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 aboard this train across Canada, 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 is an unexpected soundtrack that seems so real as I 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 trip across Canada between Toronto and Vancouver.
- Via Rail Train Across Canada
- What Is The Canadian Train
- 5 Reasons You Will Love The Train Across Canada
- A Brief History of The Trans-Canadian
- Trans-Canadian Train Cabins
- The Dining Car (Sleeper Plus and Prestige)
- The Dome Car
- What You Will See From The Train Across Canada
- Are stopovers allowed on The Canadian?
- What Can Be Improved
- Best Time To Travel By Train Across Canada
- What To Pack For Your Via Rail Trip
- Some Cool facts about Canada
- Side Trips
Via Rail Train Across Canada
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 and by the time 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 onboard The Canadian as on this special train trip through Canada, you’ll feel like you’re swept away by the majesty of a bygone era.
This trans-Canada train journey connects the two main cities on the east and west coasts.
To truly travel from coast to coast you’ll need to take two more Via Rail trains: The Corridor (between Toronto and Montreal) and The Ocean (between Montreal and Halifax).
What Is The Canadian Train
The Canadian travels 4466 km, from the Boreal forests of Northern Ontario through the Prairies to the Canadian Rockies.
Via Rail is government-owned is the only company that offers train journeys right across the land and The Canadian is a classic four-night journey by train through the heart of the country.
The stops on the Toronto to Vancouver train route are:
- Sudbury Junction
- Sioux Lookout
5 Reasons You Will Love The Train Across Canada
1- It’s a relaxing experience and an excuse to enjoy the slow pace of Canadian train travel. Taking the Via Rail train means you can avoid rushing to catch a flight or waiting around airports but don’t choose the train if you’re in a hurry to get to where you’re going.
2- The food onboard this Canadian train is delicious and having your meals in the dining car is a romantic and charming experience. Drinking a cocktail in the bar car is another enjoyable thing to do onboard.
3- Exploring Canada by train provides the opportunity to see a lot of the Canadian countryside without the long driving journeys or the stress of trying to find your way around a strange place. The Dome cars have large windows that bring the outside in.
4- You can unpack once (if you’re in a cabin) and your belongings will travel with you.
5- The Canadian train is a historic icon of Canada and the journey is a trip to tick off your bucket list.
A Brief History of The Trans-Canadian
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 Canadian cities and without the trans-Canada train, Canada would not have become the developed country it is today.
Today, train travel is no longer a vital mode of passenger transport as 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 travelling across Canada by train so special is it’s a classic rail journey and a truly Canadian experience.
The best way to describe a Via Rail journey 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 realise not having email access has its advantages.
During our trip on the Canada train, 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 journey, delays and all.
Trans-Canadian Train Cabins
Via Rail’s The Canadian 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 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.
In Economy Class, you’ll be sitting in a reclining seat with a table and although meals are not included, you can purchase light meals, snacks, drinks and alcohol from the cafe car at a reasonable cost but bring your own if you’re on a budget.
Examples of food you can buy are:
- English muffin with egg, bacon and cheese $4.50
- Cheeseburger or a pizza submarine $6
- Cheese plate $7
- Hot omelette, sausages and potatoes $8
- Hot meals such as beef teriyaki or chicken penne $9
- Hot veggie sandwich – Vegan, gluten-free, kosher, halal and
Seats have electrical outlets but Economy Class passengers do not have access to showers (the train stops long enough at some stations where you can have a shower).
Economy Class passengers also have access to the Skyline car, which has a panoramic view and lounge area.
Sleeper Plus Class
If you book Sleeper Plus, you can choose a berth or a cabin for one, two or four people.
One of the benefits of travelling in Sleeper Plus is you can have a refreshing shower anytime you feel like it.
The shower pack in the Sleeper Plus cabin has a bar of soap, two towels and hotel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner.
Sleeper Plus Cabin
Journeying across Canada by rail in a cabin for two means there’s plenty of room to tuck carry-on bags between and behind the seats.
Above are photos of a two-person cabin in Sleeper Plus class (carriage 113, cabin E).
These cabins have two seats, a washbasin with complimentary toiletries, a private toilet and a shared shower at the end of the carriage.
Each night, the steward makes up your 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.
Single cabins are sofa chairs during the day with a private toilet that gets covered when the bed is made.
Sleeper Plus Berth
Sleeper Plus also has some seats that convert into upper and lower berths at night, with a curtain for privacy.
There’s space for baggage, a fan, shoe closet, paper towels and bedding (pillows, sheets and blankets) is supplied.
If you’re willing to splash some cash, the most luxurious accommodation on board is the luxury cabins in Prestige Class.
With more spacious cabins, flat-screen television sets, leather couches and complimentary bar service, this is Canadian train travel in comfort.
Cabins are serviced by a concierge and Prestige passengers are treated like VIPs all the way through, from the time they check in to the time they disembark.
Meals are taken in the same Dining Car as Sleeper Plus passengers but those in Prestige have priority along with reserved seats in the Panorama and Park cars.
The Dining Car (Sleeper Plus and Prestige)
The food on this Canadian train is delicious and the dining room will quickly become your favourite spot.
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.
The food provides plenty of fuel for a day of active sightseeing, even though most passengers will spend their time watching the scenery roll by.
The Dome Car
Besides your cabin or seat, there are other parts of the train to explore such as the dome car with its glass windows that extend to the ceiling and a great spot to take photographs.
At the front of the train, the Prestige class bar is open to everyone 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.
The games car is a good place to make new friends over 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 social events, like wine or beer sampling before dinner.
What You Will See From The Train Across Canada
If you’re mostly content to gaze out the window at the scenery, there’s plenty to see so keep an eye out for the places below.
Staring out the window at a blur of trees combined with the rhythmic motion of the train can quickly put you to sleep.
Toronto to Sudbury Junction
At the head of Lake Couchiching, Washago is the gateway to the Muskokas, which is a popular destination for fishing and many Canadians have holiday cottages here.
Blink and you might miss 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, you’ll whizz past more forests and lakes.
Walk to the front of the train as it pulls into Greater Sudbury, which has a famous Canadian landmark and is known as the nickel capital of the world.
The station looks like a typical country town in Canada, USA or Australia for that matter.
Sudbury Junction to Winnipeg
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.
You’ll be surprised to learn that you’re still in Ontario (home to world-famous Niagara Falls) and only a little more than halfway on the journey from Toronto to Winnipeg.
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 then 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, you’ll be well into the groove of the slower pace of this epic train across Canada.
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 iconic 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 Winnipeg Exchange District.
If time permits, I’d suggest spending two or three days to tick these things to do in Winnipeg off your list.
Winnipeg is also the gateway to Churchill, the polar bear capital of Canada and a destination you’ll want to add to your itinerary if you’re travelling between August and October.
Winnipeg to Saskatoon
After Winnipeg, 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
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
The leg of the journey between Alberta and British Columbia is one of the most scenic as giant snow-capped peaks fill the train’s windows.
From Kamloops, the forests turn into rolling hills with arid high-country scored by deep river canyons.
It’s another dazzling backdrop 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.
Are stopovers allowed on The Canadian?
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, which is cheaper than buying a separate ticket for each leg.
To explore the stops along the way, you might want to plan to stay two or three days in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper and Vancouver.
Here’s a sample two-week itinerary:
- Day 1 to 3 – Toronto
- Day 3 and 4 – Travel aboard The Canadian from Toronto to Winnipeg (arriving at 19.30 CT)
- Day 5 and 6 – Winnipeg (add three or four extra days if you’re planning on seeing polar bears in Churchill in Autumn).
- Day 7 and 8 – Travel aboard The Canadian from Winnipeg to Edmonton
- Day 9 and 10 – Edmonton
- Day 11 – Travel from Edmonton to Jasper
- Day 12 to 14 – Jasper
- Day 15 – Travel from Jasper to Vancouver
- Day 16 to 18 – Vancouver
What Can Be Improved
1- There’s no Wi-Fi onboard so taking the train isn’t suitable for business travellers needing access to emails or the internet. Mobile phone service is available some of the time, especially close to the larger cities and free wireless internet is available in Canadian stations.
2- The programme schedule for the daily talks in the Dome cars isn’t always well-promoted and you can easily miss them. Check the list on the blackboards in the bar cars, if taking part in activities is something you want to do.
3- It’s a long slow journey, often with unexpected delays so anyone in a hurry is likely to get frustrated. Delays of several hours are not uncommon, so take a tip and don’t make travel arrangements for the day your train is scheduled to arrive.
One of the main reasons for the delays is that freight trains have priority on the track and passenger trains often have to wait for freight trains to pass.
The Via Rail train I was on was delayed in Toronto overnight and the company organised for passengers to stay in hotels. When planning your itinerary, add an extra day at each stop.
Best Time To Travel By Train Across Canada
As winter is low season, there’s more opportunity to grab a cheaper train fare and the cost of hotel rooms in the cities along the route are lower.
If you’re travelling in economy, it may be more comfortable as there’s more chance there will be empty seats enabling you to stretch out.
The winter wonderland scenery is an Instagrammer’s delight and the landscape will take your breath away.
Trains can be delayed in summer due to heat on the track, requiring the trains to travel more slowly than they normally would.
Summer is a busy period and fares are likely to be higher.
Taking the train in Autumn provides an opportunity to marvel at the fall colours.
Autumn is also polar bear season in Churchill and if seeing polar bears in the wild is on your bucket list, this is the time to go.
Get off at Winnipeg and transfer to Churchill by train or plane from August to October.
A trans-Canadian train trip in spring is another good season for wildlife lovers, as there are more chances of spotting bears, eagles and other animals.
What To Pack For Your Via Rail Trip
Pack a small bag with the clothes and essentials you need for the duration of your trip. If you have a larger suitcase, store it in the train’s baggage compartment.
- Casual clothes and a sweater to keep warm as the train’s temperatures can vary
- Camera, spare batteries and charger (cabins have charging outlets)
- Reading material
- Comfortable shoes
- Medication and toiletries as there is no pharmacy onboard
Some 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).
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.
You can get from Gananoque to Toronto by driving to Kingston and boarded a Via Rail service to Toronto.