The Canadian sleeper train from Toronto to Jasper
As with the rest of the trip, booking in and getting your tickets is well organised, and you are told exactly where to board the train depending on your accommodation. We had a cabin with private facilities, though still a shared shower at the end of the carriage (but this was very roomy). There was a touch of hysteria along our row as we found our berths. Bijou is definitely the first impression!
There is a lower and upper bunk bed so you have to decide who will have to (is able to?) climb the stepladder. Actually, it is not as bad as it sounds as the beds are very comfy and a good width so that you don’t feel like you are teetering on the edge. The sink and separate WC are tiny but usable, and as the guidance notes tell you beforehand, storage really is extremely limited. However, while you are at breakfast, your room steward puts the beds away and two armchairs create a cosy private space to read, look at the scenery or just relax (short for ‘nod off’).
An alternative to this cabin is a better one with a bit more floor space, a double bed, plus a lock on the door and posher corridors. The standard bunk accommodation is each side of the corridor in a curtained-off area with bunks which are also put away during the day so this is your own seating area next to a window. There are shared toilet and shower facilities at end of carriage. Personally, we would not have opted for this, little privacy and very cramped, but there are plenty of other seating areas around the train where you can relax, socialise, enjoy a drink or sit in one of the viewing domes.
The Activity Coach has things to do, including beer tasting, bingo, watching a movie, plus free tea, coffee and cakes at any time of the day, just help yourself. There are three sittings for lunch and dinner. If you are on the latest sitting one day, you have first choice of time slot for the next day. Breakfast is any time between 6.30-8.30 am with a definite end time of 9.00 am. The food is excellent, beautifully presented with interesting choices on the menu. It is amazing they can produce such high quality in this environment.
The first night on the train takes a bit of getting used, not just the sounds and movement, but the fact that these change as we make stops or pass very long goods trains, and they are obliged to sound the horn when approaching a crossing point on the line.
The earlier section of the 3-day journey from Toronto goes through industrial areas and on to the vast lakes surrounded by dense woodland, much of it pine forest. Early breakfast around 6.30 is definitely the best time as the sun is rising and mist floating above the still surface of the water, though surprisingly few birds. By lunchtime, there are more wetland areas, tall grasses and lily-pads with bulrush heads ready to burst.
Travelling through Ontario towards Manitoba, the scenery is a bit more diverse now, smooth oddly-shaped boulders at the water’s edge, ducks paddling and herons swooping off as the shiny silver carriages of our noisy train approach. We were surprised at how many patches of dead, spindly trees appear along the route, strange grey shapes that stand out from the backdrop of green woodland or clear blue water.
After night 2, we reach Winnipeg and have a few hours break to explore the city. This is ‘cereal’ country so there are lots of images that celebrate this – I love the monuments at the end of the bridge. We found a little shopping mall near the park, just behind the rail station, and stopped for coffee and a snack. Although there are high-rise buildings clear against the sky, the impression is of more traditional buildings here – we would have enjoyed time to explore a bit more.
There is a definite change in scenery now as you leave Winnipeg and travel towards Saskatchewan. Vast flat plains, from bright sunshine yellow of wheat fields, new stubble and fresh blocks of hay in the distance, to bright green of grasses waving in the wind. The soil is different now, black soil around a natural dip at the edge of a field, ducks and geese paddling in a shallow pool. If you look closely along the edge between fields and the rail line, there are swathes of reeds and bulrush tips interspersed with tiny deep yellow or violet flowers.
There is a strange ‘singing’ sound of the train along this stretch of the railway, a continuous whining sound. There are lots of dirt tracks that cross the line, with no barriers, and a distant tree-lined highway just visible. As well as black cattle and calves almost hidden in shoulder-high rough grass, you can see commercial processing plants and small communities dotted around.
The last night was the worst so far, lots of bumping and banging different from before, long stretches where we didn’t move at all to let goods trains through – goods trains are around a mile long and have priority over passenger trains. There was continental breakfast and brunch on last day as we said good-bye to The Canadian and on to Jasper.
Would we do The Canadian again? Maybe not – husband said it was the trip from hell though personally I didn’t think it was that bad! Staff are lovely, helpful, brought my husband lunch to the cabin when he felt poorly, and the food is good so I enjoyed the experience. Note air conditioning means it is very cool throughout the train so wear something warm, especially in the dining car. I did manage to climb up to top bunk OK though some might find it difficult to manage. It might be better in the premium cabins, but you still have the main issue of noise and movement overnight. Maybe 2 days after Winnipeg would be a good alternative to the 3 days, but this was definitely an experience that wasn’t to be missed.
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