Taking the Train Across Canada

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Wow. Is the train ever the way to travel! So many people dream of taking a train across Canada. Yet so few seem to do it. Strong Travel Recommendation: If you have the time and ability to travel across the country, take the train! It’s the way to go in our eyes.

This post was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 


An air of excitement was tangible among passengers as we were all shown to our various modes of accommodation. Some people had private rooms, and some had berths (which are 4 inward facing seats during the day that convert to a bed at night with an upper bed folding down from the wall). And other passengers were simply riding in the standard coach class, hoping that is wasn’t going to be too packed to stretch across two seats to sleep. (That is how we will travel later on in the trip).

Luckily for the coach riders (and us too for that matter), the train from Toronto to Edmonton transported only a handful of people. It worked out wonderfully in the first day since we were able to upgrade free of charge to a lower berth from an upper one. It was easier for us as well as our attendant to sleep on the lower level as opposed to climbing awkwardly up a ladder in a confined space to sleep above an empty bed.

The accommodations were surprisingly comfortable when we looked at the seat that was to become our bed. Right down to the mints on our pillows at night we felt were traveling in the lap of luxury.

Speaking of luxury, our 3 meals each day were specially cooked by a red seal chef in a teensy kitchen serving the dining car which held 40-50 people in one sitting. In our short time working in the food service industry, it was enough to amaze us.

Every aspect of the service on the train was truly phenomenal, and the people who work on the Via One train seem to be quite passionate about it.

As an aside, Via One is a little piece of history chugging its way across the country every day. The Queen of England has been famed to travel across Canada on it, among many other well known (and well off) people.

Taking the train across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver; view of Ontario northlands
Some of Ontario’s Northland

What amazed me about Canada in less than one day is the degree to which the landscape changed. We traveled from warm snow-free cities and spring country to endless hours of thick bush, black spruce pine trees, and more than 3 feet of snow.

Pretty as it was, I was happy to be inside the warm train, and felt awe for the people who are still living in a winter wonderland with no sign of spring weather anytime soon!

And my gosh – is Ontario BIG. It took almost 30 hours on the train to leave the province.

View of the train across Canada as taken from the dome car


After an amazingly restful night of sleep during which the two of us crammed ourselves into a lower berth (wondering how the heck we would fit into the upper berth should it be required of us the second night), we awoke at an early hour we hadn’t seen in weeks, feeling refreshed.

The best part of having a berth on the train in my eyes was the novel concept of lying down in a bed, and looking out a window with scenery rushing by. The moving-bed phenomenon was really fun!

Sioux Lookout stop on the train across Canada
The Sioux Lookout – an opportunity to get off the train and stretch our legs

And after an entire night of hurtling through the dark landscape, we awoke to the same view outside we saw the sun set to the evening prior. I am shocked at the amount of trees, rock, and snow indigenous to Ontario alone. There is so much untouched middle-of-nowhere, still-cold-in-the-spring land, I am amazed. I mean, you know Canada is big; Just look at a world map. But until you actually drive, ride, or otherwise traverse across it, the gravity of this doesn’t set in. I even started to wonder why I feel the need to leave Canada and travel the world in order to explore – there is so much to explore right here!

But after hour upon hour of trees, rock, and snow, maybe once you’ve seen one part of it you’ve seen it all. I don’t know.

Sitting in the glass domed car at the back of the train, watching the cars snake around turn after turn was a favourite pastime among most of the passengers. Occasionally we encountered small signs of civilization – a road, a house that seems to have been planted in the middle of the bush with no other signs of humanity, or even a person from time to time. Most often the people passers-by were waving to the train. Such a friendly country-people we are. Of course, if I lived in some of these truly remote communities, I would probably think the semi-weekly passing of a train is a momentous event too!


I figured that 48 hours on the train would give me a ton of time to read, write, research, sleep, play games, and otherwise relax while being held captive by the train. However I barely read 30 pages of my book, wrote almost nothing, and played only a few games. Time seemed to fly on the train. Watching the world go by was like a movie in itself, and ate up hours upon hours of each day. We didn’t even get bored once on the train, which for both of us was a touch surprising given our need for constant stimulation!

Note: Years later I would ride 11,000kms of trains in Australia in 11 days straight, all to see if it was possible to get bored on a train. Here’s what happened.

But when we pulled into Edmonton, and saw Kellly’s parents waving to us as our train lumbered into the station, we were happy to be getting off. All our luggage (all 300 pounds of it) came off the train in good shape, and the weather was wonderful.

We are very excited for the next leg of our train trip (through BC) which we’ll embark on at the end of this week.

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