Rail Travelogue To Churchill - Canada
VIA Rail's Most Northern Station by Robert Burns
Ottawa to Toronto
Monday, January 15, 2001
My day started around 6:00 a.m. just be make sure we had sufficient
time to get ready even though we had packed everything the night
before. I kept checking and rechecking to make sure I had my tickets
and even my wife said I was nervous that morning. My father-in-law
was kind enough to pick up Ray and I and drive us to the station.
We arrived at 8:00 a.m., half an hour before departure and my
experience from this trip is that VIA is very punctual when it
comes time to leave the station. We went to the first class lounge
where we are treated to free beverages and newspapers and comfortable
About twenty minutes before departure, first class passengers
are called to board the train. To get to the train, one travels
down an escalator down a short corridor and then up another escalator
to arrive at your rail car. VIA employees are at all locations
to ensure passengers reach their correct destination point. On
short trips, such as to Toronto, luggage is not checked but carried
on the rail car and stored in an area just as you enter. Additional
space is provided above the seats. In the first class car, passengers
are assigned seats so there is no confusion. VIA employees will
allow you to change your seats if there is sufficient space available.
After taking our tickets, our attendant went through the emergency
procedures with us by telling us how and where to use the small
hammer inside the car.
After this we settled down to a relaxing trip to Toronto, however,
I was too excited to relax that much as I was trying to think
of how I would write my travelogue and what type of photos to
take that would be interesting to both travelers and train enthusiasts.
The weather outside was mild with an overcast and light flurries
so there was little to hold my attention.
My first timid attempt at photography was of a fellow passenger,
a Mr. Hanson who was returning to Toronto after visiting his son.
His pleasant style and conversation added to the enjoyment of
my trip. I observed that many of the other passengers were using
this as a business trip and worked part of the time.
Shortly after we departed Ottawa, the attendant brought everyone
a small treat of fresh fruit along with your choice of coffee
or tea. This was later followed by a lovely breakfast, first class
treatment all the way. There was a short pause in Smith Falls
and later when we arrived in Brockville, my brother called our
sister to say Hello and chat awhile until his cell phone lost
the signal. I took some photos along the way but they were as
interesting as the weather.
Toronto to Winnipeg
Finally we reached Toronto, the big city were we disembarked with
our luggage and went to the VIA administration office. Ray was
to take some virtual reality photos of the Toronto station as
well as some of the rail cars. These type of photos allow a person
to view a room, through the use of the mouse on a computer, and
look in a 360 degree circle around the room as well as looking
up to the ceiling and down to the floor. A very interesting technique
if someone is curious to know what the inside of a dining car
or a sleeper car looks like. We discussed photographing VIA's
"Silver and Blue" train with Beverly LaBlanc and it
was decided that it would be best to do this in the morning, one
hour before the train's departure at 9:00 a.m.
Next we took a taxi to our hotel, dropped off our luggage and
departed by streetcar to China town which was not too far. Ray
was intrigued by these streetcars as he hasn't seen them in nearly
forty years. They are fine for short distances as their speed
allows you time to see and choose the restaurants and stores that
may interest you. We walked for a while and then settled on a
pleasant Vietnamese restaurant for supper. While Ray is familiar
with this type of cuisine, I only have limited experience so it
was an adventure for me, fortunately I like their hot sauces.
We returned to the hotel by streetcar again, they run about every
ten or fifteen minutes, and retired early as we had to be at the
train station by 7:00 a.m. I made a call home to tell them where
we were staying and that I missed them already as it would be
another two weeks before I would see them again.
Tuesday, January 16, 2001
After an early rising of around 5:30 a.m., we managed to eat breakfast,
have a cab called by the front desk, check out and reach the station
by 7:00 a.m. For this trip, we had to check our luggage that will
go in the luggage car. This checked luggage is what you won't
require on this leg of the trip, so what you carry on and leave
in your room is what you have available to use. Due to space restrictions
there is not much point to bringing a lot of luggage into you
roomette. We were met by Brian Casey, how apropos for someone
to have such a name and work on the railroad. Brian lead us to
the train and introduced us to the train staff who would allow
Ray to take his photos an hour before the passengers arrived.
I was impressed by how friendly and pleasant the staff are that
early in the morning. They brought us to our room where we left
our bags. Since this was my first time on a train that had a sleeper
as well as a dome car, I was disoriented for a while and followed
everyone without getting in the way. However, it didn't take long
to understand the routine and location of things. I took this
opportunity to take some outside photos of our train, from the
dome car at the end to the engines at the front. For the rail
enthusiasts, Ray logged the numbers of each of the cars of our
train, a task I was to inherit later, especially when it was cold.
These numbers are:
- 6457 F40PH Engine
- 6446 F40PH Engine
- 6445 F40PH Engine
- 8605 Baggage car
- 8126 Coach
- 8504 Dome Skyline
- Dining Palliser Manor
- Sleeper car - MacKenzie Manor
- Sleeper car - Rogers Manor
- Sleeper car - Allan Manor
- Dome car - Assinibone Park
I was surprised to see an Amtrak train beside us that was marked
"Amtrak Northeast Direct Service", perhaps a special
excursion to Canada. (Robert was not aware that Amtrak provides
direct service to Toronto from the United States - SG).
During this time the Go Trains were arriving
every five minutes it seems, disgorging hundreds of people at
a time on their way to work while at the same time I was thinking
that I was starting my own great adventure. Our car attendant
was Brenda and her pleasant disposition and ready attention helped
me to adjust to the routine of the trip. At exactly 9:00 a.m.
the train pulled out of the station and Ray and I went to the
Dome car at the end of the train with the other passengers to
see Toronto pass by. Since it was passed 9:00 a.m. no breakfast
was served, however, the Dome car had muffins, croissants, fruit
juices and coffee for the passengers.
As the train was pulling
out of the Toronto station, I saw the CN Tower just as we left.
I didn't realize how close it was as well as how high.
It was raining lightly as we left and it didn't change much except
for the drop in temperature about an hour or two outside of Toronto.
The dull gray scenery of Toronto changed to a white country landscape
after a while. Being my first train trip in a long time, I spent
most of my time above in the observation level while at the same
time, attempting to take interesting photos, not an easy task.
Gradually I got to meet some of the passengers such as Lee and
Jinny Sinclair from Pennsylvania. This charming couple were taking
a train trip to Vancouver where they would rendezvous with their
son, Jonathan, and then the three would return by train together.
Another fellow traveler carried a radio scanner and spent his
time listening to the radio traffic of the train crews radio.
In the beginning I found it confusing as to why our train would
stop, however, it was informative to find out from this person
the different reasons for our stops. In addition this passenger
carried VIA's National Timetable so he was also able to inform
us if we were on time or not at each destination.
One passenger that works on another railway explained how the
signal light system worked and where to look. He was the one that
told me that the area north of Thompson towards Churchill was
a "black" area, meaning that there are no signal lights
and that all rail movement was done by radio transmission.
The meal system on the train is a bit different, due to the seating
capacity of the dinning car, meal service is done through a reservation
system, first call and second call. When you are being served
you let the attendant know which sitting you want for the next
meal and he will give you a small slip indicating which sitting.
The dinning car is very attractive and the meals are excellent
with about four choices. At supper, we shared the table with a
young man from Saskatchewan who was returning from a family visit
in the Maritimes. He told us that he works in the oil rigs and
that he read in the local newspaper that the industry needs another
The room that Ray and I shared initially seemed small but very
functional with two chairs, a sink and an enclosed toilet. Our
attendant, Brenda, was marvelous and very professional. She went
out of her way to prepare fold down bunks so that Ray could take
some photos of it. Our evening ended early when Brenda prepared
our room which consists of dropping the beds down and preparing
them, considering how complicated it looks, this is best left
to the experts.
Wednesday, January 17, 2001.
One reason why I retired early, 8:00 p.m. was so that I could
get up early enough to try and get a photo of the sunrise. While
I was successful in getting up at 5:00 a.m. It was still overcast
at 6:00 a.m.
Passing through Northern Ontario in the early morning, you could
tell it was very cold outside by the long smoke trails coming
from the chimneys of the homes. Not many people are out and about.
For our breakfast companion, we met Joe Cyer from Winnipeg. Joe
used to play semipro hockey and then later worked as a boiler
maker with the CNR for 30 years. Joe told us about the Lady Dufferin,
the first locomotive to operate in Manitoba, which was on display
at the Winnipeg train station. He also informed us about the "Prairie
Dog", another steam locomotive that carries passengers on
I spent a large part of the morning on the observation level of
the Dome car taking photos. I managed to take several of our train
as well some points of interest. I tried to keep the train enthusiasts
in mind when taking pictures, i.e. Steam locomotive, caboose,
snow removal cars etc.
Winnipeg to Churchill
At lunch, we sat with a lovely couple who have sold their property
and were moving to Washington state. After a long and distinguishing
career in the Chemical industry, they are taking a well deserved
While approaching the Winnipeg train station, it was brought to
our attention that the train to Churchill was waiting in the station
and they knew this by the fact that this train is pulled by an
engine that is 45 years old. A type that is not often seen these
When the train stopped, we quickly got our bags and said a grateful
good-bye to Brenda, our attendant. Ray took several photos of
this impressive station before we headed for our hotel in Boniface.
The weather was surprisingly mild for January, much like Ottawa.
Thursday, January 18, 2001
Got up early and went to the shopping mall across the street to
purchase some post cards to send home. I noticed they have a drive
through beer store which I guess is practical in a city that is
know for its cold winters.
After lunch we packed again and returned to the station where
we checked our luggage and then continued to the Forks Market
next door. This is a great place to spend the day. They have a
large selection of restaurants, stores and shops with wide open
spaces that accommodates both the shopper and the diners. I wish
Ottawa would have something as nice. Ray and I started immediately
to look for souvenirs and the first shop we came to we bought
our gifts. They had a great selection of amber jewelry and I purchased
a ring for each of my daughters and an amber necklace for my wife.
Across the way is another building complex which houses an exhibit
for the province of Manitoba, restaurants and many more shops.
After several hours of this, we rested in a bar and talked about
what we had seen so far. As evening approached, we returned to
the station and found out that we were a party of three boarding
the train that evening.
While waiting for our train, we met Daryl Adair of the Winnipeg
Rail Museum who was kind enough to give us an impromptu tour of
this museum. We were so fascinated by this tour that we lost track
of the time. Fortunately the VIA staff remembered us and made
sure we arrived on time. Talk about service to the customer.
When we boarded, Reg, our Service Manager introduced himself and
showed us to our room. Afterward, we went to the lounge car and
struck up a conversation with an ex CNR train engineer who was
on his way home to Endeavour, Saskatchewan. His time of arrival
at Endeavour would be around 5:30 a.m.
Friday, January 19, 2001
I must of stayed up late because it was the Service Manager that
woke us with his first call for breakfast. I let Ray sleep in
while I went for a pleasant breakfast. It was here that I found
out about the difference in dining arrangements. On the main routes,
meals are included in the sleeper class, however, on the route
from Winnipeg to Churchill, meals are not included.
At The Pas, the train stopped for fuel and additional items were
added to the baggage car so I went out to look around, unfortunately,
the station is not close to the centre of town so I was restricted
to the station. I took some photos of that older train engine
that was pulling this train.
Later Ray and I went to the coach and conversed with some of the
passengers. There was a nurse from The Pas who had accepted a
position in Churchill and was moving her family to their new home.
I struck up a conversation with a gentleman from Baltimore by
the name of Ed Haughney. We spoke of what we were doing and he
talked about his trips abroad he had taken. .
At lunch the menu indicated Tundra Burger, which is made from
Bison (buffalo) meat for $7.50 or a Chicken Burger at $7.50. Being
adventurous, I decided on the Tundra Burger. Needless to say it
was tasty but you couldn't tell it from beef.
The scenery is generally flat with some lakes and rivers. You
start to notice the shorter trees in this area, a prelude of what
to expect in Churchill.
I thought that the poles along the track carrying electrical lines
were broken because they were all slanted at a 45 degree angle,
however, this was later explained to me that due to the cold winters,
the frost would push the poles out of the ground so they are supported
above ground. In addition, there are some peculiar looking structures,
basically poles stuck in the ground close to the rail bed that
have an outside covering of metal fins. I was told that some parts
of the rail bed thaw before others so in order to keep it at the
same temperature as the surrounding areas these heat sinks draw
the heat from below and dissipate it into the atmosphere to prevent
the ground from heaving and moving the tracks.
It was dark by the time we arrived at Thompson and there was not
much to see as the town is located about a mile away station.
I decided to stay on board the train as passengers were told that
if they left the train they would not be able to return for twenty
minutes and it was too cool to wait outside for that length of
time. The remainder of the track is owned by the Hudson Bay Rail
Company so their engine crew take over for the remainder trip
Since the rails on this section of route are not welded, the car
wheels make the traditional clickety noise associated with it.
However, due to the condition of the rail bed in this part of
the frozen north, the rails are not flat and the train can only
travel not more 30 miles per hour in a good stretch. Along with
this, when in bed the pitching of the cars leaves you to believe
that you are on a boat in rough water.
Saturday, January 20, 2001
We woke up late, approximately 15 minutes before our arrival in
Churchill so we dispensed with breakfast and arrived around 8:30
a.m. Since this was our first time here we decided to take the
only taxi at the station to our motel, which consisted of less
than a two minute drive.
After checking in at the Churchill Motel, we went out to explore
the town. Visiting Churchill in January has some advantages such
as no line ups and we had the beach to ourselves. The weather
was surprisingly mild when we arrived and the local residents
commented on that every time the subject arose. Which was a good
thing as Ray was not equipped for any serious cold weather.
The first store we went to was the Arctic Trading Post located
on the main street with two large friendly huskies to greet us
outside. The store has a facade of a log cabin and when you enter
there is a chair and a wood burning stove nearby. They have an
incredible array of northern and native clothing, crafts and art.
I purchased picture of a northern scene where the images of the
polar bear in the picture are made from caribou hide and then
the fur is trimmed to a short length to give the impression of
real fur. One can easily spend the whole morning admiring the
large and diverse selections.
Having missed breakfast this morning we decided to head to Gypsy's
Bakery where we noticed arctic char on the menu. We took advantage
of this opportunity and we weren't disappointed either when we
took our first bite of this meal. Along with the mashed potatoes
and gravy, I also enjoyed a bottle of Portuguese beer. This establishment
is part restaurant and part bakery and they offer an excellent
variety of doughnuts and baked goods.
From Gypsy's we went to the Northern. This is the largest store
in Churchill and is a combination food and dry goods store. It
is to be expected that the price of food is slightly higher here
compared to the south, though not as high as in the northern arctic
communities. Everything you need can be purchased here from arctic
boots to a head of lettuce, which, by the way was on sale that
weekend for $0.99 each.
Next we went to the famous Eskimo Museum which contains one of
the best collections of Inuit carvings, many of which are rare
and dating back to the last century. The museum also had exhibits
of animals on display such as the polar bear, walrus, arctic foxes
etc. I was surprised to realize the immense size a walrus can
attain. Observing these native carvings gives one an insight into
the culture and beliefs these people have. This is a recommended
stop for anyone visiting Churchill. As a souvenir from Churchill
I bought two toy polar bears for my daughters.
From the museum we went to the Town Centre Complex nearby. This
structure is impressive in size which contains two schools, a
hockey and a curling rink, swimming pool, hospital, library (with
Internet access), a play area for young children as well as a
restaurant and bakery. While we were there the local school had
a bake sale and we supported them by buying some chocolate bars.
This seems to be the centre of activity for the town as all the
facilities were being used at the same time.
With evening approaching and fatigue setting in we decided to
return to the motel and settle in for the evening. I was planning
to take photos of the aura borealis that night however the weather
was not cooperating with the cloud cover we had. I used this opportunity
to call home to let them know we had arrived. My daughter Catherine
asked what Churchill look like, she wondered if it looked like
the community we lived in. Being located in a sub-arctic region,
Churchill doesn't bear a resemblance so I made a note to take
photos of the town the next day to show her what it looks like.
Sunday January 21, 2001
I awoke around 8:00 a.m. and while Ray was getting ready I went
out to take some photos of Churchill so that my daughter an see
what the town of Churchill looks like. When I returned to the
motel, we decided to see what it is like to have breakfast at
the restaurant in the Town Centre Complex. Ray had a toasted tomato
& bacon and I had an omelette with ham and cheese along with
hash browns. Both meals were very good and a bargain for both
for $12.00 along with coffee and a V8 drink. I had also observed
that every adult in the restaurant smoked cigarettes.
To wear off the breakfast we walked along the different roads
in town to get an idea of what it is like. It is interesting to
note the mix of townhouses and smaller single homes and nearly
half the residences had a snowmobile parked outside. Not very
many people walk here, they mostly drive so it was obvious we
were visiting. A few homes had large husky dogs that bark loudly
for attention. Once you start petting them they don't want you
to stop and bark for more.
We eventually came to the Wapusk General Store where Ray was attracted
to the log cabin construction. We weren't sure if it was open
for business, but the door was unlocked so Ray went in. It was
then that we found out that the store is not open Sundays but
Valerie and David Daley were kind enough to let us come in and
stay awhile. The log construction along with the fire in the wood
burning stove gave a welcoming cozy feeling. I found a toy husky
dog that I knew my daughters would like, and included in the sale
price was packaging and shipping which they did for me, since
I did not have any space left in my luggage.
Afterwards we returned to the motel for a rest and I read my copy
of the VIA magazine in which it stated that this would be the
final issue. This is a pity considering the quality of the magazine
and I know of others who will be equally disappointed. Within
the VIA magazine I read an article about how a part of an old
CPR roundhouse in Toronto that had a part rebuilt into a brewery
called the Steam Whistle Brewery and is located near the train
Around 2:00 p.m., Leona, the manager of the Churchill Hotel invited
Ray and myself to try some of her home made soup and bread. We
eagerly took this opportunity as both of us enjoy home cooked
food and we weren't disappointed either. The soup contained sauerkraut,
carrot slivers, garlic and bacon. The home made bread reminded
me of the type my grandmother made when I was younger.
After this delicious meal Leona said she and her friend Edna Prince
wanted to go for a Sunday drive and asked us if we wanted to go
along. We jumped at this opportunity and she drove us out past
the deserted military base, past the town dump where the polar
bears like to snack and out to the rocket launch area. Ray and
I left the truck to walk around to take some photos. This facility
ceased operation about fifteen years ago and everything has remained
unchanged since the time it closed down. All the vehicles are
here and on the back of one truck, there is still the remains
of the bottom of one rocket motor. It was as if we went back in
time, nothing has changed. Unfortunately, we weren't able to remain
too long as Leona wanted to return to Churchill.
On the way back, Leona let Ray drive the van back to town. Ray
is used to driving on the highways in Los Angeles, however, unfortunately
he has not had much recent experience on ice and snow covered
roads. Ray taught one of the local drivers a lesson about not
driving too closely to another vehicle when he suddenly turned
and braked in response to one of Leona's directions. Another observation
I is that I did not see anyone speeding with their vehicles, considering
the size of the town I guess there would be no need either. Snowmobiles
are another thing, it is surprising how fast those vehicles can
travel, however, they were never driven in a dangerous manner.
To make a perfect end to this day, Leona graciously offered Ray
and I to supper which we eagerly accepted. One nice thing about
accepting Leona's dinner invitation is that her friends drop by
as well for a meal and it gave us an opportunity to chat and meet
The weather is still overcast so there will be no photo opportunity
of an aura borealis tonight.
Monday, January 22, 2001
I went to the Town Centre Complex again for breakfast and had
my usual three egg omlette. This was followed by a trip to the
bank to exchange some American currency. With the train arriving
every three days and with no roads leading into Churchill, I assume
that there would never be a bank holdup. If there ever was, the
most likely suspect would be the person waiting at the train station
for the last three days. And even if a suspect did get on a south
bound train, it only travels between 20 to 30 miles per hour,
so much for a quick getaway.
The temperature has dropped today and the wind is blowing between
20 to 30 km/h. It definitely feels cooler today so I returned
to the motel to put on a sweater. When I reached the motel the
wind had drifted snow around the front door so I used the nearby
shovel to clear it way. Leona said that it is still not the usual
cold temperature so I guess I should feel lucky. With this wind
chill, Ray will definitely not go outside.
Edna Prince's Bacon and Bean Soup
Later Leona offered us some bannock and a bean soup made by her
friend Edna. I was so impressed with the soup that when I asked
her for the recipe and she was gracious enough to give it to me.
So now I offer the recipe to anyone else who wants it:
Half a bag of dried beans (approx. 907 grams)
2 stalks of celery - diced
2 carrots - diced
Half a medium onion - diced
Dried chicken soup mix
One small can of tomato paste
Two small Bay leaves
One and one half teaspoons of dry mustard
Several slices of cooked bacon - diced
Add all ingredients together in a soup pot except for the tomato
paste which is added at the end. When adding the tomato past,
also include a bit of vegetable oil and flour to thicken the soup
to the consistency you like.
After my body was strengthened with this delicious meal I decided
to head out to the Ports Canada Grain Elevators at the harbour.
The wind chill caused by the strong winds weakened the battery
power of my camera so I had to keep it inside my parka. This massive
facility is a major operation during the summer months with foreign
ships coming in to take on loads of prairie Red #1 wheat. However,
during the winter it is completely deserted and I could walk from
one end of the facility to the other without seeing another person.
Tied to the pier were some support vessel as well as dredging
barges which won't be moving until the summer since they are surrounded
by ice nearly three feet thick.
While walking along the harbour where the ships would moor in
the summer time I came across a small pile of material I thought
was a pile of gravel, but when I kicked it with my foot, I noticed
that it was cereal grains. I remembered my daughter asking me
to bring home some wheat as a souvenir from Manitoba but I didn't
think that was possible as this is not the usual tourist item,
especially in January. So I loaded a pocket of my parka with wheat
and later Leona gave me a bag to carry it back home in.
Leaving the port I followed the rail tracks to the station to
take some photos of it and then on to the other side of the tracks
to a small native community. The homes there are very small and
it seemed like every household had a least one dog. I didn't remain
long as the camera battery was finished by then.
We received another invitation to dinner for this evening from
Leona. I could smell the garlic from our room.
The winds are still strong and the sky is overcast so there is
no chance again for photos tonight.
Tuesday, January 23, 2001
I started the day by purchasing some postcards and then went on
to the Town Centre Complex for breakfast. When I entered the foyer,
I had stepped into a grade school class soccer game that was in
full progress. Since it was not a regulation size area, they used
a smaller soccer ball, but the enthusiasm among those players
was identical to the team members in my daughter's soccer team,
the Cumberland Cobras.
I completed the correspondence for the post cards and went to
the Post Office to mail them. The courteous staff made sure that
the cards I mailed had their unique polar bear cancellation stamp
on it. They told me that in the summer time there is a long line
of tourists who want to ensure their mail receives this cancellation
stamp. However since this was January I didn't have to wait long
as I was the only one there.
One place I tried to visit was the Parks Canada exhibit which
looked very interesting through the glass doors, unfortunately
they were closed every time I went there. Leona told me that the
staff were probably busy with the renovations at the train station
and since they weren't expecting visitors in January they probably
thought it was safe to close the office. This is one of the few
downsides to visiting in the off season.
One unique situation about Churchill I found is that this town
does not have any place to do your laundry. You have to rely at
the motel you are staying at and I read that you have to stay
at a motel for at least a week before you are able to use their
facilities. This was a bit awkward for us as our stay would be
for three days only. Fortunately Leona came to our rescue and
she let us use the laundry facilities. She had made our trip so
special for us that there is no way we can repay her.
When I had finished another lunch of Leona's delicious soup and
bannock I decided to brave the elements and return to the port
facilities to take additional photos. The Environment Canada weather
forecast for January 23 was "Weather warning upgraded to
a blizzard warning. Today wind northwest gusting 60 to 80 km/h
giving blizzard conditions. Very high wind chill near 2200. Frostbite
likely in minutes. Wind diminishing to 40 gusting to 60 km/h this
afternoon. Temperatures falling to minus 22 centigrade."
With this heartening information I decided to add a sweater to
my outfit and keep the camera inside my parka.
When I arrived at the port the wind came from across the river
at a high rate. While the temperature didn't seem to be that cold
I felt chilled with the wind going through my parka, heavy fisherman
knit sweater and a heavy winter shirt. I had the whole place to
myself, not another person was around so I was careful not to
walk to close to the edge of the dock or else I could have been
blown over and down to the ice ten feet below. The ice is about
three feet thick, broken and jagged, so it would not have been
a comfortable landing. The wind was so strong that it caused the
hood of my parka to flap strongly against my face as well as lift
the camera lens cover in front of the lens and spoiling some photos.
Returning to town I noticed a freight train bringing a tanker
car to a fuel storage tank near the harbour. I returned to the
station so that I could take a picture of this train, unfortunately
the only photo that came out was a head on of the engine during
a white out. I did mange to get a couple of photos of the freight
cars including a rail car that looks like a caboose. Its appearance
is that of a freight car with a cupola in the middle with a small
chimney coming out of the car. Beneath that car there two blades
at opposite angles to remove snow from the tracks. I then returned
to the motel to finish packing as our train was departing at 8:30
Leona prepared a delicious last supper for us of a meat loaf with
a secret ingredient which is based on two cloves of garlic per
pound of hamburger. She said that when she makes this in the summer
time in the restaurant, there is no meat loaf leftovers at lunch
time. For this meal she also prepared a special bread with spices
which left a bit of a "bite" after eating a slice of
it. In addition, she offered some homemade wine her sister made
from wild berries, strawberries, raspberries etc. Needless to
say a very fruity wine with a clean taste which also packed a
Churchill to Winnipeg
I had by this time given up on trying to get any photographs of
the northern light because of the overcast weather we had. Even
our last evening the sky was clear but no lights appeared so I
packed my camera equipment in my luggage. Leona and Edna drove
us to the train station and we checked our luggage for the baggage
car. While we were making our long good-byes, Edna went outside
for a moment and then returned to inform us that the northern
lights were lighting the sky. We quickly went out and there were
those mysterious lights I remembered from years ago. The pale
light flowing across the sky was so fascinating that everyone
stayed out in the cold wind until departure time just so that
we could take in as much as possible. Since this was the first
time Ray had seen the northern lights, he was so enthralled that
his face was very red from the cold after he boarded the train.
Once on board I did not think we would see the northern lights
again but Ray noticed them about fifteen minutes later while we
were in the dining car. To get a better view we went to the smaller
rooms where we could close the door to block out the interior
lights so that it wouldn't interfere with our view. Fortunately
these northern lights were even more brilliant than the other
one and these had more movement across the sky, some of the finest
I've seen. Even though it was at the last moment, I was glad that
I at least got to see the aura borealis.
It is usually cold and uncomfortable to watch the northern lights
since you are outside to do this, however, perhaps there could
be a simple solution to this made possible by VIA. If Ray and
I had a good view from the window of the rail car then one could
have an even better view from a Dome car. All VIA would have to
do is park a Dome car at the station or yard and passengers would
be able to watch the northern lights all night in comfort. A reason
to visit Churchill in the winter.
While Churchill is an interesting place to visit, it was the hospitality
shown by Leona Tkachyk, manager of the Churchill Motel, that made
it especial. We were made to feel as if we were at home and not
staying in a room. The kindness she had shown to us is something
that will stay with me for a very long time. A real example of
western hospitality. Thank you Leona.
Wednesday, January 24, 2001
After I arose from the pitching bed around 8:30 a.m. I had a breakfast
of pancakes and coffee. Afterwards I spent the rest of the morning
looking at the passing country side and taking pictures of anything
that could be of interest.
We arrived in Thompson around 11:00 a.m. with a stop over of about
an hour and a half. I had now taken on the job of noting the names
and number of the cars of our train for Ray, so I put on my dark
blue parka and went out to execute this duty. While I was performing
this duty, a gentleman by the name of Wes Jones, who was very
curious as to what I was doing, approached me and asked what I
was doing. After all, how many passengers are seen doing this?
I explained to him that I was recording these numbers for those
train enthusiasts who go on the internet to read TrainWeb.com.
When I finally convinced him of this we chatted further about
the train we were on. Our train had two engines pulling it, an
older Diesel engine from the early fifties up front followed by
a modern engine that was only ten years old. He said he could
not understand why they would have the older engine up front rather
than the newer and more comfortable engine. Then he offered to
show me the cab of the new engine which I gladly accepted as I
had never been inside a cab of a train engine before. Wes later
passed me on to the other engineer by the name of Maurice Watts,
who bore a strong resemblance to Bruno in the Popeye movie.
Maurice brought me inside the cab of the older diesel engine and I was able
to go from one end of the engine to the other taking photos of
the main engine as I moved around inside. Maurice explained the
reason why the older engine was in front of the new engine is
because the older engine has a satellite phone installed, whereas
the new engine had a mobile satellite phone. He told me that to
use the mobile unit, the train would have to stopped and the phone
unit hooked up.
When we left Thompson it was lunch time and I ordered a Toasted
Denver. In the interest of those who are curious, I have copied
the lunch menu for you.
Toasted Denver $6.50
Tuna Salad Sandwich $6.50
Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato $6.50
Caesar Salad with Chicken $6.50
Beverages - $1.50 each
Fruit salad cup or apple pie $1.95 - with ice cream $2.95
Later the train stopped at Thicket Portage and the village dogs
are known to run to the train to get some of the foods scraps
that the cook throws to them. Also included in this group were
large ravens who were sometimes successful in finding a morsel
of food before the dogs found it. After this short intermission
we were on our way again and I spent the rest of the afternoon
enjoying the frozen scenery.
For those who are interested, I had written the supper menu as
Prairie Platter $11.00 - farmers sausage, perhogies, vegetables.
Salmon Fillet $11.00 - salmon with vegetables, rice pilaf or whipped
Pot Roast Dinner $11.00 - roast beef with focaccia bread, vegetables
Dessert menu remains unchanged.
It was evening when we arrived at The Pas for an half hour stop
over. I left the train to take photos of the station and area.
At a siding were two VIA cars of a much earlier vintage. Unfortunately
the digital camera couldn't focus in the darkness so these shots
didn't turn out very well. When we departed I read for a while
and then retired for the evening.
Winnipeg to Toronto
Thursday, January 25, 2001
I got up at 6:00 a.m. as I wanted to see Gladstone, Manitoba which
we were to arrive at 6:17 a.m. My wife has a friend from here
and I wanted to be able to tell her that I saw her home town.
Unfortunately, it was still dark and I couldn't say for certain
what town I saw. Oh well, at least I got to see the prairies which
does stretch out flat to the horizon as well as a pretty sunrise.
After we had finished our breakfast, we arrived in Winnipeg at
Since our connecting train to Toronto would not depart until noon,
we checked our bags at the ticket counter. Ray went to Perolator
to send his diskettes and story to trainweb while I went to The
Forks Market Place next door. Since I was a little early for the
shops, I sat and enjoyed a coffee until Ray caught up with me.
We had plenty of time to go through these interesting shops again
before catching our train. Outside of this complex are two vintage
rail cars and a caboose.
While we were waiting in the station for our boarding time, we
noticed two women conversing in French and Ray went over to practice
him with them. It turns out that these ladies are cousins, one
is Evelyne Egger from Switzerland who was visiting her cousin
Alice Dugas from St. Boniface and Alice was seeing her cousin
to the train to return home.
When we got on our train and settled in we had a pleasant surprise
to meet our friends, Jinny and Lee Sinclair again and this time
we were introduced to their son Jonathan. Besides working in the
high tech industry, Jonathan also spends time at a theatre group
called the Red Herring. I told him I would look at their web site
Also his father, Lee showed me a rail
magazine about a large gauge train that he has an interest in.
These trains and track are large enough that they are set up outside
and I was surprised at the variety to choose from, some types
I've never seen before. Both Lee and Jinny are fond of rail travel
and based on their experience, they preferred the cuisine and
accommodations with VIA than with Amtrak which is why they went
Going through this part of Ontario I know we will pass through
a couple of tunnels so I went forward in the dome car to make
sure I was in position to photograph them.
Later that evening I sat at the end of the dome car with two other
couples. They were Terry and Eileen Parr from Sault Saint Marie,
Ontario and Bill and Sandra Wilson from Vancouver. The Wilsons
are originally from Scotland and I had a difficult time convincing
them that my name is Robert Burns on this day which was January
25, Robby Burns Day. Our conversation was lively and the laughter
ran long into the evening.
Friday, January 26, 2001
I got up early in an attempt to get a photo of a sunrise but the
overcast weather defeated me on this so later I went to breakfast
with Ray. Our table companions were Bill Rummel from Vancouver
and Carl Rabstejnek from Queens in New York city. Both were very
knowledgeable about rail travel and Carl had additional experience
with Amtrak. When Ray explained the purpose of his trip, Carl
became more open about his views of what can be improved with
Amtrak. He also voiced his opinion that VIA had much better meals
and service than their competitor south of the border.
Since this part of Ontario was dark on the way to Winnipeg, I
decided to stay in the observation part of the dome car and see
what I missed the first time. One impression you get is that very
few people live out here, you can travel miles before seeing some
homes, or were they cottages.
Our lunch guests were our friends Jinny and Lee Sinclair, since
we had inadvertently taken their son's seat, he was then obligated
to sit at the next table besides a couple of young ladies. Later
I kept company with the Sinclairs in the dome car and I discovered
that Jonathan had a well developed sense of humour.
When the train stopped at Capreol for a crew change I went out
to record the car numbers as well as take some photos. While taking
pictures of the engine, specifically the serial numbers, the Engineer
came along and we started chatting about trains. After a while
he invited me into the cab of the engine where he explained the
controls and layout of the different electrical panels. He also
pointed out an important safety device, the wheel bearing monitor,
and how it operated. With the departure time approaching we had
to cut it short and I thanked the Engineer for the tour. As the
train was leaving the station I took a photo of Terry and Eileen
Parr in the parking lot. They had gotten off the train to drive
to their hometown of Sault St. Marie as there is no longer any
rail service there.
A short time later the twin super stacks of Sudbury came into
view. The station there is not as impressive as these stacks are
and the infamous moon like landscape was absent for the blanket
of snow that covered it.
The remainder of the trip seemed to have one town blend into the
next until we reached Toronto. It looked very pretty passing through
the snow belt in the Parry Sound area, the trees still had a thick
covering of snow on them.
For supper and I thought I would be adventurous and order the
Jerk Chicken with spaetzle dumplings. The spice of this chicken
was delicious, however, I was not familiar with the green dumplings.
Oh well, something new to try. Our dinner guests were a couple
returning to London, Ontario after visiting Vancouver. The gentlemen
is a retired railway man and had worked at a small rail company
that operated in the Windsor area moving products from the ships.
Meeting such charming people certainly adds to the enjoyment of
Having finished our supper at the first sitting allowed us sufficient
time to prepare our bags at a leisurely pace. That is one thing
I noticed about rail travel, you are not rushing from one thing
to another, you have time to do things. Upon our arrival at the
station, we collected our bags as we were leaving the car and
followed the crowd inside. After picking up our luggage in the
luggage area, we went straight to the hotel were we contacted
our families again.
Saturday, January 27, 2001
Slept in this morning and then took a relaxing shower. Took our
time getting ready and then we went down to check out. I was anticipating
a large crowd but was surprised to find none and the checkout
went very quickly. Arriving at the station by taxi we went straight
to the lounge and relaxed with a newspaper. I did have difficulty
understanding the train announcements over the loud speaker due
to the heavy accent, I ended up asking the service rep which train
On boarding the train, we stowed our luggage and went to our pre
assigned seats. The first class car is very comfortable and quite.
After the refreshment cart had passed, the menu were circulated
to the passengers and our orders was taken. We had decided to
have Chateaubriand with vegetable Bouquetiere served with Béarnaise
and Burgundy wine sauce. Dessert was Chocolate Orange cake. Red
wine was also served with the meal. The meal was as good as the
service and coupled this with the smooth ride, it made for a very
pleasant way to travel to Ottawa.
The last passengers we met was a charming couple returning to
Ottawa from Vancouver. Mr. And Mrs. Eddie and Frankie St. John
who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and were now
returning to their home in Kanata. Due to the distance they would
have to travel from the train station to home, they mentioned
that there was talk of having a small train stop in the west end
of Ottawa for those people that live there. This seems like a
We finally reach the station and we collect our luggage and stepped
down onto the platform. I took the numbers of the rail cars for
Ray for the last time as well as a couple of photos before entering
the station. It was a happy reunion with the family again after
two weeks and it felt good to be back home again.
- Set #01: Jan 15, 2001:
- Set #02: Jan 15, 2001:
- Set #03: Jan 17, 2001:
- Set #04: Jan 18, 2001:
- Set #05: Jan 19, 2001:
- Set #06: Jan 19, 2001: Churchill
- Set #07: Jan 20, 2001: Churchill
- Set #08: Jan 20, 2001: Churchill
- Set #09: Jan 21, 2001: Churchill
- Set #10: Jan 22, 2001: Churchill
- Set #11: Jan 22, 2001: Churchill
- Set #12: Jan 23, 2001:
- Set #13: Jan 23, 2001:
- Set #14: Jan 23, 2001:
- Set #15: Jan 24, 2001:
- Set #16: Jan 24, 2001: Inside the locomotive cabs
- Set #17: Jan 24, 2001: Inside the rest of the locomotives
- Set #18: Jan 24, 2001: More inside the locomotive cab
- Set #19: Jan 24, 2001: Inside the galley
- Set #20: Jan 24, 2001:
- Set #21: Jan 24, 2001:
- Set #22: Jan 25, 2001:
- Set #23: Jan 25, 2001:
- Set #24: Jan 25, 2001:
- Set #25: Jan 26, 2001:
- Set #26: Jan 26, 2001: Inside another locomotive!
- Set #27: Jan 26, 2001:
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