Trans Canada by train

The rail journey across Canada - from coast to coast - is one of the most majestic anywhere in the world. During September 1997 I had the pleasure of travelling this magnificent route - from east to west, Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia - with stopovers in Montreal, Toronto and  Jasper, Alberta  along the route - and a couple of side trips as part of the journey -  Toronto to Niagara Falls and Vancouver north to Lillooet BC (Note: All BC Passenger rail routes from North Vancouver to Lillooet and beyond have been discontinued from Oct 2002!) The final leg was a 'back-track' on a more southerly (and historic) route from Vancouver to Calgary.
Should you wish to travel the route - or indeed any part of it - a recommendation.

Trans Canada Rail Guide cover

Get hold of a copy of the 'TransCanada Rail Guide' written by Melissa Graham, published by
The 3rd edition of this 'all-in-one' guide to planning, booking and travelling is simply invaluable - and compact enough to keep with you during the journey. New to this expanded book is a city guide to Calgary ..and much besides For further details of this (and other) rail guides from Trailblazer - see their web page.

For the latest on schedules, train options and prices ... take a look at the web site of VIARail Canada

The legs of the journey comprised:
  • Halifax to Montreal: The Ocean (VIA Rail Canada)
  • Montreal to Toronto: Corridor Service (VIA Rail Canada)
  • Toronto to Niagara Falls and return:The Maple Leaf (VIA Rail Canada/Amtrak)
  • Toronto to Jasper, Alberta: The Canadian (VIA Rail Canada)
  • Jasper to Vancouver:The Canadian (VIA Rail Canada)
  • Vancouver to Lillooet and return:Cariboo Prospector (BC Rail) NB: route discontinued in late 2002.
  • Vancouver to Calgary:The Rocky Mountaineer

The TransCanada travel diary now follows:

Day 1: Thursday September 11 1997:Trans Atlantic Arrival

The flight from London arrived at Halifax International Airport on time and it was aboard the airport minibus to head into town - some 20 miles away in the company of an ex New Zealander very keen to determine tipping etiquette for Canadian taxi drivers! And a 'native' Nova Scotian back from a science seminar in Athens. Crossing the (old) MacDonald bridge (a bumpy trip!) from the twin city across the water - Dartmouth - and dropped at the Westin - adjacent the majestic Halifax railway station - I made my way by foot onto my more humble lodgings near Point Pleasant Park near the southern tip of the peninsula.

Halifax WaterfrontA stroll into town lead to 'Murphys on the Water' - the outdoor deck, a touch of the maritime blustery breeze and the sounds of rhythmic folk music which is much in favour in these parts it seems. Sam the waiter seemed mightily impressed with my plan the travel through to Vancouver by rail - 'amazing', and before long it was time to tackle my lobster (somewhat uncertainly) with nutcracker and other implement! Strolling back amidst the multicoloured clapboard houses - I noted pedestrians rule here in Halifax - the cars seemed to pull up half a mile away as you cross!

Day 2: Friday September 12: Halifax Exploration

The day dawned bright and following a stroll through the historic properties district and along the boardwalk by the sea it was appropriate for this part of the world to take in the Maritime Museum. Richard plied tales of Atlantic seamen including 'no finger frostbite' amidst work on the new titanic exhibition being prepared. The exhibit and video testimony regarding the Halifax Explosion - the biggest man made bang before Hiroshima was very moving. Recommended. A stroll outside past the berth of the Bluenose lead to a quick trip on the Dartmouth Ferry - a fine view over the towns and the distance, the tall towers of the financial district looking over the historical buildings.
Clapboard Houses in Halifax NS

About time for lunch but first a hike up the hill to the Citadel fortifications. Scotsman to welcome - and the noon gun firing brought out the ear plugs for a group from Louisiana. (I braved it - at a suitable distance!). A short walk down from the fortifications brought the glories of the Public Gardens - formal Victorian style, bandstand et al. The ducks - fed by many a local - were twice the size of those in England!
Dining tonight (the last night in town) has to be at the famous Saltys, fish and chips with views over the wharves, to the islands in the inlet and beyond.

Day 3: Saturday September 13: Point Pleasant Park, then 'Ocean' bound

Some rain overnight and the day to begin the journey west. Departure was afternoon, so checking the heavy luggage at the magnificent Halifax Railway station - which certainly deserves more than one train a day! - I spent the morning strolling through Point Pleasant Park, a huge acreage at the southern tip of the peninsula and past the bustling CN freight rail yards and container port. The park is certainly a city oasis with historic battlement tower and many mile of trails. A quick lunch - then time to board the long silver millipede - some dozen or so coaches - that comprised VIA Rail 'Ocean'.

Soon settled into my 'roomette' by attendant Heather, got chatting to Mary (from Ottawa) across the aisle about my journey and her vacation. We headed for the dome car - double deck all round vision - and watched the Nova Scotian scenery pass - farmland, lakes and many a small settlement like Clem's Farm. Early evening we pulled in Moncton, NB (no 'k' in Moncton) and alighting in the evening sun watched our train pulled apart to accommodate more sleepers. On our way again - dinner in diner really could not have been finer, then taking in the fading light atop the Dome, I eagerly gleaned tips of the places to visit, courtesy Mary. A final task was to arrange with Heather a very early wake up call for Levis, Quebec and view the sight of the Chateau Frontenac across the St Lawrence... time to catch a few winks (sadly the view is no longer possible - the 'Ocean' no longer stops at Levis).

Day 4: Sunday September 14: Jewel of Montreal

The still of the dawn complemented the lights of Quebec city. It was an early start - for Mary and I - as we sat in the hush of the Dome. Not many were alighting for the ferry across the St Lawrence. As we pulled out again, time for a couple more hours sleep before breakfast in the Park Car. Sunday dawned somewhat misty as we skirted through Quebec along the southern shore of the mighty river. Oatmeal muffins an ideal breakfast start. Before 10 am we were crossing the St Lawrence - skyline to the right - on the final approach to Central station, Montreal. Mary was to connect to an Ottawa train, so with email addresses swapped and a promise to relay the remainder of my trip once back in Britain, we stepped off, I to begin my tour of Montreal.Old Montreal

What a gastronomic aroma! Central Station Montreal into kitchen, or rather acres of food stalls. Stomach rumbles aside and luggage checked I reached street level - the platforms buried under the Queen Elizabeth hotel. A brief stop at the tourist info I headed north to make the climb atop Mont Royal. Through a glittering downtown and many a step, the reward - a delightful series of trails (amidst the roller bladers) and the view across the city and the St Lawrence at the pinnacle as the low mist clear to sun! A giant steel cross perched near the lookout, the crowds were building and the day near perfect.
Biosphere, MontrealAfternoon was spent touring Old Montreal and along the Old Port amidst the buskers. tourists and locals. Nelson had vanished from his Trafalgar Square replica and the horse drawn buggies plied their trade. A further trip across to the islands appealed - by Metro rather than boat - where the delights of the Biosphere (a giant fullerene pavilion structure from the '67 Expo) now housing an eco-museum on the Great Lakes waterway system. Nearby amidst the quiet of the island trails I summoned enough French to order a cheese sandwich - what my accent can do to the French language!

Day 5: Monday September 15: Tilt along to Toronto - and Up the Tower!

A glorious buffet of a breakfast - they know how to eat in Montreal!- as I prepared for the trip to Toronto via VIA! And their tilting trains. The busiest passenger line in Canada, it was the midday departure for me - so a pause in the first class lounge prior to boarding. Unbelievable legroom and even better service! Three course meal (delicious), snacks and complimentary alcohol were plied to me during the four hour trip. For much of the trip we hugged the bank of the St Lawrence or scooting along the shore of Lake Ontario, some of the scenic highlights including Collins Bay with many a bobbing pleasure craft and the station at Port Hope.

Toronto skyline Toronto arrival was early evening at majestic Union Station, and with luggage collected and deposited at my hotel in York Street, and a beautifully clear (if humid) evening daylight beckoning, a trip up the CN Tower was a temptation not to refuse!  I had picked my time to a tee with no sign of the infamous queues promised by the guide books. The elevator attendants patter was somewhat resistible, however the journey pretty short for so many storeys (and stories). Amazing to find the surrounding skyscrapers dwarfed below. Planes were circling for touchdown at the nearby city airport, and if Niagara proved elusive to my eyes the view across Lake Ontario and indeed for 360 degrees more than compensated! Try the glass floor for testing your nerves! Better still - wait for a party of a dozen tourists to stand on the spot, then mention the sign that says only three people at a time! (There isn't one - really?!)

Day 6: Tuesday September 16: Blitz on Toronto

Armed with a TTC day pass, it was time to hit Toronto. A short LRT trip took me to the Harbour front developments - and much more extensive than along the Old Port in Montreal - not so many roller bladers here! A stroll amidst the pleasure craft plying for trade took me to the vast Exhibition grounds - a good perspective over the city and Lake Ontario, then further along to Ontario Place - entertainment on pontoons! A giant geodesic IMAX pod! Backtracking a tad, then passing Fort York courtesy a gleaming streetcar, I decided to take a quick ferry trip across to the Toronto islands. A terrific cityscape view dominated by the CN tower of course was followed by acres of landscaped quiet, sheltered from the city bustle, interrupted only by a flock of Canada geese.

CasaLoma, Toronto The afternoon highlight - via a trip north on the subway - to Casa Loma. This giant house cum castle, adjacent the much more modestly elegant Spadina House, and some beautiful grounds, was quite an eye opener. Now city run it was the result of the ideals of one Henry Pellat - an eccentric prone to dressing as a cross between a British Colonel and a Mohawk Indian!! - who made (then lost) his fortune tapping the hydroelectric potential of Niagara Falls. Quite a character! A shopping and dining evening blitz meant of course the Eaton Centre - ending up in a Pickle Barrel with more pasta than a stomach could take!

Day 7: Wednesday September 17: Niagara Beckons

The ubiquitous 'Weather Network' warned of midday gloom at Niagara, but undeterred I headed for Union Station  for the morning train to Niagara Falls. As it turned out - an Amtrak train - and with a 'hot dog' interior, all mustards and browns, and tiny windows (made me think it was pretending to be any aircraft!) rather than the pale VIA pastels I had been used to. The journey began through urban Toronto and after skirting around Lake Ontario we hit the industrial landscapes around Hamilton, after that a vast improvement - vineyards, pretty St Catharines and across the Welland canal before arrival in Niagara. Equipped with a pass it was aboard the Niagara Parks 'People Mover' and onto the falls - just as the weather deteriorated - on cue!.
Niagara Falls from Skylon Tower The spectacular curve of the Horseshoe Fall did not disappoint amidst the nations of the world it seemed at lookout at Table Rock. Whilst near the falls I took in the gorgeous sites (and aromas) on the Niagara Greenhouse, then a trip up the Skylon Tower - a mini CN Tower it seemed - for a staggering look down over the cascade. The weather now limiting the outdoors enjoyment it was back onboard the People Mover for a complete loop up to the Floral Clock then back for a trip on the Spanish Aerocar. This a somewhat precarious cable car ride across a gorge over a whirlpool near the bridge across to the US. The jet boat from Niagara on the Lake - which alas time did not permit a visit - dodged the rapids - as the cable car returned to base! A few more photos and it was time for the return train to Toronto. A wait for customs for those arriving from New York before boarding, and the weather brightened - just in time for my departure!

Day 8: Thursday September 18:All aboard the Canadian

The start of the big adventure! An 11 am departure time and a bustle of people in the lounge in the bowels of Toronto Union station. The train would be similar to the 'Ocean' consist but even longer - some 22 coaches in total. I settled in my roomette, ably assisted by attendant Margaret, some three coaches from the back - and I already had my eye on the Park car and dome. A very cosmopolitan crowd we were in 'Silver and Blue' class, a chap from Switzerland across the aisle from me. We left on time and - after an hour of northern Toronto suburbs (including a bizarre reversal manoeuvre at one point) we headed into the wilds of northern Ontario in time for lunch. A limited menu perhaps - at least after two days on board - but nevertheless superb cuisine prepared on the move. We did lack much in the way of announcements though - a welcome onboard our 'aircraft!!' sparked a roar of laughs the length of the train. Pretty lakeland and forest scenery for much of the first day but as we cleared Sudbury Junction about 8.00 pm - a sudden halt - and the beginning of an amazing unexpected adventure!Dome Car, VIAs 'Canadian'

Canadian National Railway - on whose tracks were we travelling - had derailed a set of wagons way north and west of us - and this meant a 'serious' diversion. We reversed back to a junction with Canadian Pacific Rail, then headed into Sudbury proper. By now with the light fading, I sat ensconced in the bullet lounge as we awaited our CP pilot - a.k.a. the guy to guide us on our new route. We then proceeded to go back and forth through Sudbury station - numerous times!! - then a CP guy clambered over the back of our Park car and joined us up to a CP loco. Our new route was to take us all the way to Winnipeg, and having been promised some stunning bonus views about Lake Superior in the morning it was time to get some sleep.

Day 9: Friday September 19: A Superior Lake bonus!

We dawned at a halt in White River, Ontario - which scurrying to our guide books had the dubious distinction of recording the coldest temperature ever in Canada, fortunately not in September! By this time the folks atop the dome in Park car had become a convivial bunch. Apart from yours truly there were Lily from Taiwan, David and Anne from New Zealand and incredibly (for they reside not more than 25 miles from me in England and we meet for the first time thousands of miles away - a small world indeed!) Alistair and Julia. We witnessed the departure of VIA's 'Budd Car' service departing for Sudbury along the route we had traversed overnight - waves all round - and began to wonder if we would ever be departing. Dennis - our Park car attendant - had the answer. White River was a 'one hose town!' and to fill all the tanks with water from a bowser - 20 plus coaches with many a shower and kitchen was going to take some time! Mid morning though we were off.

Northern Ontario Lake What a spectacular journey we traversed west of Heron Bay on the CP mainline. We hugged the narrow ledges tight to the cliffs as down below us stretched the mighty Lake Superior. The train length meant we witnessed it curve and twist against itself travelling the twisting trackage - and where better to see all than high above in the dome car. Friendly greetings from CP crew as we travelled through Schreiber station. As we lunched in the dining car the joy and amazement of the VIA staff was something to behold - many had not crossed this route before - one who had was our dining car chief who could not really say why this was not the route the Canadian should always take. Let the campaign begin! The spectacular scenery continued right through to Nipigon and beyond. We pulled into Thunder Bay late afternoon for another extended stop. Though the trip alongside the freeway motel and dock works could hardly be called scenic it seemed amazing such a centre of population has normally no passenger rail service!
Four hours we laid over in Thunder Bay - more than a tad long with no real explanation. However apart from one or two flustered Americans (they really should have flown from the start!) we dined supremely relaxed to more excellent if now familiar fare. With the light fading we would be finally leaving Ontario overnight (two days to cross one province!) and I slept beautifully in anticipation of our arrival in Winnipeg, our return to the original CN route and a crew change. Now how many hours late were we?

Day 10: Saturday September 20: Prairie by Daylight

Should be arrival in Jasper this afternoon! No Chance. We pulled into Winnipeg at 8.00 am - 15 hours behind schedule - a few Americans left us for the airport as I gazed over the Forks development over breakfast. A new crew was now with us and a much more informative one overall despite having been on call for our arrival throughout the night with no sleep! After an hour or so, we pulled out of Winnipeg back onto our original CN route and were promised a interesting daylight trip through the Prairies. The golden fields soon stretched before us and despite much of the crop already collected a crop spray plane decided to provide an aeronautic display above us.

One of our first stops of the day - at Portage-la-Prairie - provided an interesting site. Some native Canadian children (dressed in baseball caps though) walked right under our train as we waited at the level crossing - no going round for them! Soon we had the start of the Qu'Appelle Valley and one of many interesting commentaries of the areas we would traverse courtesy of our 'crew on the tannoy'. Our major stop of the day was to be Saskatoon - expected now about 4.00 pm - so the dome crew of six set out to work out connection permeations for Lily - who had to be in Calgary by the following morning. Edmonton (due to arrival there at midnight) ended up the conclusion of us all. A few phone calls to be made to hotels for many of us, so a walk virtually the length of the 'Canadian' to our service manager Charlene - a busy day for her making calls as were we in range of the transmitters!

'The Canadian' at Saskatoon station Indeed today we were all spoilt rotten by our 'new crew' - complimentary wine with all our meals, champagne and snacks delivered directly to us in the Dome and even a 'sing along' serenade at one point!
Late afternoon we passed through the alphabetically named communities/stations enroute Watrous, Young, Zelma - parallel very light traffic for much of the time on the parallel highway ... then pulling into civilization again at Saskatoon - where during our 20 minute stop, as we stretched out legs, the greetings of the folk of this friendly city reigned upon us - perhaps it was the surprise/happiness of a passenger train during daylight hours (rather than the normally ungodly times normally scheduled!)

As we left to begin our progress towards Alberta, the light held out a little longer providing a view of a spectacular Canada geese migration pattern - formation flying at its best! Another treat was a glorious Prairie sunset as I dined on my 'bonus meal' - complementary alcohol et al. We passed through Biggar - and I wondered than what?

Day 11: Sunday September 21: Jasper arrival (belatedly)

Lobstick Lodge, Jasper Ab I was asleep long before midnight in Edmonton and so had said my goodbyes to Lily in advance of her Calgary bus connection - I wonder if she made it? An alarm call as arranged well in advance of arrival in Jasper - where I and Julia and Alistair were to disembark (nearly three days after our boarding in Toronto!). The blinds of my cosy roomette were lifted as we entered the Rockies - and a spectacular beautiful sight they were - snow capped and lit by the moonlight - as the track twisted and curved along. Arrival at Jasper was about 7.00 am, the light just breaking and the overnight frosts still underfoot - I'd seen they'd had snow the previous week when 'baking' in Toronto. Collecting the luggage, post farewells to Anne and David heading onto Vancouver, I got my lift to the Lobstick Lodge courtesy the Brewster tours driver with whom I'd booked a mini itinery tour. As we drove from the station an elk - as bold as brass - stood in the middle of the road! A quick settle in my room and a free morning to tour the townsite (Julia and Alistair were straight off to take their 'around Jasper' tour).

A glorious crisp start eventually led to perfect blue skies and temperatures in the twenties (Celsius!). After three days on board it was great to breathe the clean mountain air as I strolled Jasper townsite and its environs - and a majestic setting indeed, the town J-shaped and ringed by the Rockies. Late morning a stroll amidst the commercial area and I would meet Alistair and Julia, returned from their coach trip and lodging at a different motel (I would be taking the same tour the following day). A bear spotted by Alistair as the coach had headed north of the townsite! A few tips on the highlights for me to experience. For them a relaxing afternoon, for me the Maligne Lake tour.

Maligne Lake, Jasper National ParkOn the way (by Brewster coach), our driver-guide Maggie told us of the 'spotting of the bear' by the morning tour party near Jasper - by Alistair as I found out later - more mundanely for us a big horn sheep basically walked up a cliff in front us on the winding road! A short stop at Medicine Lake under glorious skies was just the 'taster' for the beauty of Maligne Lake itself - stunning under the azure and at perfect temperatures (24/25 degrees C). The boat trip including a stop to gaze over the island was perfect - the sun catching the glacial till in the water and reflecting that gorgeous transparent turquoise. A stunning setting, the soaring peaks and the evergreen tree ringing the blue, I wondered if any other Rockies lake (even Lake Louise) could compare.

Day 12: Monday September 22: Morning in the Rockies, then 'back on track' for the Pacific

A beautiful bright crisp morning and an early departure on the 'Discover Jasper' Brewster coach tour. First stop north of the townsite brought the picture perfect Patricia and Pyramid Lakes - the early light reflecting off the turquoise! Our guide Peg told us of the exaggerated ' winter low temperatures' in these parts - 'it doesn't even start feeling cold at minus 20!!'. A trip back south next, onto the Maligne Canyon we had bypassed the previous day - and a brisk appetite sparking walk amidst the sheer drop of the canyon walls. A quick snack at the visitor centre, then onto the cable car up Whistlers Mountain (not for those fearing heights) - a few minutes later atop the peak and the magnificent vistas spread through 360 degrees! Snow settled up here already, the townsite below formed appropriately in a 'J' for Jasper formation, the miles long (it seemed) CN freight trains along the track into the horizon either side of the station. The azure circles ringing 'civilization' and the soaring peaks distant - truly magnificent. Just breathe that clean air too!!

View of Maligne Lake at stopover on boat tour Check out was at lunchtime and upon checking my bags onto Vancouver I noticed the next 'Canadian' was only 3 hours late (or so). I decided to take in Jaspers two museums, the wildlife one in the 'Whistlers Inn' opposite the station - great settings for dead animals!, then onto the Yellowhead museum at the northern edge of the townsite. This proved fascinating, especially the video of the history of the National Parks in these parts - did people really feed the grizzlies in the 60s, it appeared so and the threats to humans at the time all the more hazardous!

Waiting to re-board, I witnessed the arrival of VIA Rail 'Skeena' from Prince Rupert near Alaska, then the 'Rocky Mountaineer' which I would be travelling back east from Vancouver in a few days. Finally our turn to board and then a longer wait before departure - all in all the most frustrating delay (though minor in overall time) as the light faded to nothing as we pulled out. I dined in darkness, missing the scenery through the Rockies on the way to Kamloops, BC. Mount Robson would be a particular loss, and I knew I would not be retracing the route between Jasper and Kamloops.

Day 13: Tuesday September 23: Vancouver (in a day!!)

Towards North Vancouver Dawn in the Fraser canyon and some staggering views as we head west through British Columbia. Arrival at the stately Pacific Central Station in Vancouver was late morning some three hours behind schedule - and I had a day to 'do Vancouver!'. Fortunately the almost guaranteed rainy climate did not materialize, and stepping onto the Skytrain (no driver!) for the trip to my downtown hotel, the sun was breaking through the high clouds - it was going to be another 'blue sky experience'! I headed up to Canada Place, jutting into Burrard Inlet like a giant cruise liner, float planes jostled the harbour as I looked across to the Coast mountains rising above North Vancouver. A trip up the Harbourfront Lookout gave a great view of this most spectacular setting for a city. Hopping onto the Seabus - the ingenious catamaran berthed at Waterfront station - the short trip gave a wonderful view of the skyline behind us as we headed north. The glorious food smells at the North Vancouver market drove my appetite wild and the stroll along the quayside showed the perspective of Stanley Park - about the same size as the whole of downtown.

Gastown, Vancouver BC The afternoon was spent in the environs of Gastown. The obligatory photo of that amazing steam clock (amidst all the other tourists!) awaiting the toots and the steam on the quarter hour! For amazing restaurant decor - do visit the Old Spaghetti Factory, also in Water Street the site of the clock, the food is good value, a table or two away provided a debate on the merits of English football teams (and this by the Pacific ocean!)  and for some reason there is a full size tram by the tables - it isn't going anywhere though.
To round the day off I paid a trip to the site of the old Expo grounds near False Creek and the excellent Science World centre. Do try the Omnimax experience.

Day 14: Wednesday September 24: Heading north to Lillooet  NB: This route has been discontinued. It is no longer possible to travel this leg!

An early start today, catching the shuttle bus to connect with BC Rail's Cariboo Prospector departing from their depot in North Vancouver. The lights of downtown sparkled as we passed through Stanley Park then crossed the Lion's Gate bridge over to North Vancouver. We departed at 7.00 in the venerable Budd cars, passing initially through the 'well healed' West Vancouver districts then on towards beautiful Howe Sound. The whole journey was accompanied by terrific running commentary by our knowledgeable conductor. Our first main stop was Squamish and soon afterwards the snow capped Mount Garibaldi came into view, from here the scenery became more and more beautiful. Squeezing through the Cheakamus Canyon, salmon could be seen leaping in the Cheekeye river at our side, Brandywine Falls were next and having polished off an excellent tray breakfast provided at my seat, we arrived at the station for the spectacular Whistler resort. A few departees for the shuttle bus to the resort and we were on our way to Nicklaus North golf club. A Budd car had been chartered for a group of players we set down right by the spectacularly beautiful course, according to our commentary we would hear some 'stories form the duffers' upon our return trip!

Seton Lake, BC Alta Lake skirted Nicklaus North as we headed north once more, then Green Lake as the Coast Mountains scenery closed in once more, the town of Pemberton was followed by Mount Currie where some Indian children departed and headed up the windy road toward the reserve. The greenery was turning arid yellows and browns by this stage. The other '10 Downing Street' was next (check the BC rail literature for further detail!) and following one amazing vista after another, the village of  D'Arcy appeared in view. Anderson Lake - very deep and very blue - became Seton Lake an amazing milky turquoise due to glacial till, the two separated by the glacial action. By now lunchtime approached and I prepared for the stopover at Lillooet, BC Rail kindly providing a free guide to the town for departees. Upon disembarking the Budd cars pulled off on their way to Prince George. I would have three hours or so before catching the southbound service back to base.

Lillooet, British Columbia Lillooet - originally the start of the Cariboo Gold Rush - was a fascinating stop. The local museum packed with artefacts and stories of the wild past. It was noticeable how arid the area was, the town having many a historic property and ringed by the mountains. You could sense an air of  'cowboy country' everywhere. The return trip departed mid afternoon, an excellent meal again. Particularly wonderful were the amazing reflections from the lakes in the late afternoon light and once the light had about left us the golfers reboarded at Whistler, the smiles (of most) indicating a good round or two!

Day 15: Thursday September 25:   The Rocky Mountaineer

Gold Leaf Dome, Rocky Mountaineer train The final leg! Having travelled from Ocean to Ocean it was time to head east once more, a two day all daylight journey form Vancouver to Calgary courtesy Rocky Mountain Railtours.  I settled myself into the splendid full length dome, reserved seating right at the front - in the heart of the action. From the start the 'Gold Leaf' service proved superlative, it would be unfair to single out any of the terrific staff, even the station crew waving our departure from Pacific Central Station, however our dome crew of Peta and Norm would take care of our every need - from commentary on the views we would pass to providing us with fruit, snacks and much else besides. Apart from the great vantage point in the dome, below we were provided with a dining car - and what huge meals! (try the breakfast with sweet and savoury on one plate!), and an open air rear platform to take in both the marvellous scenic vistas and the mountain air.

Leaving Vancouver behind we travelled through Chilliwack and Hope with the weather somewhat dull. Soon Hell's Gate was upon us, the torrents of the Fraser river flowing through a narrow gorge, an air-tram passing over us and the raging flow. The Skuzzy Creek bridge provided an ideal photo opportunity of a waterfall cascading below the CP bridge on the opposite bank. After passing the town of Boston Bar we arrived at the Cisco crossing where both CN and CP Rail cross over to opposite sides of the Fraser River, a splendid view of the river and older CP bridge as we crossed on CN tracks. Lytton proved to be where the Fraser and Thompson Rivers meet and for a mile or two the 'muddy' Fraser was stubbornly contrasted with the clear of the Thompson. Passing next through Rainbow Canyon with speckles of colour in the rocks, the banks down to the Thompson steepened dramatically.

Having enjoyed an enormous luncheon in the company of Rosemary from BC's capital Victoria, as with the VIA passengers on the Canadian we were becoming a group once more! The rather lusher surroundings of our trip were slowly disappearing and we hit 'arid land' almost desert yellows and browns as we reached the town of Ashcroft, late afternoon we travelled the last 50 miles or so to our 'half-way point' Kamloops for a motel stop overnight. Disembarking out gleaming train we boarded more 'rugged' looking buses, driven by 'cowboy westerner' folk (as an outside might describe 'em), and when our engine cut out dropping a fairly steep down incline an additional adventure was upon us! A test of the drivers in Kamloops patience as we attempted the restart! I decided to forgo the dinner theatre on offer as it would be an early start in the morning, and settled instead for the complementary meal at the motel where I was ensconced. After all the food on the train - it was a struggle!

Day 16: Friday September 26:  Kamloops eastbound, through Banff National Park

An early departure indeed today and soon I was tucking into the 'Great Mountaineer' breakfast - scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, sausage, waffle with fresh strawberries and hash browns - on one plate! And another two meals to be served today!! Back in the Dome we experienced a touch of drizzle, but a chance to chat with the crew and fellow travellers, including Ron who had been in England during the last war - sure made me feel young. Strange rock formations loomed above us - called the Hoodoos, due to more glacial action in these parts. Having passed Salmon Arm and Sicamous, the site of the last driven spike on this amazing CP coast to coast route appeared - Craigellachie, a very quick glimpse of the Kay Falls and then we pulled into the small town of Revelstoke. The weather having cleared and the arid conditions long since dissipated, I took a turn on the open air platform at the rear of the train, unrestricted glorious views!
We crossed the historic Stoney Creek bridge towering way above the swirling water below.

Travelling through Banff NP A couple of other settlements followed, Golden and Field, with brief pauses for CP crew changes, Field the site of the spectacular Mount Stephen House hotel. Into the afternoon we were crossing through the spectacular sites of Yoho National Park and through the engineering marvels that are the spiral tunnels. The nearby highway has a lookout onto the tunnels where the long freight trains curve back on themselves - several times. The Rocky Mountaineer - though much shorter - still warranted greetings for the assembled multitude as we were the given the low-down on the tunnel on commentary. Crossing the continental divide next, and into Alberta and Banff National Park, we passed the historic station at Lake Louise, a fine restaurant in the old station building, and Castle Mountain towering above us. Arrival at Banff station meant departure for many of my fellow travellers, sadly not enough time for me to disembark before we set off again for the final stretch - onto Calgary. One more (light this time) meal as we passed the Three Sisters Mountain - looking like 3 nuns! - and a final goodbye to the splendid crew as we disembarked at Calgary station. A short walk to the C-train LRT and I headed for my hotel - one more night in Canada

Day 17: Saturday September 27: Calgary (the final day)

My flight back to London would not depart from Calgary airport before late evening, so a chance to take in the city in the sunny though blustery day. A wander through the downtown core ( a few people in cowboy gear, minus the spurs!) and I stumbled upon the Devonian Gardens - actually like a giant greenhouse atop a shopping centre. Glancing at some tourist literature, I was approached out of the blue by a volunteer tourist guide who proved invaluable regarding ideas for the day - a great service, unique to this friendly city? Still in the gardens, I could not help but be impressed by the size of the ornamental fish - they were safe as far as I was concerned, my appetite still not having returned. A hop up the Calgary Tower next, across from the railway station. A clear day an the spectacular sight of the Rockies rising above the Alberta Prairie, and the city itself sitting like an oasis.

Towards Downtown Calgary from Bow River Wandering north through the downtown core, I hit upon the Eau Claire Market - Oh that gastronomic aroma, bagels and fudge amidst the bustle and the buskers! Just about managed a snack. North again and across the Bow River via a pedestrian bridge I arrived a Prince's Island Park. An oasis of calm from the bustle of the city (though recent high winds had blown down much of the foliage, the yellows and browns of Autumn were beginning to appear), and with a good view over the towering buildings, a great place to wind down in anticipation of the end of my epic travels! The check out that evening from my hotel and a cab trip to the airport depressed the spirits somewhat, the overnight flight meaning the adventure was finally over for now .... what next? I fancied 'looping the lakes in Northern Ontario by rail' but not just yet.

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