A 25th Wedding Anniversary Trip – Rail Style

If you have been reading very much about me, you have seen that I love trains and my husband Darren and I have travelled on them all over the world. So when it came to a choice of a 25th wedding anniversary trip with just a few days of vacation in pocket, a train trip seemed the perfect way to celebrate.

A 2,775 mile (about 4,466 kilometer) train journey across Canada provided a great opportunity to experience a wide variety of scenery, from forests laced with lakes and rivers, to wide open prairies to the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The three day, four night journey across a portion of the second largest country in the world gave us time to see it at a leisurely pace while enjoying the view from the 360 degree observation deck or eating a meal in the dining car. Although this was a short trip, we were able to spend time in Toronto before boarding the train and in Vancouver after we arrived. We also had a four hour break in Winnipeg, which gave us the chance to visit that city for a brief time.

After our time in Toronto (we just happened to be there during the G-20 summit, which could be the subject of another long story), we left on the train at 10:00pm on a Saturday night. Our compartment, cozy but nice, featured pull down bunk beds, already in place when we boarded the train, a closet that holds a flushing toilet, a sink and a big picture window. By day the beds are pulled up into the wall and two chairs are inserted in their place. Each sleeper car has seven compartments, along with the old fashioned berths that are down the aisle way at the end of the car. Once on our way, we had complimentary welcome champagne and appetizers in the observation car in the rear of the train before retiring for the night.

When we woke up on Sunday morning we had already covered over 500 km / 300 miles and were near Gogama, Ontario. The scenery was a series of seemingly endless forests, streams, meadows and lakes. It was just beautiful.

All meals are included on the train and breakfast was served each morning from 6:30am to 9:30am. Choices included omelets, pancakes and eggs / bacon. Since there were two of us we were paired at the four person table with different twosomes. There was one tour of 25 Brits on board so we got to meet several of them, as well as Germans, a Norwegian, an ex-pat Brit couple living in Spain, a few Americans and several Canadians.

After breakfast, there was plenty of time to sit in one of the two observation cars, complete with half car 360 degree domed sections, to look outside, take pictures or read. The seats in the dome section were popular, but people were pretty good about letting everyone get their chance to sit there. Darren almost immediately saw a moose out the window and later in the day we both saw a bald eagle.

As I read the Canadian guidebook, I learned more about the creation of their railway. When Canada became a dominion in 1867, it was a group of eastern provinces with nothing between them and British Columbia except a small settlement where Winnipeg is today. Concerned that the Americans might try to take British Columbia since we had just bought Alaska, the Canadian government pushed for a railway to the Pacific. What followed was a tale, not unlike our own railway construction, of politics, financial scandals, hardships and the deaths of many workers. However in November 1885 the railway was finally complete.

Lunch and dinner on the train are served by reservation in sittings. First sitting is at about 11:30am for lunch and 5:00pm for dinner, second sitting at about 12:30pm and 7:00pm and third sitting at about 1:30pm and 8:30pm. I should say ‘about’ because the times were very approximate and one waited for a dining car employee to walk up and down the eight cars that comprised the sleeper class to announce that commencement of that sitting. Lunch was a choice of salad, hamburger, sandwich or wrap. The food was very good and it is always fun to sit in a dining car and watch the scenery go by as you eat.

The afternoon was more relaxation, reading, listening to music and napping as the train continued to make its way through the forests of Ontario. This area is known as the Canadian Shield, which is characterized by bare rock and coniferous boreal forest of spruce, larch, pine, poplar and aspen trees. Dinner was a very formal affair with different tablecloths and fine silverware. The first night there was a choice of prime rib, chicken, fish or a veggie option. We even had a bottle of Wayne Gretzky Canadian Merlot wine which was a first for me.

As the sun set at about 10:15pm in Western Ontario, we were treated to some great picture taking opportunities with a beautiful orange glow in the sky over a series of lakes. After that bit was time to get some sleep as we needed to be up early in the morning for our arrival into Winnipeg.

With our arrival in Winnipeg in the early morning, we were 33 hours into our journey from Toronto, with about 46 hours to go to Vancouver. Founded as a fur trade center at the intersection of two rivers, it now has a population of about 650,000 and is one of the ten biggest cities in Canada. The train station is located right in the center of the city, making it convenient for Darren to get a run in along the river and for me to explore the river and downtown areas. We both met up about a half hour before departure at lobby of Union Station, which was designed by the same architects who were responsible for Grand Central Station. It felt good to stretch our legs and we were ready to get on the train for the journey westward.

As soon as the train left the city at mid-day, we immediately began to travel through prairie farmland with waves of yellow canola plants with a few purple flax mixed in. It literally looked like a Van Gogh painting.

Hay and cattle began to dot the landscape and we spent several hours moving through small towns and farms. In these places we saw the bizarre combination of grain elevators and Russian onion-shaped domed churches, as many immigrants settled there over the years. I made it a game to see how churches many I could take pictures of as we zoomed through the prairie the rest of the afternoon. We crossed into Saskatchewan and soon it was Monday night and we had completed our second full day on the train.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us on Tuesday morning, our anniversary, just east of Edmonton, Alberta. Soon after we left Edmonton, the prairie faded away and we began to see more lakes and rivers as we anticipated our first views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Finally, we were able to see the first signs of the mountains in the distance, which caused great excitement throughout the train. More mountains came into view as the train moved along the foothills, along with beautiful lakes and streams.

At about 1pm we arrived in Jasper, Alberta, which is located in the national park of the same name. Many people on the train break their journey here and stay in this area for a few days. For us, the 90 minute stop gave us time to walk along the town streets and do some shopping.

Back on the train, we passed the continental divide, marking the border of Alberta and British Columbia. Soon after we saw a bear outside the train window! As we continued to move west during the afternoon, we passed the “Monarch of the Canadian Rockies”, Mount Robson, which at 12,972 feet (3,954 meters) is the highest peak in the Rockies. We continued to see beautiful mountain vistas and breathtaking lakes and rivers, including the 300 foot (91 meter) high Pyramid Falls, complete with a rainbow at its base.

That night we had made arrangements with the head of the dining car to have a private table for our 25th anniversary dinner. There were also two other couples celebrating their anniversaries at our sitting (35 years and 2 years). We were all treated to a surprise duo guitar / singer performance and a champagne toast to all of us.

After 84 hours of train travel we arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia at 8:30am on Wednesday morning. We spent the day exploring downtown before our flight home that evening. We were so impressed with the train and it ranks high with both of us on our list of rail journeys that we have taken throughout the world. We both agree that it was also a very special anniversary trip.

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