It's 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, June 13, 1999, and I've just arrived at Union Station in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I will be boarding the Canadian on my way to Toronto. I flew here on Friday from Newark via Toronto in order to attend my cousin Gilli's bar mitzvah, and I will be flying back from Toronto to New York, but I wanted to experience the train ride on this route. The Canadian is a tri-weekly train, but it just so happens that Sunday is one of the days that the eastbound train leaves Winnipeg. And the timing of the train is just perfect, since I was even able to attend a brunch in honor of the bar mitzvah that began at 11:30 a.m. Earlier in the day, I called VIA and found out that my train was expected to be about 50 minutes late (the train is scheduled to arrive at 12:50 p.m. and depart at 1:50 p.m.), but I decided to play it safe and get to the station in plenty of time.
This is the second time that I will be taking a train from this magnificent station. The first time was three years ago, when I took the Hudson Bay to Churchill. Then, the south wing of the station was still being used for the VIA ticket office. Now, although the grand rotunda still remains untouched, both the north and south wings of the station have been converted to offices and are closed off to public use. The waiting area is underneath the tracks, in the concourse that was formerly used to access the trains. The ticket office has now been relocated to a small, not particularly attractive, area adjacent to the waiting area. The current VIA facilities, thus, are located in a rather cramped area, with a very low ceiling, but considering that the station serves only 12 trains a week (3 Canadians in each direction, and the 3 Hudson Bay trains to Churchill), they are adequate.
After leaving my belongings in the waiting area set aside for sleeping car passengers, I went up to the Winnipeg Railway Museum, located on the former Tracks 1 and 2 of the station (which have been partitioned off from the rest of the station by a plywood barrier). Their collection encompasses various items of old railroad equipment, including the Countess of Dufferin, an old steam locomotive used to build the first railroad line out of Winnipeg. An old baggage car has been converted into a gift shop, and I purchased several interesting back issues of TRAINS magazine.
At 1:53 p.m., I watched through an opening in the barrier as our train finally pulled into the station. Soon, I decided to go back down to the waiting area so that I would be ready to board the train when boarding was announced. The waiting area was nearly empty when I first arrived at the station, but soon it began to fill up -- primarily with a large tour group of older people. They had boarded the train in Jasper and would be taking it to Toronto, and most of them chose to step off the train for a few minutes in Winnipeg. I did, however, meet one couple from Winnipeg who were traveling to Toronto on business and chose to take the train (they would be occupying a section). One woman from the tour group was amazed that I was able to travel alone with my "heavy" baggage (consisting of a wheeled airline case, a rather light garment bag, and my small daypack)!
At 2:35 p.m., boarding of the train began. I went up the escalator to the platform and boarded my car #8320, named Douglas Manor. This was the fourth sleeper car on the train, and was conveniently situated near the top of the escalator. I was escorted by the attendant to my Room #4, where I left my belongings. Then I went back out to the platform to take some pictures of the train and record at least part of the consist. I observed two employees washing the windows of the cars, something that I do not ever recall seeing done elsewhere.
On the way back to my room, a VIA employee noticed me recording the consist, and offered me his printed copy of the consist, which I gladly accepted. Today's Canadian is pulled by two engines, and includes (in the order that the cars are arranged on the train) a baggage car, three coaches, two Skyline dome cars, four Manor sleepers, another Skyline dome car, five more Manor sleepers, a diner, a Manor sleeper, a Chateau sleeper, another Manor sleeper, and the dome-observation car Tweedsmuir Park. All together, there are 21 cars on the train, including 12 sleepers! This is the longest regularly scheduled passenger train that I have traveled on for many years (the only longer train that I can recall riding is the City of San Francisco that I took during an airline strike in the summer of 1966, which had about 25 cars, as I recall.) The consist indicates that there are supposed to be only 50 coach and 116 sleeper passengers leaving Winnipeg, so the train does not appear to be anywhere near full (the capacity of the three coaches is about 180, and the 12 sleepers could accommodate about 240 passengers).
When my attendant showed me my room, I noticed that there was no route guide among the various booklets provided for passengers. I asked the attendant whether one was available, and she soon returned and informed me that route guides do not appear to be available on the train this year, although they had been available in past years. I was a little surprised at this, since the scenery is the main reason why people ride this train. I had brought along a copy of the description of this route from the Rail Ventures book, but it was not very informative. I also took along a copy of Bill Coo's book Scenic Rail Guide to Western Canada, which contains a detailed map of all rail passenger routes in the area (as of 1989), showing every station and milepost, but discovered that the route of the Super Continental (which is followed by the present-day Canadian) from Winnipeg to Toronto is actually covered in the companion book to Central and Atlantic Canada, which I had neglected to take with me! But I did take along 1967 Esso maps of Manitoba and Ontario which show all rail lines, and these very detailed maps enabled me to figure out where we were almost all of the time.
We pulled out of the Winnipeg station at 2:58 p.m., but we moved backwards for about seven minutes, and switched onto another track. Then a few minutes later, we moved forward again, and finally passed the station again at 3:17 p.m., this time on the tracks to the east of the station generally used for freight trains. As we curved east to cross the Red River, the reason for the detour became clear -- the connecting track from the station to the main line was closed off with a red flag for maintenance. So we were now effectively about an hour and a half late.
During our back-up move, I went up to the Skyline dome car behind my sleeper, which was quite full. Then I proceeded to the Skyline dome in front of the first sleeper, which was completely full. Finally, I went to the next forward dome, which was for coach passengers. This dome was largely empty, with the only occupants being a group of about eight teenagers. They explained to me that they were from Hornepayne, Ontario, a small community of about 1,200 people, and were returning home from an eighth- grade class trip to Edmonton. The entire class of 12 students was on the train!
As I expected, most of the coach passengers on this train were Canadians using it for purposes of transportation. By contrast, the vast majority of the sleeping car passengers were Americans and people from other countries (including Scotland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand), and many of them were on escorted tours. Also, most of the sleeping car passengers were mature, retired people, while there were quite a few young people in the coaches.
As was the case on my trip five years ago on the Ocean, I found that the front dome -- set aside primarily for the use of coach passengers -- was the best place on the train to view the scenery. You got the best view of the front of the train, and the right-side front window was the cleanest of all four dome cars. (Unfortunately, the dome car windows were not cleaned during our stop in Winnipeg.) I spent some time here watching the scenery, and even attempted to start writing these memoirs on the computer. However, I found that the glare from the sun was so great that I could not read the screen.
Soon, I left the dome and walked down through the coaches. There were about 25 people in each of the rear two cars, and only one person in the first car. This was, of course, far below the capacity of these cars. About half the people were going all the way to Toronto, with the rest getting off at various intermediate stops. Then I returned to my roomette, where I started writing these memoirs. When I passed through the second Skyline dome, I tried to take an orange from a basket on the table, but was immediately told by the attendant that I could not do so because this was a private car. Apparently, the first three sleepers on the train are reserved for the use of a private tour group (not the same tour group that the people I met at the Winnipeg station were traveling in), and other passengers were not supposed to be using those cars or the Skyline dome directly in front of them. It really didn't matter, though, since similar refreshments were available to sleeping car passengers in the other Skyline dome car and in the Park car, anyway.
After a while, I decided to walk back to the Park observation car at the end of the train. It took a while to get there, since I had to go through ten cars on the way. This Park car is quite unique, combining a dome with a rounded observation section at the rear of the train. I went up to the dome, where I started talking to several people whom came from Sweden or New Zealand. I also spent some time in the lower level of the car, where a number of people from the tour group that I met in Winnipeg were sitting.
When we left Winnipeg, we passed through flat farmlands. Soon, though, the scenery changed to forest. Then we started going through some rock cuts, which added interest to the scenery. It wasn't long before we reached Bereton Lake, the first of many, many lakes that we would pass. The combination of rock cuts, forest and lakes made for magnificent scenery, and the dome cars on the train afforded a wonderful opportunity to view the sights.
At 5:04 p.m., we reached Ophir, a station just west of the Manitoba/Ontario border. The line here is single-track, and we stopped to let our westbound counterpart, Train #1, pass us. The train did not come by until 5:22 p.m., and in the meantime I purchased a Canadian cap from the attendant in the Park car. The rounded observation end of this car was the perfect place to watch the westbound Canadian go by, and I counted 21 cars on that train -- exactly the same number as on our train! The westbound train is scheduled to arrive here at 3:03 p.m., so it is over two hours late.
We started moving again as soon as the westbound train passed us, but stopped again three minutes later. The purpose of this stop was to let off two people. There is really nothing here -- not even a road, although an ATV was stationed near the tracks. I'm not sure where these two people were going. but this stop points to the secondary purpose served by this train -- providing the only means of transportation to remote communities, some of which have no road access. Interestingly, while the timetable shows scheduled stops at some stations and flag stops at others, the nature of the timetable designation seems to bear no relation to whether the train actually stops at a particular station or not. Thus, we did not stop at Transcona, just outside of Winnipeg, even though it is a scheduled stop, since no one was getting on or off there. (Indeed, according to the manifest, two people were scheduled to get on there, but they did not show up, and the train didn't even seem to slow down when we passed this stop.) In fact, Ophir was our first stop in the nearly 2« hours since we left Winnipeg.
After we departed from Ophir, I stopped at my room to pick up my video camera and computer, and returned to the front dome car. The car was virtually deserted now, and I sat down at the front pair of seats, which (in the Skyline dome cars) has a table in between -- very convenient for using my computer! I spent over an hour there, looking out at the spectacular scenery, taking pictures with my video camera, and writing these memoirs. It had gotten cloudy by now, so although the views weren't quite as beautiful as they would have been if the sun were still shining, there was no glare to interfere with the visibility of my computer screen. The table at the front of the dome was very comfortable, and was actually more convenient for the use of my computer than my room, which (unlike the Superliner and Viewliner rooms on Amtrak) is not equipped with a table. At one point, I was joined in the dome by a Native American family from Sioux Lookout, who were returning home from a trip to Winnipeg. We passed through several tunnels, which are particularly fascinating when experienced from the front of a dome!
We were now traversing a real wilderness area, with very few roads, and only a few tiny settlements. The timetable indicates a number of flag stops, but we actually stopped at only two more stations -- Ottermere and Redditt. Ottermere, where we stopped briefly at 5:46 p.m., consists of several vacation homes just north of the tracks. Two people, who presumably were going to one of those homes -- which apparently have no road access -- got off here. Redditt is a little bigger, but also is a rather tiny settlement. We made two stops at Redditt, where one or two passengers got off and on, so that passengers could board the proper cars. One nice thing about the dome car is that you can see all the action at the station stops without having to get off the train! We spent five minutes at Redditt and left at 6:28 p.m.
At about 7:00 p.m., the batteries in both my video camera and my computer needed to be recharged. Moreover, I remembered that I had a reservation for dinner at 7:00 p.m. So I started packing up my equipment to return to my room and then go to the dining car. Before I finished, the attendant in my car came up to the dome and reminded me that I had the 7:00 p.m. reservation for dinner. She obviously had to go through several cars to find me, and I was sitting in a car set aside primarily for the use of coach passengers! I was rather impressed.
I stopped at my room, plugged in the video camera battery and the computer (there are two outlets in each roomette on VIA trains), and went back to the diner. Well, actually, I went to the Skyline dome car right behind my sleeper. Unlike the practice on Amtrak, where there is one dining car that serves all passengers, on the Canadian there are four cars in service as diners -- the three Skyline dome cars and the Fairholme diner. The first Skyline dome is for coach passengers (who are served on paper mats from a more economical menu), the second Skyline dome is for the tour group, I and the other passengers in the next few sleepers are assigned to the third Skyline dome, and the remainder of the sleeper passengers are assigned to the Fairholme diner. Each of the Skyline dome cars has a section with six tables, and this section of the car is used to serve the meals (with the other section being used as a lounge area and for serving snacks and beverages).
I was seated opposite a man who had worked at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and had just retired. He decided to begin his retirement with a transcontinental train trip -- the Sunset Limited from Orlando to Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle, the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto, the International from Toronto to Chicago, the Empire Builder back to Portland, the Coast Starlight again down to Sacramento, the California Zephyr from there to Chicago, the Capitol Limited to Washington, and finally a Silver Service train back to Orlando. Of course, he had bought the North American Rail Pass -- which he was certainly getting his money's worth out of! -- but he took sleepers for most legs of the trip. On this train, he had a lower berth, and he mentioned that the upper berth in his section was unoccupied.
I got a fresh salad and was served a hot chicken meal, which was very good. The man sitting opposite me said, though, that he thought that the food on his trips last week on Amtrak was much better. I noticed that the VIA dining car menu had a rather limited selection, perhaps due to the fact that the food service is split up into four cars, with very limited space to prepare food. I spent about an hour eating dinner, and ended the meal with a cup of herb tea.
When we finished dinner, I returned to my room, got my computer, and went back to the first Skyline dome. The sun had come out during dinner, but now it was raining. Nevertheless, you got some pretty good views from the dome. I continued writing these memoirs for about half an hour until we went through a truss bridge (again, particularly interesting when viewed from a dome car!) and approached Sioux Lookout, whereupon I returned to my room.
Sioux Lookout is the first stop since Winnipeg at which passengers are given the chance to detrain. We are scheduled to arrive here at 8:14 p.m., but do not pull into the station until 9:01 p.m. Nevertheless, an announcement is made that we will be stopping here for the scheduled 15 minutes. I detrained and walked around for a few minutes. This was once a major division point, and there is still an active freight yard here. But the wood-and-stucco passenger station is largely boarded up, and portions of the ceiling in the former waiting room have collapsed. VIA passengers are directed to a small metal building next door. This is a very small community, but it is by far the largest community that we have encountered since leaving Winnipeg.
After about ten minutes, an "all aboard" call was made. I reboarded the train towards the rear and went back to the Park car, where I climbed up to the dome. We had to wait about ten minutes for a green signal to proceed, and when we departed Sioux Lookout at 9:24 p.m., we were 55 minutes late. There appears to be a good deal of make-up time in the schedule, since we were previously as much as an hour an a half late. It soon started raining again, so I returned to my room. But the rain didn't last for long. I then went back to the Skyline dome immediately behind my sleeper, where I started talking to a couple, Ron and Pat from Oil City, Pa., who had flown to Vancouver to take this train ride. It was now getting dark, but the lights had been turned out in this dome, and you could see the front of the train as we went around curves, and the signals changing from green to red as we passed them. It was also interesting to note that the lights remained on in the first two domes on the train (although not in the rear two domes). I brought my computer up with me and continued working on these memoirs.
About 10:00 p.m., we came to a stop and waited about ten minutes for a freight train to pass us to our left. During the course of the trip, we passed quite a few freight trains, and in many cases we had to wait a few minutes for the train to arrive. However, it seems that these meets are anticipated, and sufficient time is built into the VIA schedules to allow for them.
Soon afterwards, my batteries started running low again, so I decided to return to my room, where I had actually spent very little time since we boarded the train. The domes are so spectacular and the scenery so magnificent that I wanted to spend as much time as possible viewing the scenery from the wonderful vantage point offered by the domes! I spent about an hour in my room proofreading the second edition of Bill Myles' Harriman Guide. Finally, at about 11:30 p.m. Central Time (or 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time), I decided to pull down my bed and go to sleep. These roomettes have a one-piece bed that just pulls down from the wall with the turn of a handle, so it was very easy to set up the room for night occupancy. (Indeed, when the attendant showed me the room, she told me how to pull the bed down, and apparently expected me to do it myself.)
Around this time, we made a number of short stops at stations such as Savant Lake, Allawater Bridge and Collins. These are all very small communities with little but a single sign to identify them, and it was generally very difficult to figure out exactly where we were. I had my scanner set to the CN frequency, but hardly anything was broadcast on that channel. There is a special reason for this. Last summer, VIA stopped using conductors. The passenger-related duties formerly the responsibility of the conductor have now been transferred to a service manager (similar to the Amtrak On-Board Chief), and he -- along with the various attendants -- is responsible to ensure that passengers board and detrain safely, and to advise the engineer where to stop and when to proceed. To facilitate this process, most on-board staff are furnished with radios, which they use to communicate among themselves and with the engineers (who are the ones in charge of actually operating the train). But a different frequency is used for these communications, and I never figured out what it was (I didn't ask any crew member, either). As a result, the information I picked up on this trip over the scanner was rather limited.
The bed in my room was very comfortable, but I don't think that I got too much sleep. By 5:00 a.m., it was already completely light out. I watched from my bed as we passed through the forested Northern Ontario wilderness. It was cloudy out, and the scenery was not as spectacular as it was yesterday. There were comparatively few lakes in this area, and no rock cuts. Some areas along the tracks had been clear-cut, leaving rather ugly wasteland.
At about 6:45 a.m., we came to a stop in what looked like a railroad yard. I walked out of the room and found out from an attendant that we had just arrived at Hornepayne. I knew that the group of schoolchildren would be getting off here and that we were scheduled to stop here for 15 minutes. So I quickly got dressed and walked down to the coaches, where I was informed by one of the boys that we had just stopped in the yard west of the station so that the train could be refueled. Here, there are gasoline tanks which pump gas directly into the train (in most cases, Amtrak engines are refueled from tank trucks instead). We spent about ten minutes getting our fuel and then pulled forward a short distance to the station, where we stopped at 7:02 a.m.
Hornepayne is a small community, and the old brick station is boarded up and completely abandoned. The present station is an unattractive metal building, which seemed to be closed during our stop. There is a small yard here, including a shop and an old water tower, and a work train made up of old passenger cars was parked on one of the tracks. I got off the train with the group of schoolchildren and walked around a little, but -- unlike the case with the stop at Sioux Lookout -- no announcement was made of the stop, only one coach door was opened, and only a handful of people stepped off the train. The attendant offered to take my picture next to the train, and I gladly accepted her offer. Soon it started drizzling lightly. After about ten minutes, we got back on the train, and we started moving at 7:21 a.m. But then we stopped again, and did not resume our journey until 7:32 a.m. (Subsequently, I was informed that the purpose of the second stop was to put water on the rear cars of the train.) We were scheduled to depart Hornepayne at 6:43 a.m., so we were still 50 minutes late.
I returned to my room, put the bed back into the wall, and walked down the hall to take a shower. The shower in my car was occupied, so I went to the next forward car instead. The shower room on these VIA cars is quite spacious, with a separate outer room to leave your clothes in. The water was nice and warm, and the shower was very refreshing. Then I went back to my room and got dressed. At 8:26 a.m., we came to a stop. We were just west of the Oba station, but we had to wait for ten minutes while a freight train passed us. In the meantime, I walked up toward the front of the train. An attendant explained to me that a group of Americans with canoes were scheduled to board here. Once the freight train had passed us, we pulled forward to the station, and we stopped for five minutes to load the passengers and canoes. When we departed at 8:44 a.m., we were one hour and eight minutes late. Just east of the station, we crossed the Algoma Central Railroad on a very sharp angle.
Next, I went to the Skyline dome car for breakfast. I was seated opposite a young woman who was traveling from Edmonton to Toronto, where she would be starting a new job as a computer programmer. This was her first time on a train, and she decided to splurge for a sleeper, although it cost her about $900 Canadian. I had orange juice, corn flakes and coffee for breakfast. During breakfast, at 9:15 a.m., we stopped for about five minutes at milepost 237 to unload the people who had boarded in Oba, along with their canoes. (An attendant subsequently informed me that they were headed to Hearst, where presumably someone would be picking them up.) There was no station here -- just a small dirt area adjacent to Lake Minnipuka -- and the train had to pull forward and back up slightly to position both the baggage car and their coach in the proper place! This area is completely roadless, and the train is the only way to get here.
After breakfast, I got my computer and went up to the Skyline dome directly behind my car. It was raining lightly, and the views were therefore not great, but I used the time to update my memoirs. Then, at 10:17 a.m., we passed by the rather large Kapuskasing Lake, and stopped briefly at Elsas. This is a very small community, reachable only by rail. The station here is nothing more than a small wooden shack. To get a better view, I walked up to the front dome which, as was the case yesterday, was almost completely deserted. Since this car clearly afforded the best view, I moved my belongings up there and spent some time in this dome.
Our next stop was Foleyet, where we arrived at 11:02 a.m. For the first time in over 100 miles, we crossed a road! The small wooden station here is closed, but it features a public phone on the outside of the building. I watched from the dome as two passengers detrained and one passenger boarded. When we departed a minute later, we were just over an hour late.
I returned to the dome, where I was soon joined by Ron from Oil City, Pa. whom I had met last evening. He explained to me how his Bedroom F is the best accommodation in the Manor cars, since it is significantly larger than the other bedrooms in the car. Then we were joined by a woman from Minnesota who had boarded the train in Winnipeg and was going to Quebec City to spend some time with her sister. She was thinking of taking the sleeper, but decided in the end to travel in coach because of the significant difference in cost. (She noted, though, that she was paying about $450 American for the trip by coach from Winnipeg to Quebec City, which itself sounded rather high to me.) It was now raining rather heavily, and the views from the dome were not very good, but we were having a rather interesting conversation, so we remained in the dome.
At 11:50 a.m., we stopped for a red signal. No train passed us on the siding, but we started moving eight minutes later. Then, at 12:15 p.m., at the next siding, we passed a double-stack train also heading eastbound. And at the following siding we passed yet another double-stack train. The CN mainline that we are following is obviously very heavily used by freight trains!
Around noon, a call to lunch was made, and the woman from Minnesota went down to eat. Ron stayed to talk to me for a while longer, and then he, too, went back to his room. Another passenger then came up to the dome. He had boarded the train in Sioux Lookout, where his mother now lived, and was headed to Toronto. He mentioned to me that he was born in Churchill, but left there when he was only one year old, and has never been back since.
Finally, about 12:30 p.m., I went back to my room and then headed to the Skyline dome car for lunch. When I got there, though, the car was almost full, and I was told to return for a second sitting in about 40 minutes. So I went back to my room and continued writing these memoirs. Soon, at 12:42 p.m., we passed through Gogama (a scheduled stop) without stopping. By now, it had stopped raining. At 1:17 p.m., we stopped briefly at Westree, and I walked back to the Skyline dome to get a better view.
Immediately afterwards, a second and final call was made for lunch, so I went downstairs, where I was seated opposite a couple from Vancouver who were traveling to Toronto. They told me that they had recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary! The husband mentioned that his first transcontinental train trip was in 1932, when he went with his high school soccer team from Vancouver to Toronto for a tournament. He said that they traveled in a coach equipped with a stove over which they cooked all their meals, to save money. Moreover, he related that his father had given him $5.00 in spending money for the trip, and after making a few necessary expenditures, he was able to return with $3.85, which he handed back to his father!
For lunch, I had a meal consisting of salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. I also got a can of Coke (for which I was charged $1.25!) and tea and fruit salad for dessert. (I might add that the beverage policy of VIA is rather unusual in that tea, coffee and other refreshments are available for free, all day long, to all sleeping car passengers, but you are charged for soft drinks even if they are served with meals.) During lunch, we made a brief stop at Felix, a small hamlet inaccessible by car.
After lunch, I again returned to the front dome car, where I met a young couple who were traveling (by coach) from Edmonton to Toronto. He was from Halifax, and planned on returning there by train, too. I watched as we paralleled the beautiful Vermillion River and soon rounded a sharp curve and pulled into the Capreol station at 2:48 p.m.
Finally, we had returned to civilization! Capreol features a small, relatively modern station constructed in a traditional style and staffed by an agent. This is the first staffed station we have encountered since we left Winnipeg nearly 24 hours ago! An announcement had been made that we would be spending ten minutes at Capreol, so I got off the train (along with many other passengers) and walked down the platform and into the station. The agent told me that the population of Capreol is about 4,000, which easily makes it the largest community that we have passed through since leaving the Winnipeg area. Capreol also serves as a boarding point for passengers living in the larger community of Sudbury, just to the south. I walked up to the front of the train, where I was joined by quite a number of others who were getting photos of the engines. Adjacent to the platform here is a large, modern brick building which serves as the headquarters for CN in Northern Ontario.
After about ten minutes had elapsed, an "all aboard" call was made, and we all reboarded the train. We did not pull out of Capreol, though, until 3:06 p.m. We were now 56 minutes late. From here on all the way to Toronto, we would traverse areas served by roads. Thus, there will be no need to stop at any more small settlements not served by any other means of transportation.
I returned to the front dome and watched as we came to a halt at 3:25 p.m. at the Sudbury Jct. station. This station, located about six miles from the center of town, is a small wooden building, and -- like Capreol -- is staffed by an agent. Only a few people got on and off here, but the stop took six minutes, largely because a number of pieces of baggage had to be unloaded from the baggage car.
Then I returned to my room, where I saw in the distance two large smokestacks, which the Rail Ventures book states are the highest smokestacks in the world (1,250 feet high). This area is considered the world's nickel-mining capital, and these smokestacks are part of that operation. I was a little tired, so I rested in my room for about an hour, figuring that the scenery from here on would not be exceptionally interesting.
Around 4:30 p.m., I decided to go back to the Park car for the first time today. Of course, it takes a while to get there, since you have to walk through ten cars on the way. When I arrived there, the dome was rather full (although there were one or two pairs of empty seats), and the attendant was distributing free hors d'oeuvres and joking around with all the passengers. But most of the passengers sitting in the dome had a 5:00 p.m. reservation for dinner, so around that time the dome pretty much emptied out. I moved to the front of the dome and watched as our train snaked around bends and along pretty rivers and lakes. I was rather surprised to find that the scenery on this portion of the route was very similar to the beautiful, wild scenery that we had passed through north of Capreol. Hardly any roads came into view, and I found the views of the train from the Park car to be quite fascinating. Although the views of the scenery were better from the front dome, it certainly was quite a thrill to see all 21 cars of the train winding around a curve (indeed, most of the time only part of the train was visible). I also did some proofreading of the Harriman book while sitting in the dome, and went downstairs to look out of the back once in a while. It was very quiet and peaceful in the Park car.
At 5:22 p.m., we stopped to let a freight train pass on a siding on a curve. We had to wait about ten minutes for the freight to arrive, and then it took another seven minutes for it to pass us at a rather slow speed. I got an excellent view of the freight train as it passed us from my vantage point in the front of the dome.
Finally, about 6:15 p.m., I headed back to my room. As I was walking back, at 6:22 p.m., we stopped at Parry Sound -- our first station stop in about three hours! I went up to the Skyline dome behind my sleeper, where I saw the beautiful Parry Sound station to our right, now converted to another use. I also noticed that it was now raining again! I spent only a few minutes in the dome, and then returned to my room.
I was greeted by a Scottish gentleman who occupied the room across from me, and whom I hadn't talked to since we left Winnipeg. With a heavy Scottish accent, he complained that he was supposed to make a plane back to Heathrow which left the Toronto airport at 7:00 p.m. this evening, and which would connect tomorrow with a flight to Edinburgh, where a friend was supposed to meet him. Obviously, he was going to miss the flight, and was very upset. He commented that the trip across Canada from Vancouver was much too long, and didn't know how he would deal with his missed connection. Someone clearly made a serious error in booking his ticket, since our train is not scheduled to get to Vancouver until 9:35 p.m., so there is no way that he reasonably could have expected to make a 7:00 p.m. flight!
Next, my attendant came by and asked how everything was doing. She then asked me whether I had turned in my ticket to the service manager, and I replied that no one had ever asked me for my ticket the whole time I was on the train! She requested that I give her my ticket, which I was quite pleased to do. She also said that she would be remaking my room when I was eating dinner, so I made sure to put all my electronic gadgets securely away.
At precisely 7:00 p.m, the second call for dinner was made. I proceeded back to the Skyline car, where I sat down opposite a young couple from the Netherlands. They were nearing the end of a five-month trip around the world, in which they visited Australia, Japan, Alaska and Canada, and would be proceeding in a few days to fly to New York and spend a few days with friends in Howell, New Jersey. Even for this part of the ride, we went through an attractive forested area, with many wetlands.
At 8:03 p.m., just north of the Washago station, we came to a stop. The attendant explained that we had to wait for the Ontario Northlander to North Bay, which is scheduled to depart Washago at 8:20 p.m. I went up to the dome from where, at 8:17 p.m., I watched as we pulled past the Ontario Northland train to our left. The train was made up of two engines and three cars, all of rather unusual appearance (I believe that they were purchased from some European country). A couple detrained from my car, and at 8:20 p.m. we moved on. We were now about 40 minutes late, and soon an announcement was made that we will be arriving at Toronto about 10:00 p.m.
South of Washago, the scenery changed rather dramatically. The land became flat farmland, and civilization was far more apparent. In about half an hour, we ran briefly along the very large Lake Simcoe to our right. It was now beginning to get dark, and we would soon be arriving in Toronto, so I decided to make one last trip down to the front of the train. I counted about 35 passengers spread out among the three coaches. I started talking to a young man who was sitting in the front of the first coach. He had boarded the train at about 4:30 a.m. at a place called Longlac (I think I was probably sleeping then!) where he had spent several weeks planting trees. (My cousin had done this for several years, and he had explained to me that one is paid by the number of trees planted, so that a person who works hard and does a good job can make quite a bit of money in several weeks.) With his student discount, he paid only $90 (Canadian) for his ticket back to Toronto, which he felt was a very good deal.
About 9:20 p.m., I returned to my room and gathered together all of my belongings. The attendant soon came by to bring my luggage out to the door at which we would be detraining. I spent the remaining time in my room, proofreading the Harriman book. We proceeded steadily towards downtown Toronto, not stopping even once on the way. As we got near the downtown area and turned to the right, the lights on the skyscrapers in the area came into view. Finally, we pulled into Track 6 at Union Station at 10:08 p.m., thirty-three minutes late. I retrieved my luggage from the platform, gave the attendant a tip, and walked down into the majestic station. Although the directions to the exit take you right outside, I made a point of walking into the main station concourse. It was rather deserted this late at night, but it was still a very impressive room, with the destinations of various cities in Canada engraved in the stone molding around the room. Of course, unfortunately, there is no longer rail passenger service to many of the cities listed, but thankfully most of those cities -- including Winnipeg -- can still be reached by rail from Toronto Union Station.
I then walked outside and took a cab to a hotel near the airport where I will be staying tonight. Tomorrow, I will fly back to Newark to complete my trip.
My first trip on the Canadian was a wonderful experience. It is truly amazing that one can travel all the way from Winnipeg to very near Toronto without encountering any settlement except for a few small villages! The scenery for most of the way was quite interesting, and the dome cars offer a really special kind of view that can no longer be obtained on most Amtrak trains. The train exuded an ambience of grace and elegance that is missing from Amtrak, and the on-board service personnel were all friendly and courteous. I was quite surprised by the absence of any route guides, which should be an essential part of any trip on this train. All in all, though, I really enjoyed this trip, which enabled me to see a part of Canada that cannot be experienced in any other way.