Canada by Rail – Vancouver BC

Visit dates: September 10-11, 2022

[Note December 17, 2022. I apologize for posting this before it was ready yesterday (12/16/2022) But now it is complete. If you read it yesterday take another look toward the bottom where I have pictures and descriptions of our time on Grouse Mountain.]

On September 10 we headed to PDX (Portland International Airport) for our flight to Vancouver and the start of our trip across Canada by train(s). One of the small things Carla was excited about was being met at the airport by a driver with a sign bearing our names in Vancouver. That happened!

One of the small perqs! Greeted by our driver. Carla had been looking forward to this for months

Though I haven’t posted much about trains in the last year (these next few posts will change that) if you spend any time on my blog or with me IRL (In Real Life) you know I absolutely love trains. It all goes back to my dad taking me behind our house in New Jersey in the EARLY 1950s to see the New York Central trains roll by and my grandpa taking me to the depot in Winslow, Arizona to watch the Santa Fe Chief, Super Chief, and El Capitan make their fuel and crew change stops.

Carla and I love taking long train trips; we’ve taken every Amtrak train from Portland to Chicago (Empire Builder, Zephyr, and even the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles then the Southwest Chief to Chicago). But I’m very careful about recommending train travel to my friends. Then in October of 2021 the Mattila suggested we take a trip across Canada by rail. They are an adventurous couple so we got together to plan a trip. After a bit of research we settled on the tour company Fresh Tracks Canada. They set us up on a 19 day trip:

  • The Rocky Mountaineer through British Columbia and Alberta
  • VIA Rail (Canada’s Amtrak) from Jasper, Alberta to Toronto, Ontario (3 nights!)
  • VIA Rail day train from Toronto to Montreal
  • VIA Rail from Montreal to Quebec City
  • VIA Rail overnight on the Ocean Trail from Quebec City to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Tours were lined up in each city we visited. We had nature problems that cut our trip short, but more on that later. We were all required to prove our vaccination status to enter Canada; beyond that they do random followups on about 25% of the visitors; Jim was selected. But, they don’t do the tests at the airport; rather we had to find a participating pharmacy for Jim to get the test. We had dinner reservations so we had to hustle to meet the requirements. The desk personnel at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre were very helpful and pointed us to a pharmacy that was within walking distance. I don’t want to relive the details but it was chaotic and time consuming. Nevertheless, we finished in time to get back to the hotel to freshen up and walk down to the Cactus Club Cafe at Coal Harbour for dinner.

It was very nice to skip the long line and get a beautiful table overlooking the water.

View from our dinner table at the Cactus Club Cafe at Coal Harbor, Vancouver

The restaurant has a fixed menu for the Fresh Tracks Canada tourists and many of the groups around us had the same menus. Our appetizers were photo worthy: ravioli topped with shrimp. It tasted as good as it looks.

Appetizer at the Cactus Club Cafe – Coal Harbor. Vancouver, BC

Chartered sea planes came and went while we ate. As the evening progressed the night light view was stunning. As has become the norm in the west over the past few years late summer and early fall views are masked by the smoke of wildfires. You can see the smoke in the picture.

Action in Late Evening with Smokey Skies at Cactus Club Cafe – Coal Harbor. Vancouver, BC

We enjoyed the night view of the city before we caught a ride back to our hotel.

Canada loves to light up their buildings at night. Vancouver, BC

We said goodnight to the Mattilas and went right to sleep. We had a tour of Vancouver early the next morning. A tour bus picked us up at the hotel and we headed out for a Mountain Discovery Tour given by Landsea Tours. After a stop at a fish hatchery we headed up to Kiápalãno (which means Beautiful River) to walk amongst the trees.

Kiapalano translates to Beautiful River. It is!

The main attraction is a walk along a long and mildly shaky suspension bridge over a canyon. Notice the white knuckles on everyone crossing. I don’t like heights at all but made my way without tears. But there were some people who seriously should not have gone. A woman froze about halfway across; as you can see there is basically two lanes and being stuck behind someone who is having a panic attack is painful to watch. But she mustered on. Good for her

Crossing on the Capilano Suspension Bridge

Here is the view of the bridge; you can see how smoky it is.

View from the Capilano Suspension Bridge on a smoky day.

In addition to the suspension bridge there is a series of bridges in the tops of the trees on the far side.

On one side or the other Jim stayed back (or hurried ahead) to get a picture of three of us.

Terri, Carla, and Howard on the sky bridge among the trees at Capilano Park – Vancouver, BC. Photo by Jim Mattila

Another bridge between trees. This time I stayed back and caught Jim, Terri, and Carla between trees.

Before getting back on the bus we stopped at an exhibit of raptors. We were told what types of birds these were but I forgot. My astounding birder friend Frances later did the IDs for me. Here is a Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Vancouver, BC

This second bird was much harder to identify. I had no idea it is easier to ID birds when they were flying. Here is what Frances said.

My friend (Pat)and I both believe it is an accipiter. Because it is an immature bird, it’s very hard to classify whether it is a Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, or Northern Goshawk. Perched birds are more difficult to ID than a flying bird.

Frances Oliver and her friend Pat

Shortly after this exchange Frances was off to Antartica to complete her birding continent bucket list. I am grateful to Frances for her help; my good friend Jay has been unable to help ID my bird pictures lately and I’m extremely lucky to have Frances in my corner.

The Docent was as intense as the raptor

We had to hustle back to get on the bus for our final stop at Grouse Mountain. The bus can go up the mountain only so far then you board a large tram that goes up the steep mountain. I neglected to get a picture of it but you can see it here. I hear that the vistas are breathtaking; I wouldn’t know. It was so very smoky that we could hardly see more than ½ mile. Grouse Mountain is primarily a ski area but they have non-winter activities as well.

The main attraction is Grinder and Coola a pair of grizzly bears that were rescued as cubs in about 2000. There was an effort at first to release them back into the wild after they grew a bit but that didn’t work out as hoped and at this point they live in the Grouse Mountain Refuge . They do some of their own hunting but it is augmented with help from the rescue group. When we visited they were in viewing range and at one point we had a good view of Grinder, who had a good view of us. Being September Grinder and Coola were in the middle of fattening up for the winter.

Grinder the Grizzly Bear; watching the watchers

I’m not as crazy as it seems; if things got bad I didn’t have to run faster than Grinder; just faster than Jim, Terri, or Carla! (Actually there was a fence between us to keep us safe). I like the photo above, but my travel partners are partial to this one which makes hime look a bit more wild. Let me know in the comments which picture you like better.

Grinder hoping it’s dinner time at Grouse Mountain. Vancouver, BC.

The bears have their own hibernation den which even has an infrared webcam where you can watch them sleep. The den and camera made it possible for the wildlife experts to observe hibernating bears in detail for the first time. They discovered they don’t sleep the entire time; they get up and shuffle around occasionally. There are three other webcams on Grouse Mountain providing views of the chalet, the city of Vancouver, and the snow; check them out here.

Next up: our train wide through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer where we visited Kamloops, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper before across Canada to Vancouver.

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