Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Day 5 on VIA Rail's The Canadian: Vancouver at last

Day five of my transcontinental journey began in my home province of British Columbia, with the Rocky Mountains having passed behind us in the darkness of night. Which, without any city lights, is really dark. As I lifted the shades for my glimpse of home I was greeted with -- a graffiti-emblazoned freight train in the Kamloops rail yard.

Thankfully, it would get better. This part of BC always reminds me of Montana, and as we chugged out of the yard I was greeted by the hilly, rocky, brown terrain of the BC Interior. And lots of water, from lakes to the Thompson River, which flows into the Fraser River all the way to the Lower Mainland.

I went down the train for one last breakfast -- usually its served almost on arrival to Vancouver early morning. But we're still about eight hours behind schedule, so we'd get one more meal after this. I opted for the banana pecan pancakes with real maple syrup. Inexplicably they had no pecans, but the pancakes were still banana-y and delish. And as it was my last breakfast onboard I got two proteins -- bacon AND sausage. Living the dream. Train calories don't count, right?

While bummed to have missed most of the Rockies, usually this stretch through BC would be in the dark Westbound, with arrival in Vancouver around 8AM. So to see BC in the day was an opportunity, and really was a treat.

We followed the Thompson River until it flowed into the Fraser -- these are the rivers that built BC. They spawn the salmon that supported Indigenous communities and later vibrant commercial and spots industries as well. They supported the mighty BC forestry sector, floating logs downriver in the early days.

We got to see where the Thompson flows into the Fraser, each river a different colour as they meet before eventually blending together further downstream.

For many miles, the CN and CPR tracks ran on parallel sides of the river. We went through tunnels and by water falls. We passed by Hell's Gate, where a sudden narrowing of the river due to a rock slide caused by track construction was an early ecological disaster, at a heavy cost to salmon migration. 

It was a pleasure to watch as the landscape changed from barren to forested, from brown to green, reminding me of the diversity of my home province. 

We had a bonus lunch, as this was an unplanned for meal. During our extended stop in Saskatoon the chef went foraging for extra supplies, and we were presented with an impromptu menu to our amusement.

They had lunch covered, though they told me with a laugh they'd have had a hard time if they had to serve dinner as well. Impressive though they could still provide four options, including a veg. I went with the beef on a bun -- the cheese shred was an interesting choice but overall I enjoyed it a lot. Both our dining car crews were amazing, from the chefs to the wait staff, and they all earned their optional tips.

Over lunch we made it to the Fraser Valley, passing through Chilliwack and into BC's agricultural heartland. Farm fields would give way to signs of the forestry industry coming into Surrey, crossing the Fraser into New Westminster and finally a round about route to back into Vancouver station around 4PM. 

And just like that it was over as I deboarded the train for the final time, looking back before I went to get an Uber to Horseshoe Bay and a ferry to Vancouver Island. Rushing to catch a sailing, like all good BCers do.

I'm so glad I had this experience. I'm not sure I would do it at the cash price, but if circumstances allowed I would totally do it again. Despite all my research and videos watched, it still defied my expectations.

I brought many snacks and podcasts and e-books to entertain me. Didn't need them. First of all, they fed us so much I was never hungry. Time slows down on the train. You'd linger over a meal, talking with the strangers you're sat with, not realizing nearly two hours have passed. And it's amazing how the days can fly by just enjoying the scenery out the window. 

From the lakes of cottage country to the woods of Northern Ontario, from the plains of the prairies to the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, on down along the mighty rivers of BC, Canada is a huge and varied and beautiful country.

And I met many interesting people, and managed to avoid any political debates despite the first part of every new conversation being what do you do, and the answer being I work for an MP. I didn't offer what party, and no one asked. 

I talked about clean energy with a businessperson travelling from Winnipeg to Saskatoon. 

About teaching and support for special needs teachers with a retired teacher from Northern Ontario. 

About the skilled trades with a guy from Edmonton. 

One retired gentleman told me he reminded me of a former mayor of Calgary -- I think he met Naheed Nenshi? He assured me it was a compliment and I took it as such. Must be the glasses?

I had two meals with a woman from Quebec City who has taken this trip nearly 200 times and speaks no English. We managed to communicate despite my atrocious grammar and limited vocabulary. She too generously complimented by French -- it made me more determined to do the French lessons we're offered at work.

I didn't care that we were late. As I said, it was about the journey. And what a journey it was. I'd do it again, though in a bedroom rather than the cabin for one. I wouldn't mind redoing Jasper onward in daylight.

Until then, a business trip to Toronto awaits. By train, of course. 

But next epic journey will be The Ocean to Halifax, to complete my coast to coast train journey. Hopefully one day soon. 

Can't wait.

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