Train Across Canada

Train Across Canada

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trans canada train
Vacations by rail is a relaxing way to travel. The trans Canada railway is an epic journey across the land. Photos: Christina Pfeiffer

The swaying of the train and the clickety-clack of the wheels rolling along the track lulls me into a trance as the trans Canadian train rumbles along the track. I lie on a freshly made bed, mesmerized by a blur of conifer trees as the scenery outside my carriage is gradually swallowed by dusk.

The comfortable bed and rocking motion puts me to sleep quickly as The Canadian train whizzes past trees, lakes and cabins.

The rumbling and grinding of the train provide an unexpected soundtrack to my dream of herds of buffalo thundering across the plains.

Waking up to the sounds of the train is one of my favourite moments on this epic Via Rail train across Canada.

train across canada in autumn
There are three classes of travel on board The Canadian.

Somewhere between the railway towns of Gogama and Longlac, on the Canadian Shield, I dream there’s an earthquake.

But it’s only the train shuddering on the tracks.

When I open my eyes, the sky is a crimson blanket dotted with puffs of pink clouds.

It’s easy to slip into a world of your own on board The Canadian.

On this train trip across Canada, you’ll feel like you’re swept away by the majesty of a bygone era.

The Canadian Train Stops

The Canadian travels 4466 km, from the Boreal forests of Northern Ontario through the Prairies to the Canadian Rockies. It’s a classic four-day (3 nights) journey by train across Canada right through the heart of the country. The stops on the Toronto to Vancouver train route are: 

  • Toronto
  • Sudbury Junction
  • Sioux Lookout
  • Winnipeg
  • Saskatoon
  • Edmonton
  • Kamloops
  • Jasper
  • Vancouver

Why is the train across Canada special?

canada rail holidays
View from the dome car on the Toronto to Winnipeg Via Rail journey.

The construction of the trans-Canadian railway in the 19th century laid the foundation that allowed the nation to thrive.

Horses were replaced by locomotives and cities popped up across the land, attracting European immigrants.

The Canadian Pacific Railway connected towns and cities across Canada and without the trans-Canada train, Canada would not have become the developed country it is today.

Today, the trans-Canadian train is no longer a vital mode of passenger transport.

These days, there are other options such as a driving trip across the country or hopping on an Air Canada flight to reach your destination quickly.

However, what makes the train trip across Canada special is it’s a classic journey and a true Canadian experience.

The best way to describe the train across Canada is a restful cruise on land, where you allow yourself the luxury of escaping from phone calls and deadlines while you soak up the stunning scenery.

There is no Wi-Fi onboard Via Rail’s Toronto to Vancouver train and cell phone service is patchy. 

At first, the lack of Wi-Fi bothers me but not long after the train pulls away from Toronto’s Union Station, I realize not having email access has its advantages.

During our train ride across Canada, we experience the legendary Via Rail delays The Canadian is known for.

Freight traffic gets priority on the tracks and it’s not uncommon for the passenger train to be hours late – sometimes even a day late.

However, by lunchtime, I’ve stopped worrying about being late and have settled into the relaxed pace of the epic train trip across Canada, delays and all.

Trans Canadian Train Cabins

Via Rail’s The Canadian travels between Toronto and Vancouver. It has three levels of service – Economy, Sleeper Plus and Prestige.

  • Economy Class cabins have seats and guests have access to the Skyline car to purchase meals and panoramic dome.
  • Sleeper Plus Class has berths and cabins for one, two or four people. Guests have access to the dining car, where meals are included, a range of activities, access to lounges and glass ceiling carriages.
  • Prestige Plus is the top level service, with luxurious cabins with an L-shaped couch, Murphy bed, a more spacious private en-suite toilet, access to reserved seating at the front of the dome car and personal concierge.

Sleeper Plus Class

vacations by rail
The Canadian is one of those classic Canadian train trips with sleeper accommodation on board.

Journeying across Canada by rail in a cabin for two means there’s plenty of room to tuck my carry-on bags between and behind the seats.

I’m in Sleeper Plus class, in a cabin for two (carriage 113, cabin E).

My cabin has two seats, a washbasin with complimentary toiletries, a private toilet and a shared shower at the end of the carriage.

At night, the steward makes up my bed with fresh sheets and pillows.

When the bed is made, there’s ample room for one but with bunk beds set up the cabin is a bit of a squeeze.

However, being able to lie flat on a bed is much more comfortable than trying to sleep while sitting upright in an economy-class seat on an aircraft.

Sleeper Plus also has some seats that convert into upper and lower berths at night, with just a curtain for privacy, and there are single rooms where the toilet gets covered when the bed comes out.

The Canadian train dining car

canadian trains serve delicious meals

canadian train vacation packages
Via Rail food is delicious and varied.

The food on this Canadian train is delicious and the dining room becomes one of my favourite spots.

Lunch is served in the dining car and is an orderly affair with two pre-allocated dining times. 

Meals are tasty and the menu changes each day.

Examples are the soup of the day with a pulled pork sandwich served on a focaccia bun, shrimp and salad, quinoa salad, bison burger served on a wild rice bun with lettuce and tomato.

Non-alcoholic drinks are included in the fare but wine ($8 a glass), beer ($6) and spirits are extra.

On the breakfast menu, each day is a hearty Transcontinental breakfast of two eggs prepared in any way you choose, with hash browns and bacon, ham or sausages, served with toast or a muffin.

It provides plenty of fuel for a day of active sightseeing, even though most passengers will spend their time watching the scenery roll by.

Train Across Canada – Dome Car

canadian rail tours
Sit back and enjoy the landscape on a Canada train journey across the country.

Besides your cabin or seat, there are other parts of the train to explore. The dome car has glass windows that extend to the ceiling and it’s the best spot to take photographs.

At the front of the train, the Prestige class bar is open to all after 2 pm, even if you’re not travelling in that class.

The bar is the place to head for a Railcar Old Fashioned or a Sloane Tea cocktail.

Passing through the games car on my way back to my cabin, I stop for a game of bingo with other passengers.

Other activities are daily talks in the Dome Car and there’s a daily changing roster of other activities, like wine or beer sampling before dinner.

But I’m mostly content to sit in my cabin and gaze out the window at the scenery.

Train Across Canada – The Experience

Toronto to Sudbury Junction

via rail toronto to winnipeg
One of the many towns along the route of The Canadian, Prestige carriage, the games carriage, Prestige class bar.

After lunch, I retire to my cabin and stare out the window at a blur of trees. Soon the rhythmic motion of the train puts me to sleep.

We pass Washago, which is the gateway to the Muskokas, at the head of Lake Couchiching popular for cottages and fishing.

I wake feeling refreshed as the train arrives in Parry Sound, a charming town of 6000+ residents on the edge of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Shield consists of billion-year-old bedrock that covers a vast area of Canada between the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay.

The area is a rich source of mining for gold, nickel and other minerals.

Back in the dining car, over a two-course dinner of vegetable soup followed by a tasty sweat pepper chicken miscela topped with a creamy red pepper and tomato sauce, we whizz past more forests and lakes.

After dinner, I walk to the front of the train as it pulls into Greater Sudbury, which is known as the nickel capital of the world.

I step out onto the platform and I’m not surprised to find that the station looks like a typical country town back home in Australia.

Sudbury Junction to Winnipeg

best train trips in canada
A lovely view from the train, walking the corridor, a dome car, shower in Sleeper Plus.

One of the benefits of travelling by train is you can have a refreshing shower anytime you feel like it.

The shower pack in my cabin has a bar of soap, two towels and hotel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Over breakfast, the train whizzes past Longlac, a small town at the northern tip of Long Lake on the historic canoe route for fur traders.

Half the population is English-speaking and the rest speak French.

I’m surprised to learn that we’re still in Ontario (home to world-famous Niagara Falls) and only a little more than halfway on our journey from Toronto to Winnipeg.

Back in my cabin, more trees and lakes whizz past.

Ontario is rich in wildlife and home to black bears, muskrats, grey wolves, beavers, moose, freshwater otters and coywolves (which are a hybrid between coyote and wolves).

At Jack Fish River, a flock of pelicans watches the train as an announcement reminds us we’ve gained an hour.

The train heads towards Armstrong at the northern end of the 99km-long Lake Nipigon.

With 250,000 lakes and 154 species of fish, this part of Canada is a paradise for anglers who come here to catch walleye, northern pike, pickerel, trout, yellow perch and bluegill.

By the time the train reaches Winnipeg, I’m only just starting to get in tune with the slower pace of this epic train across Canada.

Winnipeg 

The Canadian stops in Winnipeg for about four hours, leaving plenty of time to visit The Forks, the city’s public market, or the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is an impressive Canadian museum. 

Winnipeg is a multicultural city with over 50 ethnic communities and there’s plenty more to do in Winnipeg such as visiting the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which has an impressive collection of Inuit sculpture and art and exploring the Exchange District.

Winnipeg to Saskatoon

Back on board, the trans-Canada train travels through Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Prairie provinces are a moving art gallery of endless fields of blue flaxseed and golden wheat.

Passing the Manitoba – Saskatchewan border, the Canadian nears the mid-point of its journey across the continent.

The train stops in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s largest city, named after the abundance of purple berries that are found along the banks of its river, and known as the ‘land of the living skies’.

Saskatoon to Edmonton

Another border and another time zone, the train crosses from Saskatchewan into Alberta, and on to Edmonton.

Alberta’s capital is the gateway to the north.

Edmonton was a place that attracted explorers and adventurers who came through the city during the era of fur trading and to try their luck in the Yukon gold rush.

Edmonton to Jasper

trans canada railway
The epic trans Canada railway is a great way to see the country.

The community of Edson is midway between Edmonton and Jasper National Park, and it’s from here we get our first view of the Canadian Rockies.

Competition for spaces in the skydome car becomes fierce as this is one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

The train stops for around 90 minutes in Jasper, which is possibly one of Canada’s most charming places. 

As Jasper National Park is a wildlife sanctuary, there’s a good chance of seeing wild animals such as elk and deer (and sometimes bears!) wandering down the main street.

Jasper to Vancouver

Back on board, for the last leg of the journey between Alberta and British Columbia, giant snow-capped peaks loom overhead.

From Kamloops, the forests become rolling hills.

The arid high-country is scored by deep river canyons and is another dazzling environment, wrapped in the captivating tale of Canada’s history.

Finally, the train across Canada reaches the vibrant city of Vancouver, which is in a gorgeous location between the Pacific Coast and the forests of the coastal mountains.

It’s been such a memorable trip that I just want to get back on board and do it all again.

Are stopovers allowed on The Canadian?

train across canada
Take the train across Canada for a leisurely tour of the countryside.

Stop-overs are permitted, but as the train is a thrice-weekly service, any stopover requires a minimum 48-hour stay.

It’s not possible to hop on and off the train without a reservation but it’s easy to pre-book one or more stopovers through Via Rail’s multi-city option.

It’s cheaper than buying a separate ticket for each leg.

Reasons to take the train across Canada

 


1- The relaxed vibe provides an excuse to wind down and enjoy the slower pace of Canadian train travel.
2- The food onboard this Canadian train is delicious and the dining car is a romantic and charming setting.
3- Exploring Canada by train is an opportunity to see a lot of the Canadian countryside
4- The Canadian train is a historic part of Canada and a trip to put on your bucket list.

What can be improved on board The Canadian?

1- Not having access to Wi-Fi makes it a bit tricky for business travellers.
2- There are daily talks in the Dome cars but the programme schedule isn’t obvious. While there’s a list on the blackboards in the bar cars, a schedule in the cabins would be useful.

Cool facts about Canada

1- Canada is the world’s second-largest country.
2- The Prime Minister of Canada is Justin Trudeau.
3- Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state.
4- The Bank of Canada released polymer plastic notes in 2011 (The Canadian is on the $10 note).

Side Trips

Before joining The Canadian in Toronto, we spent a few days wine tasting in the Okanagan then flew to Ottawa to explore museums.

From Ottawa, we drove to Gananoque and cruised the St Lawrence River.

Gananoque is Canada’s gateway to the 1000 Islands, which is a group of islands on the USA/Canada border.

From Gananoque, we drove to Kingston and boarded a Via Rail service to Toronto, travelling in a very comfortable business class carriage.

Train Across Canada 2
Train Across Canada
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I'm a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia, when I'm not on the road. I've lived in three continents and my career as a travel journalist has taken me to all seven continents. Since 2003, I have contributed travel stories to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. I have won many travel writing awards and I'm a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.

3 COMMENTS

  1. What is the cost of this for 2 seniors please? I’ve been rerouted and rerouted and nowhere is this information included, Do you have to book through a travel agent or VIA?

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