“The Canadian” is VIA Rail train ride that travels across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver (or in our case, Vancouver to Toronto). The Via Rail Train makes its way through three time zones and three vastly different landscapes. We travelled for 5 days through the mountain ranges of British Columbia, the Great Prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and the Canadian Shield of Ontario.
For this trip, we chose to purchase economy class tickets. This meant meals, as well as sleeping quarters, were not included in the entirety of our journey. We slept in chairs that slightly reclined with an added footrest. We had to take food with us that wouldn’t spoil and rely on food being available at the stops the train made. We also had to sponge bath in the bathroom sink.
Why did we take the Via Rail Train across Canada?
My girlfriend, Lara, and I had both completed our first year of university/college at the end of April. We were looking for a little adventure. Lara flew out to British Columbia (where I attend University) and we travelled around B.C. for about a week first. (The video at the bottom of this post shows our entire journey, including exploring BC.)
To cap off the tour around the lower mainland we decided to check off a bucket-list item… take the train across Canada. Even though it cost more and took much longer than the typical five-hour flight back, it was a well-worth experience that we will not soon forget.
What was our favourite part of the train ride?
Canada’s landscape is uniquely diverse. This diversity led to new and beautiful surprises each morning as we woke up in a different place with new sights to experience. We began our journey from Vancouver, so the first breathtaking views we saw were of the magnificent mountain ranges of the Rockies. We followed the Fraser and Thompson River through to the snow-peaked mountains of Jasper, Alberta. Born and raised in Ontario, it was amazing to experience something so vast and authentic. The prairies held their own unique beauty as they seemingly spread across the ground for miles. Once we reached Ontario, our views were filled with sunrises and sunsets across lakes and tunnels through cliffs of rock.
My (Quinton) favourite part of the Via Rail Train ride was going through Northern Ontario. I’ve spent many summers attending and working at summer overnight camps up in the Muskokas and many weeks on canoe trips in Algonquin and Temagami. So being able to travel beside the jagged rock outcroppings and serene lakes was breathtaking in a whole new way. My absolute favourite parts of taking the train through Northern Ontario was going through tunnels, looking out for wildlife, and watching the sun set and rise.
Lara absolutely loved waking up with the sunrise to look out the window and see the rolling hills and mountains throughout British Columbia. Since she is also from Ontario, the sight of the mountains was so new and extraordinary. The path that the train took allowed us to be surrounded by mountains on each side which never ceased to amaze us. The sun would peek over the mountain tops and begin to spread across the land which was the best part of each morning. As the train progressed down its path beside these magnificent mountains, her eyes were reopened to how intricate creation truly is. Lara’s favourite part about riding the train through this area was being able to watch the sun disappear behind the mountain tops leaving behind vibrant colours stretched across the sky.
Each day aboard the train provided an opportunity to form new friendships. Getting to know the people around us made our experience immensely memorable. This is something that isn’t able to happen on any other form of transportation. A plane ride from Vancouver to Toronto is only five hours and while it is possible to make small talk with the person beside you, it is not nearly long enough to form a friendship like we were able to on the train. Driving across the country would also not allow for this opportunity. It was so much fun to find out where everyone was coming from and to find out where their adventures had begun.
We had the privilege of meeting three students who were similar in age to ourselves and we connected with them instantly. Youjin was visiting from New Zealand, Shino came from Japan, and John was from Turkey. All of these people came from different places, each with their own backgrounds, stories, and experiences. Altogether, there was never a dull moment in our newly formed group of friends. We would never have had the chance to meet them if we had traveled any other way. We even had the chance to meet up with them again and show them around Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Where did the Via Rail Train stop?
The train stopped in a variety of places, some well-known areas, and some hole-in-the-wall towns. That list consists of Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hornepayne, Sudbury, and Toronto.
What is there to do at the stops?
It was a lot of fun to stop in so many great Canadian cities. The problem, however, was that there was not enough time to visit most of the cities. Because of the time constraints and distance from the station to the main city, we were not able to experience Kamloops, Edmonton, Saskatoon, or Sudbury. We did however get to experience a little bit of Jasper and Winnipeg. We had time to explore Jasper, but because of the train’s delays, we didn’t arrive until 1 AM, which meant that all of the shops were closed and we were left to walk around the cute and quaint town in the pitch black. Luckily, in Winnipeg, we arrived at 12:30 PM, which allowed us to explore The Forks Market. We restocked food and shopped for souvenirs.
This was our favourite place to stop because the sun was shining and people were all gathered together in the marketplace with smiles on their faces. At every stop you are able to walk along the platform and talk to new people from the different train cars and depending on how much time you have, you can walk to a nearby market or store as long as you return with enough time to re-board the train.
Would we take it again?
Quinton: Yes, I would love to take the VIA Rail again, except this time exploring Eastern Canada. However, if I were to take the train again, I would look into purchasing a sleeper cabin package that includes meals as well as bed and shower accommodations.
Lara: I would love to take the train again one day… Although, it is highly probable that it (the train) will be delayed throughout the trip, so if I were to travel somewhere (and I was in a rush), I would most likely fly. That being said, it is a nice and relaxing way to travel with plenty of time to recuperate on the journey.
In total, the train was delayed at almost every stop which meant we didn’t arrive home until 24 hours after we were initially supposed to. If you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind not having cell service for 12 hours at a time in various parts along the way, (we didn’t have access to the Free wifi the site talks about), then this is a trip you should take!
What would we bring/ do differently next time?
To enhance our experience for next time traveling on the Via Rail Train, we would include the following items: a pillow, a warmer blanket, more board games, a downloaded movie, more books, comfortable clothes, a refillable water bottle, dry shampoo, slippers, more non-perishable food, a colouring book, a sleeping face mask, and earplugs.
Via Rail “The Canadian” Train trip starts at 5 minutes and 12 seconds.