F40-PH-2 6448 pauses with the westbound "Canadian" at Jasper, Alberta,
on March 30, 2006. Sister 6439 has been cut off, and will soon be
replaced by 6433 for the journey to Vancouver. See story on Page
My father was
an air brake
machinist in the Canadian National steam locomotive repair shops in Stratford from
1963. As a railway employee, he got a
pass allowing free transportation. At
first the pass was only good in the local region, but over the years,
reached the “All System” status. The
railway also accorded the free travel privileges to members of the
family. Our family made good use of this
perk and often travelled to Toronto
for special occasions.
When I was 14
in 1955, my brother
got me a job as a clerk in the Dominion Stores supermarket in Stratford where
he had worked until
graduating from high school. Even though
the fifty cents an hour seems very little now, it was a pretty good
those days when my boss only made a dollar an hour.
One hour’s wage paid for a movie and an ice
cream bar or two nights at the YMCA dances.
In the spring
of 1956, my Dad
organized a trip to Vancouver
for the two of us on the “Continental”. The
“Super Continental” had been introduced but did not
passes. The pass would allow free
transportation from Stratford to Vancouver and
return in a
coach. We could get berths in a tourist
sleeper if I used some of my Dominion Stores savings to pay for mine. This I happily did. I
think I took the upper while Dad had the
lower in a section.
Holidays at the
always the last week of July and the first week of August.
Dad and I set off from Stratford.
Train number 36
left Stratford for Toronto
at 17:10. It took almost 3 and a half
hours to do the 88 miles(140 kilometres) to Toronto as it did much head-end work. Ian Wilson in “To Stratford Under Steam” says
it could have been powered by Hudson,
Pacific, or Mountain. In Toronto we
Sleeper/Dinette “White Glen” of Train 53 to go to Capreol.
I remember being amazed as we turned off from
line near Parkdale Station onto the Newmarket Subdivision. At Jasper, Train 3 was pulled by Montreal
Locomotive Works (MLW) diesels 6710 (FPA-2) and 6810 (FPB-2) which were
one year old. I suspect that they had
actually run all the way through from Montreal. One
of the benefits of taking the
“Continental” was its relaxed schedule. We
even had a stop to get out and look at Mount
a week in the Vancouver area which
trip on the CPR
steamship “Princess Patricia” to Victoria,
got on Train 4 to return to Ontario. By Melville Saskatchewan, we were led by MLW
6707. While my Dad played Bridge with the
other adults in the Tourist sleeper, I became friends with a pleasant
lady from Whitehorse in the Yukon. I never saw her again, but she did drop in to Stratford once
many years later to say
“Hello” to my parents while I was away at university.
The CNR station in Winnipeg,
Manitoba, on July 22, 1956 advertises "The Super Continental"for speed
and luxury. Note the Royal Mail truck.
new MLW FPA-2 6710 and FPB-2 6810 pause at Jasper, Alberta, on July 23,
1956. Note the detatchable ditch lights for improved visibility
through the mountainous terrain west of Jasper.
“Continental” stopped for
significant periods at every division point and I can remember my Dad
running in to the station lunch counter to get an Orange Crush and a
sandwich while ice was added under the cars and water was put into the
each car. It was also a treat to eat in
the little dinette in our car. This was
my first experience of eating on a train. Normally
we brought our own food. To this day, I
cannot eat an egg sandwich without having a
a pleasant train trip.
father standing in front of heavyweight
8 Section, 1 Double Bedroom, Buffet car "White Glen". This was my
from Toronto to Vancouver and was built by CC&F in 1925 as 6
Compartment Observation Sleeping Car "Cape Traverse". She was
retired in 1975.
As I woke up on
the last day of
our return trip, I was stunned by the many different green colours of
Southern Ontario landscape as Train 54 proceeded to Toronto. After
a cheap breakfast of tea and toast in the little
cafe at Union
Station, Dad and I boarded Train 29 back to Stratford. I’d
like to think that one of the streamlined Mountain
such as 6071 (as pictured at the head of Train 29 on page 28 of “To
Under Steam”) pulled our train that morning. The
two week experience with my Dad was my first trip with
changes and it left me tired and dazed for about a week.
The trip to Vancouver was
the last trip that I did with
my Dad. The next summer I turned 16 and
had two jobs. After 1956, there was no
more time to travel. Dad died at age 69
thirty years ago.
Now it is 2006
– fifty years
after that first experience. Retirement
has given me time to travel again. The
North American Rail Pass provides an economical way to travel –
seniors. A trip to Vancouver would not be free like in
it would also not break the bank. In
1994, I took Silver and Blue Class all the way from Toronto
to Vancouver. It was not a pleasant experience.
The limited dining capabilities for sleeping
car passengers (meals were not included at that time) left a group of
between Jasper and Vancouver. When a member of our group became injured
while trying to get some food, I became ballistic and almost ended
off the train – a not uncommon occurrence even today on the Canadian. I vowed never to ride the Canadian again.
however to meet a family
need, I did come back coach class from Winnipeg
to Toronto. Even though accidents stretched the trip into
almost two days and two nights, I came away with a very good feeling
trip including its value for money. As
well, in the past two years, I endured long plane rides to the southern
hemisphere sitting up. Surely, coach
class from Toronto to Vancouver would
not be as bad as those cramped
Tuesday March 28, I
joined the queue for VIA # 1 in the outgoing area of Union Station in Toronto. How that area has changed from my 1956
trip. GO transit now uses many of the
departure gates. There also seems to be
a new procedure where intending passengers are marshalled some distance
the actual gate. There was also
confusion as Silver and Blue people were let on while we Comfort Class
were sent back to the holding pen. No
matter – as we all were soon boarded. One
late-arriving passenger seemed to be on
the verge of “Rail Rage” even before the train left.
It turned out, he had somehow got into the
wrong waiting line and had almost missed the train.
The train was
quite large. Locomotives 6439 and 6448 led. Dead-heading sleepers 8209, 8215, and 8206
followed. (VIA has announced that they
are stationing an extra consist in Vancouver
to allow on-time departures even if the westbound is late and I suspect
these cars were part of that consist.) After
baggage 8613 came coaches 8124, 8122(mine), and 8125.
After Skyline Dome 8515 came the first sleeper
8317. It was followed by dining car 8407
and then three more sleepers 8303, 8322, and 8319.
VIA 8710 (Prince
brought up the rear.
Just as in 1956, the “Canadian” heads
west out of Union Station, passes the site of the demolished Parkdale
and turns north on to the Newmarket Subdivision.
curve from the Weston Sub is now much
faster – no doubt to facilitate the Bradford GO trains which use the
At Snider, our train proceeded north
slowly beyond the York Subdivision.
slowness was caused by the massive construction project going on.
I could find nothing definitive, but I
noticed one report that GO Transit was considering paying for an
this point so that their trains on the Newmarket Sub could proceed
under the York Sub.
We then backed
from the Newmarket
Sub to the York Sub. After getting the
signal, we proceeded east five miles to Doncaster
where we joined the Bala Sub. Between Doncaster and Washago, the Bala Sub is very
I have encountered severe delays in the past. This
day we were lucky and proceeded on time to Brechin
East. There we waited for CN 304. At Smail siding we dealt with CN 102. As a result we were late into Washago.
are more than just
the railway doings outside. There are
the riders as well. I got chatting with
one of the fellows getting off at Washago. I
had overheard he was facing a three and a half year jail
I was curious. “Can you make money out
of crime – after paying for a lawyer?” I asked. The
young man was certainly wiser than his years and I got
quite a story. As a result, my desire to
not follow a life
of crime has been strengthened.
CN and CP have
tried to reduce
delays caused by opposing train movements by instituting a policy
“directional running”. In British Columbia, there have been a number of
success whereby westbound trains use the CN line down the Fraser to get
trains use the CP Line. Late in 2005,
changes were made so that something similar could be done in Ontario. At mile 146 of the Bala Subdivision (Boyne),
westbound CN trains move onto the CP Parry Sound Sub.
The westbound Canadian obeys this rule and
journeys along the CP for the next 90 miles – even stopping at the
station in Parry Sound. It is quite a
sight going over the giant trestle in Parry Sound.
VIA's westbound "Canadian" stops
at the restored CP Parry Sound station which houses an art gallery, on
March 28, 2006.
At St. Cloud, the
Canadian took a new piece of
track to go back onto the Bala Subdivision. At
St. Cloud, all
CP, and VIA) follow the Bala Sub south to Boyne
where they either continue on the Bala (CN, VIA) or move back onto the
Sound Sub(CP). It was a treat to sit in
the dome of the Skyline car and observe these movements on what was an
exceptionally beautiful spring day.
Dougherty presents a champagne lecture in "Prince Albert Park" on March
29, 2006. Note the six clocks to the speaker's right.
experience, I also met
the “on-board writer”. Geoffrey H.
Doughty is an American from Maine
who has written the book “Canadian Treasures – Two Trains Across
Canada”. This book turns out to be a
the “Canadian” and Geoffrey was on board to get material for an update. My Canadian Trackside Guide was much
appreciated by him and as a result, I even got invited to his champagne
in the Park car. This is the way friends
are made on a trip.
Winnipeg station on March 29,
infrequent. No running into division point
on this trip. From the Skyline snack
bar, I dined on chicken noodle soup (just pour boiling water into a
container) and a microwaved sub sandwich. Probably
a bit more expensive than my 1956 cheese sandwich
drink – but it did keep the wolf away from the door.
In spite of the
we were into Sudbury Junction thirty minutes early.
One departing lady could not believe the
station was in Sudbury. I certainly found it hard to find when I was
driving around Sudbury
– not like the one that the White River Budd Car leaves from – which is
Jasper, Alberta, F40PH-2 6439 has been removed from the "Canadian" on
March 30, 2006. Sister 6433, to 6448's left, will soon couple onto
6448. The 6439 will later power the "Skeena" to Prince Rupert, BC.
there was time for a
walk while the units were refueled and water was topped up in the
coaches. Oh yes, I learned a new duty for
Service Manager. Ours had to run to the
local hardware store to get a head cleaner for the VCR in the Skyline
car. It was essential that the movie
play at its best.
During the swap of locomotives
at Jasper on March 30, 2006, CN SD60F 5517 and brand-new ES44DC 2240
pull an eastbound freight into the yard.
First call to
dinner was made
after Capreol and I proceeded to the dining car. I
guess because it was off-season, four
tables were kept out of service. Sleeping
car passengers got preference especially since
their meals are
included in the price they pay. As a
coach passenger, I was not allowed in. They
might be able to feed me around nine thirty. At
first I was annoyed getting a flashback to the awful
1994 trip. This time, however, I laughed
and went back
to my seat. There I had some fruit and a
granola bar before falling sound asleep.
midnight, I woke up enough
to get some pictures of the dilapidated Hornepayne station and to note
yards there are still very active. I was
not up long and was soon sound asleep waking only as the sun was rising
At 6:30, breakfast was served in
the dining car and I had a fabulous meal of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon,
toast and cup after cup of delicious coffee.
bad feelings towards VIA’s food service were
up my pillow and
sleeping sack, I headed for the dome. There
I watched fascinated as we took siding after siding
eastbound trains. Something not shown in
Section 16 of Trackside Guide was an arrow on the mast showing the
which side that the siding was going to be on. This
must be new. As I
on my scanner, I was impressed with the way, those in the cab
the signals. “Clear to Ogaki”, “Slow to
Limited or Diverging at Sioux Lookout East”.
has had the chance
to ride the CP line from Nipigon to White River raves about the cliffs
scenery along Lake Superior. I would submit that the VIA Canadian on the
CN line still passes through some similarly beautifully territory
mileages 41 and 135 of the Redditt Sub where there are no less than
of various lengths attesting to the ruggedness of the area. Granted the
ice-covered lakes are smaller than Lake Superior,
but they still provide an excellent picture of the long train wrapped
Standing beside the totem pole
at Jasper on March 30, 2006, just as I did 50 years before.
There was no
time in Winnipeg for the long walk that
my Dad and I took, but I
did have a chance to rush over to Portage
Main – Winnipeg’s
famous street corner.
I could go on
and on with all the
little details, but at this point I will just sketch some highlights.
One of the
passengers who came to
the onboard writer’s lecture on the joy of riding passenger trains was
distinguished English gentleman who had been Tolkien’s lawyer and was
in Canada to see
the opening in Toronto
of the musical “Lord of the Rings”.
4-8-4 6015 has been displayed near the station in Jasper since 1972
replacing 6060. After being displayed for ten years, the 6060 was
shipped to Montreal for an overhaul and was utilized in excursion
service from 1973 to 1980. Today 6060 is owned by the Rocky
Mountain Rail Society and periodically operates out of Stettler,
I awoke in the
middle of the
second night to find us backing into Saskatoon
station. It turned out that we had to
back in because VIA # 2 – the eastbound Canadian was already at the
station. Getting out into the cold night,
back to the station building and was greeted with the beautiful sight
two Park cars back to back. Fatigue and
sleepiness kept me from noting which Park car was on the eastbound.
another delicious breakfast and the sight of the Fabyan trestle, one of
tourist highlights of the Wainwright, Alberta
area. It is hard to get pictures from
the train. Instead see the Internet:
there was a chance to
get out and walk around while locomotive 6439 was taken off and 6433
on. It was a beautiful day and it
brought back many happy memories of when I was there with my Dad. Although we did not stop, the Skyline car
attendant pointed out Mount Robson on
the few days it was clear enough to see it.
For the last
night, I got into
the dining car for dinner and had a most delicious Roast Bison dinner
traversed the new trackage in the Red Pass Junction area.
Again, I went
to sleep early and
when I awoke around six, I expected us to be nearing Vancouver. Instead we were pulling into North Bend, British Columbia
on the CPR. It turned out that there had
been a CN work train derailment at Lasha near the Cisco bridges. The accident had caused directional running
to cease and all trains, both eastbound and westbound, both CN and CP
struggling along the CP line. It was a
real tie up and resulted in the Canadian arriving in Vancouver three
My stay in Vancouver was
brief. Two days after arriving, I headed
AMTRAK. My pass took me to Portland, San Francisco,
Washington, and New York
before delivering me to Montreal. That trip too was a great adventure, but it
did not have the nostalgia or delight that retracing the journey across
had taken at 15 with my Dad had brought to me.
Jasper station shows that it is 534.9 miles from Vancouver. The
2408.8 miles to Montreal, however, would have applied when trains
operated through Algonquin Park and Ottawa.
Thanks to Gerry
Gaugl for his
help with the CN 1956 timetable.
I cannot say
enough about the VIA
staff that I encountered on this trip. I
sensed an entirely different attitude than I had seen in 1994. Thanks to the pass seller in Ottawa
who has helped me on many journeys, the VIA North American Railpass
reservations person, all of the onboard personnel including the
Service Managers, and finally to the wonderful railfan attendant who
Skyline snackbar and told us about the scenic highlights in the Rockies near Jasper. You
all made a difference.
Branchline, July/August 2006, page 3.