Sunday 12 September 2010

The Canadian 1: Vancouver to Jasper

To paraphrase the late Douglas Adams, Canada is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.

At least, you won't if you cross it by plane. Taking the train from Vancouver to Toronto, however, is another matter. I've just completed a rail journey between those two cities. On the way east was 4,466 km of Rocky Mountains, plains and lake country, and it took over three days for VIA Rail's flagship service The Canadian to make the journey.

In a cabin in Sleeper Class, with all meals included and access to raised viewing areas, it was a comfortable journey, and the simpler berths (like couchettes) looked reasonably comfortable too. Even the sit-up Economy Class seemed to have decent width to the seats and lots of legroom.

However, I must admit that after three days of travel I was looking forward to journey's end. 

Don't get me wrong - it was an enjoyable period of life in a long narrow steel-encased town that was in constant forward motion, as we passengers ate and socialised and made the odd stop in towns and cities along the way. 

But all good things must come to an end, and by day three I had seen my fill of the Canadian countryside and was looking forward to Toronto's urban action.

Here are some pictorial highlights of the journey...

1. Vancouver's Pacific Central Station, a grand place at which to begin this epic journey on a Tuesday evening. Curiously, the statue in the foreground is a copy of one I'd seen in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2008. 

2. The interior of my cabin. There was a stainless steel sink and a mirror inset in the wall on the left, and at night the car attendant made the armchairs magically disappear (I still have no idea how) and lowered the bunk beds which were otherwise locked away into the nearest wall and the ceiling.

3. This was our first stop on day two, Wednesday morning. The town is Blue River, and the building is British Columbia's oldest general store.

4. As we approached the province of Alberta, we were starting to get glimpses of the Rocky Mountains.

5. We passed this beautiful lake en route to Jasper.

6. With the train at rest at Jasper Railway Station, we had a spectacular view of the Rockies as a backdrop.

7. Jasper was definitely the most picturesque of the small towns we stopped at along the way, with a harmonious architecture that suited its mountainous location. Here's the local firehall.

8. And here's a new friend I made, outside a gift shop opposite the train station. I think we make a beautiful couple, n'est-ce pas?

Next week: My marathon rail journey continues, with fine dining, a rust bucket graveyard, a bourbon 'n' blues bar, lots of lakes, and a fire-fighting dog...

[read the second instalment (Melville to Toronto) here]

Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of VIA Rail.


  1. Looks like you had a great trip - love the bear pose photo! I take the Canadian frequently, and I still find it mind-blowing just how BIG Canada is :)

  2. I am so thrilled to read all about your great adventure.The rockies look very majestic behind your royal train,your cabin looks inviting.I am so glad that the trail travels have been boosted up so...and doing so well.

  3. Vivian: You should take the Indian-Pacific train from Sydney to Perth in Australia if you get the chance. I did this trip last year and it's intriguing. It's about the same distance as The Canadian, but of course through a lot of desert, including the longest dead-straight stretch of rail in the world (480 km).

    RTM: Yep it was a good trip. I've since caught the VIA services from Toronto to Ottawa, and Ottawa to Montreal, and enjoyed those too.

  4. I was stunned with the lake...wonderful landscape. I had the chance to look at something similar in Argentina. Lakes+mountains are a good combination.


  5. Hey Tim, it looks like you had a great trip, albeit from a different vantage point. I saw the trains rolling past both at Banff and Jasper and wondered how the experience is like. Will live vicariously through your posts.

    NB - You do get quite a lot of invites for train rides. :)

  6. Walter - I think it's more the case that I jump at the opportunity to travel by rail!