VIA Rail Canada Travelogue
By Doug Symons
Saturday, April 12, 2003
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:
1st Coach 7204
2nd Coach 7210
Service Car 7306
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.
Walking down the hallway I could not believe how narrow the hallway
was but when we entered the bedroom it was even smaller. I could not
enter the private washroom without pushing my back into the blind
covering so that I could open the door to the bathroom. Of course, I am not a reliable standard for judging size, as my
frame is larger than average. I soon changed and crawled into bed after having been up for the past 20 hours. The bed was
oriented crossways to the train and it took some
time to adjust to the rocking motion. Having travelled by train before
I had expected that the bed layout would be parallel to the tracks. It
seemed to take me forever to get to sleep but in reality my eyes
closed the minute my head hit the pillow. The train stopped just outside
Kingston for about 2 hours on a siding and then pulled into the Kingston
station at 05:45 h.
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:
Monck Manor 8336
Draper Manor 8321
Lorne Manor 8333
Blair Manor 8307
Banff Park 8703
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!
The delight our chef described was Pizza Soup, which sounds odd but
was excellent. It was followed by a spinach and shrimp salad. It was
obvious that he had convinced the passengers to try it, as many ordered this meal.
Dessert was a delightfully sinful chocolate truffle cake. This was the
first meal of many that were very exquisitely presented and full of
flavour... and calories.
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
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.
We arrived at Sioux Lookout at 09:00 h and as we had a thirty-minute
stop, a large number of passengers got off to stretch their legs and get
some fresh air. The temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius with little
wind. While we were on the platform a large Raven landed on top of the
old train station. The station is now
owned privately and was originally built in 1873; it is now in the
process of major renovations. Ken Browning was quite amused at the
electrical cords hanging out of the front of most vehicles. We had to
explain why and how they were used. He had a hard time understanding how
cold our weather can get. Approx at 09:30 h we pulled away from the
station on our journey westward passing through the small communities of
Richan, Red Lake Road, Canyon, Farlane, Redditt, Minaki, Ottermere,
Copeland's Landing, Rice Lake, Winnitoba, Ophir, Brereto Lake, Elma, and
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 lunch we had about
two hours of flat prairie to observe. About an hour from Winnipeg, our
train stopped on the tracks in the middle of no man's land as the train
heading East from Winnipeg stopped beside us. A passenger got off our
train to begin his journey back to Toronto. 'What an unusual thing to do'
was thought by all, however, according to our service manager, Don, this
happens quite often as some people like to ride the rails
and do not wish to have a layover in Winnipeg for another day or two
until the next train arrives. We arrived in Winnipeg at 15:45 h. Since we
had an approximately one-hour layover, a large number of passengers disembarked
to find the temperature was a very warm 22 degrees Celsius. Most made
their way over to 'The Forks', a local shopping mall. This building had
previously been a training facility for developing personnel of some sort.
Our new service manager, Graham, told us that it had been
a shopping mall for at least the past 19 years.
While we were in Winnipeg, I was able to visit the Winnipeg Railway
Museum, operated by Midwestern Rail Association, which is located in the
VIA Rail Station.
I also had the opportunity to take pictures of Tom Baldwin, who is a
retired train employee who has restored many of the artifacts on display.
His picture is among those taken in front of the station marker,
recording trains arriving and departing, along with one of his favourite
restorations, his "toy", the three wheeler velocipede.
A new service crew for the train embarked in Winnipeg. After departing
Winnipeg, we continued our trek westward through the many small
communities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Dinner was served soon after
departing Winnipeg. I had fish chowder and pan-fried Pickerel from
icy Manitoba waters, lightly seasoned and served with a tomato-chive
'buerre blanc' sauce. Kent had the Manitoba Pork Loin, oven-roasted
center cut, lightly seasoned and served with an apple balsamic demi
glace, followed by VIA's famous chocolate cake. We again shared our
dinner this evening with Mr and Mrs Kippenberger. We learned that he
is a retired Coast Guard Officer while she was an accomplished folk
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!
Many years ago I attended school in Regina and took a train from
North Bay to Regina or to Saskatoon to visit my grandparents. On one
of these trips, although I had reserved a berth, I thought it would be
better to cash in the ticket and travel by coach. I soon found out that
this was not a good move. After just 24 hours of coach travel I
purchased back my berth for the rest of the journey. Since we would be
travelling through Saskatoon, I thought it would
be nice to obtain pictures of the stately station I remembered as a
youngster, only to find out that the station is now some 7 or 8 miles
from downtown. With all the fond memories of Saskatoon I had to stay
awake and take a picture of the sign even though it was at the ungodly
hour of 02:00 h. I did manage to stay awake and get the picture. The
stop in Saskatoon was about 25 minutes, so I got off for the pictures.
I was in bed and asleep before the train pulled away from the station.
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!
We arrived in Jasper in mid-afternoon and disembarked to a lovely
temperature and a slightly cloudy sky. Having only previously seen
pictures of Jasper that had
indicated Swiss style buildings, seeing it in real life I could verify
that is how the whole main street
was built. Almost all the shops were closed on Monday when we arrived,
to our surprise. This was perhaps due to the fact that that they
were open on Sunday and the tourist season was only just starting.
At this time we said our goodbyes to John Woollatt, the Kippenbergers
and the Brownings.
Back on board we again went to the Park car and sat with a woman from
Manchester, England, who had got on the train in Winnipeg and was
travelling to visit friends in Vancouver, then to Regina and
Portage La Prairie, and then back home.
Once again it was time for some more calories and dinner was served. We
sat with Mr and Mrs Henderson from Peterborough, Ontario, a retired
engineer and his wife who were travelling to Vancouver for their 50th Anniversary.
They were also going to be aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. For this
evening's meal we had fish chowder followed by Prime Canadian AAA beef,
slow roasted and served with a delicate sauce made from the pan
drippings, accompanied with mixed grilled vegetables. For dessert, we
again had the infamous chocolate cake.
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.
Days Four and Five: Tuesday and Wednesday, April 15-16, 2003
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
Monday, April 21, 2003
aboard the Rocky Mountaineer Railtours!
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:
Saturday, April 12, 2003
Set #01 /
Sunday, April 13, 2003
Set #03 /
Set #04 /
Set #05 /
Set #06 /
Monday, April 14, 2003
Set #08 /
Set #09 /
Set #10 /
Monday, April 15, 2003
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