Toronto to Vancouver by train

Saga Canada

Saga’s ‘Great Canadian Train Journey’ gives you a lot more than you might expect: luxury hotel in Montreal (3 nights) with sightseeing and trip to Quebec city, in Ottawa and Toronto with city tours, the latter also including Niagara Falls. On the last evening in Toronto, you board the ‘Canadian’ train to Vancouver for 4 nights in a private cabin but there are breaks along the way, in Winnipeg and Jasper (2 nights each) with plenty to explore before boarding the next train. The trip ends in Vancouver, with a city tour included plus optional excursions.

Day 1

Union Station in Toronto, it’s 8 pm and we have just checked in. Now it’s a 2 hour wait until departure, plenty of time to reflect on Ontario’s capital, the heart-stopping  panorama from the top of the CN tower, the trip to the islands, the Niagara Falls and more. But tonight a new adventure is about to start.

We leave an hour late -nothing unusual  as freight trains have priority on the single track-  and in Sleeper Plus class, somewhere between Prestige and Economy, I am introduced to my cabin, a cosy ‘roomette’ with a pull down bed, washbasin and loo. You can’t use the latter at night as the bed stretches right over it but there are public amenities along the corridor and a shower with changing space.  Double rooms have bunk beds, I’m told, and are more spacious. I close the door and rocked like a baby, I fall asleep.

Day 2

The CanadianWe are travelling on the ‘Canadian’ run by Via Rail and in the morning, I can’t wait to explore our home for the next 24 hours. First the dining car with à la carte, waiter service, gourmet meals plus all day tea, coffee and snacks and a chance to make friends in a relaxed ambience. Then I check out the day’s activities, blind wine tasting, bingo, souvenir shopping, beer tasting, talks about the journey, but the glass-domed observation car keeps me glued to my seat. I have never seen so many trees and ponds and lakes, fringed with bracken and patches of snow. Even after dark I can still make out the tall silhouettes of firs and silver birch marching across the land.

Days 3-4

Winnipeg; bridge over the Red River and Musueum of Human RightsI wake up to a rose-tinted dawn and it feels like another country, flat open land stretching as far as you can see, dotted with settlements and the occasional ribbon of trees. We have reached the Prairies and pull into Winnipeg at 8 am. We are stopping for two nights before boarding the next train (the Canadian runs every other day). Winnipeg claims to be Canada’s sunniest city and I soon fall under the spell as we tour the Museum of Human Rights, the zoo and its ‘Journey to Churchill’ where I come nose to nose with a rescued polar bear and the ‘Forks’, a lively place at the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red River with outdoor cafés, street artists and an irresistible food market.

Days 5-7

Back on the train in time for lunch and all being well, a 26 hour journey to Jasper in the Rockies. I love mountains but for now, it’s all cattle and crops, then valleys, wooded hills, meandering rivers and when we leave Manitoba for Saskatchewan tell tales of potash and uranium mining. I sleep reasonably well and wake up to rain on wheat fields sprinkled with multi-coloured beehives. Athabasca Falls, RockiesWe stop frequently, slowed down by goods trains – over 200 carriages long, including double-deckers- and the empty but heavy Rocky Mountaineer coach we are pulling on its way to Vancouver. We reach Jasper in Alberta 13 hours late, at 3 am. The moon is shining on the snow-covered peaks and I feel on top of the world. We have only a day and a half to take it all in but we certainly make the most of it, the Athabasca glacier , the river, the waterfalls, the Maligne canyon, the lakes and the pretty Alpine resort nestling among it all at just over 1,000 metres.  There’s white water rafting for the brave and we spot big horns, elks and a couple of brown bears.

Days 7-10

Last call for the early afternoon train, crawling past the Pyramid waterfall and Mount Robson, at 3954 metres, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. By morning, British Columbia greets us with more snowy tops, steep slopes, tunnels and the mighty Fraser river winding around blueberry farms and orchards. Victoria on Vancouver IslandBy mid-afternoon, we are in Vancouver, wandering in Stanley Park and the fashionable Gastown district, named after the 19th century Yorkshire seaman who opened the first bar. Then it’s a full day on Vancouver Island where we explore the dazzling Butchart Gardens and the quaint BC capital of Victoria. Next morning, we’re up early and ready to go. To the airport? Not just yet for how could we miss the Capilano suspension bridge and its treetop walk or the cable car ride to Grouse Mountain still covered in ice and snow?

We had been promised the trip of a lifetime and from the changing scenery and cities to the slow 4,466 km train journey, we wouldn’t have done it any other way.

More information

This was a Saga trip which took in Montreal (+Quebec city) and Ottawa before the train journey from Toronto.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays

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Solange Hando

Award-winning travel writer & member of BGTW

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