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Trip Report The Canadian - Toronto to Vancouver by Train - Part 4

More on my experiences on The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver and back

THE EXPERIENCE:

Overall the experience is what you make of it. It's not always 'perfect' but it is unique.

Departure:
As we left Union Station (Toronto), sitting in the dome car watching the lights of the city go by we felt we really were beginning a journey. The sparkling wine we were served might not be some fine vintage but it set the mood. Our fellow passengers seemed as excited as we were.

Our Fellow Passengers:
In Sleeper class the vast majority of the passengers were definitely middle-aged or older. One or two teens. One family with small children (on the outbound leg). No small children on the return leg. (There may be more families in the summer when school is out). Nationalities were quite varied - a group of Germans, a couple from France, some Japanese, some Americans, fellow Canadians.
In coach, the crowd was younger (more kids and young couples). Some back packers.
Because tables are shared in the dining car, you get to really met and talk to your fellow passengers - this is pleasant and interesting. My husband especially enjoyed the "train buffs" because they seemed to know everything about "out" train and trains in general.

Life on Board the Canadian:

We tend to get up early - so every morning it was get up not long after the first rays of sun were apparent. Shower. Dining Car for breakfast. Then off to the Park Car (the dome car at the end of the train. The cabins are small so we really did not bother to spend much time in ours. The Park Car was our location of choice. Grab a tea and head up into the dome. The dome is definitely the best vantage point on the train. You can see the train snaking ahead of you and you can see what is going by. Best place for taking pictures from the train (even if the occasional bug gut smeats detract.) BTW the domes and train windows do get washed (before we start in Toronto, Winnipeg and Jasper) but I am afraid bug guts on the front facing windows are pretty much impossible to eliminate.

Northern Ontario and some excitement:
Eventually one or both of us gets up and "walks the train" from one end to the other. I stop at the Game Car (another dome car) to see what activities are offered today. Maybe Bingo or a DVD or even a little talk about something of interest (like Winnipeg flooding). Later on we might go to the Game Car and play some scrabble.

The scenery goes by (LOTS of trees, lakes, rocks, beaver dams (complete with the occasional beaver) in Northern Ontario.
The Excitement:
On the 2nd night. I wake up at about 1AM smelling smoke. I wake up husband - "Don't worry it's not on the train - it's wood smoke". Wait a minute WOOD SMOKE - I look out the window - we are (and I am NOT kidding) IN a FOREST FIRE). Burning trees and bushes on either side of the train and in the distance a REALLY bright ominous orangey-red glow. I hear the train crew on their radios outside our cabin. I notice hoses by the track side. The train starts up. Then I see a fire crew. Then we speed up. We are going THROUGH the FOREST FIRE. The train keeps a good and steady pace for about 15-20 minutes though patches of burning trees. We cross a large bridge and the fire is behind us. The train REALLY speeds up and next AM we get into Winnipeg a full hour early. My husband talks to a member of the train crew. Yes we did indeed go through a tongue of a MUCH bigger forest fire. We can do this because:
1. Our train is The Canadian and made out of stainless steel (not very flamable) and if we have to we can go VERY fast.
2. No freights were permitted to go through the forest fire (they are more flamable and for once we since we are live humans and not cargo we get priority on the track. (BTW we passengers don't like freights since they normally get priority causing us to tour the railway sidings of Canada.)
3. The fire crew has wet down everything in sight. (but the poor little town we were supposed to make a brief stop was evacuated - we don't stop.)
Most passengers sleep through all of this. I am kind of glad I didn't.

Winnipeg is a long stop.
I will discuss the actual long stops we make along the way in my next Part.

We cross the prairies. The flooding is obvious and sad especially in the beautiful Qu'appelle (sp?) Valley in Saskatchewan. We see sand-bagged farm houses, drowned trees and fields.
At Edmonton the next AM, the Panorama Car is added to the train and we begin a very gradual climb, eventually the foothills are evident. A certain excitement mounts - we will be in mountains soon. Rain threatens and eventually falls with our spirits - will we see the mountains or will rain clouds block the view?. We round a corner and the mountains begin - even through the rain they impress and then to quote a very funny German woman ("someone up there must surely know we paid A LOT OF MONEY for this trip") the sun breaks through and the views become wonderful. The dome car fills and we all take turns at the best viewing picture taking spots.

We stop in Jasper and wonder around the town.

Then back on board and MORE mountains. it's all good. We go to bed and wake-up the next AM approaching Vancouver.
Was it worth it - for us absolutely.
More on the stops and return trip in the next part.

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