This train ride was on our "bucket list" and we were excited. At 8.30pm the Canadian eased out of the station, through the city suburbs and out into the rolling countryside. We headed east, bound for Jasper, Alberta (an overnight trip of 17 hours). The line runs beside the Thompson River, through the Okanagan Valley to Kamloops, then north into the Caribou District of British Columbia.
Our premium tickets included our bedroom/bathroom accommodation and meals. The bedroom was cosy and comfortable and we slept well.
After a delicious breakfast, we went up to a domed observation deck, sat back and enjoyed the scenery of the rolling hills and forests of British Columbia. During the afternoon, a steward provided snacks, afternoon tea, books, help with Wi-Fi, and descriptions of the countryside as the train climbed into the mountains.
We came to a complete and silent stop at the mighty Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies - and took plenty of pictures. By the time we crossed into Alberta, snow-capped grandeur surrounded us and at 4pm, we left the train for a two-night stay at the Jasper Park Lodge.
The valley towns of Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff are all worth a visit. A bonus is the Icefields Parkway, which links these "jewels" - five hours of mountain glory.
Back on the train, we dined en route to Edmonton and were seated with a couple from Nova Scotia who had been to Vancouver to visit their daughter. From a mouth-watering four-course menu, we chose Atlantic fish chowder, Pacific Rim salad with herb vinaigrette, Pacific halibut coated with a crunchy pecan crust served on a wasabi-infused coleslaw, mushroom fusion crepes, oven-roasted baby potatoes and seasonal veggies, all served on fine china, with silver service, and set on crisp, white tablecloths. After an exquisite dessert, we adjourned to a Dome Car for coffee and liqueurs under the stars.
That night, we were asleep when we passed through Edmonton, and awoke the next morning to the sight of wheat fields stretching to the horizon, Canada's breadbasket to the world. Two full days of socialising, reading, fine dining, superb breakfasts and lunches and dozing filled the crossing of the vast Canadian Prairies through Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
We enjoyed meeting the Canadians on board, who told us more about their country than we could ever read in the guide books. The scenery changed as we entered Ontario's beautiful Lake of the Woods, through to Georgian Bay, Lake Ontario and Toronto.
The Canadian arrived in Toronto at 9.30am and we alighted and checked into the grand old Royal York Hotel, just across the road from VIA Rail's Union Station. We spent three days and nights sightseeing in Toronto, including a day trip to Niagara Falls on the VIA Rail's Silver Train service.
VIA Rail's Eastern Corridor daylight services run frequently from Toronto through Kingston and the Thousand Islands, up to Ottawa, where we got off for two nights and two full days of sightseeing and museums. We re-boarded for the two-hour ride from Ottawa into the Province of Quebec, arriving at Montreal's Union Station.
Alternatively, the direct service from Toronto to Montreal takes about five hours. There are also five daily trains from Montreal to Quebec City, taking about two hours.
Via Rail's the Ocean overnight train links Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax. Our train departed from Montreal at 6.30pm and we enjoyed a leisurely dinner as Montreal's skyline receded into the night. We awoke next morning to the lakes and low marshland of the province of New Brunswick. The train continued through small Acadian settlements and farmland, before a late afternoon arrival in the historic Atlantic Coast city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we stayed and toured for 10 days.
The Canadian leaves Vancouver at 8.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, bound for Jasper, Edmonton and Winnipeg and arrives three days, 10 hours later in Toronto at 9.30am. Other VIA Rail services continue to Montreal and Quebec City, with one night on the train to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In total, four days, 16 hours and 40 minutes through eight provinces and five time zones.>> VIA offers a variety of package tours, as well as reduced fares for seniors, students and children. See www.viarail.ca.