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"I crossed Canada by train from Toronto to Vancouver".

Thursday 29 June 2023 | Travelling in Canada by train | Le Canadien train

Yulia tried out Via Rail's Le Canadien, which crosses Canada from east to west. An extraordinary train journey from Toronto to Vancouver!

The Production Director of Discovery Trains recounts the wonderful surprises of her latest train trip to Canada: she was able to test the legendary train that crosses this immense territory almost the entire length, which Canadians themselves take to discover their own country and which they simply call "Le Canadien".

 Train Le Canadien Discovery Trains

Le Canadien crosses Canada to Vancouver © Discovery Trains 

What struck you as you crossed Canada from Toronto to Vancouver?

The diversity of the landscapes is astonishing. The changes in scenery are radical, and what's incredible is that they seem to correspond with the geography of the provinces, almost at the border crossings! For the first two days, the train travels through Ontario, which is a huge province. We travel along Lake Huron, through forests, lakes and marshes.

Ontario Discovery Trains

Ontario landscape aboard the Canadian © Discovery Trains

On the 2nd evening, we arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba. When we woke up, everything had changed: we were on a flat plain, with few trees, no lake and cultivated fields as far as the eye could see. Next comes Saskatchewan. Change again. Here the vegetation is short and green, the landscape slightly undulating. You'd think you were on the plains of Mongolia. The next day, it's Alberta. Here we're on very high mountains! And then we finally arrive in British Columbia, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This succession of so many different landscapes is fascinating and all the more entertaining because you can admire it from the front row of the incredible dome car.

Saskatchevan Discovery Trains

Saskatchewan scenery aboard the Canadian © Discovery Trains

Did you spend a lot of time in the dome car?

We spend as much time as possible in the dome car! It transforms the journey into a show. You see the days go by, the sun rise and set, the landscapes appear and disappear, and you're totally immersed. It's a bit like travelling by train in Switzerland, on board some of the panoramic trains. But here, the show lasts 4 days and 4 nights!

Sunset from the dome car Discovery Trains

Dusk aboard the Canadian's dome car © Discovery Trains

In the panoramic carriage, a host gives short talks on subjects that interest him (the fur trade, the origin of Canadian words, the history of Canadian currency, etc.). On the ground floor there is a cafeteria where you can wait if there are no seats available upstairs. But people are respectful: after a while, they vacate the space. In Jasper, the windows of the dome car are cleaned so that we can take full advantage of the incredible landscapes of the Rockies.

Mont Elbert Discovery Trains

Mount Elbert, highest point of the Rockies seen from the train © Discovery Trains

Is crossing the Rockies an intense experience?

It's magnificent, of course. The day before we arrive in the Rockies, the train crew warn us that we'll be seeing the mountains the next day from 4am. And as the sun rises very early in Western Canada, the brave can admire them from dawn. Some travellers got into the panoramic car at 3.30am to make sure they didn't miss anything. We arrived in Jasper at 6.30am. This is the heart of the Rockies! And as the train makes its longest stop here, we have 3 hours to walk around the village and admire these incredible peaks. Then, throughout the morning, the train zigzags through the mountains. You really have time to take in all the impressive scenery.

Alberta and the Canadian Rockies Discovery Trains

Alberta landscape from the dome car © Discovery Trains

Vancouver is the terminus of the Canadian. Did you like the city?

Vancouver is an incredible city. It's sometimes claimed to be the most liveable city in the world, and I believe it is. It's very, very green. There are trees EVERYWHERE. From the city centre you can walk along the marina to Stanley Park, with its view of the snow-capped mountains. And the big parks, like Parc Capliano with its famous suspension bridge, are very easy to get to by public transport or shuttle bus. There's a pretty old town in Gastown, the magnificent Grainville indoor market, and you can walk to the beautiful sandy beaches... I loved Vancouver and I can't wait to go back. Starting the trip in Toronto, a big American city with buildings that remind you of New York, a business-oriented city, and ending in Vancouver, is really great.

Gastown Vancouver Discovery Trains D

Gastown in Vancouver © Discovery Trains

Does Le Canadien remind you of the Trans-Siberian Railway that you know so well?

There are similarities, of course. On both journeys, you cross a continent, you sleep on the train, you meet the local population... But the journeys are very different. It's important to remember that Trans-Siberian trains don't have the kind of communal spaces that the Canadian's panoramic Skyline carriage has. Passengers hardly ever leave their compartments.

Yulia dans sa cabine Discovery Trains DR

On board the Canadian © Discovery Trains

It's true that the Canadian's compartments are much smaller than those of the Trans-Siberian, but in the end you feel less confined on the Canadian train because you can move around and talk to other people. The Canadian's panoramic carriage is a real place for socialising. Another notable difference is that on the Trans-Siberian, meals are not included and you rarely eat in the restaurant car. This is another highlight of the journey on the Canadian.

Are meals an important part of the journey?

The meals on board are very good. A famous blogger who also crossed Canada by train from Toronto to Vancouver a few months ago, had no hesitation in saying that he had never eaten so varied and so good on board a train. I can confirm this: you have a choice of four main courses and the meals are excellent!
Going to the restaurant is also an opportunity to meet people and chat. As you're always seated at the same table of four, you end up getting to know each other.

Le Canadien train restaurant Discovery Trains

Le Canadien train restaurant © Discovery Trains

What's the atmosphere like on board Le Canadien?

I'd been told that the atmosphere was friendly and almost family-like. I thought that was a bit surprising, as I've never really experienced that on board a train. Well, I was surprised to find that it's absolutely true. It has to be said that the majority of passengers on board are Canadians discovering their own country
Canadians are very warm and engaging travellers. They like to get to know you, they take an interest in you... It's a far cry from the rather cold atmosphere you find on trains in France or Russia, or on train journeys in Norway, for example. The staff are also very pleasant and friendly. As the journey progresses, a real family spirit develops between the passengers in the sleeping cars.

ViaRail train staff Discovery Trains

Canadian's staff © Discovery Trains

journey to canada by train (ref)
le canadien (ref.)


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