Baked into the Canadian identity is the romance of travelling by rail from east to west across the vast landscape, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.
Travel east on The Ocean or west on The Canadian on VIA Rail for a slice of Canadiana.
The Ocean is the longest-running passenger train in Canadian history. Through both World Wars it shuttled overseas-bound soldiers to the port of Halifax and brought the lucky ones back to their families. It pulled new immigrants arriving at Halifax's Pier 21 into the heart of the country. These days, the overnight train completes three return trips each week between Halifax and Montreal.
In the morning, smiling passengers straggle into the dining car, drowsy after a night of rocking back and forth in the gentle sway of riding the rails. The Ocean is popular with retirees and families. Onboard staff fields all the technical questions: The length of the train, the weight of the passenger cars and top speeds when the train is barrelling flat out.
Not a mountain in sight. In fact there are just fir trees as far as the eye can see as the train slides down the coast of New Brunswick, headed for Halifax -- but that doesn't take the shine off lounging in the Ocean's glass-topped dome car. The atmosphere is relaxed, until someone starts a near stampede to the windows, shouting out: "Moose! Moose!"
FLAVOURS ON BOARD
You have your white linens on the table, attentive service, three or four courses, boffo wine and a changing scene out the dining car windows. The waiter slides a plate in front of me: Haddock so fresh they must have pulled it from the ocean at our last stop, graced with a tomato sauce infused with rosemary, garlic and capers.
VIA Rail has extended its Internet coverage so travellers aboard the Ocean can tap into free Wi-Fi in cars near the dining car. Sleeper Plus class (from mid-June to mid-October) includes meals in the dining car and an education program on the Maritimes.
A trip on The Canadian is a reminder of the vision of the man on the ten-dollar bill: Sir John A. Macdonald had the dream to connect Canada's east to west, engineering the building of a transcontinental railway. The four-day journey passes in a flash. Daytimes are spent in the dome car gawking at the scenery and taking station breaks to poke around (at Blue River, Jasper and Winnipeg). Once it becomes dark, a star-filled sky grabs all the attention.
Just outside tiny Blue River -- on The Canadian's route between Jasper and Kamloops -- our train snakes along the East Thompson River, sprayed with a fine mist from Pyramid Falls. Overhead, there is a soaring eagle -- this part of the B.C. wilderness is a favourite nesting ground. Much further to the east, bales of hay on the Prairies sit rolled and waiting for pickup, like commuters at a bus stop.
FLAVOURS ON BOARD
Save room for a bon voyage toast when beginning the route. Wake up to breakfasts of blueberry pancakes and gourmet dinners served at linen-draped tables.
Sixty per cent of the guests aboard are Canadians but you'll still hear a profusion of languages. There's a milepost sign at every mile, numbered from east to west.
NEED TO KNOW
For information and reservations, contact viarail.ca.