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  • July 29, 1999

    Train travel the way to go

    Peter Brewster writes:

    PETER
BREWSTER ABOARD THE CANADIAN: Over the past 17 years, our trips into the North have started many different ways.

    Typically, in the early days of HACC adventures, getting going involved last-minute, frantic trips to Pearson Airport at breakneck speed along the 401 to catch a plane west and north.

    There have also been a couple of long road hauls into Quebec, up the North Shore in vehicles groaning under too much gear and too many Pink Floyd tapes. But people, let me reassure you, THIS is the way to travel.

    At a civilized hour this morning, albeit in Toronto's rush-hour flood, we arrived at Union Station. Had you been there, you could have joined the suits en route to Bay St. and the secretaries in summer flimsies as they scratched their heads over three canoes, a pile of packs and our bright orange Pelican waterproof camera boxes under the clock on Front St.


    Members of the WInisk to The Bay trip mix with other passengers in the rear car of VIA Rail's The Canadian which is called the Park Car. Each of these special cars which include a dome car and a curved rear seating area is named after a Nation Park, hence the name. IN this case it's Strathcoma Park. Michael Peake photo
    Stick around, and see the startled faces on tourists as we portage our outfit through the Great Hall and down into the bowels of the station - confirming for many strangers the belief that Canadians take canoes everywhere.

    We are, you see, settled comfortably aboard Via Rail's Western Transcontinental, drinking in the beauties of the Canadian Shield and reminiscing loudly about previous trips, rapids run, loves won and lost, while revelling in the glory of dinner reservations set for 7 pm.

    Our eventual destination is the Winisk River, which we will travel to its estuary at Polar Bear Provincial Park on Hudson Bay. Before then, there will be lengthy truck ride and a float plane fly-in with Canoe Frontier.

    But for now, the Silver and Blue Class of VIA is wrapping us in comfort and style. Tonight we sleep on the train as it moves west above the North Channel of Lake Huron, past Sault Ste. Marie and on to our dropoff point at Savant Lake.

    The group this time around is the same one from two years ago, when we broke techno ground by taking a Nikon digital camera, two Apple Powerbooks, a satellite phone, and a gell cell battery with solar panels to recharge it into the bush. We canoed 350 miles down the George River in northern Quebec, shipping stories and pictures back each day to this website.

    I will detail the equipment we have along and of course the terrain we travel as we go, but already there is evidence of the speed with which technology progresses ... and the world proportionately shrinks.

    Our smiling faces and personal details appear elsewhere on the site, but in brief we are Michael, Geoffrey and David Peake, Peter Scott, Tom Stevens and myself Peter Brewster.

    We are also playing impromptu guides to a party of 36 British tourists who are bound for the west coast. It's a joy to sit in the bar car or the domed observatory and point out the features of the passing Ontario bush, throwing a bit of history for good measure. My Brit accent, smoothed somewhat after 32 years in Canada, is undergoing a revival.

    But talking to the wide-eyed visitors keeps reminding me of a story I heard years ago about two elderly English ladies taking the train across Canada to (naturally) visit with relatives in Victoria.

    After a couple of days on the train, one says to the other: "I wonder where we are?" So the second woman gets off the train at the next station and approaches a porter.

    "I say, my good man, can you tell me where we are?"

    "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan," is the ready reply.

    She gets back on the train and tells her friend: "It's no good, dear. They don't speak English!"




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