The train at the heart of Canadian history
Canada is an ideal destination for a train journey. It's a safe and original way to discover its vast expanses and magnificent landscapes.
The first Canadian train saw the light of day in 1836, near Montreal. Subsequently, railway development played a major role in the very constitution of the State of Canada. Originally, British Columbia, a region completely to the west of what is now Canada, did not belong to the Canadian Confederation. It was the train that convinced its leaders to join. In 1871, it agreed to join Confederation as a new province on the express condition that the transcontinental railway would link this Pacific province to the eastern provinces within ten years.
VIA Rail, the operator of Canadian trains
Today, train travel in Canada is the responsibility of Via Rail, a public company. This company was created in 1978 by the Canadian government. Before that, two historic carriers shared the market : Canadian Pacific and Canadian National. But with the profitability of rail transport declining, the services offered by these operators were no longer up to scratch.
To win the 1974 national election, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of the current Canadian Prime Minister) promised the population that they would soon be able to travel by train in Canada on a rail service worthy of what existed in the United States with Amtrak. That's how Via Rail came into being, and how we're now able to offer you magnificent package train journeys in Canada.
For the record, VIA Rail has used the same logo since its inception. With one small difference: the little red maple leaf (symbol of Canada) was added a little later.
Crossing Canada by train
Canada is huge, covering 10 million km². It is the largest country in the world after Russia. Its maximum east-west width, from Cape Spear to the Alaskan border, measures 5,514 km as the crow flies (more than five times the size of France). While there is no train journey in Canada that connects these two points, it is possible to cross the country entirely by choosing a rail route further south. You can travel by train from Halifax to Vancouver. Between the two cities, the railways run a line linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
In all, you can travel over 6,000 km by train in Canada. To cover this distance, you'll need to board just three different trains running on Via Rail tracks.
3 trains between the Atlantic and the Pacific
From East to West, the trains you'll be taking on this great Canadian train journey will be :
- Ocean train. This train links Halifax to Montreal, the capital of Nova Scotia (famous for its Clock Tower) and Quebec's main city. The journey takes 20 hours and covers 1,346 km. The train runs along the St. Lawrence River, and is the oldest passenger train in North America to have been given a specific name (this is the train you'll take on our Authentic Canada: The Maritimes tour).
- The Corridor. The train from Montreal to Toronto covers 539 km in 6 hours. This train connects densely populated cities along Lakes Erie and Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway (You can explore this route on our Welcome to Canada train tour).
- Le Canadien train. Leaving Toronto, it winds its way across the map to Vancouver. This is, of course, the longest journey: it takes 4 days and covers 4,466 km. On board this transcontinental train, you will travel along the rivers of Ontario, across the Great Plains to the Rockies. With stops in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Jasper (for the record: the train is called "Le Canadien", in reference to the private company Canadian Pacific which launched it before it was taken over by VIA Rail Canada).
The Rocky Mountaineer: Canada's luxury train?
Canada's best-known touring train is the Rocky Mountaineer, no longer owned by VIA Rail. When it was launched by Canada's national rail company in 1988, it bore the long name of "Canadian Rockies by Daylight", before being renamed "Rocky Mountaineer" the following year. Since 1990, Rocky Mountaineer has been privately owned and is now one of the largest luxury tourist train companies in the world.
During the tourist season, from April to October, the Rocky Mountaineer takes passengers from the secret lakes of the West Coast to the summits of the Canadian Rockies, the famous mountain range straddling Alberta and British Columbia. A legendary train, it is now considered to be one of the most stylish trains in the world, and offers three routes crossing British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, and Colorado and Utah in the United States.
The Rocky Mountaineer is the only Canadian panoramic train (although Le Canadien between Toronto and Vancouver also has panoramic cars) and perhaps the most beautiful panoramic train in the world. For lovers of organised train trips in Switzerland, it will remind you of the visual comfort of the Bernina Express or the famous Swiss train, the Glacier Express.
The most luxurious of its services, GoldLeaf, takes place in a double-decker glass-domed carriage, while SilverLeaf is a single-decker glass-domed carriage. Both types of car feature oversized windows and swivel reclining seats to make the most of the splendid views of the Western Canadian landscape.
Historical or unusual rail tours in Canada
As well as these must-see train journeys in Canada, there are many other local trains and original or unusual tours.
- The Charlevoix Train: on Canada's east coast, the Charlevoix Train links Quebec City to La Malbaie. Along its perfectly bucolic route, it stops at seven small towns and villages. For example, it makes a stop in the village of La Paul, a small town known for having the highest number of art galleries per capita in all of Canada!
- The Grand Sommelier Express Train: even more original, on the West Coast, the Grand Sommelier Express only takes to the road once a year, in June. It was created by a group of Canadian alcoholic beverage companies: wine producers, cider makers and even a distillery, who have teamed up with a steam train company. This Canadian train journey takes place in the town of Summerland, east of Vancouver. It's considered to be a real annual festival, offering the chance to meet the winemakers and taste the wines on board.
- The Gold Rush Train: in the west of the country again, a different atmosphere on the Gold Rush Train. On the White Pass railway line, you can travel back in time on this train that links Skagway (in Alaska) and Whitehorse (in the Canadian Yukon). This railway line was built at the end of the 19th century to transport gold miners. For its time, its construction was a feat, as it started at sea level in Skagway and climbed to an altitude of almost 1,000 m at the top of White Pass in just 32 km.
- The Agawa Canyon tour Train: in Sault-Sainte-Marie, Northern Ontario, this train plunges you into the Canadian wilderness for a day trip.
Travel by sleeper night train in Canada
When planning your package train journey in Canada, you'll quickly realise that Sleeper Class Plus is the sleeper night train option. It is available on the Canadian and on the Ocean train.
- On board the L'Océan train, passengers have a cabin for two, with or without a private shower.
- On the Le Canadien train, there are cabins for one, two, three or four people. Passengers can opt for the top or bottom berth. They have access to a shower.
Le Canadien also offers Prestige class. Even though we are on board a standard train, in this VIA Rail cabin you will have the impression of travelling on board a Canadian luxury train: cabin with foldaway double bed, private bathroom, concierge service with dedicated staff, gourmet meal, etc.
The Prestige cabins on the Canadian train are arguably the only luxury overnight sleeper cabins in Canada, since the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train is not a night train. It has been designed for daytime travel, allowing you to take advantage of its main asset: its panoramic windows. At nightfall, the train stops for overnight stops, during which passengers sleep in hotels.
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