Train Trip across Canada: an Unforgettable Experience

By Bill Crane

As I crossed the mid-century mark a few anniversaries around the sun ago, I decided that I needed to make a higher priority of actually taking the trips and adventures on my bucket list, before the good lord decided to take me…and while the goin’ was still good.

So last Christmas, our small family made an incredible holiday trek to The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The resort is too incredible to describe in a few sentences, and the time spent with my daughters and son-in-law, on Amtrak en-route and later at the hotel, gave us a host of precious family holiday memories. I was greatly touched this year when my father started a new family tradition of sharing favorite Christmas memories, and that Christmas journey has already landed atop those lists.

But this year, both girls would be elsewhere with their mothers, so I wanted to plan something memorable and singular in that I was not likely to take this trip again later. I selected The Canadian, the flagship of Canada’s rail system. Train No. 1 traverses from Toronto to Vancouver, east to west, and Train No. 2 (my choice) the reverse from Vancouver to Toronto.

I actually prefer train travel in many ways, so I flew from Atlanta to Seattle, taking Amtrak from the under renovation King Street Station in downtown Seattle to Vancouver. On this leg of the trip I met an incredible woman, Ms. Loretta Young Phillips, 85 years young, on her way to spend the holidays with children and grand-children north of the border.

In Vancouver, I spent a lovely Christmas Eve getting to know the city, having only been previously to Vancouver Island and Victoria nearby. An enchanting Christmas market had at its center a three-story Christmas manger, much like a heirloom family holiday centerpiece back home, only this one contained a live three-piece music combo on its second level, which also made me feel more at home as I approached they were swinging to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” originally recorded by Lithonia, Georgia’s own, little Miss Brenda Lee.

After the market and walk along the waterfront, back to the Marriott Pinnacle Vancouver for what turned out to be an incredible Christmas Eve dinner, and the best bowl of summer squash bisque I’ve ever experienced.

Christmas morning brought a return to Vancouver’s grand Pacific Central Rail Station, and off across the Rockies and British Columbia…the views were indescribable and majestic. The Via Rail staff were all incredibly professional, hospitable and accommodating, and I sensed even more so than usual during the holiday season.

My accommodations were a comfortable, and compact, sleeper cabin for two, with a half-bath, and a communal shower just steps away. A glass-domed lounge car offered even more incredible 360 degree views as the vistas unfolded.

Our first stop to de-board was in the ski burg of Jasper, population 4,605 and easily trebling during ski season. Nearing half our cabin departed here for the slopes on Boxing Day.

This was not my first trip visiting our northern neighbors. Prior business ventures had well introduced me to Toronto, Montreal and Windsor. This trip, and Canada in general, welcome diversity. Asians are among their largest and most visible minority population. Passengers onboard this trek represented most every continent. I counted at least 10 languages which I overheard but could not speak. Yet smiles, nods, and holiday greetings were the universal language easily spoken by all.

Friends in Toronto have already given me good reason to return soon. This was perhaps the whitest Christmas and most snowfall I have also ever experienced, other than some Christmas ski trips to Park City and Steamboat Springs, yet unlike those, I was seldom in the snow and cold. And as I type these words, in the warm comfort of my cabin as I watch the beautiful scenery roll by, I’m accompanied by a hot cider, as well as knowing that the warmth of the VIA Rail team and fellow passengers outside are all just a few steps away.

It’s the only way to roll. Happy New Year, now back to being out and about.

*This opinion piece was first published the Brunswick News

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