How do you possibly travel around a country as vast as Canada? Perhaps you’re keen to experience the urban metropolis of Toronto but also have an urge to see the forested natural beauty of British Columbia. At 4,000km between them, that’s one slog of a road trip - but there is another way. The Canadian (formerly Canadian Pacific Railway) is a VIA Rail sleeper train that crosses the country, connecting East with West. In this article we take a look at this iconic train journey, and how to make the most of it.
Some train journeys are more than just a case of getting from A to B. In fact, some become the experience in itself, waking up in a cosy berth, getting to know strangers in the restaurant car and treating yourself to endless spectacular views, all from the comfort of a soft seat. The Canadian is absolutely one such experience, and it has long been considered one of the best ways to see Canada. Covering a distance of 4,466km and taking an average length of 3 days, 8 hours and 42 minutes, the journey is perfect if you only have a limited time in Canada and want to see as much as you possibly can.
Where does it go?
From West to East, the train begins in Vancouver, heads on up to Edmonton, through Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sudbury and finally heads south to Toronto. It runs in either direction and there are generally two trains per week.
Vancouver: Beginning in the heart of British Columbia, the train chugs out of Pacific Central Station, crossing the New Westminster Bridge and offering views over the Fraser River and the Thompson River canyons. Those travelling Westbound get stunning views of Painted Canyon, as the train passes through it.
Kamloops: After passing through Kamloops, the train follows the North Thompson River for six hours, the landscape shifting from dry, dirt ridges to lush green forestry. This is the most beautiful part of the whole journey, so make sure to be looking out of the window. Past Clearwater, passengers get unimpeded views of vast valleys, as the train creeps along the ridges of high-altitude mountainsides.
Redpass Junction: The train soon reaches Moose Lake, following its north shore and taking in waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Yellowhead lake follows and it is here that the train passes the Continental Divide into Alberta.
Jasper: At Jasper, passengers have the opportunity to get off and explore the town, as the train pauses for servicing. From there, the train once again climbs the mountainside, past sprawling valleys and snaking rivers and finally reaching Jasper Lake, one of the most photographed sights on this journey.
Edmonton: The train stops again at Edmonton, before heading out along Saskatchewan Highway 11 towards Winnipeg.
Winnipeg: Heading out of the Transcona Yards, the train heads through Brereton Lake, Malachi and Parry Sound. It also makes stops at Bala and Washago – the final stop before Toronto. In the final stretch, the train follows the shore of Lake Simcoe and eventually the Don River, chugging into Toronto's Union Station.
The train has Three Classes, Prestige, Sleeper Plus and economy, to suit varying budget levels.
Economy: Economy offers roomy leather seats with a 40-degree recline, plenty of legroom and a power outlet. For budget travellers, these are more than comfortable enough to sleep in (better than a flight or bus) and take out the cost of finding a hotel for the night. You can buy blankets and pillows from staff, or if you are savvy, bring your own! Economy also gives you access to the skyline lounge, complete with observation dome and a bar to buy hot meals, snacks, wine and beer.
Sleeper plus: This is the biggest class on the train, and generally the most popular option. The class is subdivided into open-plan seats that convert to beds at night, single person roomettes and bunk-bed rooms for two. For pictures of each sleeping style – by day and by night, click here. Sleeper plus has its own restaurant cars, with all meals included. This includes continental breakfast, brunch and dinner, including starter, main and dessert. The food is high quality and huge windows make dining on-board extra special. There is also a Skyline car, with lounge, tables for socialising and the iconic Canadian viewing dome.
Prestige class: This is the most luxurious class on-board the Canadian, and, though the most expensive, makes your journey across Canada a luxurious, romantic thrill. Each bedroom has its own en-suite toilet and shower, flat-screen TV and complimentary mini-bar, as well as a soft, comfy double bed. Prestige passengers use the same restaurant car as the Sleeper Plus passengers but get first choice of sitting and complementary drinks. They also have access to the rear-end Park Car, with open views of the track behind the train.
Toronto to Vancouver one-way (or vice versa) costs start at $444 (€288) for Economy, $1,109 (€721) for Sleeper Plus and $4655 (€3029) for Prestige. Prices vary depending on whether you decide to split up the journey, or depending on the type of berth in Sleeper Plus. Travelling a smaller section of the journey (such as Jasper to Vancouver) will cost less. Fares also vary by season. For up to date fares, visit www.viarail.ca.
Other things to know:
There is no Wi-Fi on the train, so make sure you’ve got a good plan for roaming, or use this opportunity to disconnect for a few days! Make sure to explore the train well on your first day, so you know where to go to get the best views. Getting a guidebook ahead of time might be useful, as it will give you a good indication of when to look out of the window and in which direction of the train. If you want to spend your days in the viewing cars it is recommended you get down early, as seats are first come first serve. As of February 2021, the journey is severely disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, but with any luck, regular service should resume at some point this year.
Starting from Skratch? Here’s a few tips to get you started: