On board The Canadian: A train holiday across Canada
The train journey offers a romantic experience than none other. Being in North America for about a decade, one only gets too much used to flying all the time, even if one is on a holiday. In India, as children we however remember fondly not only the places we visited on holiday but also the train journeys along with them; in fact, planning for the train journey is one of the most exciting and engaging activities we used to be involved in! The sound of the train whistle, the steady rhythm of the motion of the wheels, the passing scenery of the animate and inanimate, sticking our heads to the window to see the bending of the train offers a surreal, almost meditative experience. To say the very least, we realised that it will be a befitting end to our stay in the Americas to go on a train journey across the country and make the train journey itself the holiday! What with Canada being the second largest country, a train journey from the east to west will be one of the longest one can ever get (unless you are in Russia and you take a similar journey across).
Following is a factual cum not-so-factual account of our 4-day-4-night journey on The Canadian, a train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver once a week. We managed to procure the last set of off-season tickets from Apr 25-Apr 29. It was our first real break from routine in all the 5 years of stay here in Toronto. Many things about this trip excited us from the time we booked the tickets, including what's going to be new, the change in routine, the possibilities of various wildlife, even the Northern Lights. Well, some of these we did get, some we did not. For instance, we expected that VIA Rail was going to attach a panorama car at Edmonton, but did not happen because it was still off-season. We also could not see the “Pyramid Falls” which was advertised to be one of the best sights along the journey. But since we went with very little expectations, we ended up having a great time overall, and the end of the trip came too soon for our liking.
Below is a photograph of the Canadian Pacific that used to run the same route in the olden days.
APRIL 26 (WEDNESDAY)
I am writing this in the afternoon, its 3pm now. I am sitting in the lounge closest to our bedroom (113-F in Hearne Manor car of the train). It been a bit over 12 hours since we boarded The Canadian last night around 11.45pm.
Toronto to Capreol: CN's Bala subdivision and CP's Parry Sound subdivision
VIA Rail is mostly run by two companies Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. The Bala subdivision is frequented by the GO trains and we went through some GO stations, but didn't stop there.
I have to say that it has been a very pleasant experience so far. Leaving the minute-by-minute details below, the major features of our journey so far has been to have not done much except to eat, sleep, shower and get used to the various features of the train. It has been very relaxing overall.
Now to more details. We were supposed to depart at 10pm last night, but were informed that the train had come to Toronto from Vancouver only at 5pm instead of 9.00am, and there would be about 1.5 hours delay in boarding at the very least. Well, Ashok and I got to the VIA Rail station around 9.15pm, having confirmed that the train is indeed departing late. We completed our registration and had dinner at the Business Lounge (something that only sleeper class and Prestige class people have access to). We saw that there were sandwiches, fruit and drinks available at the lounge, but since we had brought dinner (from Hart House) we didn't bother to find out what type of sandwiches were being kept there. We relaxed a bit at the lounge, took some pictures, videos, I read an article about Carlsen-Karjakin match in a magazine and Ashok read a bit of Perry Mason. Most of the passengers looked senior, with occasional 1 or 2 like us, or by themselves. Sometime around 11.15, we heard an announcement that we were not boarding before midnight, but after a few minutes, the information was updated to one that said the train was ready for boarding. Yay! We were finally going to get on the train.
Our car was 113, bedroom F. My first impression on seeing the room was that it was bigger than I thought, than what I had seen in the videos. And I was right. The attendant, Dennis, did point out that we had gotten one of the bigger bedrooms, with extra room between the beds and the toilet. Thank god. The corridors were narrow enough that I would have felt a bit claustrophobic if not for the space inside the room. The room was very cozy indeed - bunk-type twin-sized beds, a basin with hot and cold water, a flap attached to the basin that can be folded over the basin to serve as a tiny table, a separate toilet (flight-style suction type flush system), basic toiletry such as soap, body lotion, shampoo, lots of towels (small, big) for each, drinking water tap, closet space for hanging coats and outside hooks for hanging other clothes. Before we finished looking much around the room, the train started moving! We had started!
We took few minutes to look around the various things in the room, changed into night clothes, got a bit more comfortable. Then we watched the outside zipping by, as the train gathered speed. Soon however, around 12.15am, the train slowed down after 'Snider junction' and started going backwards! We laughed that basically we will be brought back to Toronto and asked to go home, show is over, folks. The train traveled backwards for about 10 minutes or so, stopped, and then moved forward again, but this time on a different route than the one that showed Snider junction. So the train had done some kind of Y-fork motion. After that it didn’t take too much time to get out of Toronto, and get engulfed in the darkness of the countryside.
We were informed that breakfast would be from 6.30-8.30am, first-come first served basis. We decided to keep an alarm at 7am just in case. It turned out however that I got up around 6.30am anyway, and we headed out for breakfast around 7.25am. It was perfect timing, because in about 10-15min, the dining car became full, and we would have been in the waiting list in the adjoining car. So what was for breakfast? They give a menu of sorts, but it hardly had 3-4 items, 3 meat and 1 non-meat options. I chose to have scrambled eggs, with a tomato, hash brown and rye toast with butter. Ashok chose the same, except that he took white bread instead. The way the meals work is that we are typically seated with other passengers, and depending on when we come in, chances are that we may not sit with the same set of people again. Our company during breakfast were a couple from UK, by the names Mohammed and Christine. I had two cups of coffee and did feel a bit guilty about it, well what the heck. While we were having breakfast, we stopped at a town called Capreol around 7.45am for about 15 minutes. We had traveled 275 miles so far from Toronto.
Capreol to Hornepaye: Ruel subdivision
After breakfast, we headed back to the closest observation deck, the one next to the dining car. The deck was a bit chilly, I have to admit, but then I was only wearing my shirt, no sweater. We decided to go back to our room, and rest a bit before having our baths. I bathed first, and the shower room was as comfortable as one can get in such a small space. Comfortable standing space, hot water, a small chamber outside the shower to get dry and a place to dispose our used towels. Ashok went next, and around 11.00am, we decided to head out to explore the opposite side of the train where we heard was another observation deck, and a much nicer lounge. Off we went, and indeed, it was a more spacious lounge. The deck upstairs also seemed warmer than the first one we went to. Anyhow, we stayed here much longer, almost till 12.15ish. We spent time reading, talking and generally enjoying the lush coniferous forests outside. This terrain is supposed to be the characteristic Canadian Shield with its countless outcroppings of rocks and lakes. I started referring to the guide book for landmarks and important sights at various mile points in each subdivision. The exposed bedrock is apparently 500 million years old and the train is forced to weave and loop around numerous lakes, cutting through the rock of the Shield. It was raining somewhat heavily, and Ashok was feeling good for sure. I got tempted by the availability of coffee/tea in the lounge downstairs and soon we had some Assam/Darjeeling tea with a muffin to go with for company. The tea was flavourful and we enjoyed it. We also stopped few times by this time to make way for freight trains, as they are run by commercial companies and have the right of way to transport goods across the country. At one such stop around 120 miles after Capreol, we saw a party of birds near the tracks foraging for food in the wet grass and they were at least 3 different species, one set of sparrows with 3-striped(black and white) on the side of the head, one with a red head and white line stripe at the middle of its wing and a third set of black birds about the same size of the sparrows with pink beaks and white undersided tail. Ashok said he did not know what the third one was. A bigger bird, the brewer black bird also joined the party, but seemed to scare a fair few of them away because of its size.
Update: We found which birds were exactly there-- tree sparrows(rusty colored shoulder, sometimes black spot on breast, red crowned head), white throated sparrows (white throat bordered by a black whisker, yellow lores, black eye stripes, white crown), dark eyed junco(bright white tail feathers).
Before we boarded last night, we had been asked our preference of timings for lunch and dinner for the next day. We had given 1pm and 7pm. So at 1pm, there was an announcement for people reserved at this time, and we headed to the dining car. Being next to the car means we were probably the second to arrive, and were seated coincidentally at the same place. This time the company opposite us were a Canadian couple, Levonne and Mike. They had traveled many times on The Canadian before, and were getting off at Winnipeg. They lived there and had come to Toronto on Sunday for something. Anyhow, they were pleasant to talk to, and told us few things -- that it's often the driver who gets to see most wild animals because the arrival of the train frightens them into hiding, one sees wild animals more in the beginning of Fall or late Summer, because they are still hibernating or coming out of it just now so we won't likely see anything. Though they were living in the city, they recalled that they had seen many northern light events before, and Levonne talked of hearing people in Calgary seeing northern lights just last week. Levonne apparently hails from a Scottish family, and Mike from Poland. Levonne's grand parents and Mike's parents immigrated to Canada apparently, and they have been here since. As far as the food experience goes, the menu given out had, again, 4 choices with 3 meat options and 1 non-meat. The non-meat option was a quinoa salad with cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, lettuce, carrot, red cabbage with some dressing. Well, I had no choice but to take the salad. But there was soup as well, and it was vegetable soup. This was actually very good and I enjoyed it very much although it was not much in amount. The salad serving size was pretty decent, except that I am not using to eating just salad for lunch, I am also used to some starch like rice or pasta. So I didn't feel too full, and was relying to coffee next. But the dessert options came next-- chocolate brownie with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. How can we refuse? Ashok took the ice cream and I the brownie. Oh god, it was amazing. The guilty feeling with 2 cups of coffee in the morning all but disappeared, as I was levitating with the taste of brownie and vanilla ice cream together in my mouth. Life is good. It took us the better part of the hour to finish lunch, and we head back to our bedroom. At this time we were somewhere near Dunrankin, and while we were having lunch, we did see four simple white crosses to the south. These mark a tragic accident that occurred in 1967 when a freight train ran into The Super Continental, killing four employees.
It didn't take too long for me to doze off after we got to the room, and I basically slept deeply for about half hour, till about 2.45pm. When I got up, Ashok was asleep. I got ready and decided to sit in the adjoining lounge till about 4.30pm, which is when we both decided to have some tea. And here I am typing away anything I can remember about our journey so far. We are coasting through northern Ontario now, and the climate has changed from rainy wet weather outside to a snowy one, with lot more ice-covered lakes and snow-covered forests passing by. It is below freezing outside now, sometime like -3C, and its so much more cozy inside, more like 18C I think. I am wearing my fleece sweater, but I am quite comfortable so far. So much for the onset of spring in Toronto, it feels like winter outside now, with snow covered tracks all over.
Hornepayne to Armstrong: Caramat subdivision
Evening/night update: We reached a small town called Hornepayne for about 15min at 4.50pm or so. This was once a gold-mining town, and not its workforce is employed in a pulp mill. Many such towns on the way in Ontario sprang up as logging towns, and we zipped by few of them without stopping. We were allowed to get out of the train, but it was quite cold (-4C or so), there was snow everywhere with ice underneath. There was a small store nearby, but after seeing a vella mami slip on the snow on a slope, we lost all the enthusiasm to go the store to buy a postcard, which was our intention. Instead we took a photograph with our attendant, Dennis. Once back on board we heard an announcement about musicians performing in the front car. We walked through about 10 cars to a lounge where a guy was playing a guitar and accompanied by a female singer. We took seats, but found the sound to be too loud, probably because of the nature of the songs themselves and the loudness of the singer. She was loud, and I frankly enjoyed the guitar more than the singing part. Anyhow, it was somewhat a peppy atmosphere and quite cheerful. What soon started putting me off was the smell coming from the kitchens nearby and we headed off back to our car.
It was about 6pm, and we played cards for about half hour after which we started waiting for our dinner call at 7pm. The few places we came across before the train was seen speeding through the snowy weather outside were Unfortunately, it was almost 7.30 by the time we were called. Our dinner comprised of salad with orange-sesame dressing (which I liked), veggie pasta (romba sumaar) and chocolate cake+ lemon-strawberry white cake for dessert. The dessert was the best part I have to say. We were accompanied by an old lady, a grandma and her grandson for dinner. Her name was Cathy and her grandson was called Gary. They were going to get off at Winnipeg, and she told us a lot about her life, how fiercely Canadian she is, how she has seen so much in life as a registered nurse, and how despite working and visiting many countries wanted to be back in Canada and wants to die and be buried in Canada. She was apparently returning from her mother's funeral in Toronto(?) on Sunday. She also went on about how she could swim from when was few years old, how she would go fishing, hunting with dogs etc. Anyhow, it became a bit of a blade for us as she kept talking, and were somewhat glad to get off the dinner table. We went upstairs to the observation deck, and saw that the windows were covered in snow, the train top was covered in snow and the wind was fierce with snow streaking past really fast with all of the surrounding Northern wilderness covered in snow. It didn't feel like the spring weather that was prevalent in Toronto area, it was still winter in these northern Ontario areas. It was also a bit chilly up there, and within 10-15min we decided to come back to room. We enquired about the stop at Winnipeg next day, including the time change of 1 hour. We set our watches back by an hour- we had gained an hour on the train!
We got back to see our beds being made up, and there were 4 chocolate pieces on our beds! Yay! So the online testimonials were telling the truth.
APRIL 27 (THURSDAY)
Armstrong to Sioux Lookout: Allanwater subdivision (night) and Sioux Lookout to Winnipeg: Redditt subdivision
We had almost no idea of the places we passed through last night, we went off to sleep at about 9.45pm. But when we got up in the morning, the landscape had changed-- it was prairies all over and it was completely flat! No more wilderness, no more forests! We got up around 7am, got ready for breakfast around 7.45. We noticed that the train had apparently made up time sometime in the night, because it was going to reach Winnipeg at 8am. We had breakfast along with Muhammed and Christine, our company from yesterday's breakfast. We discussed what each of us were going to do in Winnipeg, and learnt that they were not going to go on an organized tour of the city, lest they miss the train. We shared what Cathy had told us during dinner-- the 'Forks' in Winnipeg is just behind the railway station, and it was hardly 3-4minutes to get there. There is also a market there where we could do our shopping if we wished. Our breakfast today was chef's omelette comprising of tomato, mushrooms and cheese, a piece of grapefruit, hash brown and toast. This was an excellent breakfast, I was hungry and enjoyed the whole thing immensely.
Winnipeg to Melville: Rivers subdivision
We got off the train at 8.30am, and headed downstairs to the exit of the railway station. We were informed that at 11am, the VIA rail people will make announcements for boarding, and the train will leave at 11.45am. We decided to just walk around the area, find the 'Forks' and decide later whether we wanted to take the 45-min free ride offered by the 'spirit' bus starting on Main street touring Winnipeg. It was just as well that we didn't hear the announcement about the tour (it was supposedly in the afternoon yesterday, I was awake and didn't hear any announcement), because our walking-sightseeing plan gave us more control, and we saved 60$. The Fork's market opens at 7am, wow, this is unusual compared to markets elsewhere, where shops opened only at 9am or 1am. Anyhow, we got in and save for few coffee shops, everything else was still closed at 8.40am. We headed out, and soon were able to see the confluence of two rivers- the Red river from the north and Assiniboine river from the west/southwest. There are few structures to see here on the trail along the Red river- an old railway bridge, Oedena- an old amphitheatre-like meeting place which had 8 lamppost like structures in a circle, each in line with a sign showing a constellation in the sky, a children's museum, couple of old railway carriages, a human rights museum, and Esplanade Riel. At the railway bridge, there was a man dressed in black with a black hat. I approached him to request him to take a joint photograph of Ashok and me, but he seemed very hesitant even after I told him that he only had to press a button. We later saw him and probably his family, his son was also dressed in black with a black hat just like him, the women in the party had old-fashioned hats or scarf-like hat on their heads, and were also dressed in black. It then occurred to me that they could be Amish, and their ways of life. I have to go back and check. The couple of musicians were performing again at the station, and this time Ashok video-taped them. Their music seemed much more manageable now because they were performing in a wider space.
We boarded the train at 11.30ish and soon reached Portage La Prairie, which is apparently a piece of land used for fur trade between two river routes in the olden days. Here as the train stopped briefly, we got a treat -- a prairie dog came out of a hole and went into another one nearby, and stood up briefly giving an impression of a majestic onlooker. On our return, we confirmed that it indeed was a prairie dog, and also that it was the black-tailed variety.
We were soon called for lunch at 11.50am or so. Our lunch today was with a couple that had boarded at Winnipeg, called J.R. and his wife, both from the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago). They had been in Winnipeg for almost 40-50 years, and told us many things about their lives, J.R. is a former VIA rail employee, and told us when to start watching out for the mountains in this journey. J.R. was also a cricket player, for the Winnipeg team, an opening batsman till few years ago, when his eyesight has started failing him. The wife was also reasonably nice to talk to, and told us about various people in their family, how they are now related to punjabis by marriage. We also had some general discussion about food, meat-eating habits and our plans to go back to India. J.R was very interested about the Chennai cricket team and some things about cricket. The menu today was very good from a veggie point of view- cream of asparagus soup, veggie burger consisting of veggie patty (one of the best I have tasted) along with tomato, dill pickle, lettuce, cucumber, cheese and hummus in between, a piece of cantelope fruit and caeser salad on the side, followed by apple crumble/chocolate ice cream and coffee for dessert. A great lunch overall, made me feel full compared to yesterday. It's 2.40pm now, as I type this, watching the infinitely spread out prairies outside the window. Manitoba's dominant geographical feature is the Canadian Shield, with the south being the flat, fertile wheat belt that provides Manitoba's most of its wealth; the province is also apparently the most ethnically diverse provinces with thousands from Ukraine, Germany, France, Italy, Dutchland, Poland, Hungary and Scandinavian countries. It's time to have our bath, and soon it will be time for us to have dinner -- 5.30pm.
Today afternoon, Ashok decided to write a letter to Chinni sitting up in the observation deck. He did find a great spot, and I decided to join him after I have my bath. He took his bath and headed upstairs. Once I joined him, we started approaching mile 93 or so in this Rivers subdivision, we started seeing a scenic valley, this was the Qu'Appelle valley. Apparently the name is derived from the French translation of an Indian legend which told of a young man who, on hearing his name called as he crossed the valley, cried out 'Qui appelle? (Who calls?)'. The only reply was the echo of his voice and the name sort of stuck. We passed fields of potatoes and sunflower seeds and around 4.30pm came across another scenic valley, called Assiniboine valley where the Assiniboine river meanders along the valley floor creating oxbows for many miles. This was really beautiful to see.
In today's dinner we were accompanied by the best couple we have seen so far on the trip-- Dr. Marc Gabel and his wife Joanne. Marc is a physician (x-, I think) and Joanne was a piano teacher for a long time. You look at them, and you feel like they are really made for each other. They also live in Toronto, and are planning to get off at Jasper, from where they plan to rent a car to visit family nearby and then fly back to Toronto later. They said they were living close to High park, and I commented on how nice it is to be able to go for a nice long walk when one feels like it. Guess they could see cherry blossoms from their backyard. Lunch conversation covered several things-- starting with Marc's views on current pace of life, and his beliefs on importance of living in the now and the fact that we do have control over our lives contrary to what we think, and his general agreement with the fact that weight is no final indicator of good health. Joanne was very sweet too, and told us about her recent foray into a protein-rich diet that is helping her convert her fat into muscles and in strengthening her hips. She says she does yoga twice a week, does strength training thrice a week and walks everyday. Plus eats a protein-rich diet. She was apparently advised to eat plenty of chicken everyday, instead she says she can eat fish everyday. Anyhow we liked them so much, I requested for a photograph together. They readily agreed, but unfortunately I had some tussle with my camera about its flash not working when we wanted it to, and eventually settled for separate shots of Ashok and me with them.
Post-dinner, we headed back up to the observation deck, where we saw what we believed to be just deer many times. But from what Ashok described as to seeing a distinct white rump, it looks like we spotted several elks, an internet search tells me that elks are commonly found on forest edges foraging for food. We stayed up at the deck till dark. Sasketchewan is true prairie country, composed of fertile, arable soil. The province is known as the 'bread-basket' of Canada. In addition, it has an abundance of mineral deposits of Uranium, Copper, Gold and Potash. Both Manitoba and Sasketchewan are sparsely populated with a population barely over a million in each province. The train crossed Manitoba-Sasketchewan border sometime in the evening, and reached Melville, the next major station from Winnipeg at around 8pm. We spotted a big group of Bisons around 8.30pm mostly at a farm. After dark, we headed back to our cabin, and our attendant, Tony had unfailingly left chocolates after making up the beds. I started feeling somewhat spoilt now, which is sort of what I have been after in making this trip. We went to bed around 10.45pm, I think.
APRIL 28 (FRIDAY)
Melville to Biggar: Watrous subdivision and Biggar to Edmonton: Wainwright subdivision
Last night, we should have been coasting through the 'Watrous' subdivision, and we reached Edmonton around 8.30am, after crossing the Sasketchewan-Alberta border. The train was again two hours late, although it had made up time when it had reached Winnipeg yesterday at 8am or so. Of course, as we travel, we also gained an hour every night, so this helps. Today the morning meals were to be a continental breakfast comprised of light meal options such as toast, cereal (hot or cold), muffin and coffee. We had this around 7.30am with a lady from Toronto called Cordella, who was working with CIBC bank and had come on a holiday on the train. She was nice enough, but talked of being bored of the flatness of the prairies going on forever. I am not sure I agreed with her though, but we switched to talking about other things and time passed with her talking about dream home, and few mundane worldly things. Next, we were to have brunch option from 9.30-1pm instead of a separate lunch session. I had hot cereal with toast and coffee, Ashok had cold cereal, toast and bit of my coffee. We got down at Edmonton to stretch our legs and get a couple of postcards. We met Dr. Marc and Joanne on the platform and also took a couple of photographs with them.
Alberta was apparently created with Saskatchewan in 1905, and both of them do not have salt water coasts, all other provinces have. The two mainstays are wheat and oil with main cities being Calgary and Edmonton.
Edmonton to Jasper: Edson subdivision
Our brunch this morning was with a grandma and some uncle. Ashok and I had Chef's omelette (3-cheese), hash-brown, toast and second cup of coffee. Though tasty, we were pretty sure that the food is not going to last us till 5.30pm, which is when our dinner call was to be. Well, we had our supply of bread and cheese, and cereal bars. The oldies seem to be somewhat comfortable talking to each other, though the uncle was more grumpy in his demeanor. I don't know the grandma's name, but she was more direct, and didn't seem the type to indulge in small talk of any sort like many other people we had met. She asked us where we had boarded, and soon settled into talking about her own affairs. She did tell us something funny though. She and her son had apparently gone to a hotel up in Jasper, where they had made fancy arrangements such as the TV greeting them when they first entered the room. In such an instance, apparently, the TV had greeted them as 'Welcome, Mr and Mrs. Dunlawff!', they let that go, and when they went down to the bar, the same address came, and the grandma could not take it anymore, she said we are not going to have any of this nonsense, he is my son and you better address us thus. That was a funny story of what a tragedy it turned out to be for the hotel in being too forward about making the guests feel special.
Our day today was spent mostly in the observation deck, where we saw far more sights than even yesterday! The major ones in this subdivision (Edson) include the massive Wabamun Lake to the south at mile 43, the biggest adventure spot in Alberta. Wabamun is the Cree word for mirror/reflection. As we pulled up in the middle of nowhere for 2 freight trains to go by, we decided to count the number of container cars; one of them had 176 cars, and 169 in the next! These freight trains can be miles long looks like. The second major sighting was at mile 67 as we passed over a 279m-long bridge over Pembina river at a height of 900ft; apparently people go tubing in summer in this river. From miles 78-86, we kept seeing the Chip Lake 2-3 times to the north, and this seemed to be a huge lake too. Around mile 93, we saw a Pintail flying overhead. We stopped yet again for another freight train and this time we counted only 131 cars! The guide next informed us of five bridges coming up soon, and soon enough, at miles 105 we passed on a bridge over the Carrot creek, 122.1 over Macleod river and 122.6 over Sundance Creek. At mile 136, to the south we went over a curved bridge where we saw the meandering of Sundance Creek. By afternoon, we were running more than 2 hours late, and reached Hinton at 3.10pm instead of 11.20am! I think we stopped here only for few minutes. We were soon on our way, and came to a 320-ft long bridge at mile 193, where the Athabasca river apparently forms Lake Brule. Soon, around 4pm we went through a tunnel, which marks the entrance to Jasper National Park, and the start of the Albreda subdivision. We had already started seeing ranges of the Rockies around mile 151, where to the south, we could see outline of the Miette Range. A lot of this information was also conveyed by the VIA rail rep who kept popping up in the observation deck to inform us and of the "Prestige" passengers of the various important sights on the way. The views started becoming better and better, even more breathtaking. Around mile 225, we came up to Henry House area. We had sighted mountain goats as tiny white dots on one of the mountains, mountain sheep (ram with horns), bisons, magpies so far; no bears yet. Towering ranges as the train swerved around bends and inside tunnels. We had to stop again in this area for 2 freight trains to go by. We still had not reached Jasper station, which was supposed to be around 1pm as per schedule. We finally reached there at 5pm or so.
Jasper to Blue River: Albreda and Robson subdivisions
We stopped at Jasper for almost 1 hour 15min, and we got off the train to take a walk around the town. It was a nice walk, and it reminded me a lot of Telluride town, where it too is surrounded by the Rockies and is essentially a small town consisting of 1-2 streets. It was drizzling, and the weather was a bit chilly, but nothing uncomfortable. We got few souvenirs such as magnets and so on. We also bid goodbye to Dr. Marc Gabel and his wife Joanne as they headed out from the station and promised to send them photos. I really liked the couple, and felt like we knew them for a long time. We didn't notice it first, but later realised that the train seemed much more longer than before, and even seemed to have an extra observation deck. We had our dinner as soon as we boarded, around 6.30pm, it seemed to take forever to get any meal! For dinner, we had salad, tofu+veggie dish with boiled potatoes and chocolate-mousse cake+ lemon-strawberry white cake; for company we landed with Mohammed-Christine pair, it was nice, we discussed the various wildlife sightings that day. After dinner, we headed back to the observation deck, and started seeing the famous Fraser river coming into view. I also saw the Moose lake when the VIA rail announcement came through, it was HUGE. The VIA rail rep pointed out Mt. Robson, the tallest peak in Canada, at 12,972ft (3954m). We could not see its peak as clouds enveloped it. The majesty of it is really humbling, truly. We saw many more ranges on the way as the sun started setting slowly. But it also became increasingly evident that we may not see the famed 'Pyramid Falls' because it will be fully dark by then. We stayed up till 10.30pm watching how far the train was going, but soon went to sleep.
Night: Blue River to Kamloops: Clearwater subdivision
APRIL 29 (SATURDAY)
Kamloops to Boston Bar: Ashcroft subdivision
Today we were supposed to reach Vancouver at 9.40am. Well, when we got up at 6.45am, we were somewhere between Ashcroft and Boston Bar (Ashcroft subdivision). We were supposed to have crossed these at 1.30am! From our perspective, it was all good news-- we get to spend more time on the train!! We headed to our last meal and last breakfast meal in the dining car, and were served the spanish omelette (mushrooms, red peppers and tomatoes and cheese), toast, hash brown and coffee. It was very good as usual, and we headed up to the observation deck immediately after, since we had some fantastic views while having breakfast itself. These were the views of Fraser river, and the train travels a fair bit alongside the river. Our company during breakfast was completely new again, this time a couple from New Zealand. The woman was a physio, graduated in medical biology with her husband. The husband (Gary) was also a bit deaf, so Vicki (that's her name) did much of the talking. She told us a lot of things, including how she came to know of the cricketers Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill, Tim Southie and Trent Boult. She did follow some of the cricket, it looked like. She also talked about some venture that she and her husband are involved in with two other couples, one much older and other much younger, and how it was coming to an end because the senior couple had gone to Thailand for some other purpose and continued there. Anyhow, it was an enjoyable experience talking to them, and I often had to remind myself to take photographs of the beautiful views outside in between our conversations. I believe we passed through the Rainbow Canyon during this time, named for the various colours of this gorge's steep walls (just before Mile 80).
This time we were sitting in the observation deck where the Prestige class people had reserved seats in the front. The VIA rail rep who served these people was more resourceful, and often described what was on the way, and what was coming up in the next few miles. Our first sight was Lytton community, little beyond which the train again crosses the Fraser river. We looked to the west here to see the mixing of the blue-green water of the Thompson river and dark, silt-laden water of the Fraser (mile 97). Soon, at mile 126 we reached Boston Bar town. The word 'bar' means a gold-bearing sandbar or sandy riverbank.
Boston Bar to Fraser River Junction: Yale subdivision
The train now entered the next subdivision- Yale, between Boston Bar and Fraser River junction. At Mile 7, we came to see the "Hell's gate" rapids, which were created when the Canadian Northern (CN) blasted away too much rock while building its new line. This narrowed the gorge down to about 110ft (35m) in width and is the narrowest part of the Fraser river. It turned out that sockeye salmon fish enter the river at spawning time from the Pacific ocean, and prior to 1913, they somehow powered their way 1100 km upstream through Hell's gate area to their homes. They spawn on gravel beds, and then die. The young salmon spend their early lives in the rivers (up to 3 years), then swim out to sea where they live their adult lives (up to 4 years) around March and gain most of their body mass. Then they return to the same spot they were born to spawn. This incredible cycle is called the 'Salmon run'. From what Wikipedia says, these fish cannot survive in warm waters, and are called anadromous fish meaning 'running upward'. Fascinating story indeed. So once Hell's gate was created, they found it too narrow to swim upstream, and so millions died. After nearly 20 years later, fish ladders or fishways were built in this area to help the fish swim across. Amazing. Above the river are the red cars of the Hell's Gate airtram. We then passed through lots of tunnels after this, almost every mile for 4-5 miles. The Fraser river turns into the Fraser Valley somewhere after we reach the town of Hope at mile 40. We also saw a river running through the town, which we came to know was the Coquihalla river, which also empties into the Fraser. After passing through this town, we only see glimpses of Fraser river to the north. Another town like Hope created during the gold rush is Chilliwack at mile 72 came along. The time at this juncture is around 11am I think. We were supposed to have passed these at 5.40am!
The last few subdivisions seem to be shorter and are many - Matsqui Jct. (Page) to Basque covering Mission, Cascade and Thompson subdivisions, Fraser River Junction to Vancouver covering New Westminster and Yale subdivisions. In the former, we came to Lytton again where the Thompson river now joins Fraser river from the east. In the latter, we passed over the longest crossing so far, the Fraser river bridge. Soon, the train is 'wyed' before it travels back into Vancouver's Pacific Central Station. After this our train pulled over about 2 miles before reaching the station, and guess how long it stayed in this spot..? Nearly 3 hours! Apparently there was a freight train in front of us in the Vancouver station, and was facing a technical problem which was not being attended to immediately. Few were getting frustrated that VIA Rail did not plan for an extra meal on board, somehow this must have carried over to the crew, because one of them came around distributing cut apple and orange pieces. I was touched, and I am guessing they were also sitting hungry like us. Anyhow, we finally reached Vancouver around 4.30pm and disembarked at the station to..rainy weather! We were starved, but somehow the rainy weather actually continued to keep me cheerful. Also stepping outside the station, the city did look beautiful. Well, here we are, at the end of our train journey!! We intend to spend the next 1.5 days at Vancouver and fly back to Toronto Monday morning.