VIA Rail Canada Travelogue
It was early in December when I first prepared to take a trip on VIA Rail Canada to the West Coast and then on the Rocky Mountaineer. Never having been past the Canadian Prairies I thought that this would be a wonderful experience, especially travelling on yhe Renaissance Fleet, and then on the Canadian across Canada. Needless to say, time flies and the next thing I knew the departure time had finally come. Arriving at the Brockville, Ontario, station early, Kent Weatherilt and I were greeted by Christine, who opens the station for passengers during the times when the station is normally closed. She opened the station and then called her contact in Moncton, Ontario, to find out if the train would be on time, and she reported it would arrive about 7 minutes early. We are boarding the train in Brockville, which is VIA's busiest junction with 24 passenger trains a day and is located on CN's freight-heavy Montreal-Toronto main. We boarded the train at 02:05 h and began our four-day journey to Vancouver.
Our train consisted of the following:
Our service attendant was Michael Wolfe, who started our last trip going east. He is the great, great, great Grandson of Sir General Wolfe, of the Battle of Quebec in 1759. He has spent thirty-three and a half years on the tracks. Thomas Chow had worked with Michael for over twenty years. The two told us many stories of the old days on Canadian National Railway. With both near retirement, they have a rich history of railway life in Canada. Daniel Montigny, another, much younger, member of the train service staff, was also on board.
I was awakened about 06:00 h by Kent who was trying to enter the room, a feat that was near impossible. We decided to go for an early breakfast. It consisted of a croissant, fresh fruit, yoghurt, juice and coffee. The eating area was small and had only three tables on which to fasten the trays. After eating breakfast, we changed positions with other passengers so that they would not have to try and eat their breakfast with the trays on their laps.
After leaving Kingston, we travelled along the shores of Lake Ontario through Napanee, Belleville, Trenton, Cobourg, and Port Hope. We arrived in Toronto at 08:20 h.
We were able to walk a very short distance without going into the main station to get aboard our train, the Canadian, heading for Vancouver. The cars on this train were:
The weather in Toronto was bright, sunny and just above zero. We boarded the train, found our roomettes, and then proceeded to the Park Car, a lounge car with a domed seating area. While we waited for the balance of the passengers to board, I took a picture of the CN Tower through a small opening in the roof covering the platform and train. We pulled away from the station on-time and proceeded through the suburbs of Toronto, heading on our way through Washago, Parry Sound and Sudbury, with a good portion of this part of the trip along the shores of Georgian Bay. We passed through the small community of Brechin at about 11:00 h. I noticed that the old railway station in Brechin is now the new home of Boxcar Willy's Restaurant.
All along the tracks the lakes and rivers showed early signs of spring, with some starting to liquefy after a long winter. Many others, however, were still fully covered in ice. In the domed section we sat with John Woollatt a retired geography teacher from Toronto who was travelling to Jasper and then Prince George. He was a regular train rider and provided us a running commentary of the many sights all the way to Jasper. At lunch, we were introduced to our Chef, Ian, who came prancing out from the kitchen a la Emeril. He described the noon hour meals, told a couple of jokes and promptly disappeared into the kitchen, having provided great comic relief!
After lunch we went back to the Park Car to continue to view the wild expansive landscape of our beautiful country and take pictures of the frozen and open waterways of Northern Ontario. As well, we saw some Canadian wildlife in the open areas through which we were travelling. We arrived at Sudbury and Capreol on-time, according to VIA's schedule. At Capreol we had a thirty-minute break where many passengers got off for some fresh air. After leaving Capreol, the first sitting for supper was called and we were seated with a couple from Ottawa, Ontario. Mr & Mrs Flewelling were travelling to Vancouver to visit their daughter and family and during our conversation we found out that their grandson was a chef for the Rocky Mountaineer Railtours. Mr Flewelling was retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, and they had travelled to Vancouver by train on previous occasions.
For dinner we were served a lovely salad of red oak leaf lettuce with cucumbers and tomatoes, beef tenderloin, garlic potatoes, mixed vegetables drizzled with a Gorgonzola sauce, and for dessert we had a chocolate strawberry torte.
After dinner it was back to the Park Car to enjoy the scenery while there was still daylight. We noted that many little creeks and rivers were flowing, and that there was very little snow coverage on the ground. Having been up since 06:00 h we finally make our way back to the sleeper car at 22:30 h for a much needed sleep. What a nice feeling, to lie in bed with the blind open and see the landscape float by. The roomettes, while being small and compact, are very efficient and provide for a restful sleep. Very little clickety-clack is left as the tracks are now welded together. The only real noise one hears is when there is a siding or roadway to cross.
Day Two: Sunday, April 13, 2003
We awoke to a bright and sunny day. The breakfast of champions was served at 06:30 h. As with all meals it was served with grace and panache. Bacon, eggs, toast, coffee, juice and fresh fruit. What more can one ask for having done nothing for the past day but sit back and enjoy the scenery? We had breakfast with Elke and Ken Browning from Grays in Essex, England, a charming couple who were travelling with their son, Ben and daughter, Kim. They had been to the Southern United States and then were heading across Canada to Jasper to do some snowboarding. They would finish their trip visiting friends on the West Coast.
For lunch we sat with Mr and Mrs Clark Kippenberger, from Dresden, Maine, who were on their way to Edmonton and then to Calgary, where they would connect with the Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver. For lunch I had the Double Deli which consisted of soup and grilled beef pastrami on rye bread with Dijon mustard. For dessert, we had a maple chocolate infused cake.
After dinner, Kent took up playing cribbage with Samantha, a young girl from Hamburg, N.Y. Her mother, Cathy Hoepfinger, and Cathy's mother, Pat McCoy, were travelling to Seattle. Sam proceeded to SKUNK Kent at cribbage, an omen of what was to come. Continuing our trip westward into the dusk to darkness we neared Melville, Saskatchewan. Sitting in the Park Car we noticed a very strong pungent smell. After speaking to Lesley the Service Attendant she said the engineer had radioed back to all staff that he was 'sending back a little gift'. He had just run over a SKUNK. Phew!
Day Three: Monday, April 14, 2003
Another of the finest breakfasts was served at 06:30 h. We finally arrived in Edmonton on-time at 08:00 h and disembarked for a fifty-minute stopover, a good time to stretch legs and take in fresh air while the train took on water and fuel. The temperature was about 0 degrees with a fairly brisk wind was blowing, bringing the temperature to somewhere about minus 10 degrees. The Edmonton Station is located near an airport. Just after we arrived and were standing in front of the station, a small jet approached to land. All of us jumped at the noise as we did not see the plane coming in. Back on board we continued our trip through Alberta onwards towards the mountains. We sat in the Park car with a gentleman from Cambridge, England, who was travelling to Vancouver, flying to Singapore-Japan-Dubai-Frankfurt, and returning to London. As we passed Edson, Alberta there was fresh snow on the ground.
It was time once again to eat and we sat down with a middle-aged couple who boarded the train in Winnipeg. They were travelling to Kamloops then on to Vancouver Island to visit with an elderly friend who had been ill. For lunch this day I had a BC salmon burger, grilled and served with mayonnaise, lettuce and cucumber on Pumpernickel bread. Kent had a warm spinach salad served the traditional way with bacon bits, sliced mushrooms and red onion with a warm vinaigrette dressing along with cottage cheese. For dessert we had lemon cake. The cake tasted as though they had squeezed a whole fresh lemon on each piece. We gave it an AAA+ rating. Hats off to the chef!
While eating supper we passed by the famous Pyramid Falls. Later it was again back to the Park Car, however, it was starting to drizzle and the view was not clear. This weather followed us into Kamloops. It was time to get some shuteye until 06:00 h. When we awoke we went to the Park Car for a light breakfast of coffee, juice and muffins. We pulled into Vancouver an hour early at 07:00 h. We had two days off to visit relatives and friends in Comox and Victoria, BC before beginning our 5-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer.
While in Comox we had the opportunity to see the Canadian Armed Forces 'Snowbirds' practice their maneuvers for the upcoming summer's air shows that they would attend. In addition, while we were in Victoria, we were able to stand at 'mile 0' of The Trans Canada Highway, a point of interest to many.
for the continuation of this story
We flew back to Toronto to catch the 09:30 h VIA 1 train from Toronto to home in Brockville. After arriving in Toronto at 06:30 h my brother was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and take us to Union Station in downtown Toronto. Back to real life, we faced heavy commuter traffic to downtown Toronto on a dull, overcast, slightly rainy day. Upon arrival at the station we proceeded to the VIA 1 lounge and had our morning coffee.
We boarded our train about one half-hour before departure and immediately after departure, Natalie, our service attendant, reviewed emergency procedures. We were then served coffee, juice, fresh muffins and croissants. As we sped along the tracks the small villages and secemery appeared to fly by us. More restful and spacious are the accommodations on VIA 1 versus the past 4-plus hours on the airplane. Our train consisted of two trains as they would travel to Ottawa as train 42 and Montreal as train 56 after separating in Brockville.
Ottawa bound train consist:
Montreal bound train consist:
What an exhilarating experience it was to travel across Canada by train, being able to take in the majestic views Canada offers. From the wilderness of Northern Ontario across the flat prairies, to the unbelievable views offered through the Rocky Mountains, we are truly lucky to live in Canada.
Click to view each set of detailed photos below:
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