Canada: Coast to coast by train – Part 3 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Toronto to Winnipeg
Toronto’s early 20th-century Beaux Arts Union Station gives you a sense of the wild Canadian landscape that is about to become part of your journey. It hear you first board the train known as ‘The Canadian’.
This is the first leg of the Canadian’s four-night journey between Toronto and Vancouver, and unquestionably one of the world’s great railway journeys. After initial grandstand views of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower, the train heads out through the suburbs before skirting the shore of Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe. Here rich farmland gives way to rock cuttings and the first of hundreds of lakes interspersed with conifers and deciduous trees that make up the boreal forest.
The importance of the railway here is reflected by the many preserved wayside stations, kept decades after the last trains called there. Many have been turned into local museums, often with a caboose (brake van) alongside. Some communities were so remote that children were taught in a school train that moved along the line, their homework to be done by the next visit.
The train skirts the huge Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, but sightings of native bears, moose or wolves would be unusually lucky. Lumber towns and log cabins flash past, and metallic roars let you know that another river crossing has just passed. These waters were once the province of fur trade ‘voyageurs’, who transported their skins vast distances by manpower. Floatplanes are now moored by lake jetties as a quick means of transport. Shortly after you pass the wood pulping centre that is Sioux Lookout, the train skirts the shore of Lost Lake, which has its shallows dotted by houseboats. As spruce trees give way to the undulating prairie of Manitoba, the sky and distant horizon assume a greater importance. Winnipeg comes into view long before arrival, as it is at the end of a dead straight 88km long section of track. If you travel in autumn, the sky can be filled with formations of waterfowl in unimaginable numbers.
The Canadian runs three times a week in summer which is May–Oct here and twice a week in winter which is the rest of the year. It leaves both ends of the route in the evening and arrives after breakfast on the fifth day. The Toronto to Winnipeg part of the route takes about 34 hours. During the wait at Winnipeg, pay a visit to ‘The Forks’, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet. It was once a fur trade hub; now it’s home to historic buildings, museums and a vibrant market.
The Canadian must be one of the world’s most cosmopolitan trains and nearly everyone has made a positive choice to be there, so it’s unusually friendly.
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