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
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
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.