Ride the Rails

VIA Rail’s trans-continental journey reveals the grandeur of Canada

By: Jonathan Siskin

For clients enamored of rail travel, high on the list of epic rail journeys is the trans-continental odyssey aboard VIA Rail’s Canadian. Departing three times a week out of Toronto and Vancouver, it takes approximately 72 hours to complete the 2,700-mile ride aboard this fabled train.

It was a little after 8 a.m.

on a Tuesday morning when I made my way out of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel across Front Street and into the cavernous Union Station. Soon after came the call

of “all aboard” booming through the public address system, and upon embarking the train, I was escorted to the sleeping compartment that would be my home for the next three days and nights.

I was traveling in the Canadian’s Silver and Blue Class, which along with my onboard accommodations included three meals a day in the art-deco dining cars plus access to the train’s stylish dome cars with their panoramic views. I also could relax, read and observe the passing scenery in the Park Car at the end of the train. With its intimate Mural Lounge and adjacent Bullet Lounge featuring wraparound windows, the Park Car was a favorite location.

Railroads played a key role in Canada’s expansion as they opened up the West to settlement by forging the first coast-to-coast link in 1885. Like other long-distance rail projects, the construction of the trans-continental railroad was a spectacular engineering feat as tracks had to be laid across the rugged Canadian Shield north of the Great Lakes, across hundreds of miles

of desolate Manitoba and Saskatchewan prairies and through the treacherous mountain passes of the Canadian Rockies before the final push to Vancouver.

After departing Toronto on my first day, the train raced across a mammoth swath of southern Ontario that is one of the most “liquid” areas on the planet. By early afternoon we arrived in the town of Parry Sound, a favorite destination of boaters. This region is especially colorful in the fall when the maple trees and other hardwoods are ablaze with red, orange and gold leaves.

The second day the landscape gradually flattens and dries out, and by the end of the day, the train was flying at approximately 90 mph across the fertile fields and farms of Manitoba heading toward the Saskatchewan border. That night I decided to take a seat in one of the dome cars around 2 a.m. and watch the night unfold. My timing was perfect, the moon was full and radiated a mellow yellow glow as we streaked across a vast stretch of Saskatchewan prairies.

The last day on the train was the most scenic as the train wends its way through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, passing several snow-capped peaks including Mount Robson rising over 12,000 feet. The train then descends gradually, approaching Vancouver.

While many people stay onboard for the entire crossing, passengers have the option of getting off at select stations along the way. I left the train on Thursday afternoon in Jasper, a lovely town in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. This is a popular place to disembark, and many passengers leave the train here, spending two days at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge bicycling, hiking and boating amid a stunning landscape of glacial ice, azure lakes, jagged mountain peaks and aromatic forests. I felt totally rested and refreshed when I got back onboard the Canadian on Saturday afternoon to spend my final night on the train prior to arriving in Vancouver.


It’s a good idea to get to Toronto at least one day in advance since the train departs at 9 a.m. The most convenient place to spend the night is the classic Fairmont Royal York Hotel situated downtown on Front Street directly across from Union Station.

You can take the train roundtrip (Toronto-Vancouver-Toronto or vice versa) or one way. There are three weekly departures from both Vancouver and Toronto. For current rates, reservations and other information contact VIA Rail Canada.