Riding “The Canadian” across Canada

The Canadian holds a sacred spot in Canada’s travel world

The Canadian, operated between Toronto and Vancouver by VIA Rail Canada, is a government-owned corporation that is akin to the US’s Amtrak. Although Canada has invested even less in passenger train development than the US, The Canadian, one of the world’s best-known trains, holds a special place in Canada’s national imagination. It is even featured on the back of Canada’s $10 bill. It is one of North America’s finest passenger trains.

The Canadian ©Malcolm KentonAny travelers who enjoy train travel at all owe it to themselves to ride The Canadian at least once in their life. Do it sooner rather than later, as the very favorable exchange rate (about 73 US cents buys one Canadian dollar) makes everything north of the border considerably more affordable.

This train is the only remaining example of a transcontinental streamliner, featuring comfortable sleeping cars, multiple dome and observation cars, and fine dining. The quality of the food and of the on-board experience — from the almost consistently upbeat and gracious demeanor of the crew members to the ample opportunities for 365-degree landscape viewing — are decidedly better than what can typically be found on Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Canadian ©Malcolm KentonThe Canadian takes passengers on a three-full-day, four-night journey that covers the breadth of the North American continent. It uses tracks owned by the Canadian National Railway and shared with its freight trains. It stops in only a few large cities, many small towns, and dozens of rural outposts, and passes through miles of what appears to be unspoiled wilderness.

All of the passenger cars, most built by the Budd Company in Philadelphia in the mid-1950s for the Canadian Pacific Railway and some previously owned by American railroads, have recently rebuilt interiors and feature all the modern conveniences (except WiFi, but all the more reason to unplug and unwind).

Here are the railroad’s service specifics.

The Canadian offers five classes of accommodation, listed in order of price (lowest to highest), with dining car meals (except for alcoholic beverages) included in the fare for all classes except Economy:

  • Click here to subscribeEconomy (coach): Comfortable reclining 2-and-2 seats with headrests, leg and foot rests, and ample legroom, as well as some banks of 4 seats facing each other, and large picture windows. Economy passengers may purchase meals in the Dining Car or light entrees and snacks from the Skyline car. Economy passengers have access to one Skyline dome car, but not to the rest of the train.
  • Open section berths: At one end of the sleeping car, two seats face each other by day, and are converted to bunk beds covered by a heavy curtain at night. Shared men’s and women’s restrooms are immediately adjacent at the end of the car. The upper berth, which costs slightly less than the lower, lacks a window, while the lower has one.
  • Roomettes: At the opposite end of the car from the open sections, these roomettes accommodate a single passenger with an enclosed compartment with a bed that pulls down from the wall. There is a sink and toilet in the room, though having the bed down blocks access to the toilet.
  • Bedrooms: At the center of the sleeping car, bedrooms accommodate two passengers in bunk beds perpendicular to the window with private sink and enclosed toilet. The A and B bedrooms in each car can also be made en-suite with beds next to each other. During the day, the lower bed folds into the wall and the upper rises into the ceiling, and two chairs are unfolded for daytime seating.
  • Prestige Class: These are for those willing to splurge (prices for the full trip are upwards of $7,000 CAD). Each Prestige Class car has six rooms (and Prestige Class Park cars have three rooms) that each accommodate two passengers in one double-sized bed with large picture window, private bathroom, shower, flat-screen TV and fully-stocked minibar. Fare is all-inclusive, including unlimited alcoholic beverages.

The Canadian ©Malcolm KentonAll sleeping car passengers have access to the unique dome/round-end observation Park car (each one is named after a different Canadian national park), which is always at the rear of the train, as well as to one or two additional Skyline dome cars in the middle of the train, and to the Panorama car (featuring wraparound windows) during the summer between Vancouver and Edmonton. Each sleeping car (other than Prestige Class cars) also has a shared shower.

The train runs in both directions between Vancouver and Toronto three days a week in the summer and two days a week in the winter. It departs Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station on Tuesday and Friday evenings (plus Sunday evenings in the summer), and leaves Toronto’s Union Station on Tuesday and Saturday evenings (plus Thursday evenings in the summer). Both terminal stations are shared with Amtrak services to and from the US and are conveniently accessible by transit from the airport.

Anyone considering an epic train journey should take a look at this 2,775-mile ride over four nights and three days. The Canadian provides a unique perspective on the changing scenery of Canada from the lakes of Ontario to the prairies and the spectacular Rocky Mountains.

For more information visit ViaRail.
The Canadian ©Malcolm Kenton