Romancing the Rails

The train winds its way through the mountains.
The train winds its way through the mountains.

Train-tracks-and-viewOf all the journeys to take in one’s lifetime, travelling by train across a continent has to be one of the top choices on anyone’s bucket list. VIA Rail Canada, provides the opportunity to see the country as a continuous kaleidoscope of magnificent vistas unrolling right outside your window.

The scope of this trip was evident from the air as we flew from the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport to Vancouver to travel back east to Toronto on VIA Rail’s Canadian train. Though this is only a portion of their service, it is a journey unlike any other.

The Canadian has been providing passenger service since its inception in 1955, tracing many of the routes that go back to the building of the transcontinental railroad that opened up the west with the first trip from Montreal to Port Moody, B.C. back in 1886.

Your first experience can only be related to movies you have seen as you step into the Pacific Central Station and walk beside the rail cars while porters cart your luggage aboard. The sounds of hissing steam, whistles and clanging bells disappear as you step up into the train car and are shown to your seat. The Canadian provides a number of choices when it comes to travel accommodation, including staterooms such as the Sleeper Plus which offers superb luxury for two people, with all the comforts of home.

Via-patrons-in-carsWith a final loud whistle comes the inevitable “All Aboard” and, moments later, a tug as the train slowly slips out into the late evening light to begin the journey east into the snow-capped mountains surrounding Vancouver. There is just something different and special about the feeling you get as you glide through a city on a train, gazing out the window, leaving all the hustle and bustle behind.

Not long after getting underway, the porter arrives to turn down the beds and inquire about your preferred sitting time for breakfast. Once again, here is another unique experience – sleeping on a train, something not hard to do as the clickity-clack of the rails and the gentle sway of the car carries you through the rolling hills.

The first morning of this four-day trip reveals mountains and forests slipping by the window as you travel toward the Jasper Railway Station in Alberta for a 90-minute stop and an opportunity to stretch your legs alongside the Athabasca River. Meals in the vintage dining car are an elegant affair, prepared by a team of VIA Rail chefs offering traditional Canadian fare, with multiple selections for all meals. White table linen service and food served on fine china create an ambiance from a bygone era.

The dome cars are an excellent opportunity to view the majesty of the Canadian landscape.

VIA Rail’s iconic Canadian, with its sleek silver cladding is a standout in any setting, and its upper-level dome cars offer an unparalleled view as the countryside rolls on by. With 360 degree visibility, this is the best place to take the pictures that capture the grandeur and memories you will talk about long into the future.

The first night and day are spent amid the majesty of the mountains winding alongside rushing rivers, travelling through tunnels and emerald-green forests, gradually giving way to the upper plains of the western prairie. The first major city stop is Edmonton, arriving at 11 p.m. and departing at midnight. Throughout the rest of the night, the distant lights of farms and small rural towns flicker across the window. Saskatoon is the next stop at 8 a.m.

Your second morning finds you crossing the endless patchwork quilt of the prairies, a silver streak moving across the vast agricultural lands from which Canada exports its bounty around the world. On and on into the day, the prairie slips by through lunch and dinner, until the outskirts of Winnipeg appear just before 8 p.m. with another stop of just under two hours.

Shortly after departing Winnipeg, the eastern prairie gives way to boreal forests and the great Canadian Shield, and by sun-up the next morning you awaken to the sparkling blue lakes and mottled green forests of northern Ontario. For many Canadians and visiting tourists alike, this is cottage country, providing some of the most pristine landscapes in which to enjoy a multitude of recreational activities.

As the journey winds on beside the waterways, the north woods, the towns and the forests, one reflects on the grand scale of this country and the history of each community that whisks by the window. Not lost in this thought is the vastness of this land, its beauty and the resource for now and in the future. It is not until you travel by rail in this way that you have the time and the opportunity to take in what you see. It is for those who are Canadian to appreciate much that they weren’t aware of and, for those who are visiting, to share in a journey that transcends a few generations but stretches across an entire continent.

The trip from Vancouver to Toronto covers 4,446 kilometres with four nights aboard, arriving in Toronto at 9:30 a.m., leaving plenty of daylight hours for exploring Canada’s largest city. The accommodations and service have been exceptional. The VIA Rail staff go out of their way to ensure your trip exceeds your expectations.

The memories of travelling on the Canadian will last a lifetime; there will be no forgetting the sights, the sounds and the very feel of this journey by rail. Whether you are single, a couple, friends or a family, this adventure is one that must be experienced. Make your date for a romance with the rails.