Via Rail runs this special train "The Canadian" several times a week from spring through to fall, less often in the winter. While there are all sorts of tourist packages where you have stops in cities or in Banff, if you want the quickest, most direct route (which is what we did), then from Toronto, you board the train at 10pm and arrive in Vancouver four days later. I don't want to bore anyone with tons of photos (especially since many were shot through the window of a speeding train and are rather blurry, although some look quite artistically so) but if you are interested in someday taking this trip yourself, here is a taste of what to expect.
While there are several options or classes of travel, I recommend booking a sleeping car. It doesn't have to be the deluxe one (I think you get more free champagne with that option, but the train rocks just as much and it's quite expensive). My age is showing, but I don't think I could spend four nights just sleeping in a train seat (which is the cheapest option). The sleeping cabins are quite small and look like this during the day:
At night, they convert into bunk beds which were quite comfy. The cabin also has a toilet (about the size of an airplane loo) and a sink. There are shared showers down the hall and a dining car further along where all your meals are taken. Meals are included and I have to say they were delicious with several options, three courses and quite yummy desserts. There is a proper kitchen and chef on board and everything is cooked fresh. I recommend the blueberry pancakes at breakfast.
Each section of the train (there were 26 cars) has its own viewing platform with an extra high domed seating area so you can see more of the landscape. We basically spent most of our time up here. When we woke up the first day, we were north of Sudbury and travelling through Northern Ontario.
On the morning of Day 2, we were in Winnipeg and had about three hours at our disposal. The station is just across from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and close to the Forks, although it was too early for much to be open.
We took a walk along the Red River.
I thought the Prairies were going to look as flat as this for a long time. . .
But when we entered Saskatchewan, we went through the very pretty Qu'Appelle Valley.
And ended up in the tiny town of Melville, waiting for freight trains to pass. I thought of Alex Colville.
When we started moving again, I thought our day in the Rockies was going to be very disappointing.
But as we got nearer to Jasper, the skies started to clear and I actually thought the snow made everything look a little prettier.
It certainly outlined the mountains and gave them patterns and textures.
While this trip is very popular in the summer, I think we went at the perfect time (barring snowstorms). It gets dark earlier, but there's more variety in the colours of the water and foliage, and something very eerie and beautiful about the natural autumnal light.
We got to Jasper around 3pm and had an hour to stretch our legs. The train station is right in the centre of the town. You are surrounded by mountains and it's very beautiful.
And then we were off again through the Rockies. The colours of the glacial waters need to be seen to be believed - every hue from bluey-slate grey through to deep emerald was on display.
These red bushes whizzing by are actually blueberry bushes!
We arrived in Vancouver before noon, only about an hour late. The city was looking as crowded as ever, but it's at least always been able to maintain several lovely waterfronts. There are so many paths to walk on with stunning views in every direction (or there would be if a storm hadn't been imminent).