We finally took our trip that has been in the works for 3 years. That trip was taking the trans-continental train across Canada from Toronto to Victoria. The trip was in 3 distinct parts Pre-train, during train, and after train. Thus, this post is SUPER long, so rather than put you through the whole thing in one sitting I’m going to break it into 2 parts. Watch for part 2 coming in a couple of days.

The Planning

In May 2020, just after Covid was getting rolling, my sister, Monica, was visiting us in Montana (Blog post HERE). Somewhere in the conversation taking the train across Canada came up, a trip that my Mom had wanted to take for years. So we booked a tour with “Fresh Tracks” tour company for May 2021. At the time I distinctly remember Monica saying “Well what if we are still locked down from Covid a year from now” and I replied that we couldn’t possibly still be affected 12 months from now.. “If so, we have bigger problems”!

Well, we all know how that went! In May 2021, Americans could not travel to Canada. The tour company allowed us to delay the trip for the following May, 2022. When Spring 2022 came around, the borders were open (for vaccinated only) and the train had sever restrictions on the skyline (dome) cars, and on the dining car. Masks were required on the train anytime you were outside your cabin or if you had the door open. Ugh! This was an expensive trip to suffer those kinds of restrictions. We were able to push it one more year to 2023.

Monica on the Scooter

Finally the date arrived

So last month the trip finally came to fruition! Thursday, May 4th, Mike dropped me at the Salt Lake Airport at 5am. I flew to Denver where Monica lives. My kids dropped my parents at the Albuquerque airport at 6am and then they flew to Denver. We all met up in Denver. Nice travelling with Mom and Dad because they get wheelchair assistance and that means first on the plane. It also means the airlines makes sure we are where we are supposed to be on time.

United dropped us onto a golf cart and zipped us through the B terminal from one end to the other. Super nice! Monica has a light weight foldable scooter. She brought it along for Mom or Dad to use on the trip so she tried (but failed) to keep up with the golf cart. LOL.

Day 1&2 – Niagara – Pre train trip

We flew direct to Toronto from Denver. In Toronto we were met by the travel company. However, I will say there was a little snafu there, the instructions were confusing and we had to wander around with our luggage trying to figure out where we were to be. We did have to call the transport company to see if they were coming. Eventually, we were met by the limousine.

They took us to the little town, Niagara-on-the-Lake, just where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario. It is a lovely little town in the heart of wine country. We stayed at a super nice hotel, the Prince of Wales. That evening our dinner was included in the hotel. The next morning we walked to a bakery for breakfast and walked out to see the lake. We returned to the hotel in time to be picked up for our day tour of Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls

We continued to think that we would be part of a larger group but it turned out that while there were other people with similar itineraries, we were all travelling on our own. The bus to Niagara Falls was just the 4 of us and a very informative guide. Upon arrival in Niagara Falls, we were combined with a group of people who were on a tour of the falls, but not doing the train trip.

Our tour included a ride on the Canadian Maid of the Mist, the Hornblower Niagara City Cruise . It also included lunch on the 13th floor overlooking the falls. And of course there was time for strolling along the walk overlooking the falls. All of this with a guide to impart lots of knowledge. Since I had been to Niagara recently I decided to do the Journey behind the falls as an add on. That was interesting.

Returning to Niagara-on-the-Lake for our second night we found a nice fish and chips restaurant we could walk to before hitting the hot tub and turning in.

Day 3 – Toronto

We were picked up and transported back to Toronto (2 hour limo ride). The rest of the day included a trip by Uber to the St. Lawrence Market. Interesting. Then a relax in the room while Monica and I took a run to the grocery store (Loblaws, a favorite store of mine) for wine and snacks for the train.

I managed to have Uber Eats deliver a Uncle Tetsu Cheesecake, another passion I wanted to share with the family.

That evening included in our tour was dinner at the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN tower. Obviously a very nice evening too. But still we had energy to try out the Marriott hot tub!

Day 4 – On the Train

We got on the train! Our transport picked us up at 8:15 and we went to union station to check in, and check our bags. We had to repack because anything checked would not be accessible the duration of the trip, and we didn’t want too much luggage in the cabin. The train pulled out of the station at about 9:45 and we celebrated with Uncle Tetsu’s cheesecake and ice wine that we had found at the market. Mom and Dad had never tried ice wine. We thought it was the perfect occasion.

The Cabin

We got two cabins that could have the wall removed between them. I expected that the wall to be taken down would be opposing the beds like this (Layout A), but turns out it was the wall between the beds like this (Layout B). We had them bring us a little table for cards in the cabin, and most days left one bed down so that we could nap if desired… not sure anyone napped, but the seating for the table was more comfortable that way, so that worked for us.

The cabin was small but comfortable. the beds were surprisingly comfortable, except the ladder to get to the bunk was a little challenging. Monica and I on the top bunks managed, although Monica did get a pretty knarly bruise when the train shifted at the wrong time. The train started a stopped a lot, mostly to let a freight train pass at designated areas. Also the ride was pretty rough, so although the beds were comfortable, sleeping was not real deep.

Activities

The train included 3 gourmet meals per day. These were full 3 course meals including drinks and dessert. The food was very good. We had established times to eat (11:30 and 5:00 for lunch and dinner). So before and after meals we might wander to our dome car and do a puzzle or play some games. We sat up in the dome some, with one booth to play cards, or just in a seat to enjoy the view. Unfortunately, the windows were very dirty and the angle of the glass made it frustratingly difficult to take pictures without reflections.

The first day we did a complete puzzle before lunch. It was missing the last piece so we just thought, well no big surprise on a train with a public puzzle. The next day someone else did the puzzle and the piece was found. Turns out WE had dropped the piece and hadn’t even considered to look on the ground! We were all a little embarrassed by that. In the end we played a lot of “oh, Hell” card game and “Rummikub” because Mom (the non-game player of the family) could tolerate that.

The dome car also hosted Wine tastings, Bingo, informational lectures, movies, beer tasting. Not to mention endless snacks. It was a pretty fun place to hang.

Cottage Country

The first section of the train was out of Toronto and across Ontario. I had no idea Ontario was so big (and we only went from the middle West). We travelled through “cottage country” and it was lovely. I did not manage to take any photos here. Lots of water! Lots of vacation homes on the lake etc. By evening we had hit the forest. The forest was frozen by morning! Deep snow, frozen lakes, and so many trees is was hard to get a good view. Day 5 was that frozen day. I found myself getting up early everyday. As soon as I detected light outside, I went to the dome car to see what I could see.

Day 5 & 6 : Dad in Distress

Dad swallowed the first bite of his lunch hamburger. It was the last time he swallowed that day. He has a narrow section in his esophagus. Sometimes, food gets stuck. This happens when he doesn’t chew well enough. Often when he is enjoying himself and not specifically thinking about his eating. It doesn’t block his airway, thankfully, but when it happens he cannot swallow anything, including his saliva, which in turn makes him salivate more.. you get the idea. Very unpleasant for him. Often it clears in a couple of hours. Occasionally he need medical intervention. We sat on the dome car some that afternoon, and in our room some that afternoon. He has to keep a spittoon nearby and occasionally excuse himself to the bathroom and try to gag it up. He passed on dinner.

During dinner we arrived in Winnipeg. This was a major stop and we were to be there for 3.5 hours, leaving at 9:30pm. We were getting ready for bed. Dad was still struggling. Mom was getting very vocal about getting him medical help, which of course meant getting off the train. None of us wanted to do that. Finally I asked Dad directly if this felt different than other times. Only he could tell me if he needed to go to the hospital, and our window to do so was closing fast. He reluctantly agreed that he felt it was necessary. So, while we got dressed quickly and packed everything up, they pulled our bags out of the checked luggage area. We got off the train. The train personnel helped us identify a hospital and called a taxi (2 actually) for us. And the train went on without us.

The Train

St Boniface Hospital

We arrived at the ER at about 10pm. They immediately took Dad into the emergency room waiting area and the policy was that he could only have one person with him. Mom was mad, but Monica and I felt one of the two of us should go, so I sent her. I had all the insurance information for them on my phone and so texted it to her. Mom and I made our way to the main hospital atrium, which was more comfortable, but at 10 pm was pretty dead.

Within an hour or so, it looked like progress was going to be slow, so Mom and I found a hotel in town and proceeded, with our huge pile of luggage to go there for the night…. We both slept SOUNDLY. Comfortable bed, no moving train. etc. At 6:30 I woke up. Monica texted me about that time. They finally called Dad in. It would be several hours before the doctor could see him. Neither of them had had any sleep, so I suggested she could come to the hotel and we would trade places. I then enjoyed a well needed shower before I slipped out, hoping mom would continue to sleep and allow Monica some rest.

Mom woke up completely confused that she had gone to bed with one daughter at night and woke up with another. She in fact did tell Monica that she was Phyllis because Monica was at the hospital! Monica had to convince her. We did continue to hear how confusing that was for the rest of the trip.

In the ER .. finally!

In the meantime, Dad got some rest in the ER, a few people came to see him each time he just dozed off, as usual in a hospital setting. I finished my book and made airline reservations to fly to Edmonton that evening to catch the train. Of course, I wasn’t completely sure how long it would take, but the only flight was at 7pm, arriving at 8pm. The train pulled into the Edmonton station at 9:30… Perfect. So I booked it. We did tell the hospital staff that we had a deadline… Not sure that helped.

At 2pm Monica showed up with some Gyro sandwiches, and all our luggage. I joined them in the lobby to eat for 20 minutes, before Monica headed back to the ER. When she got there they were in a tizzy because they had taken him into a procedure room to do a scope into his throat and we should have been there to collect his belongings! Figures! After 16 hours of waiting we picked the wrong 20 minutes to have lunch.

.. and then a 5 minute procedure

They scoped him, saw the piece of meat, pushed it through the narrow area and 5 minutes later he was finished. He needed to come out of the anesthesia, but otherwise was ready to go. He dressed in clean clothes and was almost not groggy by 5PM. We checked out, and headed to the airport. We did have one brief panic moment as we were waiting for the uber when he realized he did not have his dentures. They had removed them in the procedure room. Monica held the car while I ran back and luckily it was quick to find them. We all imagined the rest of the trip without Dad’s teeth. To our delight, he realized his teeth were missing at the last opportune moment.

.. on his BIRTHDAY!

Oh, and did I mention that this was Dad’s 91st birthday! When they asked him what the date was to see if he was able to leave he knew exactly what day it was! His special day! He got Happy Birthday wishes from the train personnel and passengers, from the hospital staff, and from the airline. There was even a birthday card and chocolates in the hotel room in Vancouver. He felt well celebrated and in fact said he had never in his life recieved so many birthday wishes!

Walking to the gate in the airport, Monica and I were remarking that despite all our difficulties, this had turned out ok. It seemed everything was going along on the trip perfectly, except Dad choking of course!

And Back on the Train!

We had kept the train personnel aware of our plans. Still, we managed to surprise them when we showed up to get back on the train. For that matter, the “Fresh Tracks” tour company was also very surprised that we managed to get back on the train. We also surprised the other train travelers. The four of us just thought this was routine! We didn’t want to miss the WHOLE event. As it was, EVERYONE told us that the 24 hours we missed were the most boring scenery on the whole trip. This section was across the plains. Maybe we just needed to liven it up a bit! Ha!

Dad at the Canadian Train

That night we slept well and had breakfast sitting in Jasper, Alberta. Jasper is another major stop. We could have walked around the cute town. But we had had our adventure off the train, and instead enjoyed the view from brunch. Monica and I had also picked up champaign for Dad’s birthday, but obviously that hadn’t worked, so we celebrated with Mimosa’s and pastries in the morning before heading to brunch.

View from the train

This final day on the train was through the mountain region. This train does not follow the spectacular route that the Rocky Mountaineer does, but it was pretty none the less, and we watched farms go by… In fact the horses and cows were the first animals we saw from the train. A bit disappointed at the wildlife. (I had actually seen a group of 4-5 elk and someone saw a bear that, although I was right there, I couldn’t glimpse)

View last Day on the train

That evening after dinner we went up into the dome car and played Rummikub while the train sat in station in Kamloops. Just at we left Kamloops we went to bed. We followed the Thompson River to the Fraser River which took us on into Vancouver. All night long there was views of the river outside the cabin. This section of train was very windy with many stops and starts again and fairly rough ride. When we arose we were pulling into Vancouver.

View from the train

The Tail end of the trip

Read on for part 2 of this journey at the Western end of the country. Part one of the trip focused on the train across Canada, part 2 focusses on a couple of the gems of BC, a day in Vancouver and 4 days in Victoria. Read the post here.

One thought on “Across Canada by Train (Part 1)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *