All aboard Via Rail’s The Canadian
ON BOARD THE CANADIAN Chioko Shimizu can barely contain her excitement. Sitting on the edge of her seat in the dome car, she gazes at the 3 D panorama outside with wonderment.
The young Japanese teacher’s eyes light up, her face is radiant. Her digital camera joins the chorus of electronic clicks and whirs as passengers rush to capture the Kodak moment.
But we’re not in Jasper. We’re on The Canadian Via Rail’s own Orient Express heading west toward Jasper. Barely out of Edmonton, with paradise about four hours away, we’re in what I’ve always considered to be the most mundane part of the journey. And yet, here is Chioko acting as if the rivers were flowing out of the heavenly city.
For me, that’s not a bad thing. Since my dad worked for the railways in England, I grew up thinking of train travel as “the only way to fly.” So when it came time to travel cross country, I jumped at the chance to fly “the more human way.”
This journey begins in Toronto at Union Station, the Mother Church of Canada’s passenger railway system.
Like the other great temples and cathedrals of the railways’ golden age, Union Station’s beaux arts design with neoclassical columns and high ceilings was meant to make you feel as if you were taking part in something really grand.
These days, the realities of hauling your own bags through narthex and nave can make the start of a train trip a little more mundane. But once I arrive at the departure area, the Via nike air max 2015 “flight crew” instantly make me feel welcome. This is much better than scurrying through an airport.
I love the sleek “silver bullet” design of The Canadian’s 1950s vintage railway carriages. Ironically, the style mimics the “ultra modern” design of the very jet airliners that were destined to replace trains.
But once on board The Canadian, I really notice the world of difference between this and air travel. No rushing, no pushing, no shoving no one desperately trying to stuff his oversized bags into the overhead compartment.
Instead, the coach class travellers at the front of the train are making themselves comfortable in a way that plane passengers never can. For starters, they have leg room.
The sleeper class travellers are already heading back to the Park car the old first class lounge/observation car for a Champagne reception. And after helping themselves to hors d’oeuvres, pas nike air max 2015 sengers flock nike air max 2015 to the upper level of the dome car to see the night view.
Balancing a drink in one hand and hors d’oeuvres in the other, I climb the steps to the upper level, find the only empty seat and sit down. That’s when I meet Chioko a young teacher from Japan who’s heading out to Alberta before the snow flies. When she finds out that I’ve been to Japan and can actually say “Good evening” and “Thank you” in Japanese, Chioko drops the Japanese reserve and warms up to me.
She tells me that she has come to Canada just to travel across the country by train and see the Rockies. Ever since she was a teenager, it has been her dream. And now it’s coming true.
But the Rockies are three days and thousands of kilometres away, so for now it’s time to say goodnight. I find my way to my little room and settle in for a good night’s sleep on a real bed.
The trip from Toronto to Vancouver takes four nights, three days and covers 4,452 kilometres rolling past the ever changing mural outside the windows. Since our first night is travelling through Ontario’s industrial heartland, I figure we’re not missing much.
The next morning, we awake to find we are far away from the concrete jungles and rolling our way through the cobalt lakes and lush forests of northern Ontario. Cold steel and glass towers and have given way to the burnt oranges and deep reds of Ontario in autumn.
As I stare out the window, the landscape teases a haunting tune and provocative words from the depths of my memory . it’s the theme song from the IMAX film North of Superior:
“What kind of man will come to this country
To bear the discomfort and challenge his brain
For it will take him, shake him, remake him .”
What kind of man (or woman) comes here? British pensioners who have saved up their pennies for a trip of a lifetime. Americans who value Via Rail much more than Canadians do. Widows and widowers heading back to their little homes on the Prairies. Asians like Chioko and pilgrims like me who are living a dream.
In the days to come, we will traverse the Canadian Shield and kilometres and kilometres of the great Prairie. There, the blue flax and yellow canola of summer will have given way to golden bales of hay, bundled like shredded wheat and sugar frosted with snow.
Then comes what Chioko and so many others have come for: the turquoise rivers, sapphire lakes and opal peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
But on our first morning, the light dawns on Ojibwa Country, and it’s glorious.
On that first morning, I head to one of the dining cars for breakfast. There I meet Chioko for what will become the first of many meals together on this trip. This is the other great thing about rail travel: you actually get to meet people and talk to them, break bread together.
I’m not used to getting up so early for breakfast and have never been what anyone would call a gourmand. But the Canadian’s Silver Blue class service absolutely pampers passengers. The art deco stylings and silver table settings tell me I’m in for a treat. I feel like I’m on The Orient E nike air max 2015 xpress and expect Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman to walk in any time.