At last the end of this report is in sight.
Tieing up some miscellaneous stuff.
SERVICE on Board the Canadian:
It was kind of mixed but overall we had no major issues with it.
The crew are young and friendly and most try hard. Sometimes they are clearly under-trained and under-managed.
We were quite satisfied with all our cabin attendents. The best "cleaner" was on our return trip from Jasper to Toronto. When we got on board our cabin had not been cleaned and we informed her immediately. She was mortified (She and a number of other attendents had NOT been informed correctly about which cabins were getting passengers in Jasper. This was not just her word. We overheard on the staff radio another attendent complaining that his "list" of cabins to be done up WAS WRONG again!. This is a glaring failure of management and organization not the fault of the poor attendents.) She more than made up for it by cleaning our cabin and keeping it spotless. Some attendents were not so good at cleaning but made up for it in other ways. Our most helpful attendent did a barely adequate job of cleaning but was amazing for providing ANYTHING we expressed an interest in. He realized I was an info junky and scowered the train for maps, schedules, postcards, anything he thought I might enjoy.
The attendents in the various dome cars ranged from "bored and indifferent" to genuinely helpful, full of info and lots of fun. Our last Game car attendent tried to have something going on (Bingo, games etc) a couple of times a day and was very accessible and enthusiastic. We had 2 great attendent in the Park Car. One girl constantly informed us when anything vaguely interesting was coming up and always chatted with everyone . Another guy brought the snacks upstairs several times and kept them very well topped up and appealing. He also took the time to get info and chat.
The Dining Car staff ranged from forgetful and just barely adequate to acceptable. They seemed not especially well-trained but some did try very hard and that made up for their service gaps. It really did not bother us much. I was disappointed at how hard it was to get anything changed or different from the descriptions (even something as simple as sauce on the side was apparently too difficult). This especially bothered me because I had been assured by VIarail that such requestss would be "no problem". Well guess what Viarail management seemed again to be out-of-touch with reality.
The RETURN Trip:
We did the return trip (Vancouver to Toronto) in two parts:
The first part was from Vancouver to Jasper. At Jasper we stopped and spent the next two nights in Jasper and boarded the next train from Jasper to Toronto. I would HIGHLY recommend this - since it gives you some time on your own in the mountains. I will discuss our time in Jasper in a separate post. There have been many opinions about whether it is better to take the Eastbound or Westbound Canadian. Having done both I can say there are pros and cons either way. Westbound (from Toronto) the excitement building up to and first real glimpse of the Rockies is just wonderful. Eastbound (from Vancouver) you get more daylight time in the mountains but the build-up just is not as exciting. Westbound you also get your long stop in Winnipeg at a decent time and can therefore actually DO something there.
The trip back from Jasper to Toronto was uneventful (no forest fires) but I think we had the best Dome Car attendents on this Eastbound trip. We also spent more time socializing with fellow passengers because we had already seen most of the countryside on the way out.
Back to the OUTBOUND trip again (Toronto to Vancouver):
The BIG STOPS (at least an hour long) and a SHORT stop of interest:
Outbound (Toronto to Vancouver), the first stop where you can actually get out and stretch your legs (and where you might want to) is Hornepayne.
Hornepayne is a small town in Northern Ontario. You reach Hornepayne on the afternoon of the first full day on the train. Local people are friendly and according to the crew for some odd reason, the weather is nearly always warm and sunny in Hornepayne. One local entrepreneur was selling cupcakes (which fellow passangers assured me were delicious). You get about 20-30 mimutes to stretch your legs while the train takes on water.
This is the longest stop in either direction. The Westbound Canadian gets into Winnipeg on the morning of the 2nd full day on the train. The regular stop is from 8AM to noon. Thx to the forest fire of the previous night (no freights to consign us to sidings) we arrived one hour early at 7AM - so we spent 5 full hours in Winnipeg. I HIGHLY recommend getting off the train and doing something. Viarail even offers a very good and reasonably priced (according to our fellow passengers who took it) tour of Winnipeg. Once you get off the train, you cannot get back on until about1/2 hour before departure because they are doing maintenance type things in the platform area.
We opted to amuse ourselves in Winnipeg. Our initial plan had been to walk down to the river and wander around The Forks (a park, shopping area right behind the station.
However it was pouring rain. We manageed to get over to one of the buildings at The Forks but because we were so early not a lot was open - so we wandered back to the station.
There to our absolute delight we discovered that the WINNIPEG RAILWAY MUSEUM was open. I had NOT been expecting this because I had checked their (old) website online and it said that the Museum did not open until 11AM (really kind of to late for us since we had to be back on board before noon). However I discovered that when The Westbound Canadian is in, they open the museum early!
New website - with accurate hours:
The Museum is located right in the station and is excellent. The staff of enthusiastic volunteers really can answer most of your questions since they are mainly former railway employees. The exhibits will send railway buffs into heaven and absolutely fascinated us. You can get right into the cabs of a number of cars including The Countess of Dufferin (the pride and joy of the museum) and a diesel locamotive. We had no difficulty amusing ourselves for a good 2 hours. It was one of the highlights of our trip. The little giftshop has some interesting stuff and the admission is frankly a bargain. GO - you won't regret it. Unfortunately for Eastbound passengers, the train gets into Winnipeg at night and the museum is not open then.
Sorry but this was the most boring "long" stop.(over an hour) The train station is located literally in the middle of a field. (you can see the office towers of Edmonton in the distance across the fields) but there is NOTHING of interest nearby that I could see - oh and the mosquitoes were out in full force. I actually wished I had just stayed on the train.
This is where they add the Panorama Car and that was mildly interesting to watch.
A great stop - the time depends on whether the train is late, early or on time. I believe the "official" (on-time) stop is for 1.5 hours. (They clean the windows here.). We only had about an hour on the Westbound trip because we were late. But it is worth getting off the train and wandering around. The town is very nice and the views of the surrounding mountains are great. Stop at the Bear Paw cafe and get a muffin (yummy).
There is also an interesting little store/coffee shop IN the Train Station where train memorabilia of all types (including some great posters) is sold. The owner has the business up for sale - so I don't know how long it will be there.
Well this lengthy report is done - finally. Any questions, ask away.
Overall feelings about the trip. For us it really was all we expected it to be. Not perfect but what is perfect. My husband who had never done this before felt re-aquainted with the vastness of our country. We take it for granted when we fly over it in a matter of hours. The train gives you a whole new appreciation for its size and beauty and glorious "emptyness". The Canadian itself is like a fifties time warp experience. Kids (of all ages) still wave at it when it passes. I kind of hope they never "over" modernize it and I hope it's always there. If you really want to "see" an incredibly large chunk of Canada - take this train.
Now I have to take the Ocean from Montreal to Halifax - maybe next year.
Who is this trip for:
1. Railway buffs
2. Anyone who want to get a sense of the vastness and beauty of Canada (and remember this isn't the whole country!)
3. Anyone with a sense of romance/adventure and patience. If you can't sit quietly and absorb for a while maybe it's not the trip for you.
It's not a trip for those who demand perfection, immediate gratification and the best of everything.
It's a trip that really is about the journey not the arrival.
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At last the end of this report is in sight.