Railroading North America

14/ (to) Edmonton

14-wrapped-tree-110208-0064-usemeDAY 14
Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Jasper, Alberta
Aboard VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Today I was to have begun a two-day trip north to Churchill and the Hudson Bay, but reality set in and the leg has been scrubbed.

With work on the track and trains arriving as much as ten hours late from Churchill, the trip from Winnipeg to Churchill and back could take more than a week. The Canadian runs Toronto-Winnipeg-Vancouver only three days a week so if the return from Churchill was delayed, I might miss The Canadian and lose another three days. It’s not worth the risk.

Still, I had really wanted to go.

Now I will head further west to Jasper into the Canadians Rockies.

In comparison to other trips, I mis-read the train schedule and think the Winnipeg to Jasper run will be short. I board the train at 5 pm and expect to arrive in the morning at 7. The train arrives in VANCOUVER at 7:30 a.m. (not Jasper) — and it arrives a day after it leaves Jasper. This means instead of arriving in Jasper in the morning, I arrive at 2 p.m. This means that instead of a 14-hour trip, this will be a 21-hour trip. No matter: VIA Rail will have to feed me both breakfast and lunch.

the-canadian-0019By the time I arrive in Jasper, Alberta, I have booked a lot of tickets — Jasper to Prince George, Prince George to Prince Rupert, Prince Rupert to Prince George … and more. I have booked a lot of alternatives. I set about deciding where to go next:

Getting to Prince Rupert, a growing container port near the southern tip of Alaska is an alternative route to Vancouver. Prince Rupert has a ferry that runs once a week south to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Victoria Island. If I can catch this ferry, I can take another train to Victoria, then cross by another ferry to Vancouver and from there go to Seattle, five hours south. And all schedules dovetail.

Or they used to.

VIA Rail has changed the Prince Rupert train schedule so it arrives two hours after the once-a-week ferry leaves for Port Hardy.

So Prince Rupert by rail and ferry is out. — and soon Prince Rupert is out, as well.

I have become more casual about packing and much sloppier. Because it is cold, I’m wearing both of my coats freeing up room in my suitcases. The suitcases should be growing lighter. Instead, they are getting heavier. Something is happening: I must be gathering stuff, heavy stuff, but I’m not sure what it is.

I consider whether to look. I decide I don’t care.

I realize I am working harder than I expected.

Each day I am writing the previous day’s blog of 500-750 words, scribbling notes here and there, photographing everything in sight (by the end of 30 days they will number 1,700) — and, if Internet is handy, posting.

This should be easier than it is: I used to write and produce a 30-minute TV newscast each evening in St. Louis. That ran 3,000 words and I could do it in 2.5 hours, five nights a week, while running one or two film crews around the city. Where is that guy now that I need him? In fact, who was that guy?

I am interested in the great hotels that the Canadian National Railway built across western Canada in the early 20th century. I found the one in Toronto. Now I check out the Fort Garry Hotel across the street from the station in Winnipeg.

The Fort Garry was built by the Canadian National Railway (the CN) in 1911. It is one in a series of hotels the CN built along its lines in Canada to promote tourism, mostly in “Chateau” style architecture.

The Fairmont chain owns many of them today and I’ve planned to stay in one or two if I can. I check to see if there is a Fairmont CN hotel in Jasper. There is not. I ask about other old CN hotels, but the Winnipeg CN hotel is not owned by Fairmont. The clerks know little about any of the other great CN Chateau hotels. — so that is that.

Waiting for the train to Jasper, I go upstairs to visit the train museum located in the Winnipeg station.

Two track platforms once used for passengers are now filled with old rolling stock. The guy running the museum knows a fellow train buff when he sees one, telling me, “You’re going to see stuff you’ve never seen before.”

He’s right.

The Winnipeg rail museum has the complete train control board for the Winnipeg Station. They have a simulator where they used to train engineers. An engine from 1872 is a log-burner. And they have extraordinary equipment that they used to clear snow and ice from tracks.

The curator leads me to a miniature train layout that has replicated the red light district in the Canadian town of Climax (“Does this town exist?” — he swears that it does). He points out where certain items have been removed because the proper ladies of Winnipeg eventually got around to noticing eroticisms on the layout and demanded they be removed.

He peppers me with questions and learns I have a home in Celebration (Orlando), Florida.

“You Orlando people better get that high speed rail line built,” he says out of the blue. If it has to do with railroads anywhere in the world he knows a lot about it. So we talk about the Interstate 4 corridor and the need for high-speed rail.

Then he asks me what trains I have ridden, and we talk about Mexico’s Copper Canyon and several European trains. He asks me a lot of questions.

Someone asking me questions rarely happens. Most people are happy to tell me about themselves which suits me fine (I know enough about myself). I have trouble getting my questions in — I’ve met a Winnipeg version of me, it seems.

VIA Rail does not have my name on the passenger list when I present myself to board the train for Jasper, but I have a ticket. This may have been caused because I only booked the trip the day before.

“Not a problem,” the conductor says, “one of my crew just lost his room for a night” and he whites out a crewmember’s name for a room and writes mine in.

But trouble begins when I arrive on the platform to board. The car attendant demands my receipt and when I say I have nothing, he becomes suspicious. He orders me into a lounge car.

I am irked.

I find an attendant on the platform with a radio and ask her to radio downstairs and get the number of my car, and my room. She does, and I board the train and go straight to my room. This time the name of my car is The Carleton Manor. Sir Guy Carleton, 1724-1808, was Governor in Chief of British North America in 1786.

Soon the car attendant shows up and is surprised to see me sitting in a compartment. He does not seem too bright. He decides if I am here, I must belong, so he briefs me on the room. When he is done I ask him where my two bottles of water are. He goes and gets them. He also brings shampoo. I did not request shampoo. Clearly, I need to work on my attitude..

It’s probably because this car attendant looks like, talks like and walks like the dimwitted guy who trained me to drive the Disney World Monorails. My Monorail career was short since I only wanted to drive the Monorails once and, as a friend has pointed out, I’ve never been much interested in holding a job in my life.

The thick car attendant and I form a detante and he vanishes.

The train heads west into darkness.

West of Winnipeg the land is flat and barren farm country — reminiscent of the plains of Kansas and the American Dakotas.

I spy an outcropping and as we draw nearer I see trees and lights inside trees. The trees and a house flash by and all is flat again. In a little while another outcropping of trees flashes by, protecting another house.

I realize I have been traveling for nearly two weeks and tomorrow half of my 30 days will be gone. Traveling in Europe I once realized that train travel is only difficult the first 4 or 5 days. Once I have it down, I ride trains forever, or as far as my curiosity takes me.

The dome car has large tables. It is empty and I use one of the tables to work. The bartender, an older guy, stops by to ask me if I want a drink. I do not.

Later, with the car still empty, the bartender puts a sign on my table that reads, “Table reserved for Bar Service.” I ask him if he wants me to leave.


Still later, he puts a menu on my table with a list of drinks. Now I study him.

He looks vaguely like my car attendant. Could they be brothers? I decide not. The bartender appears Oriental and every Oriental I’ve ever know is smart. My car attendant is not smart and isn’t Oriental.

I ignore the bartender.

(Photograph, A wrapped Elm tree near the Winnipeg, Manitoba, VIA Rail Canada station. “Trees Winnipeg, Coalition to save the elms, 775-6642”, it read. This organization has wrapped elms in Winnipeg in hopes they will survive the winter– those I spoke to all swear this tiny amount of insulation will do it.)


VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Distance Winnipeg to Jasper: 1054 miles / 1657 km
Distance Total: 5,768 miles / 9,283 kilometers



  1. Photograph, “A wrapped Elm tree near the Winnipeg” — that’s probably what they tell all the people from Orlando

    Comment by Bruce — November 23, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  2. Mister Petecrow

    “Each day I am writing the previous day’s blog of 500-750 words, scribbling notes here and there, photographing everything in sight (by the end of 30 days they will number 1,700) — and, if Internet is handy, posting.

    “This should be easier than it is: I used to write and produce a 30-minute TV newscast each evening in St. Louis. That ran 3,000 words and I could do it in 2.5 hours, five nights a week, while running one or two film crews around the city. Where is that guy now that I need him? In fact, who was that guy?”


    I AM PRE-WRITING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE AND PRE-LOADING IT TO dancharthos.com SO THAT WHEN THE TIME COMES I MIGHT ONLY NEED TO “fill in the blanks” AH SUCH WISHFUL THINKING the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley



    Comment by Daniel Charles Thomas — March 25, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

  3. […] I was here briefly in 2008 when I spent 30 days traveling Canada and the United States by rail. I remember we stopped in Edmonton beside an airport and figured that the airport where we had landed and were staying was probably […]

    Pingback by Edmonton, Alberta, Canada == September 5-6, 2017 Tuesday == We have a look around. | Diary == 2017 — September 6, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

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