The Canadian,travelogue part two

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by flitcraft, Aug 9, 2018.

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  1. Aug 9, 2018 #1

    flitcraft

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    flitcraft

    Service Attendant

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    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.
     
  2. Aug 9, 2018 #2

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    Wonderful start to one of the joys of the World! Thanks for sharing!
     
  3. Aug 9, 2018 #3

    cpotisch

    cpotisch

    cpotisch

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    Ok, I really need to take the Canadian. Not in Prestige Class anytime soon, but maybe in a section in the off-peak season. It just sounds like Amtrak can't even hold a candle to VIA, when it comes to amenities, service, and food.
     
  4. Aug 9, 2018 #4

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    This is Gospel!
     
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  5. Aug 9, 2018 #5

    JRR

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    JRR

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    Great report. Ontario really is big. An interesting note is that out in the wilds, you will see lakes with cabins and no road access. We were told by our attendant that most of them are owned by railroad employees and retirees, and than they are able to flag a train for access. We saw many places that it appeared that there were stops but our train didn’t stop at any of them but we did see people waving to us.

    The Canadian Shield is made up of the oldest rock. The last ice age cleared away all of the more recent layers leaving only the metamorphic pre-Cambrian rock. If you ever get a chance, rub your hand over an exposed rock or boulder. One way it will be smooth and the other way it will be rough. The direction of the smooth indicates the direction of the ice movement.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 12, 2018
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  6. Aug 12, 2018 #6

    crescent-zephyr

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    crescent-zephyr

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    If you go for the historic streamliner train with the dome cars and "heritage" sleepers you won't be disappointed.

    The dining car is 10 times classier than amtrak (doesn't take much these days) but I remember the workers grumbling about the plastic flowers (a recent budget cut when I rode) and the limited amount of work hours during the winter (again I rode the first year they cut the train to 2 trips a week). Sound familiar?

    My sleeper attendants were fine. The first one was friendly, the second one was missing in action the majority of the trip, but I didn't really need anything so that was fine. (Roomette riders are expected to operate their own bed, unlike on amtrak).

    While the sleeping cars, diners, and Park Car were in good shape, the coaches and coach dome were in really sad shape. Imagine if Amtrak was running un-refurbished Superliner Coaches (like back in the day red-orange seats) on the Empire Builder or Starlight.

    I liked my ride on the Canadian. I just feel like VIA is way over hyped. I feel like VIA is about 50/50 with amtrak. They do a few things better, a few things worse. Still a fun train ride, and of course nothing compares to a Budd Vista Dome.
     
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  7. Aug 13, 2018 #7

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    Except for the regular extreme Lateness due to all Freights being given priority by the CN dispatchers, I cant think of anything that VIA does that is worse than Amtrak except for much Higher Fares (except in Winter!)

    Supposedly the new schedules will help the OTP, and the Strong US Dollar, along with Tues Specials during the "Off Season", make the Canadian and the Ocean great deals.

    Ride it while you can, Nothing is,Forever including us!
     
  8. Aug 13, 2018 #8

    JRR

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    JRR

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    We didn’t mind the lateness as we considered the train a main part of our vacation and of course, we had built in an extra day inToronto.
     
  9. Aug 13, 2018 #9

    crescent-zephyr

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    crescent-zephyr

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    Having to build in an extra day because of the regular lateness of a scheduled long distance train is not acceptable in my book. Why people continue to praise via and curse Amtrak is really beyond me. Maybe via forgot to give me some magic pill when I took their ride?

    Again, I enjoyed my ride on the Canadian. I loved the dome cars and park car. I didn't see the amazing service that others seem to have gotten. Obviously Prestige class should get really amazing service, but my experience in a Roomette was about what I expect from Amtrak. Fine, but nothing special. Certainly I've had better service on Amtrak from Gul on the Builder, Dennis on the Zephyr, etc. And I've had worse.

    When I rode, the severe lateness of the train greatly impacted our viewing times in the Rockies, so giving the schedule such a pass just because you are on vacation is a no go for me as well.
     

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