"The Canadian" is Canada's main passenger train. It runs from Vancouver BC on the west coast through Kamloops BC, Jasper AB, Edmonton AB, Saskatoon SK, Winnipeg MB and on to Toronto ON, taking about five days for the journey. It runs three times a week. Stodgy schedules, high prices and vast distances have made air and car travel the methods of choice through the country for most people, but we had always dreamed of doing the trip by train once. This turned out to be the year.
These days the train is mostly a touristy sort of thing for retired folk with fully three quarters of the train reserved for First Class travel. We went economy, which wasn't exactly inexpensive; purchasing sleeper car tickets (i.e. First Class) would have quadrupled the cost, so that definitely wasn't happening -- not for one overnight each way! There were a mere two cars of Economy passengers, and they weren't anywhere near full.
We picked The Canadian up in Jasper. It was almost on time. Noah had assumed the train would be organized in compartments in the European way, but quickly got used to the long open corridors and bus-like seating. One of the prerogatives of travelling as a family is that the conductor will, upon request, set aside sets of four facing seats for you. The train was not crowded, so we were given two such sets of seats, making for a relaxing and fairly spacious zone for the Burkholders. The kids quickly had the footrests up and had settled in for reading, colouring, sketching and game-playing.
The Skyline Car contained the observation dome as well as the dining car and a snackbar. The dome was a plexiglas windowed bubble grafted atop the train. The trip through the last part of the Rockies was especially nifty from up here.
We had brought lunch and breakfast snacks with us for the trip east, but we ate supper in the dining car. It was a welcome change of pace to sit down and order a meal and chat and eat properly with cutlery and space. The food was surprisingly good and reasonably priced.
Night was of course not ideal, but we all managed a fair bit of sleep. We developed no particular fondness for the loud woman who shared her life story for the fifth time with a passenger who embarked at the Saskatoon stop at 1 a.m.. How anyone can suffer from such a complete lack of empathy and appreciation of social cues and conventions (i.e. room full of people trying to sleep = be quiet!) is beyond me. If we hadn't been so amazed by her obliviousness we might have been more angry. I'm sure the entire rail car's worth of passengers felt the same way. Amazingly no one was rude. Her conversational target at the time was increasingly unresponsive but never overtly rude.
The next morning we enjoyed a last few hours of railway prairie scenery before disembarking in Winnipeg only an hour or so late, in the early afternoon. My sister, who lives in Winnipeg, surprised us by meeting the train and facilitating our retrieval of a rental van. We retired to a hotel fairly directly and made sure we got a good night's sleep in actual beds, to make up for the night on the train.