An Adventure across Canada, VIA Rail

My husband has always wanted to travel by train across Canada. We were thrilled to learn of the rail adventure through the country on VIA Rail Canada. The adventure we booked was a 4-night, 3 day journey across the varying terrain of Canada. We opted for the Sleeper Plus that would grant us a private room with a toilet and sink and two bunk beds. During the day, the bunk beds were converted into two reclined seats. We had access to the Skyline Car, Dining Car, Panorama Car, Activity Car, and Prestige Park Car throughout the trek. We shared a community shower with the other rooms in our Sleeper Car.

Neither of us had really ever travelled by train outside of the metropolitan commuter rails in North America, so we didn’t have any expectations and were eager to explore the train. We arrived at Union Station in Toronto around 8pm in preparation for a 10pm departure; however, our train, The Canadian, was delayed upon arrival so we did not depart Toronto until 1am. We were able to relax in the business lounge and had complimentary refreshments to keep us occupied until departure time.

Train Schedule/Route

The Canadian commenced in Toronto and made brief stops in Capreol, Hornepayne, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and concluded in Vancouver. There were other conditional stops to pick up / drop off passengers along the way. The onboard staff changed in Winnipeg and additional cars, including the Panorama Car, were added in Edmonton.

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Route map of The Canadian train from Toronto to Vancouver

Inside the Train

In an effort not to sound too obvious, the train is narrow. The Sleeper Cars contain 6 private rooms with a community shower at the end of the car. Don’t quote me on the count, but I believe we started with 2 engines and 22 cars, then picked up an engine and three additional cars in Edmonton.

Each car has an attendant that reviews safety information and tends to rooms (linen changes and daytime room conversions). When we first entered our room, each with a carry on and handheld items, we were a bit surprised by the size. When the two bunk beds were down, the ladder was in the center of the room and made it nearly impossible to navigate. We stored our luggage in the storage area above the sink which cleared some clutter. We quickly learned after the first night to put up the top bunk and ladder and share the bottom bunk as it made the room feel infinitely larger.

To navigate between cars, you walk down the narrow hallways and then through the doors exiting one car and entering another. The narrow corridors made it entertaining when approaching others headed in the opposite direction; we shared many laughs with our fellow guests as we learned to let go of our personal spaces. The Economy sleeper cars had a bench that folded down into a bed and a private toilet. The cabins were made private through a curtain that the passengers could slide. I almost toppled through the curtains right into the private cabins during a bumpy stretch while walking through the hallway to the next car! Thank goodness I didn’t, and if I did I could only pray the passengers were sitting or sleeping and not using the toilet!! [For those wondering, there are community toilets in the Activity Cars, should passengers opt to do their business behind the privacy of a closed door.]

Things to Do

The sleeping areas are small because there are really just too many beautiful things to see throughout the train to spend all your time in the room. The Activity Car / Skyline is where we spent most of our time taking in views of the ever-changing terrain or socializing with fellow passengers. Coffee, tea, water, juice, and snacks are available 24/7 in the Activity Car.

There was a singer/songwriter aboard that put on several performances each day as entertainment for the passengers. After 2pm each day the Prestige Park Car is open to all and the views from the last car are stunning. I will also add that the Prestige area is the only area that is renovated. There are a nice bar and comfortable sitting areas in the Park Car.

We made wonderful friends with a couple from Montreal and taught them how to play Euchre, which provided us with endless hours of entertainment.

There is so much wildlife to see while watching the scenery. The train moves too quickly to get any meaningful pictures of them, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say we saw the following animals during our trek:

  • elk
  • fox
  • coyote
  • moose (the engineer announced this over the PA system)
  • ducks
  • deer
  • bear (beginning in Jasper)
  • prairie dogs
  • horse
  • cow
  • bison
  • Canadian geese
  • red wing blackbirds
  • woodpeckers
  • and our neighbors claimed to have seen a long horn sheep

We arrived to Vancouver about three hours behind schedule (we learned this is not uncommon, as our train has to yield to freight traffic on the tracks, which can sometime cause long delays). Some passengers missed their planned flights and had to extend their stay or pay to change the airfare.

The Food

This wouldn’t be a legitimate post from me if I didn’t discuss the cuisine. The Dining Car, oh the Dining Car! We ate like kings. There are three seatings for meals each day; I recommend the first or second as the third often got delayed and sometimes people didn’t start lunch until 3 or 4 and then dinner at 9pm. The Dining Car is filled with white tablecloths and proper china and drink ware. It’s amazing that all of the meals and service is on a train! For each meal, you forget you’re on a train as it could pass as a 5-star restaurant with a stunning view – and the best part: everyone gets a window seat!

The menus are fixed with a vegetarian option and three meat selections. Each meal starts with a soup and/or salad, bread, and finishes with a luxurious dessert and coffee/tea. I can’t say enough good things about the meals, other than when we departed the train, we were both distressed to leave such amazing chefs, waitstaff, and wonderful dining experiences. We had rich conversation with other passengers over dinner and it was fascinating to hear everyone’s journeys and history.

Bonus Tip

You can pack and bring your own libations. No limit – so long as you consume them in your room. We brought a cooler and (too much) Canadian beer and got ice from the Activity Car to keep them cool for refreshments. You’re welcome for that tip 🙂

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Extras

We met an incredible and fascinating man, Ross Johnson, who celebrated his 75th trip on The Canadian (see his story here). We were so honored to share this momentous event with him. Please check out his YouTube channel for more videos of VIARail – he knows EVERYTHING about trains! And he can tell you what day of the week your birthday was on in seconds.

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