Canada by Rail – Jasper to Toronto

Travel Dates: September 17-20, 2022

I was in my happy place – on board a train with beautiful views all around. I woke up early the first morning and headed up to the dome car to watch the sunrise.

First sunrise on board the Canadian

All the cross country Amtrak trains in the west feature high-level cars: entry at track level with most seats and bedrooms on the second “floor”. The Canadian is made up of one-level cars interspersed with four dome cars. The biggest advantage of these dome cars over the Amtrak trains is you can see forward. I made the dome car nearest our room my home-away-from-home-away-from-home.

Here is a view from one of the dome cars farther back on the train.

View from one of the rear dome cars on the VIA Rail Canadian

Inside the dome.

One of the dome cars on the VIA Rail Canadian. We spent hours up here.

We had a great time with the Mattilas talking, reading, and generally enjoying each others’ company. We always sat together for our meals. On a long trip like this you have the opportunity to unwind and relax.

When in Canada, drink Canadian beer!

It’s a long way from Jasper to Toronto. Here is an overview of the route from Google Maps. [I tried to embed the image directly from GM but the WordPress editor (or something) didn’t work so I’m including a screen capture.]

Overview of our journey. [Google Maps]

We boarded in the province of Alberta and would pass through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

Saskatchewan is the breadbasket of Canada. Miles upon miles of fields.

Saskatchewan wheat fields

Because our train was running eight or nine hours late – thanks to a rockslide between Vancouver and Jasper – our station stops occurred at different times than scheduled. Stops are a great time to get out and stretch our legs for a bit.

Station stop in Melville, Saskatchewan

Eventually we put Saskatchewan behind us and entered Manitoba. The western part – like Saskatchewan – is to my eyes similar to the northern plains of the United States.

Approaching Winnipeg, Manitoba

The western Amtrak routes – especially the Empire Builder and The Southwest Chief – go through empty parts of the country. But those routes can’t hold a candle to the remoteness of the Canadian route. We went for hours and hours between stops – sometimes just one a day. So when we stopped most everyone hopped off for a few minutes of fresh air. You could tell the smokers. They’d be in the vestibule with an unlit cigarette in their mouth and a lighter in their hands ready to light up as soon as they disembarked. It must have been a tough go for them.

A rare stop on the trip east; in Sioux Lookout, Ontario

Our travel itinerary pointed out we would travel through the Canadian Shield. I’d never heard of it and wondered what it would be like. You can read the article in the Wikipedia article linked above. The quotations and description are from that article. The Shield is a rocky area forming the “ancient geologic core of the North American continent.” It stretches through eastern and central Canada, ranging from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. The glaciers pushed through leaving behind a very thin layer of soil.

As a result of that rock bed every low spot turns into a pond or lake. Here is an overview from Google Maps – look at all that blue.

Overview of part of the Canadian Shield showing all the bodies of water. [Google Maps]

Although the soil is not rich enough to support farming, it isn’t barren country.

The Canadian Shield – Capreol, Ontario

The rear of the train housed the deluxe accommodations. The riffraff like ourselves were allowed between 4:00 PM and sunset. It made for a nice journey down about a dozen rocking rail cars to the park car. We’d have a drink or two then head back to our dining room for dinner. The young man I’m talking to is Martin who hails from Singapore. He was a hoot; very friendly with plenty of stories to tell of his journeys.

The Park Car at the end of the Canadian.

Sadly, you can’t get this view from the back of the Canadian anymore. About a week after our trip VIA Rail was required to put one or two buffer cars (not sure if they are empty passenger cars or freight cars) at the rear to protect the passengers in case the train is rear-ended. I’m glad we went when we did.

As I did when the sun came up, I spent time in the dome in the evening.

The Canadian rounding a curve through the Canadian Shield

There were a few of us who loved the dome even in the dark. Seeing the stars and the railroad signal lights zooming by out of the dark was delightful.

We were scheduled to arrive in Toronto during the day on September 20 which would give us time to gather ourselves before a dinner at the top of the CN tower. But we got in too late for that. Terri called Fresh Tracks Canada from the train who took care of things and moved our reservation to the next night. It’s a little dicey making calls from the train; there isn’t any signal for most of the route so calls have to be squeezed into the short stops at the few-and-far-between stations along the way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on Toronto, and Niagara on the Lake in the next post.

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