How To Run In 5 Canadian Provinces In 4 Days
There is no need to go over our inherited love for travel. However, we realized we don't travel enough in our home turf, Canada. Aside from last year's trip to Kimberley, BC to compete in the Black Spur Trail Race (we got to see the Rockies from above and they are unbelievably gorgeous), we haven't explored enough of our wonderful country. In order to address the lack of Canadian travel, we made a commitment to include at least one Canadian destination to our itinerary every year.
During last year's Cyber Monday, an opportunity to travel by train across the country at a discounted rate came about and we bought tickets for the VIA Rail route called “The Canadian” - a 4 day and 4 night trip from Toronto to Vancouver (or the opposite) that travels across 5 Canadian provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) with extended stops along the way. For details on routes and schedules, please check VIA Rail's website.
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GETTING TO UNION STATION
Toronto's Union Station is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. There are several transportation options to and from Union Station. Since we planned to fly back to Toronto, we selected to park at the Pearson airport and take advantage of the Up Express. You can access the Up Express from all terminals. Tickets can be bought online or at the terminal before boarding.
Once at the airport, follow the “Train to City” signs, which will take you to the “UP Union Pearson Express” train platform. The train runs every fifteen minutes from the airport to Union Station and the trip takes about 25 minutes. At Union Station, visit the VIA Rail ticket booth for check in and luggage drop-off, in case you have any. The gentleman who assisted us was helpful and provided a VIA Rail pamphlet which has details of the train amenities and services. VIA'S baggage policy allows you to keep one carry-on, all other luggage needs to be checked in and will not be accessible until you reach your destination; pack wisely.
If you are travelling in the Sleeper Plus class or better, you have access to VIA Rail's Business lounge. While waiting for the departure time, guests have a selection of non-alcoholic cold drinks, coffee, hot chocolate and fruit. Our train was scheduled to depart at 10pm; however, it was one hour and fifteen minutes late. About forty minutes before departure, VIA's crew came by to sort out tickets, meal seating arrangement and answer any questions. That was a very personal and special touch.
Boarding started 30 minutes before departure. As you walk on the railway platform, we were guided to our car (114) where you were greeted by VIA's car attendant. We were lucky to have Cal helping us, he gave us a short tour of our car, showed us the washrooms, bathroom and provided some key information on the snack, dining and scenic cars. We got settled in and ready to sleep at around 12:15 am.
Don't expect to have a great night of sleep on your first night on board. It took us a couple of hours to adjust to the motion. Nothing to worry about.
Reservation for both lunch and dinner are required, and both bookings need to be done at the same time. During the low season (November to April) there are two seatings available for lunch and dinner. During peak seasons (May to October), three seatings are available to choose from.
The menu has a vegetarian option and the menu changes every day. Food was amazingly delicious and included a variety of salad or soup, entree and dessert.
Due to the seating arrangements, we got to meet great people in the dining car. The conversations were so engaging that, at times, we were asked to 'hurry up' as we were overstaying our seating window.
Breakfast time varies based on the stop, but it was usually served between 6:00 am – 9:00 am in the dining car; no booking required.
Overnight we passed by: Washago, Parry Sound, Greater Sudbury and Capreol
We got up at 6:30 am, got ready and went to the dining car for breakfast which was already bustling with people. The car has 12 tables that are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once the dining car is full, VIA staff creates a reservation queue to keep things fair.
Following breakfast, the most common activity is to head to the scenic car and spend a few hours enjoying the view.
Places we passed during the day: Capreol, Cogama, Hornepayne
Hornepayne was our first long stop. We were allowed to get off the train and explore the small station and convenience store near by. After dinner, we enjoyed the sunset in the panoramic dome car, played games in the park car and settled in for the night.
Tip: Northern Ontario has no cell reception. Download your entertainment ahead of time.
Overnight : Armstrong, Sioux Lookout and Ontario-Manitoba Boarder.
Places we passed during the day : Portage La Prairie, Manitoba-Saskatchewan Border, Melville, Watrous, Saskatoon, Biggar, Unity, Saskatchewan-Alberta Border, Wainwright
Over the course of the 4 days, the train goes thought 4 different time zones. To avoid confusion, the 'train' time is changed overnight. On our second day, the clock went back an hour as we crossed the Ontario-Manitoba border. We got up and had breakfast as we approached Winnipeg.
While these stops are scheduled, they do vary significantly from trip to trip. The train engineers will adjust the stops according to their schedule and how busy the tracks are. Even though it was a planned 2 hour stop, we only got to spend just over an hour in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg is also where the crew changes. From Toronto to Winnipeg, we had the pleasure to have long conversations with our car's attendant, Cal. He is a former track star and grandson to Sam Langford (The Boston Tar Baby) and has worked for VIA Rail since the 1970's; three generations of his family have worked for the company.
Once we arrived at the Winnipeg Train Station, we went for a run and explored some of the downtown and nearby parks. The weather was great for this time of the year, about 5 degrees Celsius and sunny.
After gaining another hour overnight, we prepared for a pretty exciting day as we inched closer and closer to the Jasper National Park, the gateway to The Rockies. We got up early, had breakfast and got ready for our next stop, Edmonton. This time we were not so lucky as the train was running late. We were expecting to go for a short run; unfortunately, the stop only lasted thirty minutes, so we just walked around the train station and chatted with some of the other passengers.
We chose the first seating for our lunch so we could get a good seat at the scenic panorama car and enjoy the mountain views. We heard great things about Jasper and had high expectations. It didn’t disappointment us! So much beauty everywhere you looked. A non-stop sequence of lakes, rivers, mountains, and wildlife.
Our stop in Jasper lasted three and half hours and despite the chilly and windy weather, my husband and I headed out for a run. This time we went in different directions: I covered the town area while he headed out to the trails.
Back to the train, we got ready for dinner, enjoyed a delicious meal, and made out way to the dome car to see the sunset, which was gorgeous, again! Later, we headed to bed to rest for our yet to come busiest day of our journey.
After another extra long night, we reached our final timezone and the clock lost yet another hour. We got up at dawn to enjoy the every changing landscape; again, it didn’t disappoint us. After breakfast, we claimed our seats in the dome car once again. This was one of the busiest parts of the trip as we kept running around looking for the best vantage point for the perfect photo op. By now, we were all acting like a group of long time friends hustling each other on the school field trip.
As the train snaked its way following the Fraser River through the mountains, the The Rockies give way to the Okanagan Valley and some of the most recognizable Canadian postcards scenes were just a few feet away. This is also a winding stretch of the tracks, forcing the train to slow down and allowing us a more lasting view of the landscape. We saw some of the most stunning mountains and valleys as we passed by the meeting of the Fraser & Thompson Rivers and Hell's Gate.
Our final stretch was ahead of schedule and we got to Vancouver two and half hours prior to the scheduled time. We left the train a bit sad that the trip was over, but happy we had such an amazing experience during the trip. We would do it all over again, but this time during a different season.