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The Rocky Mountaineer running along the Fraser Valley in British Columbia

Exploring Western Canada by luxury train

The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury rail service running on four routes in western Canada. Journeying on the train is a comfortable way of seeing the region’s landscapes and wildlife. This year, with Canadians celebrating 150 years since Confederation — the act that united Britain’s North American colonies and is regarded by residents as the birth of their nation — rail travel seems a particularly fitting as a way of exploring this vast and scenic country.

Cisco Crossing over the Fraser River
Cisco Crossing over the Fraser River

Some people speculate as to whether British Columbia would today even be a part of Canada if it wasn’t for the Canadian Pacific Railway. It could well have joined the United States of America, rather than the Dominion of Canada, if politicians in the eastern Provinces hadn’t agreed to the enormous undertaking of financing its construction. In the late-19th century, an age when powered air travel was still a distant dream, the railway represented the only feasible method of rapidly transporting people and goods across the continent. Even today it takes four-and-a-half hours to fly the 3,350 kilometres that separate Vancouver and Toronto. Rail aficionados may prefer to cover the ground between the two cities with a journey aboard The Canadian, the train that takes just shy of three-and-a-half days to cover that distance.

The Rocky Mountaineer began operating in 1990 and now carries well over 100,000 passengers a year. It has become recognised as one of the world’s great train journeys and is an aspirational travel experience. The First Passage to the West skirts a scenic, 600-kilometre route between Vancouver and Banff over two days. It passes numerous points noteworthy for rail enthusiasts, including the Cisco Crossing, where both the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National Railway lines cross the fast-flowing Fraser River. Arguably the most significant is Craigellachie, in British Columbia, the place where the final metal spike was ceremonially hammered into the track to complete the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway on 7 November 1885. Travellers on the train are unable to disembark to visit the Last Spike Gift Shoppe and memorial cairn, but they can snap photos of visitors waving at the train, whose distinctive gold and blue livery makes it popular with photographers as it rolls through the countryside.

 

© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2017 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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