Barb’s Train Trip

Those of you on Facebook and some others have heard that I just returned from an “across Canada by train” trip;  at least from Toronto to Vancouver. Below are some notes about the trip, warts and all.

I had mentioned to a friend that I wanted to travel across Canada by train.  She said “let me know how your trip goes.”   That made me take the final step – I went to visit Jim the travel agent….he of the brown Greek eyes.  His real name is Dimitri. Told him I wanted to go to Calgary on Via and pick up the Rocky Mountaineer.  However, Via goes to Edmonton, not Calgary.  I boarded my Via sleeping car 111, bedroom E on the morning of October 2 in Toronto.  (meals are included when you buy sleeping accommodation.)  Brunch that first day was an omelet with a nicely bubbly drink!   It wasn’t long before we were moving through Muskoka Lakes area of Ontario.  The fall colours were dramatically beautiful. And later we were seeing the walls of rock that make up the Canadian Shield.

My room had an upper and lower bunk, but no need for the top one. It also had two leather chairs by the window (chairs not bolted to floor and can be moved around but would be better if they reclined at least a bit) and its own bathroom, furnished with towels, also a narrow coat closet.  While I had dinner at 5 (there are other dinner hours) the attendant, Jake, an energetic young man, would make up the lower bunk for me.  Sleeping on a train usually rocks me to sleep but it took a while to get into that! Via trains have a dome car at either end and I spent some time up there for the sights. There was an activity room with puzzles, etc., but I had a good book.

The train had no wifi, an unexpected limitation, so on Thursday night when we arrived in Winnipeg we had an hour to take advantage of the rail station’s wifi.   The preceding day had been mostly woods and wilderness. We did not see Lake Superior – we were well north of it.  I did not record what was for dinner the first night, but the second night we had codfish, perfectly cooked.  On the whole Via’s meals were good.  An imaginative red quinoa salad with berries and nuts stands out in my memory. There was a printed menu and lots of choice.   If the one dessert mentioned didn’t strike your fancy, you could request fruit salad.

Friday night after three days of rail, we arrived in Edmonton. The station was small and crowded. I phoned for a taxi, giving my name.  The driver showed up and crammed in three other people. There was a long enough stop there that these people were hell bent on  having dinner at Denny’s.  Yes, DENNY’S!  After dropping them off, he dropped me at a hotel and I crashed into bed in order to get to the airport in the morning for my necessary flight to Calgary to connect with the Rocky Mountaineeer pre-train coach tours.   Arrived in Calgary and had one day to relax at the hotel I liked best of all my hotels on the trip.  HOTEL ARTS.   A mother-daughter team of friends came to see me on Sunday.

The following morning, I and others were picked up for a coach tour to Banff and Lake Louise. Overnight there was a substantial snow fall which caused some delays and also caused me to pick up a toque and a pair of mitts.  We spent one hotel night in Banff (the one with the terrible coffee maker) and one night in Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a huge hotel of 800 rooms not really guest friendly.   I should state at this point that my intention for this trip was to be SOLO.  And so I had a lot of room service meals.  (I have 24 hour a day company at home.)  I didn’t work at meeting people but there was some chance to do so at train dining tables.

While at Banff, those of us on the coach tour were to have a helicopter ride and a gondola ride.  Helicopter ride was ruled out at the site, because of strong winds.   The gondola was great for viewing the landscape, and when I ascended solo in a car by myself the wind rocked me from side to side a little more than I liked. After this tour package which was part of a Rocky Mountaineer Package, we left the Chateau to board the Rocky.    It was impeded by a dead freight car and we had to go to a place called Field to board. This detour led our bus on the Kicking Horse Pass section of highway. If we’d been on the train, we’d have gone through some interesting tunnels.  You might expect a rather expensive journey on a special train to bring out spectacular wardrobes, but I and my fellow passengers were very casually dressed.  Comfort is the important thing.

Later we passed the narrowing of the Fraser River called the Gates of Hell. The waterfall there is twice the volume of Niagara Falls.  In Avalanche Alley in the Thompson Canyon, our CP tracks cross the CN tracks.

On the RM I was in silver class, as opposed to Gold but the scenery was the same in both. Meals were served at our seats.  Gold Class would  have us up one storey and coming down to a dining room. Meals on the RM were nothing to rave about!  Small plates made sense since we were sitting all day.  On the first day the hostess primed us all with drinks of all kind all day.  The snowy mountains were spectacular and I could watch them endlessly.  We were de-trained at Kamloops and delivered to a Delta Hotel.  Back on the bus in the morning for our last day and our arrival in Vancouver.    The mountains got shorter and browner and less dramatic.   I spent two nights at a Sheraton in Vancouver.  By this time a certain travel fatigue had set in.  I arrived home on a Saturday night by air from BC.   I recommend some fitness effort along the way.  Sitting for five days left me somewhat out of shape.  No regrets….I have seen our country from coast to coast if you count multiple trips to Nova Scotia by train, a few times with three kids along.  They liked it, too.







  1. Lois Coll
    Oct 26, 2019

    Thanks for sharing Barb. It sounds like your solo trip met all your expectations. I am sure snow wasn’t part of your original plan but other than missing a few tunnels on the train it all worked out.

  2. J Swartz
    Feb 15, 2020

    Your message…

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