View Full Version : OT Canada Train Travel Tips wanted

03-05-2009, 02:52 AM
My wife and I were thinking of taking the train from Vancouver, BC to Toronto or vice versa in August to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I'm wondering if any of you have made this trip, and have any suggestions for which direction might be better for scenery during the daylight hours, and any tips for itinerary, stopovers, things to do at either end, etc.

Thanks for any suggestions,

03-05-2009, 03:02 AM
If there is any way to include the following in your trip, don't miss it. In no particular order:

Prince George
Lake Louise

East of here is prairie - lots of it. Dull as, well dull. At Calgary I'd catch a plane east.

03-05-2009, 04:07 AM
Don't know anything about Canada, but found train travel in the US very good.

Your Old Dog
03-05-2009, 09:40 AM
After you make it to Toronto, there is an extremely interesting train heading North from Toronto through the wilderness. I saw on TV where they stop in the middle of nowhere to pickup trappers, hunters and the like. Very rustic, don't think they serve wine and cheese on this one but the scenery is supposed to be beautiful if you have any more O'oooos and Ahhhhhhhs left from the first leg of your trip !!

03-05-2009, 09:41 AM
There is a local fellow here that moved to Japan to teach English. Every couple of years, he brings back about a dozen students to see Canada. They fly in to Winnipeg. We pick them up at the airport and drive them out here (3 hours west). Shocks the heck out of them to see all that open country for 3 hours! After a week of touring, wiener roasts and BBQ's, they jump on VIARail and head west. Stop in Banff/Jasper (required by all Japanese visitors apparently), and then on through the mountains to Vancouver where they fly home. Everybody seems to love it.

In University, one of the girls was originally from Nova Scotia. Took her a week each way (Winnipeg->Nova Scotia) to travel for Christmas by train. Said it was neat the first time, but Northern Ontario is just bush and rock and it got boring fast.

So I guess it depends what you are expecting to see. I've heard lots say they loved heading through the mountains, but probably wouldn't do it again. I'd recommend doing it in the summer/autumn though.


brian Rupnow
03-05-2009, 09:48 AM
RW--Sadly, your lack of knowledge about Canada reflects the attitude of many Americans. Two great train trips in Ontario are the Polar Bear Express, which leaves from Cochrane, Ontario and goes north to James Bay on the foot of Hudsons Bay. Another is the Agawa Canyon excursion train that leaves from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Both travel through untouched primeval forest, with many breathtaking vistas of the Canadian north.

Your Old Dog
03-05-2009, 10:10 AM
The Polar Bear Express is the one I was thinking of in the last post.

Lew Hartswick
03-05-2009, 10:30 AM
A friend of mine did that a few years ago with his wife. Sort of a tour.
He was enthusistic about it. He is a RR buff and took a "zillion" pix a
lot of them he put on a CD and gave me a copy.

03-05-2009, 11:31 AM
Canadian rail travel has been treated like the red headed step child. Poorly funded, and ineptly run, often with long delays and missed connections. Most of the rolling stock is from mid last century and passenger rail is low priority. When most of the world was developing and improving their rail systems (Brit rail, Euro rail, Amtrak), Canada was ripping up spur lines and deleting passenger service. Before booking, try to find someone who has actually taken the trip in the last 5 years and check out their comments. All the feed back I have is quite dated (+/- 15 years old).

Having said that, the scenery is spectacular through Alberta and BCs mountains and as been suggested try to run through Saskatchewan and Manitoba at night as much as posssible - the main lines run through almost featureless gently rolling prairie where construction of the rail bed was easy. Northern Ontario is mostly rock and bush country with the occaisional swampy patch. I think there might be a few places where there are views of Lake Superior?

I've never been further East in Canada than Montreal, and was so bitterly dissappointed by the reception there as an English only western Canadian tourist, I vowed never to return.... I've been told it's better now, but I still ain't going.

03-05-2009, 11:38 AM
The sad fact is that neither direction is particularly good for viewing the spectacular mountain scenery. Departure times are such that the train passes through the best of the best at night. There IS an excursion run that departs Calgary for Vancouver that IS timed for the scenery. Friends of mine took it, enjoyed it but said that it was expensive. I think it was about $2000.00/person for three days.
I have made the trip both ways several times, and have driven it MANY times. In fact I am leaving Ottawa for Victoria, by car, in early May. First, if you want to see a strip of Canada and do no work, take the train and sit back and enjoy. Contrary to other opinion, the praries are NOT flat, except in Manitoba, which makes pee on a plate look positively hilly! Second, it is a LONG trip. Winnipeg to Toronto is about 1000 miles, over 80% of it in unbroken forest. In the seventies, there was a trucking firm out of Toronto that boasted 55 hours to Vancouver. Realistic elapsed driving time is more like 70 hours, divided into as many days as one likes or has to spend. The scenery north of Lake Superior rivals that of British Columbia.
The Polar Bear express is a great excursion, EXCEPT there are no polar bears. The scenery IS interesting, but be advised it is FLAT! The land falls 50 feet in the last 50 miles into Moosonee and once you get there you can only go back. Just a bit of realism on transCanada travel. Duffy

03-05-2009, 11:57 AM
In general train travel in Canada is a rough ride. In the west for sure passenger trains run on freight tracks and they are far from smooth. Just a warning if you are accustomed to smooth travel on dedicated passenger lines.

The most spectacular scenery that you will find anywhere is in the Jasper and Banff National parks. You can take a rail excursion that departs Vancouver to Kamloops>Jasper>Lake Louise>Banff>Calgary. Once in Calagary you have a 1000 miles of flat central plains. After about ten minutes you have seen all there is to see.

The section from Jasper to Banff (or vice versa) is staggering. I have traveled widely and there is nothing that compares to the density of spectacular views.

Here are a couple of examples:



03-05-2009, 07:06 PM
----was ripping up spur lines and deleting passenger service. .
For a minute there I thought you were talking about NSW Australia.


03-06-2009, 11:45 AM
I wish I was talking about somewhere else... At one time no farmer in our area of Central Alberta had to haul his grain more than 25 miles to a siding with at least two competing grain buyers elevators. Now the competing grain elevators are sometimes as much as 20 miles apart....
There was a spur that ended 2 miles away from my acreage. There's two super Bs a day of liquid sulfur from the gas plant there on the hiway past my driveway hauling material that used to go by rail... The paved road is getting pounded to pieces.:rolleyes: They (I think CN??) sold the rails, spikes, ties, and track plates as is where is to a salvage firm who ripped up the material.
The railway then donated the rights of way to a charitable organization avoiding costly environmental clean-up costs for wood preservatives leached from ties and oils dripped from half a century of locos and rolling stock bearings and got a HUGE tax write off for the donation based on arable land prices for a debris strewn road bed and a series of fills and cutbanks.:rolleyes:
There was a huge outcry when the Boy scouts volunteering labor to clean up the road bed for the non profit organization suffered chemical burns from the creosote wood preservative. Seems nobody warned the volunteers about the hazardous preservatives...:eek: The non profit co held up road improvements to a local hiway for 2 years getting their ownership straightened out and imposing ridiculous conditions on road construction around an abandoned rail bridge....

03-06-2009, 12:51 PM
[QUOTE=camdigger]I wish I was talking about somewhere else... At one time no farmer in our area of Central Alberta had to haul his grain more than 25 miles to a siding with at least two competing grain buyers elevators. Now the competing grain elevators are sometimes as much as 20 miles apart....

Like this one?

http://thumb5.webshots.net/t/68/168/6/60/88/2615660880059214605nfvpcT_th.jpg (http://travel.webshots.com/photo/2615660880059214605nfvpcT)

03-06-2009, 01:02 PM
I think for the best all-daylight rail tour through the Rockys I would recommend Rocky mountain rail tours. Find them here:


03-06-2009, 01:05 PM
I've never been further East in Canada than Montreal, and was so bitterly dissappointed by the reception there as an English only western Canadian tourist, I vowed never to return.... I've been told it's better now, but I still ain't going.

I too am a Westerner (AB), and with my high school french, lived in Montreal for 12 years during the seventies and can honestly say there were never any problems communicating. Only one exception, everything from the provincial gov't was in french EXCEPT when it came time to file your income tax return.

Do youself a favor and try again, they really are warm welcoming people. Get a "steamie" and a smoked meat sandwich to start. Then continue on to Nfld. another great place to visit (or live if you do not need a job).

If all things were equal (job opportunities at the time) we'd still be living in Mtl.

03-06-2009, 01:55 PM
Having traveled out east a few times I would say the divisions of Canada lie primarily between the media and the politicians, keep the country divided and victory is sweet. Once one actually ventures to the opposite end most people are quite warm and friendly same as here......I hear Quebec City is harder to bridge the language barrier and of course there were those accounts of English soldiers ringing doorbells to help in the icestorm that had doors slammed in their faces for trying...............

03-07-2009, 12:55 AM
I took that train from Van. to Tor. in Sept. And I was disappointed in the scenery. I expected much more. As someone pointed out much is missed because of night travel. Also I was told that there used to be two trains
and that when they were combined they dropped much of the travel thru
towns and took the cheapest route where the some of the scenery is getto like.You might have a better scenic trip by connecting to one of the other trains that go up to the north. Check online. I went on the cheap by using the senior fare and did the US and Canada for 30 days. But the seats are HARD to sleep in. And the sleepers cost a lot. I am glad I went but I would not do it again. The guy that sat next to me was 6' 11" tall and I don"t how he did it. He could not even stand upright in the center of the train. I found The American and Canadian service about the same. Some good some bad. The rail pass lets you get off , stay a while then get back on the train.
Check it out online before you go and be sure to check out the price of the sleepers. And I was told the smaller sleepers are not that comfortable .

03-07-2009, 01:20 AM
My only adult experience with trains was between Seattle and Portland, and from Milan to Florence and back a couple weeks later. They were both excellent experiences. I have pictures and stories. Not necessarily office safe:

http://hawglydavidson.com/ -- follow the link on the left to "Rolling Blunder". Ya - the bad ass biker is me :)

And http://TheVirtualBarAndGrill.com/italy/Sites.html

03-07-2009, 10:22 AM
I was up North on a 4 wheeler trip a couple years ago. I love trains and the Agawa and Polar Bear trips are really nice BUT i was surprised at how many decrepid rail sections i would find, spiked pulled out and if you grabbed one with a couple fingers it would move.? Now im no track engineer but after reading countless stories in the papers regarding rail derailments and so on and having seen the horrific lack of proper maintenance id wonder about rail travel safety period. Just my observation, Also a good friend of mine works on the Ontario Rail and does welding and regrinds worn track sections and he also told me that the track system is really decrepid