Day One: “Cottage country and the wilds of Ontario.” Once the train had left the suburbs of Toronto behind, we plunged into forested areas pocked with ice-blue lakes. When I saw my first beaver lodge—they are truly impressive mounds—I grabbed my camera for a shot. Little did I appreciate that it would be the first of probably a hundred beaver lodges we would see before reaching Vancouver! The tree foliage was that electric-spring-green, since we were traveling the third week of June, when the trees were newly leafed-out. We would discover that across this northerly route, spring arrives late. (For example, in one Ontario town, I saw tulips still in bloom—obviously, they’re long finished further to the south.) Traveling this route this time of year has the advantage of all of that fresh, delicious spring greenery, not to mention that the days are extra long—it started getting light around 3 am and didn’t get dark till well past ten.) Ontario is big—Texas-kind of big. And it is amply forested—not only with conifers but with lots of birch and aspen trees, too. In fact, the birch trees were so plentiful that I had to wonder how the maple leaf got on the flag rather than the birch! Their trunks were stark white slashes in the green of the forests. Before long, it was time for lunch. The food in the dining car was uniformly excellent. I had shrimp and scallop skewers over a frisee lettuce salad, dressed with a balsamic vinegar reduction, served with a warm roll and butter. Wine is complimentary, with several choices—all Canadian. (Pro tip—ask the bartender in the Park Car what other wines beyond the menu they have. You can ask for them in the dining car, too, and they were all a step up from the listed wines.) After lunch, it was more Ontario forest-land scenery and more lakes gliding by. We knew that having good information about the area we were traversing makes the trips so much more interesting, so we invested in two guidebooks to bring along—Canada by Train (3rd edition) by Chris Hanus and John Shaske, and Canadian Rail Guide, 5th edition, by Daryl Adair. Both are fairly current (editions within the past 5 years) and both have extensive coverage of the Canadian route. They aren’t easy to come by—I think I ordered one from mcnallyrobinson.com —but they were indispensable, since they each described what was to come, keyed to mileposts. So, you can use them to be sure of looking out the correct side to see sights, and having your camera cocked and ready! If you had to pick just one, I think it would be the Canadian Rail Guide that I would recommend, but honestly, guidebooks are cheap, in comparison to what you have to spend for the trip, and they really do help get the most out of the journey. I got teased a bit by my fellow passengers for my reliance on the guides, but by the end, people were asking me what was coming up and where we’d likely see it. Mid-afternoon, there was a knock at our room door—the bartender, bearing a cheese and dried fruit platter and asking whether we needed anything from the bar. Well, sure—a nice glass of wine would be just fine! There are a variety of activities in the sightseeing lounge car—a lecture about Ontario, beer and wine tastings, and organized games, but we ended up mostly going between our room and the Park Car during the trip, and really didn’t take advantage of the activities. I suspect that we would have done so if we were in the Sleeper Plus or sections, though. Dinner time came around, and again, the food was a real step up from Amtrak—in this case, cream of asparagus soup, prime rib, and chocolate caramel cake for dessert. (This was the meal when we figured out that we could get the fancier wine from the bar along with dinner instead of the menu wines…) I began to see that there could be a real danger, given the food and beverage service, that I would arrive in Vancouver a full size larger than when I left Toronto, so it was time to moderate judiciously. Nothing drastic, of course, but just things like skipping the roll, or sharing a dessert. (Willpower is not my strong suit.) After dinner, I was surprised to see that our room had already been made over with the Murphy bed out. I wasn’t really ready for bed—I think the last time I was in bed by eight o’clock was in elementary school—so I sat up in the Park Car for a while till I felt ready for bed. I woke up once in the middle of the night while we were stopped at a siding and peeked out the window. Stars!!! With almost no lights around for many miles, the sky was ablaze with the stars we never see in our light-polluted world. Day Two: Still in Ontario! Did I mention that Ontario is big? Because it really is. The scenery was, for want of a better word, wilder than before. This area is far away from any sizable population, too distant for Toronto-ites to have summer getaways. The few signs of habitation along the lakes were float planes, likely the only way to get in or out. By late morning we made the first stop that we were aware of, having slept through two earlier ones—Sioux Lookout, which is marked by a rather comically out-of-place mock Tudor station. We hardly stayed there long enough for the smokers to get a full cigarette before heading out again through the Canadian wilderness. This is Canadian Shield territory. I vaguely recall learning something about the Canadian Shield in grade school. Seeing it is a whole ‘nother thing: enormous outcroppings of granite, sometimes with pioneer trees forcing their way through the rock. You can really appreciate what a feat it was to blast the rail line across such a difficult terrain. It is the most ancient geological part of North America, and it makes you think hard about the geological time it has taken to wear down the mountains that were once here into the stubs of hills that remain. Gradually, during the day, the Canadian Shield began to yield to somewhat gentler forests and wetlands. By evening, we were approaching our first big stop, Winnipeg. If the Canadian actually kept to schedule, Winnipeg is intended to be a stop of several hours. But, given the lateness of the train, it was truncated to only 45 minutes. Still, it was enough time to detrain and head into the station, which has been lovingly restored to its 1910 splendor. My husband wanted to wander a bit further afield, but the sky had darkened ominously and it looked like we were in for some weather, so I persuaded—or rather nagged—him into heading back aboard. Just as we did, it began to spit with rain. Within seconds, the skies opened up to a torrential downpour of rain and lightning and hail. Looking out the window in our room was like looking out from behind a waterfall. The stragglers getting on board could be easily identified because they were completely soaked to the skin. And, with that, we bid goodbye to Winnipeg and headed to bed.