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Bob Burns Summer 2002 Rail Travelogue - Part 1

VIA Rail Canada

June 17/02

The train pulled into Brockville, Ontario at 7:13 a.m. and our party, consisting of Ray, Lorraine, Darlene and myself gathered our luggage at the platform. The train was pulled by the new very large and impressive looking Genesis engine. I just managed to take a photo of it before boarding.

Once the train was rolling again I watched the countryside roll by. Due to the past couple of weeks of rain, the fields and forests had a deep green color to them. I also saw my first wild animal of the trip, a red deer running past the train.

The train made short stops at Kingston and Colburg and then nonstop to Toronto where we arrived around 10:00 a.m. The train taking us west would not leave until the next day so we'd be staying overnight in Toronto. After collecting our bags at the station we took a taxi to the Radisson Hotel at the Harbor front. The view from our room was of Lake Ontario and the harbor which had many sailing crafts including a three masted schooner which sailed past the hotel.

We decided to tour Toronto by taking a streetcar that passed in front of our hotel and later taking a subway to get to the center of town. We took a break at noon to have lunch a restaurant featuring Indian cuisine, which is Ray's favorite food. The food was delicious and is difficult to describe as there are so many spices in any one mouthful competing for attention. Ray ordered a Mango Lassi, a drink consisting of mango juice and yogurt. The yogurt in the drink does help cut some of the taste of the stronger spices in the meal.

When we left the restaurant we went window shopping in Chinatown where I purchased some jade bracelets and rings for my daughters. When we finished our respective shopping, we hopped on a streetcar and returned to the hotel. Ray purchased some lychee fruit and mangos at the market and he showed Lorraine and Darlene how to eat them. The women thought they were delicious.

June 18/02

We arose and met for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. The dining room provided a lovely view of the lake and harbor. After breakfast, we gathered our things, checked out of the hotel and arrived at Union Station by 8:00 a.m. There were many passengers waiting to board and they started by letting the tour groups board the train first. Our train consisted of 23 cars and we had to walk nearly to the end to reach our car. Amid the confusion of so many passengers trying to get to their correct rooms, I was surprised we found ours.

While our train left on time at 9:00 a.m., we traveled a short distance before stopping and waited an hour for a GO commuter train to pass. Fortunately nobody seemed perturbed about this as the train could make up the time during the trip. Our attendant for this leg of the trip was Michele Ouimet, a very pleasant girl from Winnipeg.

Ray arranged to have the early meal sitting and we went for lunch at 11:00. At our table were two ladies, one traveling to Lake Tahoe, California, and another lady from New York traveling west. For lunch I chose the Alberta bison burger with the soup of the day, Minestrone. While being a game meat, I didn't notice a difference from the usual hamburgers we eat. I finished the meal with an apple crisp.

After the meal I went to the observation car at the end of the train to view the scenery and take some photos. At Caprecol, just past Sudbury, we had a short stop and the passengers disembarked to stretch their legs. I left to visit the small station and take more pictures.

Later that afternoon in the observation car I met the engineer that drove the Churchill to Thompson route. He and his wife were returning from Nova Scotia on vacation. With rail fans from Britain on board, conversations obviously centered around the rail industry.

At supper time, Ray and I shared a table with a charming couple, Viateur Corriveau and his lovely wife Aurore, from St. Foy, Quebec. They were traveling to Regina to visit their son who is stationed there in the military. This presented Ray and I with an opportunity to practice our French language skills as our dinner guest's wife had limited English speaking skills. We shared wine and had a wonderful time and a wonderful meal. For this meal I had the roast beef and potatoes and ending the meal with a slice of cheesecake.

Afterwards I returned to the observation car with my camera to ensure I didn't miss too many photo opportunities. Later, I joined a group in the lower lounge area and was soon involved in a lively conversation which also included Todd, the attendant for that car. At around 10:00 p.m. I decided to retire for the evening.

June 19/02

I tried to rise early to photograph the sunrise but it was overcast. I then joined Lorraine and Darlene in the observation car. Later, I went to the dining car and had an omelet for breakfast. I then returned to the observation car to converse with some of the passengers and photograph some of the passing lakes.

For the lunch break, I had the bison burger again and caramel cake for dessert. After lunch, the train stopped in Sioux Lookout for about 20 minutes which gave the passengers an opportunity to walk around the town and station.

On our westward travel, one can see the scenery gradually changing from lakes and forests to flat lands and farms. We arrived in Winnipeg at 4:00 p.m. during a heavy rainfall. I took advantage of our 20-minute stop to once again visit The Forks Market (a shopping complex near the Winnipeg train station).

After our departure from Winnipeg, we went for supper and I chose the pork tenderloin in red pepper sauce which was served by our new dining car attendant, Jacques Lièvre. His enthusiasm and helpfulness was immediately evident and he became our favorite on the trip.

The weather was overcast with rain and some lightning, not much light to take a picture outside.

June 20/02

Since I didn't set the alarm on my clock, I slept in until 6:00 a.m. However, I started the day with my favorite breakfast, french toast with blueberry sauce and I finished with a delicious cup of coffee.

At 9:10 the train arrived at the Edmonton station and I must admit I was surprised at the small size of the train station. After being in the Toronto and Winnipeg train stations I thought that Edmonton would be similar. I took a short stroll on the station platform, as our stay is very short, and watched some aircraft take off and land at a nearby airport.

Following our departure I stayed in the lounge of the observation car for a while and chatted with some of the passengers. I was surprised to meet someone sitting beside me from my home town of Ottawa. Her name is Abla Sherif and she is the Dean of Algonquin College. She told me that she was on her way to Vancouver to attend a conference on education.

With the sunny weather I found the observation car to be too warm, so I returned to my room.

When the train arrived in Jasper, Ray and I removed our luggage from the train. Lorraine and Darlene would be continuing on this train to Vancouver, however, Ray and I would go to Prince Rupert via Prince George on another train the next day. We took pictures of each other in Jasper and said our good-byes before Lorraine and Darlene departed. Fortunately for Ray and myself, a couple from Jasper gave us a lift to the Jasper Inn where we had reservations. The room itself was large and it also had a large washroom that contained a double Jacuzzi. The view outside the hotel was beautiful, with snow covered mountains surrounding the town -- very picturesque.

We walked through the town in the afternoon. I noticed many young people with backpacks walking in town. It is a very clean town that caters to the tourist trade. In some respects it reminds me of Mount Tremblant in Quebec. After our walk in town Ray and I retired for the evening.

June 21/02

In the wonderful clean mountain air, I awoke late in the morning, fortunately our train wouldn't leave until noon. It was wonderful to have had a view, when we left the hotel in the morning, of the mountains again. I'm sure that I am part of a majority of people that never tire of mountain views.

Just before our boarding the train at 12:45, we met the Service Manager, Terry McIntyre, who became very helpful to us on our journey to the coast.

I was very impressed with the friendly help and consideration provided by the VIA staff towards the passengers. Whenever the train passed a photogenic area the train would slow down or stop and the crew would inform the passengers of what to look for and provide the passengers an opportunity to take a picture. When the train engineers spotted animals by the side of the tracks, they would notify the VIA staff in the passenger cars so that they could inform the passengers for which type of animal to look and from which side of the car to look.

The scenery was constantly changing from mountain vistas to steep gorges beside the tracks. This is the beginning of the Fraser River which starts with a clear light green water which later changes to a more opaque brown color. My biggest disappointment was not taking a picture of the majestic Mount Robinson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, due to a technical problem of a dead digital camera battery.

We were surprised to have had meals served on this trip to Prince George since it is a day trip, as we were under the impression there would not be any.

For all the wild life sightings, I only managed to see one black bear.

Upon our arrival at the station in Prince George, we were greeted by two charming and attractive VIA employees. Besides providing us with our luggage, they also were able to arrange to give Ray his train tickets for the next day because he had inadvertently lost his.

After receiving our room keys at the hotel, Ray noticed a restaurant across the street which served Indian cuisine. Ray is a big fan of Indian food and he eats it every day if he can. When we finished our meal we called it a night.

June 22/02

After settling our account at the hotel, we took a taxi to the station, which, after a short while, quickly filled up with passengers for the train to Prince Rupert. Free coffee was available for the passengers while they waited.

At 7.35 a.m. we boarded the train and at 7:45 a.m. the train left Prince George. We traveled through another snow covered mountain range.

There were fewer passengers now as the British tour group went on the BC Rail train in Prince George.

Up in the Observation car I had a conversation with Bob Ritchie who is a train buff and who also recognized the TrainWeb logo on my shirt. Bob is an owner of a logging road equipment business located in Campbell River, B.C. We talked at length about the rail industry, as well as the heavy equipment industry. Bob was also accompanied on this trip by his charming wife, Karen.

The train made a 20-minute stop in Smithers, B.C. to take on fuel. This allowed us an opportunity to look at the gift shop located at the train station, as well as to take photos of the spectacular mountain scenery that surrounds this town.

The rest of the trip was spent photographing and enjoying the changing scenery as the train descended down to the ocean. Approaching Prince Rupert, a train enthusiast chased our train in a car while taking pictures of it, while I in turn took pictures of him.

When we arrived at 7:50 p.m. we grabbed our bags from the luggage car and took the shuttle to the Crest Hotel. Before leaving the train, I gave Bob Ritchie my TrainWeb cap as he had admired it so much . Since he is such a big fan of TrainWeb, I felt he deserved it.

I noticed that the street lights did not come on until around 10:30 p.m. which indicated to me just how far north we were.

June 23/02

Woke at 6:00 a.m. to be ready for our 8:00 departure. Enjoyed our breakfast on board the train.

Took more photos of the scenery including the low clouds that were midway down the mountain. The day started overcast and with light rain, not surprising, considering we were on the coast. During the trip to Prince George the train passed through several weather systems, from rain to sun and back to rain again.

Missed most opportunities to see the wild animals that were pointed out although I did see another deer in a field.

I passed part of the time with a gentleman from Scotland who was on vacation and traveling across the continent with his wife.

With so very few passengers on board this trip, I had the chance to talk with the VIA staff, Chris Cabot and Terry McIntyre. The crew knew all the various points of interest to photograph and they told us ahead of time so that we had sufficient time to take a picture. Sometime they even slowed the train down or opened the door to the outside to make it easier. It was very kind of the crew to do this for us.

When we arrived at Prince George, both the train crew and the station staff were kind enough to get together for a group photo. Afterwards Ray and I left for the hotel. This would be the end of our association with VIA staff because the next rail trip would be on the BC Rail. Fortunately we spoke to enough people to find out that Prince George has more than one rail station and BC Rail was not there with VIA.

June 24/02 (Saint Jean Baptiste Day)

Since our BC Rail trip was in a couple of days, I had time to discover Prince George. I did a walking tour of the downtown core with a short stop at a bakery for a snack. Returned to the hotel to do my laundry and when I was finished I used the rest of the day to visit the Rail Museum at the edge of town.

I was very impressed with types and number of rail equipment on display. I enjoyed the idea that much of the equipment was open to the public. You just climbed up if you wanted a closer look. Besides rail, there is also heavy logging equipment, trucks, saws, sawdust incinerator. There are impressive building displays of the logging equipment used by loggers, such as large chain saws.

There is also an actual station house that was removed from its site and brought here. You can take a tour of it and the admirable job done of decorating it as well.

Later, one of the museum volunteers, named Chris, kindly gave me a short tour of equipment that was not open to the public. He opened the rail crane to show the machinery inside. If you ask him nicely, maybe he will tell you about the interesting story of how they acquired this unique piece of machinery. Chris also took me on the rail turntable for a 360 degree trip around in a circle to show me how it operates. Later Chris took Ray and myself on a short trip in a small rail machine called a Speeder. He told us that there are Speeder clubs where the members travel together on a rail line and that one group had come up from the States. The last equipment we tried was the velocipede, a type of mechanical bicycle that takes a person down the track under their own muscle power. Efficiency with this vehicle comes with practice.

Finally, Chris was kind enough to give us a tour of the large machine shop they are using on loan from CN. We saw some of the current projects they are working on such as a caboose and a diesel engine that are being painted in their original colors.

After this tour we called it a day.

June 25/02

Decided on another walking tour of the town where I hadn't been yet, as well as the center of town. I later had lunch in a Mexican restaurant and browsed in a used book store.

Realizing that in case I didn't have time later, I decided to get my hair cut at Sam the Barber which advertises the "best haircut in town". While I was completely satisfied with the my haircut, I took a shower afterwards to wash out the scent that the barber put in it.

I later went on another walk around town and toured a local sporting goods shop and quickly realized this store was different from the ones I've seen in the city. Besides the usual North American military garb, there were European goods as well. However, what made me notice that this store was different was the variety of outdoor equipment that was available. Since this town is surrounded by many miles of rugged bush, obviously the locals know what they need to survive out there. Why, they even sell bear bells for those brave enough to venture past the city limits. It was after I had returned to my room that I realized that I had too much sun, which by the way doesn't take very much for me. My face was beet red. Fortunately, I'd be on the train the next day and out of the sun.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part travelogue.
Thank you for reading.

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