Canada Rail

Tuesday 6 November 2007

We awoke early - courtesy of jet-lag and confused body-clocks - and caught a taxi the few blocks to the railway station. After a few questions we got ourselves headed in the right direction.

Because of the limited room in the sleeping compartments we had to dive into our suitcases and extract out some underwear and a change of clothes to keep with us while checking the rest of the baggage.

It wasn't really a problem, but it would have been better if we had known, and were able to take some more time about it. After coffee and a baguette we felt a bit better and went back down to see if we could find the people responsible for managing the sleeping compartments.

They were on hand, ensured our tickets were OK and asked us to select what time we would like to dine, with a choice of 11:30am and 5:00pm or 1:30pm and 7:30pm.  We chose the latter, and only had a short wait before we went up an escalator to board the train.

Our compartment has two reclining seats, a small niche to tuck our backpacks, a concealed partition to hang clothes and a small toilet.

There's a basin and tap, together with towels, toiletries, tissues and so on. There are two power points so I can charge up the camera batteries, phones and laptop. All very civilised, if on a small scale.

We found later that the two bunks (wider than singles but relatively narrow) fold down, one from the wall and one from the ceiling and the chairs fold up to go underneath the bottom bunk.

It didn't take long to get under way and very soon we found ourselves travelling through the small communities outside of Toronto and bordering the Great Lakes as well as the many smaller lakes in this part of the country.

The weather forecast we'd seen in the early hours of the morning proved to be accurate and the flurries of snow started in the afternoon. Soon the entire landscape was starting to turn white, as the snow accumulated on the ground and on the branches of the conifers in particular.

[Above - Wash basin on the train]

The staff on board the train are eager to please and take their customer relations duties very seriously. There are single, double and triple sleeping compartments, two separate dining cars, three observation carriages with facilities for board-games and so on down-stairs and a Park car at the very end which also has an observation area and in places, internet access.

The meals on the train are included in the tickets and are very good. Our lunch companion was Joan, a first-generation Canadian of British descent. She's on board to manage a group of farmers who will be joining us at Winnipeg.

She's great company, and we also had dinner together while we solved the problems of the world over a glass of wine.

[Above - landscape coming out of Toronto]
...and the snow started

Darkness fell quickly, and with no street or building lights, all we could see was what the feeble illumination from the train revealed. Mostly conifers with a dusting of snow and the occasional outcrop of rock.

The beds are pretty comfortable, considering, and we slept well, waking early because we went to bed early I suppose.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

I must have been first in for the shower, as the water was cold, and just as I had lathered up and was resigning myself to a cold shower, some warm water started to come through.

[Left - ... and the snow started]

.There were some remarkable choices for breakfast, although I have to confess that Margaret's choice of Creme Brul French Toast with blueberries was not something I could face early in the morning. Besides which, I prefer my French Toast savoury rather than sweet.

As we proceed west the snow gets deeper on the ground and is falling heavier.  Many of the hundreds of small lakes and bodies of water beside the railway tracks are already frozen but the larger and deeper lakes are only frozen on the edges at this stage.

About 8:30 the train stopped and we were held up for some time due to engineering works which were going on ahead.

[Right - Lakes on the way out of Toronto]
[Below - Prairie


Joan's timetable is being shot to ribbons, and until we stopped at Sioux Lookout at about 12:30am, we had no idea to what extent. We were supposed to be at Sioux Lookout at 9:00am it appears, so we're adrift by about three to three and a half hours.

We crossed yet another time zone last night, putting us back into Chicago time according to my watch. We have at least another two time zones to cross before we get to Vancouver.

As I write, it's 12:49pm on the 7th of November, and it's 4:49am in Eastern Australia on the 8th of November.

As the afternoon progressed we caught up a little on the lost time and pulled in to Winnipeg about a quarter after 6pm.  Joan's farmers and their wives boarded together with their host from BCAF, which made her life a little less exciting.

[Above - Prairie farmland] [Right - rain silos]

Joan eventually joined our table for dinner, having settled down the sons of the soil. We had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion, which resulted in us learning that she and I are both Leos, both control freaks who always want to be in charge of what's happening and have an enormous amount in common.

We decided that we wouldn't run away together because a relationship where both people had to be in control was doomed to failure in about 30 seconds! Besides which, we're both perfectly happy with our spouses.

We lingered for about two hours over dinner as a result, leaving because we felt guilty about holding up the dining staff who obviously wanted to finish.

Darkness had fallen about 5pm, and there being nothing to keep us from our bed, we retired for the evening about 9:30pm.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Both of us woke about 2:00am when we stopped to let a freight train go by, and at 4am when we again stopped for quite some time as there were two freight trains to clear.

As we push out onto the plains there's not a lot to see, and the fact that it's dark doesn't help much! Some of the water by the tracks appears to be frozen but there's no snow on the ground that I can see.

I went for a shower about 5:00am and after dressing went up to the observation car to wait for the sunrise and catch up on this record of our travels.  Breakfast doesn't start until 6:30am.

[Below, left and right - The Rocky Mountains near Jasper]

When we started off from Toronto the terrain consisted of lakes with granite boulders and conifers interspersed with a little birch. 

This gave way to birch interspersed with some conifers and smaller lakes (with snow). 

Around Winipeg it was prairie - broad-acre farmland - with not much in the way of trees, then this morning we saw country which was predominantly flat but with many small hills and hillocks - a remnant glacial moraine I think.

At Edmonton, the country is again predominantly flat but a little way out we again have hillocks and birch.

I've taken quite a few photos from the train, but because we are moving they're a bit blurred.  A shame because the trip and the scenery are fantastic.  We'd recommend it to anyone.

Rockies from Jasper Rockies near Jasper

[Right - Raven totem pole at Jasper]

As the afternoon drew on we approached Jasper at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  Entering Jasper National Park we saw mountain sheep and deer beside the train line, not at all disturbed by the presence of the train.

The parts of the Rocky Mountains that we could see are so impressive.  Great slabs of rock that defy the imagination.  The dusting of snow on the tops of the mountains make them very picturesque, but press home the reality of the extreme cold which is an inherent part of this landscape.

In Jasper we stopped for about an hour, so we had a walk around in the very brisk air and had a look at the souvenir shops.

There were some really nice jackets, most involving fur of some sort - anathema to the greenies, but very common here where getting warm and staying warm can literally be a matter of life and death.

Some of the stuff in the Indian (no, the other sort of Indian, the native American kind) shop was also interesting.

At this stage we're still some three and a half hours adrift, but the consensus among the train staff is that we'll make most of this up overnight.

As we pulled out of Jasper we got to see only a little of the Rockies, as darkness fell quickly. Our only saving grace is that if we're still a little behind schedule we'll get to see the Fraser Pass in the morning. It's pretty spectacular we're told.


We had dinner with Joan and one of her party, who instigated some interesting if intrusive activities designed, I think, to demonstrate his understanding of human dynamics and psychology. Probably best if I don't name him.

As it turned out, he didn't know quite as much psychology and human physiology as he thought.

As an ice-breaker, it was fine as far as it went, but it went a little too far, and we'd probably have been better off without it. On the other hand, the wine was not too bad at all, and there was probably a little bit too much of it!

Friday 9 November 2007

I woke early and again had a shower about five in the morning then went up into the observation car to wait for the dawn while Margaret tried to get a little more sleep.

I had a long discussion with a lady whose husband had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's very difficult, as she really doesn't want to accept the diagnosis, but has to deal with the reality.


[Left - The lovely Joan, control freak and friend]
[Below - The lovely Margaret, enjoying the scenery]

She is going to Vancouver to help resolve some issues around the care of her sister-in-law's apartment, for which her husband holds power of attorney now that his sister is in a retirement home.

We discussed the issue of powers of attorney, and I've recommended that she talk to her solicitor about the status of her powers of attorney given the diagnosis and the possible need for an enduring power of attorney.

Canada and Australia share a heritage of British law, so I have to assume that there are appropriate similarities.

She's a gentle soul, and a lovely lady, and Margaret (who had joined us by that time) and I wished her well in resolving the issues she's facing.

The train stopped again for an extended period due to what we were told was a broken knuckle on the line. 

I subsequently looked up what a knuckle was, and it turned out to be a coupling between carriages, so I guess we actually have no idea what the delay was all about.  In any event, it negated the gains made overnight, and put us back some four hours. 

Sadly, the sunrise brought no magnificent vistas, being dull, overcast and raining.  I took a number of photographs of the pass and the mountains, but there was insufficient light for them to be of any value whatsoever.

On this disappointing note we pulled in to Vancouver where the train had to be broken because of its length, and then waited over an hour for our luggage. Joan was kind enough to share her taxi, dropping us off at the Fairmont Vancouver.

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