as good as in any top restaurant anywhere, with the best ingredients. I was surprised to find that most of it was organic. The menus were varied but yet flexible to meet individual requests. I was really impressed by it all. The service was second to none, the waiters/waitresses doing their best to please.
The scenic cars were up a set of stairs and overlooked the roof of the train with comfortable seats and a glass dome. The only thing was that they were very cold. I was told that this had been a problem from they were first installed. The view was well worth suffering the cold for whether it was the many forests, lakes, mountains, rivers or settlements we passed. Our train stopped in the middle of nowhere a lot on this long journey. I was told that the freight companies own the rail lines, and so they have priority over passenger trains. Each time a freight train came to a junction with the line our train was on, it had to be given it priority. And these freight trains are long. I remember seeing one pass while I was standing by in Perth. It must have taken at least ten minutes to pass. As it cuts across the roads, I felt sorry for the car drivers waiting.
There was a bit of entertainment offered on board, not just board games but live entertainment. I spoke with the young folk singer that entertained us a few times. She said she was ‘working’ her way from Ontario to Jasper, fourteen stops from Ontario. There was also wine and beer tasting and Champaign sessions in the scenic cars.
The train stopped only to pick up passengers, but now and again a 10-minute smoking stop would be allowed. Winnipeg was the only place we stopped for any length of time. Via Rail kindly arranged for a bus tour of the city for those interested. I went along. It was a hot afternoon but in the winter the temperature can drop to -60F. No wonder the population was so small. It is an attractive city, well planned and modern, hopefully to attract more residents. It was a hot day but I can just imagine what it must be like in the winter.
The train was divided into sections. At Jasper, most of the passengers from the section I was in left the train. The steward said 150 people alighted. Most of them were in groups, the largest being members of Automobile Association of Canada tour. Another group had come from Germany and a few other passengers from Colorado. Most of those who remained were, like me, continuing to Vancouver. For most of the journey I caught up with my reading. It was so nice to relax in such an ideal situation: a train thundering across the Continent with lovely views and delicious food.
The journey was three nights and four days long. There were 34 stops through five provinces: Ontario; Manitoba; Saskatchewan; Alberta and British Columbia. The stops Washago (pop 600); Parry Sound; Greater Sudbury; Capreol; Gogama (pop), this was one of the many isolated station created when the line was first laid, to service the locomotives. Each such station was laid at 240km intervals. Next came Horneypayne; Longlac; Armstrong; Sioux Lookout; Ontario-Manitoba Border; Winnipeg; Portage La Prairie; Manitoba-Saskatchewan Border; Melville; Watrous; Saskatoon; Biggar; Unity; Saskatchewan-Alberta Border; Wainwright; Viking; Edmonton; Edson; Hinton; Jasper; Yellowhead Pass; Mount Robson; Valemount’ Blue River; Kamkoops; Ashcroft; Boston Bar and Vancouver.
A number of corrections were made to this article on 16 and 18 November 2016.