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MY Train TravelS In Canada - 2012 and 2013
High Class Trains In High Class Scenery

Some trains have such classic style, we forget how old they are, like the "Canadian" stainless steel streamliner with mid-train dome-cars, the tail end dome-observation-club car, and a diner, coaches or sleepers tucked in between. This post-war beauty is still running, mostly for international tourists, not so much for domestic inter-city travel as in its earlier days.

This trio included extensive visits to Expo-Rail Museum in Montreal and the Winnipeg Railway Museum. Photos are included on my Railroad Museums and Heritage Parks section of this website.

The "Rocky Mountaineer" is much newer, with bi-level observation-dining cars rescued from Alaska, plus some staff sleeping cars tacked on the end. Passengers sleep in real beds in real hotels.

There are some fine train-watching in Canada too, as noted at the end of this page.

Scroll on down to The "Canadian", Memories of Montreal, The "Rocky Mountaineer Adventure", Train Watching at Jasper, and Dining Cars at Lake Louise.

THE "Canadian" - 2012
Edmonton - Saskatoon - Winnipeg - Toronto, and Return

This trip was taken in September 2012 from west to east and back again 10 days later. It did not include the Vancouver to Edmonton route as that was planned for 2013 on the Mountaineer.

The trip was continued along the St. Lawrence River to Kingston, then to Ottawa, Canada's capital city, on the afternoon first-class Via Rail commuter train, complete with wine service. In all, a very relaxing four day journey.

The "Canadian" has been a world-class, world-famous streamline passenger train initiated by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1955, using Budd-built stainless steel rolling stock and General Motors E7 diesels. Although the cars are more than 65 years old, they are still clean, tight, and shiny - inside and out. Comfort, fittings, food, and staff are top of the line. Since 1990, trains are operated by Via Rail on Canadian National rail lines.

GM's "Train of Tomorrow" of 1947 became the inspiration for the "Canadian", when it toured North America. GM's demonstrator train, in blue and silver, consisted of four custom built Pullman cars (coach, diner, sleeper, observation) each with an "Astra-Dome" observation deck above the lower level of the car. Now commonplace, a dome car in 1947 was a novelty..

My father and I visited the "Train of Tomorrow" in Montreal in 1949. It was impressively huge for a 9 year old. And I didn't get to ride its Canadian cousin until 63 years later.

Originally run from Montreal and Toronto through Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary / Banff to Vancouver by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was transferred to Via Rail in 1978 and re-routed to Canadian National tracks in 1990. This made the route longer and slower, running Toronto  to Winnipeg via northern Ontario (instead of the Lake Superior route), then to Saskatoon and Edmonton / Jasper to Vancouver. Many have never forgiven Via Rail for this politically motivated change, as the scenery and roadbed was far better on the southern route.

In season, the train boasts 21 cars 3 times a week and is booked well in advance. It covers 4466 km (2775 miles) in about three and a half days. This is a full 9 hours slower than the original 71 hour schedule of 1955. Freight trains have priority on the tracks so the average speed is low (33 mph) and there are frequent stops to pass opposing traffic.

I rode the "Canadian" in September 2012 to celebrate my 50th anniversary of graduating from McGill University in Montreal. The train leaves Edmonton, Alberta eastbound at midnight, so there is not much to see until Saskatoon next morning. Prairie scenes and potash mines make up the ride through Saskatchewan to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Here we change locomotives and service the train, then head into northern Ontario for two nights en route to Toronto, Ontario. Fifty tiny towns, 50,000 tiny lakes,  and a few billion trees later, orchards, dairy farms, and the suburbs of southern Ontario finally show up. It is probably the roughest, wettest roadbed in the country, and yes, it's boring. A change of train and a first class coach with excellent food and unlimited alcohol fueled us on to Ottawa, Canada's capitol city, and my original home town. After a couple of days sight-seeing in Ottawa, we drove to Montreal to check out old haunts, old schools, and old residences of my boyhood days.

The food and service on the "Canadian" are five-star and the ride in the Skyline dome car is superb, even on the rough roadbed. We slept in a deluxe double berth cabin in a "Manor" series sleeper eastbound and in a similar unit in a "Park" series observation car on the way home. In 2014, some of the deluxe cars are being converted to "super-deluxe" -- the various bedrooms will be much larger, so fewer passengers per car, at twice the price (or more). The last three cars of the train will be super-deluxe, so the peasant-class will not get into the tail-end lounge. They will have their own Skyline lounge.

The original "Canadian" on CPR tracks along the Bow River, west of Calgary, Alberta, from a
photo by Nicholas Morant


<== Replica of the derrick that drilled the famous Leduc #1 oilwell at Devon, Alberta. Oil, gas, grain, cattle, and lumber are big business in Alberta.

          A potash mine near Saskatoon. Potash, oil, grain, and cattle
                are the backbone of Saskatchewan's economy.


Head-end from the middle dome car, eastbound at Rivers, Manitoba   Trees in Northern Ontario

 Our destinations: Parliament Buildings in Ottawa ..... then on to downtown Montreal by car

Heading home: the ornate Winnipeg Station               Reboarding "Banff Park" after a 4 hour stopover

Westbound from the dome of "Banff Park"          Truss bridge over Saskatchewan River in Qu'Appele Valley

Sunset from "Banff Park" dome -- later, moonrise -- one more night in the sleeper before reaching Edmonton

1960's poster for the trip I never took. The CPR's "Canadian" was moved to much less scenic CNR tracks before I got around to riding that train. Lesson learned: Quit procrastinating!

Montreal Memories - McGill 50 Year Reunion - 2012
I had not been back to Montreal since Expo 67. In 2012, Sonja and I took the Via Rail "Canadian" from Edmonton to Toronto, continued on to Ottawa, then drove with my brother and his wife to Montreal to see our old homes, schools, and other haunts. Amazingly, they were much as I remembered, with little change or decline. Old Montreal has been beautifully restored, a far-cry from the grubby, hectic harbour front of my youth. Faster highways, the Metro, and lack of English signs are the only outward signs of progress, but the downtown traffic and pedestrians are still frantic. Commuter trains are streamlined diesels instead of steamers, but when it rains you can still smell the coal dust in the ballast.

Art deco sign at Chalet BBQPrevious commitments meant I could not attend the McGill Engineering "Class of 62" 50th anniversary reunion in October, but Bob Smythe, an old school chum, escorted me around McGill, commenting knowledgably on all the changes and additions. The lower campus still feels like the refuge it has always been. New and renovated buildings push outward on the perimeter. Activists are still active, freshmen looking lost still troop the pathways. Afterward, we checked out Westmount and Mont Royal lookouts to compare the skyline with old postcard views from the 1950's. Later that day, we relived the family outing to Chalet BBQ on Sherbrooke St West -- menu, flavour, location, and staff (or their clones) unchanged since 1944. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".

Montreal Tramways #1 "Gold Car" open-air observation streetcar at ExpoRail Museum, near MontrealThe best memory brought back in force was the ride on the "Gold Car", an open-air sightseeing streetcar at ExpoRail (Canada's Railway Museum) that used to run in summer in Montreal. This was our favourite outing when we were kids in the 1940's and 50's. The ride, and the tour of the Museum, was escorted by Steve Cheasley, the museum President, who generously provided a personalized commentary on the background and significance of each exhibit. It was a wonderful  re-visit to the railways of my youth, all the way back to my grandparents early days, with some of the best restorations in the world on display.

I thought I would feel more nostalgic, even sad, to see these memories brought to life again, but it was - thankfully - really pleasant. They say "you can't go home again", but this trip was pretty close. Like the airline pilots say before landing in New Zealand, "Set your watches back 40 years" -- Montreal is in that time zone too.

A few maples were just beginning to redden, the weather was clear and mild, and the train trips across half the continent were very restful. Good food and good companions made this a vacation to remember.



Walking the beach at Constance Bay, near Ottawa          Locks on Rideau Canal, downtown Ottawa

Our house on Strathearn Avenue, Montreal West

Montreal West Hardware, where I worked as a teen   Montreal West High School, now Royal West Academy

Royal West Academy                                                    Streamline commuter train

Montreal West Station

"The" Elizaeth Ballentynegrade school                         Patricia Avenue fourplex in Notre Dame de Grace

The 1944 apartment building on Decelles in Cote Des Neiges. The fountains and statues are more recent.

My maternal grandparents house on Claremont Avenue in Westmount

View from Westmount Lookout                                     St Joseph's Oratory on Queen Mary Road

View from Mount Royal Lookout 2012         McGill University Arts Building from Roddick Gate

Westbound: Banff - Kamloops - Vancouver

This story recounts the westbound leg  of a trip in June 2013 on the Rocky Mountaineer running through spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The basic ride is from Calgary / Banff to Vancouver or Edmonton / Jasper to Vancouver (or reverse).

We travelled Banff - Vancouver - Jasper, with Brewster tour bus from Jasper back to Banff where our car had been parked. This route is 5 days on the train with stops to overnight at hotels so the mountains can be seen in daylight. It also gives 15 gourmet meals and a seemingly infinite supply of snacks and drinks.

Well that was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature and  a few technical problems made the trip a lot more interesting than usual. None of these issues were the fault of the Mountaineer trains or the RM team, who coped extremely well. It is also highly unlikely that our series of adventures will ever be repeated.



The Rocky Mountaineer (RM) is the other world-class, world-famous streamline passenger train and has been operating in Canada since 1990. The trains are privately owned and run on Canadian Pacific or Canadian National tracks in Alberta and British Columbia, and more recently into the state of Washington. They carry about 100,000 passengers a year from late April to early October. Photos on this page by Sonja.

Rocky Mountaineer route map

RM's Gold Leaf service uses custom-built "UltraDome" double deck rolling stock, lead by rebuilt ex-CNR GP 40-2 locomotives. The upper deck seats 72 under a full glass dome, with dining for 36 at each seating in the lower level. They were built by Colorado Car Company, and are identical to those on the Denali Park line in Alaska. The cars have a kitchen at the front end, with the bar and snack area above, and an outdoor balcony/observation deck at the rear, which doubles as the entrance to the car. This means the train must be turned after each trip to get everything facing forward again. In Gold Leaf, try to get a seat mid to rear of the car - it is noisy up front with all that kitchen and bar activity. Crew cars are tacked on the end of the train so you can't see back along the track from the balcony, even if you are on the last dome car.

Silver Leaf service uses single level dome cars with meals served at the seat, airplane style. Red Leaf service has no domes but good picture windows. These are refurbished equipment from CNR's 1950 to 1980's streamliner, the "Trans Continental".

RM trains stop for the night so that scenery is mostly viewed in daylight. Comfort, fittings, food, and staff are top of the line. The RM crew tell good stories and provide accurate history and local lore without being too intrusive.

Gold Leaf UltraDome                      Silver Leaf Dome                          Red Leaf Coach

Whistler Dome                     Whistler Coach
Photos from RM website

Like Via's "Canadian", the trains run on CPR or CNR tracks following or meeting 120+ cars of freight. Rail Traffic Control in Calgary does a good job of guiding trains to "running" meets to reduce downtime along the line, but breakdowns on the freights are frequent, so each trip on the RM is an adventure, some more so than others, as will be seen below. Delays are not usually the fault of the RM system, and the staff cope with delays very well; food and drink soothes the savage in most of beasts.

The Train to Nowhere: Banff - Spiral Tunnels - Banff
Our trip was definitely an adventure. It began in mid-June and didn't end until mid-September. Read on to find out why.

We planned a full circle tour of RM routes starting with Banff to Vancouver, returning via Whistler, Quesnel and Jasper. The adventure began at Banff when the RM failed to show due to a broken coupler on the freight in front of it. After shuttling the bad-order car to a side track in Banff, the freight trundled past, followed by our Mountaineer. After loading 550+ passengers, we headed out through the Rockies. Breakfast was served at noon as we passed Lake Louise. Still climbing through the great scenery, we crossed the Great Divide at 5332 feet elevation and stopped before entering the Spiral Tunnels. It soon became clear that the freight had jumped the track inside the tunnel.

Our hotel in Banff, the Rimrock Resort                   

After a 3 or 4 hour wait, our train backed downhill to Lake Louise where we stopped for the lunch (now supper) service. Several more hours passed, then we backed all the way to Banff, amid considerable frivolity from the 26 Ausies onboard our car. The Glenfiddich may have helped. This may be the longest backward passenger train ride ever undertaken (47 miles), but the Guinness Book of World Records has no category for this feat.

Meanwhile, back in the office, the RM staff found hotel rooms in Banff for the entire train load and we disembarked 12 hours after our departure, right back where we started. RM offered a cash rebate or a "free" two-day trip as compensation for the delay, even though it wasn't their fault.


Banff Station - a Canadian Heritage Station

Waiting ......                                             The Cause of it all

The next morning found us all onboard 11 RM buses, hastily brought in overnight from Kamloops, to get us to Kamloops. These were old units with 4-speed manual transmissions and a 50 foot linkage. The drivers had been up most of the night getting to Banff and were used to short hauls in Kamloops from hotel to train and back. The gear shifting skills on a few were not up to highway speeds and Rocky Mountain hills. By the time we reached the Park Bridge, frantic radio chatter between drivers, and the smell of burning brake shoes, were very noticeable.

Sharp-eyed bus riders noticed our train exiting the Spiral Tunnels en route to Kamloops -- but we were not onboard. The tunnel was now clear and we still had 7 hours to go to catch up.

RM arranged a lunch and museum tour at Three Valley Gap, BC, and a stop at Craigellachie, BC, where the Last Spike on the first Canadian transcontinental railway was driven.

A 1922 0-4-0 Mining Locomotive at Three Valley Gap Museum

Craigellachie BC, location of the Last Spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway Nov 1885

Kamloops Train Yard: Snowplow and MOW Crew Car

Kamloops Yard

We boarded our train again early morning and headed through the spectacular Thompson and Fraser Valleys to Vancouver. This is the most scenic section of the trip because of the steepness of the valley walls and dozens of tunnels and bridges. The intricate track work and bridges on both sides of the rivers speaks to the difficulty the original track layers faced in the mid-1880's. We arrived "on-time" but a day late. So was the train really "on time"? We missed a day touring Vancouver, so I think it was really late.

On arrival, we got checked-in, walked the Vancouver waterfront, rode to the top of the lookout on the Harbour Centre Tower, and feasted on a wonderful Thai dinner on Hastings St. The calendar was approaching the longest day of the year so there was plenty of daylight to see the sights. Most RM trips don't arrive much before 6 PM so it pays to plan for those long daylight hours.

Our train on the Thompson River west of Kamloops                           Thompson River Valley

                 Thompson River Valley                         Confluence of Thompson and Fraser Rivers

"The Frog" on the Fraser River                          Our Train crossing the Fraser River

Bridges over the mighty Fraser River                            Pedestrian Bridge Over Hell's Gate

More Hell's Gate on the Fraser River

Vancouver skyline from Harbour Center                      Old CPR Station downtown Vancouver

Ships in Vancouver Harbour

Across the Water: VICTORIA and Butchart Gardens
We  had arranged for a bus tour of Vancouver's North Shore, which we had to drop due to our day-late arrival, and a tour to Victoria and Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Although RM promised to rearrange bus reservations for us, this didn't happen. The hotel concierge fixed us up and we boarded a Pacific Coach tour that was excellent. The driver was knowledgeable, spoke well, and loved his work. While on the ferry, we had breakfast, watched the Gulf Islands pass by, then drove straight to the Gardens.

World famous from the turn of the 20th century, this is the "must-see" visit in British Columbia. You could spend days here if they would let you. Too soon, we re-boarded the bus for a tour of Victoria's old architecture, the Empress Hotel, and BC's Legislature buildings. A stroll and snack on the water front completed a great visit on the Island. Back to the ferry and late to bed - a long but very pleasant day.

One of the many Gulf Islands                   Fishing boats ply the waves

The Other Ferry Boat                                       Butchart Garden Entrance

____________The Snail Fountain                                The Original Garden In The Quarry

The Famous Rose Garden                                              One of 400+ Rose Varieties

The Empress Hotel, completed in 1908                                          BC Legislature Buildings

Victoria's Inner Harbour


THE "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER" Adventure - 2013
Eastbound: Vancouver - Whistler - Quesnel - Jasper

This phase of the trip was more relaxed - no freight train or maintenance problems obstructing the route. Until the floods and mudslides ended the final bus ride from Jasper to Banff. Nature can throw some interesting curve balls.

Sea to Sky: VANCOUVER - Whistler
This is a short half-day Rocky Mountaineer ride on single-level dome cars. Breakfast is served at your seat, lunch upon arrival at the Squamish Ceremonial Center. The views over Vancouver and English Bay as you climb from sea level are spectacular. Container ships and ferries attest to the vigorous economy of western Canada, as do the snazzy homes along the shore of the Pacific. A native drummer chants stories of his ancestors during the trip.

The Museum at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center gives further insights into the local culture. Everyone is encouraged to learn how to make rope from strips of birch bark.

Squamish drummer onboard the Whistler Mountaineer

The rails were originally laid by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) but they ran mostly North and not very far East. Later taken over by BC Rail and nearly abandoned, the tracks are now well used by CNR to haul lumber to Vancouver for export overseas. Whistler was the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics -- hard to image on a sunny summer day. Surrounded by massive peaks in all directions, it must have been something to see in the deep snows of the Pacific Coast Range in winter.

There is much more to learn here that is not yet in the "official" history books..


Lion's Gate Bridge                                             English Bay

Gulf Island Ferry                                              Mountains from the UltraDome

                 Roiling waters abound                    Ceremonial Bear at Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center at Whistler:  Ceremonial Mask and Eagle

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center at Whistler:  Dugout Canoe and Ceremonial Dahl Sheep

UP The Fraser River: Whistler - Quesnel
Following the Fraser River almost due North from Whistler on CNR tracks, we reverse the route of the early 18th and 19th century explores who connected the west to the east during the early fur trade, setting the stage for settlement and industry. The main industry here is logging and lumber. Sawmills and huge log decks dot the countryside, some abandoned, others obviously very busy. Cattle and sheep are here too, along with elk, deer, bear, and eagles.

Meeting the freight                 Original settlers cabin, early 1900's

Upstream on the Fraser River                                  Our train in the rain                 

             The Cottonwood Bridge                                Quesnel fireplugs are people too

Wilderness: Quesnel - Jasper
This is definitely bush country - trees as far as the eye can see. Still lots of lumbering and stockpiles of logs. We skirt the city of Prince George as we turn east to head for Jasper. It takes a while to climb the long steady grade to the Continental Divide near Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 9281 feet. Large enough to create its own weather, we see most of it, with just a wisp of cloud at the top. The Yellow Head Pass at 3711 feet is the lowest pass through the Canadian Rockies, making Mount Robson appear even more prominent.

At Jasper, we bid farewell to our RM crew and are escorted to Jasper Park Lodge, renowned since the 1920's as "The" place to stay at Jasper. There is no real "lodge"; it is a series of 2, 3, and 4 unit log cabins set in the woods. The main building houses restaurant, lounge, spa, pool, and other amenities. The golf course is well known too.

Many famous movie stars have stayed here at some point in their careers, as well as a few US Presidents. So if you want to sleep in the same bed as Marilyn Monroe, you can do it here. She won't be there with you
of course.

               Elk outside Quesnel                                  Bridge over the upper Fraser River

                    A "Grand" Canyon view                           Ancient Lift Bridge from the paddle-wheel days

Another view of the Lift Bridge                                 Mount Robson 9281 feet



Jasper's Heritage Station and the 1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive #6015 on display


1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive #6015 on display

Elk downtown Jasper                          Lake at Jasper Park Lodge

Cabins at Jasper Park Lodge                                     The only bears we saw were stuffed

Our patio at the Lodge                                     Elk at the Lodge

ROAD CLOSED: JASPER - Columbia ice fields - JASPER
This trip with a Brewster tour bus should have taken us back to our car at Banff so we could drive home. It started out well on a cloudy morning.

 On the Athabasca Glacier

We stopped at Athabasca Falls, took the boat trip on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island, and took the Ice-Bus up the glacier at the Columbia Ice Fields. This bus is amazing, with wheels that are 10 to 12 feet high. Built by Foremost Industries in Calgary, 11 buses shuttle tourists up and down the glacier with a stop on the ice to check out your walking skills. I had been onboard similar flat-bed versions of the Foremost units, without the comfy passenger seats, 35 years earlier while working in the Canadian Arctic Islands - brought back some old memories.

Meanwhile, south of us, all hell was breaking loose. It had been raining heavily for three days in the Bow Valley, where Banff is located. A mud slide blocked the road south of the ice fields. The bus driver hastily gathered us up and headed back to Jasper in case more slides trapped us. Back at Jasper Park Lodge, we learned from the TV that major floods had washed out the TransCanada Highway east of Banff and had isolated Canmore and several other communities. No wonder the bus driver was anxious; his family lived in Canmore.

Calgary, a city of a million people, was forced to evacuate over 100,000 residents and all downtown office towers were flooded and out of power for nearly a week afterward. Most Calgary residents were back in their homes a few days or weeks later but some are not going to see a "home" for a year or more.

The 13,000 residents of aptly named High River were out of their homes for many weeks and many were still living in temporary accommodation a year later. Some have nothing to return to. Only 4 people were lost to the flood waters. It has been reported as the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.

Brewster paid the extra night at the Lodge, but no one could predict how long the roads would be closed, so we rented a car and drove home by a northern route untouched by floods. It was 4 more days before the Jasper to Banff road was re-opened and we drove the rental to pick up our car at Banff. The town was a ghostly sight with no tourists; the main highway to Calgary would remain closed for another 6 days.

Maligne Canyon                                                 Medicine Lake

Maligne Lake boat dock                             Maligne Lake Tea House

Cruise ship on Maligne Lake                               Brazeau Icefield at south end of Maligne Lake

Spirit Island                                                Waterfall into Maligne Lake

Athabasca Falls                          Columbia Ice Field "Ice-Buggy"

===== Ice-Buggy Road to Athabasca Glacier                  An original Bombardier snow-mobile from the 1960's

Filling In The Gaps: Banff - Kamloops - Jasper - Banff

We had missed the train ride from Banff to Kamloops via the Spiral Tunnels in June 2013 due to a freight train derailment in the Spiral Tunnels west of Banff and Lake Louise. We still wanted to see that portion of the route. RM management had offered a free two-day trip as compensation, so we took them up on it. After ignoring our emails for two months, RM finally agreed to honour their promises. It wasn't exactly free as we paid for the hotels.

Since we had done the rest of the complete circle tour earlier, we really didn't want to repeat the Kamloops to Vancouver leg then fly home, so we asked to do Banff - Kamloops - Jasper instead. This is not a standard two-day trip but RM agreed. Thanks folks!
It was a great trip, with its own share of misadventure. Bear in mind it is now September and the daylight is a lot shorter than in June.

It started inauspiciously. Two hours late leaving Banff due to freight congestion near Calgary, we stopped again (guess where!) at the entrance to the Spiral Tunnels. This time it was a work crew in the tunnel that couldn't get its act together. Three hours later we were finally on our way but made up little time following the freight train ahead of us. By Revelstoke, it was full dark so we missed seeing the lakes around Salmon Arm and the Shuswap, and the arid semi-desert approaching Kamloops. To soothe us, the chefs prepared a very credible supper from unused lunch items. And the wine continued to flow.

Close on 1 AM we hit the hay at a downtown Kamloops hotel. We could sleep in next morning but the rest of the passengers and crew were up at dawn to move on to Vancouver.

The Spiral Tunnels
The Spiral Tunnels on the CPR mainline, the cause of the cancelled trip in June and the delay on the replacement trip in September, are world famous and not normally a source of problems for train crews. The complex track design is shown here to illustrate the interesting sightseeing possibilities of the route.

Map of CPR Spiral Tunnels -- Upper Spiral is at bottom of map, Lower Tunnel is near top of map. Each tunnel drops the elevation by about 50 feet, reducing the grade from 4.5% on the "Big Hill" down to a more manageable 2.2%. Kicking Horse River is at the left and Trans-Canada Highway (#1) crosses the CPR twice between the two tunnels. The road on the left goes north to Takakkaw Falls. All this is just west of the Continental Divide on the border between Alberta and British Columbia. Lake Louise AB is off-screen to the top right and Field BC is off-screen to the lower left. The upper tunnel is under Mt Stephen, the lower under Mt Ogden. Image source: http://yourrailwaypictures.com/Tunnels/

Lake Louise Heritage Station                        Ballast Spreader parked at Banff

Lower Spiral Tunnel from Upper Spiral                                  Kicking Horse River            

Old CPR Station at Field, BC                                              Park Bridge from the Mountaineer

                                                                                          Impressive waterfall west of Field, BC               Revelstoke to Kamloops, too dark to see

A Very Fine Day: Kamloops
Downtown Kamloops is a lovely old-fashioned town of stone and brick buildings with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. Light traffic, quiet buses, and lots of heritage buildings to look at made a very restful day. Riverside Park between downtown and the North Thompson River includes the railway station and a heritage park, a Japanese Garden, riverside beach, swimming pool, water slide, tennis, lawn bowling, and music nightly in the band shell during the summer.

The 1912 vintage class M-3-d steam locomotive ex-CNR 2-8-0 Consolidation #2141, now called "Spirit of Kamloops", was out of service and out of sight undergoing a boiler rebuild. Some antique rolling stock was on display.

Train watching in downtown Kamloops                            Railway bridge over Thompson River

Fort Kamloops history                                      Kamloops Station

Kamloops Station                                     Snowplow at the ready

Kamloops Heritage Railway cars

Kamloops Heritage Railway Logo                                          A strange caboose

Kamloops famous "Red Bridge"

up the Thompson River: Kamloops - jasper
This leg of the journey is very reminiscent of the Fraser River route to Quesnel, with forestry and cattle operations spread across the landscape. Skirting the edge of a river that once had paddle wheel steamers, the train climbs slowly to the same climax - Mount Robson. This time it was pretty cloudy beyond the halfway mark. Across the Continental Divide to Jasper was uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time to walk the streets in daylight.

North Thompson River, named after David Thompson, who walked, canoed, and rode horseback for more than 50,000 kilometers to survey and map most of western Canada and northwest USA during the late 1700's

The Mountaineer is turned on a wye here and Via's Canadian spends a couple of hours at the station nearly every day. A neat 2-foot gauge mine engine (decorated as CNR #9) lives in front of the fire hall, as well as the CNR 6015 on display at the station. These plus the hourly freights give a train fan lots to watch. If you are here for the mountains, there's a gondola to the top of The Whistler, the boat ride on Maligne Lake, the trip onto Athabasca Glacier, and much more. Brewster Bus Lines will give you a grand tour.

The 2-foot gauge mining locomotive at the Jasper Fire Hall

Rear end and driver details

Cab interior showing firebox and pressure gauge

THE ADVenture Ends
Next day, we took the Brewster commuter bus via Lake Louise to Banff, grabbed our car and drove home. The adventure was over, 102 days after it had begun, and we had seen Banff and Jasper enough for one year. Still want to see Revelstoke to Kamloops, some day, maybe.

Advice: If you want great scenery, fine dining, and super service, try the Rocky Mountaineer. If you want "on-time", go to Switzerland. It's beautiful there too.

Jasper the Bear - part of Jasper National Park since 1948

Variety In a Mountain Paradise

Jasper, Alberta is only 4 or 5 hours from my home, but we only get there every 10 years or so. A million or more tourists visit Jasper and Banff National Parks every year. Once you have seen the mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, bears, elk, and moose, you have seen it all -- except of course for the changes of the seasons, the previously untried hiking trails, and the variety of TRAINS that pass through the area.

On a long weekend in 2003, we stayed at Pine Bungalows with my family from Ottawa, and toured all the usual sights. During the evenings, we drank some wine while an elk fell in love with our little SUV, repeatedly setting off the car alarm with his amorous advances. True story!

Next day in downtown Jasper, we saw the arrival of three great trains. the Via Rail Canadian was on its way to Vancouver from Toronto, changed crews, and moved on after a two hour layover. In a stroke of pure good luck, the Rocky Mountaineer and American Orient Express also arrived, departing the following day. These plus a couple of static displays rounded out a great train watching weekend among some of the finest scenery in the world.

Although it runs on cables instead of steel rails, the Jasper SkyTram is worth the trip. Leaving from its base station just south of Jasper townsite, it climbs to the top of Whistlers Mountain in 7 minutes.

On a clear day, you can see forever, and it is windy ALL the time. Boardwalks lead to the observatory and a short walk on near level ground takes you to the peak of the mountain. It is named for the whistling marmots that pervade the place (not for the artist whose mother is so famous).

"Old #9" 0-4-0 MINING Locomotive
There are two static locomotive displays in Jasper: one is a little 2-foot gauge 0-4-0 mine engine at the Jasper Fire Hall (was at the CNR station  when these photos were taken).

Some views of "Old Number 9" in front of Jasper's CNR station in 1994. It is a 2 foot gauge mine locomotive maintained by retired CNR employees. It never ran on CNR tracks, of course, and has been on display for many years. It was relocated to the Jasper Visitor Center across the street from the CNR Station sometime after these photos were taken. It is now at the Jasper Fire Hall.

More views of "Old #9".


CNR  #6015 4-8-2 Locomotive
The other static display is a cosmetically restored 1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive #6015 on display at the Jasper station.

CNR #6015 on display at Jasper station, a
1932 CNR class U-1-4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive.

Via Rail #6444 parked in the Jasper Yard.

Miscellaneous equipment in the Jasper Yard.

Rocky Mountaineer in Jasper, 2003
The Mountaineer arrived from Kamloops, disembarked its passengers, turned on the wye, and prepared for its departure next morning for Kamloops and Vancouver. This happens 3 days a week in summer. Freights with 120+ cars are much more frequent, as this is one of the two mainlines from China and Japan to eastern Canada. Double stacks of containers and triple deck auto carriers are pretty common sights.


Rocky Mountaineer after turning on the Jasper wye, showing the old paint scheme. We travelled all the RM routes in 2013.

Rocky Mountaineer passenger cars -- old paint scheme.

More 2003 views of the RM.

American Orient Express in Jasper, 2003
What was special that day was the arrival of the American Orient Express, a 20 car luxury train that showed up unexpectedly. It usually ran in the USA on a few select routes and this trip to Jasper was probably a one-of-a-kind offering. Unlike the Mountaineer, in which passengers are housed in hotels overnight, the AOE has vintage Pullman sleeping cars. Passengers disembarked into buses for a two day tour of the area. The train was split in half, turned in two parts on the wye, and parked for the duration.

The train had very fancy interiors (including palm trees that could be seen through the windows), with lounge, diner, and observation cars. In later years, there were dome observation cars as well. Sadly, the AOE died in bankruptcy in August 2008 and the equipment sold by auction in December 2008.

Amtrak diesels at the head end of the American Orient Express. These were led by a CNR pilot diesel, seen in the top photo. That crew provided the local intel needed to travel this mountain route. Railway security shooed us away, preventing further photos. Must have been some fancy VIPs on board.

Some Images From The AOE Website

Inside the deluxe suite                       Dining car interior             

      Upstairs in the dome car                     Golden suite interior

In the Grand-sleeper                           In the lounge car                    

       Observation car                                  Parlour suite

Single sleeper                              Grand single sleeper                     Pullman sleeper

Presidential suite

Not Forgotten

Lake Louise, located near the peak of the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park, is only 2 hours from my home, but we only get there every 5 years or so. A million or more tourists visit Banff and Jasper National Parks every year -- maybe that's what keeps us closer to home. If you get close, you may have time to see a variety of (mostly) freight trains or grab a meal in a variety of good eateries.

You can see the "Rocky Mountaineer" pass through Lake Louise Station  every few days in season. The trans-continental streamliner, CPR's "Canadian", last ran through here in 1990, at which time the train was transferred to Via Rail and CNR tracks through Edmonton and Jasper. It still runs 20+ passenger cars 3 days a week.

The Station Restaurant is a historic treasure located beside the CPR railway tracks, next to the Bow River in Lake Louise. Built in 1910 as the CPR depot, the Station is the oldest building in Lake Louise. Along with Banff and Jasper stations, this building was granted Canadian Heritage Station status in 1991. The building was restored in 1994.

In addition to the station building that is the main restaurant, there are two elegant dining cars named "Delamere" (built 1925) and "Killarney" (1906). There were several official cars named "Killarney" on the CPR over the years. This one is supposed to be CPR #2, once the private car of Lord Shaughnessy, president of the CPR from 1899 to 1918. Side Note: "Killarney" was also painted a dark green colour used on CPR Express cars, instead of the much more common Tuscan red.

              Lake Louise Station ==>

In the late 1990's, we were served a very fine gourmet meal in "Delamere" and were given a tour of "Killarney". Opulence abounded in every corner.
Fancy china and cutlery, even fancier woodwork on the interior paneling, made for a luxurious evening.

Today "Delamere" can be booked for special functions only. seating up to 26 diners. The main restaurant features several dining rooms and a huge double hearth fireplace.

Here are photos of the two dining cars gleaned from the Internet. My photos follow.

CPR Dining Car "Delamere" at Lake Louise Station Restaurant. Steps are for VIP diners.

CPR Business Car "Killarney", with observation platform, at Lake Louise Station Restaurant

These photos of the restaurant in the CPR  cars are from a trip in the late 1990's with my brother and his wife.

Above and Below: CPR dining car "Delamere" at Station Restaurant, Lake Louise, Alberta.

Inside the "Delamere" dining car. We appear to be having a good time.

Scenes from inside "Delamere", sometime in the late 1990's.

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