1) here’s the train route we followed (in red)
“The Canadian‘ is one of those iconic railway legends that rail gurus want to try. It is the flagship train that Via Rail runs from Toronto, north of Superior to Winnipeg, then across the Prairies to Edmonton, and from there through the Rockies and across the Continental Divide to Vancouver. The trip from Toronto to Vancouver takes 5 days and you can take your accommodations in anything from an economy seat to a 2-person private cabin (complete with private washroom and all meals included).
G and I have long talked of taking the over-the-Rockies section of this train – from Edmonton to Vancouver – and we’ve just returned from that very journey. We can check this one off our bucket list. Hooray!
We flew out to Edmonton on Thursday afternoon and spent the night at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, the historic hotel built back in 1915, a decade after Alberta entered Confederation. The stay was nice but staff let the ball drop with regard to turn-down, morning newspaper, and platinum guest amenity which I will certainly be following up on. Rather then dine out, we ate in-room and watched March Madness. Like all Fairmonts, again, this one proved they do know how to do in-room food that is actually far above what is usually served. Bravo Fairmont. And in a moment of well-that’s-kinda-neat, when we arrived at the Fairmont in the taxi there was a swarm of hockey fans milling about the entrance. We ended up having our taxi’s doors opened by two Columbus Blue Jacket team members (who were playing the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night) that were keen to escape the hockey whores.
2) our room at Fairmont; 3) the view down onto the North Saskatechewan River from the hotel
I don’t know if you’ve ever visited Edmonton but it continues a dreary, dreadful place and, oil aside, I can’t imagine that near on 800K people willingly call what is essentially one big hicktown their home. The stretch along the North Saskatchewan River, one of Canada’s largest urban parks actually, is passable and the city does have a stunning new Art Gallery of Alberta building that one hopes will add some culture and perspective to move it city to some new level. In what must, however, be the height of irony, Edmonton ranked as the best city in Canada in a Quality of Life analysis done by the firm Numbeo last year. Worst, it ranked number three in the world! So, I give you that piece of information to provide a fair perspective. Go figure.
On Friday, we took a taxi over to the Edmonton Via Rail station – near the now ghostlike City Centre Airport – only to discover the train was delayed (somewhere outside of Biggar, SK). While we were supposed to leave at 7:20AM, the anticipated arrival into Edmonton was not expected until 11:30AM which, on calling Via Rail, was subsequently changed to 1:30PM then back to 12:30PM. And so, at 6-blessed thirty am we decided to walk back towards town to grab some breakfast at a McDonalds we saw driving in. From there we crashed for a spell in a day room at the Nova Chateau Hotel & Suites (near the ghostlike airport) and about as upscale as its name suggested. We ate lunch there and walked back to the station only to arrive just as the train was pulling in. Yay!
4) do you see me there? … walking toward G and the Via station … why doesn’t Edmonton have sidewalks out here!; 5) ever hopeful a train may appear
6) we bought this very interesting chocolate at Bernard Calebaut …. the habanero salt was HOT; 7) … and then the train backed it’s way into the station with the Park Car (with observation deck) leading the way
So, it was “all aboard” and by 1:40PM we were on our way. We settled into our cabin, enjoyed lunch with new friends Vicky and her young granddaughter, Creesha (about 8 or 9 years old) – they had flown down from Fort Chipewyan, which sits on the shores of Lake Athabasca in the very, very far north of Alberta near the Northwest Territory border – and sat mesmerized as the Prairies turned to rolling hills and then just outside of Hinton, AB, into the Rockies. Just after dinner we made a stop in Jasper, AB and were able to get off the train and wander about for about 20 minutes. Back on board, our cabin steward, Chris, converted our room from its sitting room configuration to our sleeping quarters (bunk beds actually) and we climbed in and let the rock of the rails coax us to sleep.
8) our cabin was on the Mackenzie Manor car; 9) two chairs available during the day
10) across from the chairs, a small sink and it it’s left a toilet; 11) wow! I thought this was a fascinating fact and achievement
12) if you’re overweight, you’re going to have troubles negotiating the very tight passage; 13) time zones for all of Canada in the Park Car
14) going up to the observation deck; 15) the cocktail lounge on the Park Car
16) it has very pretty etched glass windows
17) crossing over to car 139 (the train was about 500m long all toll); 18) G heads back into our car
19) the view from the back of the train from the Park Car; 20) our beds for the night are made up
21) there is full-on dining with menus and everything; 22) we brought a bottle on board
23) each car also has a full shower you can use and they provide a shower kit with soap, shampoo, towel and face cloth; 24) up I go onto my bunk
25) here’s the dining car; 26) up in the observation deck … this Quebec couple lived up here I think and did that horrible thing of leaving their junk on their seats to ‘save’ their spot (dreadful manners and they and several other hoarders should have been evicted!)
27) into Vancouver, G watches the city roll past; 28) here I am in bed ready to read
29 & 30) it’s amazing what you see … our window was sort of a live tv through the journey
31 & 32) complete with the occasion commercials as freight trains passed
33) taking a peek between cars
This morning we awoke early and saw the full moon on the waters of the Thompson River and were soon fast in the Fraser Canyon as it weaves it way south and west from Kamloops. Past Hell’s Gate – where the Fraser River is forced through a gorge barely 115feet wide – we entered the Fraser Valley and passed through Chilliwack, Mission and Abbortsford before crossing the mighty Fraser near the Palluto Bridge in New Westminster to continue into the city. By noon were were home, walking from Pacific Central after a wondrous journey that, while we’d not do again, are happy to have experienced. If you are considering the journey, do try it! Traveling either way Van-Edm or as we did Edm-Van is highly recommended. Travel for 2 in a cabin for 2 complete with all meals included will run you CAD$1600.
34 & 35) heading west out of Edmonton – flat and snow
36 & 37) and then gentle hills start up
38) at Hinton, AB, you’re into the Rockies
39) with huge granite rock mountains; 40) I can see the front of the train in this shot
41 & 42) the view at dinner … just outside Jasper … it was very pretty and we saw elk and mountain goats
43) bet that water is cold!
44) here we are in Jasper; 45) G takes a stroll up towards the front of the train
46) Mt Robson?; 47) folks anxious to get back on after our stop in Jasper
48) Goodbye Jasper!
49) here’s a ladder to nowhere; 50) in the Thompson River we came across this wreck … eek!
51 & 52) Hell’s Gate … very narrow
53) the Fraser is narrow, fast and angry here; 54) a CN freight on the other side of the river heads East
55 & 56) in the Cascade Mountain range now
57) the Fraser is wider now and a little gentler
58 & 59) and then boom, you’re out in the Fraser River Valley
60 & 61) the river is wide and quiet with neat trees along the shore
62) mud car convention?; 63) Mission, BC
64) fishing for salmon; 65) just outside Chilliwack
66) in North Surrey all types of industry – car wreckage here; 67) wood mill there
68 & 69) the new (and old) Port Mann Bridge famous for the ice bombs that formed on it this February when it opened
70 & 71) the Patullo Bridge … it is here that we crossed the Fraser
72 & 73) over we go … with Surrey on the right; New West on the left
74) the front of the train is in New West while we’re still out in the middle of the Fraser; 75) Skytrain sighting! … we’re home for sure
76) Vancouver!; 77) arrived at 12:10
78) bye bye Canadian; 79) hello home!