The great Canadian train ride

It’s a trip many Canadians say they would like to take someday. We decided to do it now.

In Toronto, my husband Gregory and I got on the VIA train called “The Canadian” and travelled for four days and nights across Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. It would have been faster to fly, but taking the train from Toronto to Vancouver allowed us to see the vastness and diversity of Canada first-hand.

Our home and native land

Ontario’s landscape looked like something out of a Group of Seven painting with trees clinging to exposed Canadian Shield rock around picturesque lakes (which became increasingly ice-covered the further north we got).

Manitoba was flat with farmland stretching into the distance. We missed Saskatchewan entirely as the train traversed it while we slept.

Alberta’s rolling hills became higher and higher until we reached Jasper where snow-capped mountains reached to the sky.

The mountains got smaller again in British Columbia with the mighty Fraser River rushing down to the agriculturally fertile Fraser Valley.

Riding the rails

Our experience of train travel was just as engrossing as the scenery. We had a sleeper cabin with two chairs, which a steward made up into bunk beds for us each evening. The room was very small and this made it a definite challenge to get dressed each morning. I can’t imagine how people coped who had berths (chairs made up into beds screened with a curtain) or those who bought a seat ticket and had to sleep upright.

Mealtimes were the highlight of each day and the excellent food was worth waiting for. We were seated at table with other passengers, and strangers soon became acquaintances. We met people from England, the United States, and various places in Canada.

Unfortunately, the train left an hour and a half late from Toronto, and, because of delays waiting for freight trains to pass, it was even later at each of our stops. Passenger conversation eventually centered on speculating how late the train would get in to Vancouver. Although we were almost seven hours late at one stop, the train eventually made up some of the time, and we were only four and a half hours behind schedule arriving in Vancouver.

As much as people groused about the lateness of the train, Gregory and I decided that the trip was never about getting to our destination on time – it was about enjoying the journey and exploring our native land.