Railroading North America

07/ Halifax

07-halifax-_cornwallis-statue0039-bw-useme1DAY 7
Halifax
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halifax is the end of the line. VIA Rail Canada runs no passenger further east. The Canadian passenger rail system is steadily going away. Elimination of the train to Gaspe, a branch from the train we are on, was only narrowly avoided in the past year.

SAMUEL & CORNWALLIS
Samuel, my steward on the train, has grumpily told me about a statute of Cornwallis, founder of Halifax that stands facing the train terminal. Samuel is an Acadian and traces his roots to early settlers who came from France. After the French prospered in Canada in the 16th and early 17th century the British showed up and tried to run the Acadians off and grab their land. It sort of worked and sort of didn’t.

Eventually Cornwallis put a bounty of $30 on every Acadian scalp and that, in Samuel’s words, “weeded my ancestors out quite nicely”.

SEAPORT
Halifax is a seaport, the nearest port to Europe. Here the convoys for World War II formed and troops ships departed. A fellow train passenger pointedly says “we were in the war from 1939 on — the beginning — you fellows [meaning Americans] didn’t into it two years later.” O ponder this and decide not to say what I am thinking which is “until we got into it, you guys weren’t doing too well; after we got into it, we won.”

Yeah, best to keep that to myself.

Besides the war, the Titanic is still a subject of attention in Halifax. Some of the dead recovered from the sea after the Titanic sank were brought here and buried. There are several books on the cemeteries. It is a regular cottage industry.

07-halifax1-_-crawlers0034-bw-use-meTHE CRAWLERS
I climb up, and then down the hill from The Citadel, which the British built to defend Halifax. On the stairs, someone crawls around me and continues, hands and knees, on up the stairs. This is an adult, not a baby working out the logistics of scooting around.

A moment later a second person also crawls around me and a third. Now a guy is crawling past me balanced on the railing of the stars, itself — no small feat. I look around. There are adult crawlers everywhere, a regular infestation, crawling up the hill.

I find a guy at the bottom of the hill and ask him about all of this. This is a popular form of exercise I am told, and it even has a French name. The Citadel, a high hill with great steps is a favored spot to crawl Have I missed some hot new sport taking root in the 18-to-30 crowd?

I ask the young woman who manages the breakfast room in my hotel what she knows about it and she has never heard of such a thing. I suggest she put on kneepads next weekend and crawl on over to the hill. She looks at me as if I am nuts.

WHITEOUT SAVES ME
As I am getting tickets preparing to head west, the computer rejects my rail pass. The computer says I have completed my thirty days and my pass is void. I protest.

The clerk consults another clerk and together they being pecking new numbers into the computer. They study my documents and I show them my previous receipts for tickets. They check the computer and recheck my documents. They agree. My pass has expired except; my thirty days are not up so it cannot have expired.

But what can they do? The computer says my pass is invalid.

They confer in a corner, voices low. Then the first clerk takes whiteout and then puts a new number on my ticket. Voila! The computer loves me again and I soon have tickets for Winnipeg, in the central part of Canada, for Churchill up on Hudson’s Bay and for Jasper in Alberta. I want a room. No problem! I pay them and a sleeping compartment is mine.

Later on the platform during a stop in Edmonton in western Canada I meet a couple from San Francisco who also are traveling on a rail pass. The computer also declared their rail passes invalid, but they got nowhere when they protested. They have continued their trip buying tickets as they go. They have intended to demand a refund.

I show them my ticket with the whiteout and a new number. They are incredulous.

They immediately consider buying whiteout.

HUDSON’S BAY
I consider Hudson’s Bay. It is two full days travel on the train each way — a total of four days. Do I want to spend that much of my rail pass sitting in coach for four days? Do I really?

And I encounter another problem. I have figured out that I can take the train for two days from Jasper to Prince Rupert in westernmost Canada just below Alaska, and I’m up for it.

The Rupert train runs three times a week, and the schedule dovetails with a once-a-week ferry that goes to Port Hardy on the northern end of Victoria Island. On Victoria Island I can catch another train to Victoria, just across from Vancouver and do it just before my rail pass expires.

But now I learn that VIA Rail has changed the schedule for the Prince Rupert train. I will just miss the ferry by a couple of hours, and without the ferry I will have to backtrack from Prince Rupert two full days back to Jasper, then go from Jasper to Vancouver.

I begin thinking about going directly to Vancouver, then Seattle and then take Amtrak from Seattle to Chicago or Los Angeles. There is a good chance that the rail pass will expire before I get back to the east coast.

If that happens, I can just fly it.

(Photographs, Cornwallis’ statue in front of the Halifax rail station; crawlers on the stairs leading up to the Citadel, the old British fort build to defend Halifax)

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