This week’s dream: Crossing all of Canada by train
This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, and “there are infinite ways to fete the unification of its British colonies,” said Andrea Sachs in The Washington Post. You can visit a national park for free, or attend Canada Day in Ottawa on July 1. But what better way to celebrate the world’s second-largest country (after Russia) than with a transnational train ride? I recently rode Via Rail Canada trains from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Vancouver, and the six-day journey—with stops in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Jasper—proved “epic in terms of scenery and experience but not in time or expense.”
“Still spunky after 40 years on the job,” a cabin attendant named Joanne escorted me to my sleeper cabin. I walked the length of the train while we were still in the station, passing through the dining car and smiling at a young group setting up for a slumber party in the economy section. At the Skyline car, where the domed windows frame a view of earth and sky, I finally settled in as we got underway, and “the mood was festive, a party in progress.” We had 24 hours to Montreal, and a retiree from Ottawa told me he planned to pull an all-nighter to avoid missing any sights, like the Bay of Fundy, the Matapedia Valley, and Quebec City at dawn. I preferred sleep, but woke in my cabin as the sun rose over the St. Lawrence River.
“Friendships forge fast in test-tube environments.” On my journey’s longest leg, between Toronto and Jasper, I befriended a singer-songwriter who performed a mini concert, as well as a landscape painter who was using watercolors to capture the passing mountains, rivers, and boreal forests. In Manitoba, it dawned on me that the repeat passengers had an advantage: “They carry a topographical map of the route in their heads.” Unlike them, I had been missing many landmarks and wildlife sightings, like the fox with prey in its mouth. But one night, “the train fairy must have felt sorry for me, because I think I saw the Northern Lights through the window in my lower bunk. Either that, or an invisible hand was twisting and pulling the clouds like taffy.”
On Via Rail Canada (viarail.ca/en), transnational fares with sleeping berths and meals start at about $1,300 a person.