Trans-Canada Rail Adventure
October 2003

Revised 15 February 2004,
Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer

Route of Travel
SFO - Toronto (air via Air Canada)
Toronto - Jasper (2 nights train 'The Canadian' VIA Rail)
Jasper - Banff (bus)
Banff - Kamloops (train Rocky Mountaineer)
Kamloops - Vancouver (train Rocky Mountaineer)
Vancouver - SFO (air via Air Canada)

Map © Grand Circle Travel (GCT) web site

Ms. Becky & I traveled with her parents, Ray & Norma Peugh, across Canada by train 9 - 20 October 2003 on a Grand Circle Travel organized tour. We started in Toronto on VIA Rail's "The Canadian" and ended our trip in Vancouver arriving on the "Rocky Mountaineer."

The descriptions and pictures for this trip make for a fairly large download, so they are split it into two URLs:
  1. Days 1 - 7 Toronto to Banff in the present file
  2. Days 8 - 13 Banff to Vancouver in another file

Click on a picture to size full size view in floating window.
Mouse over picture for brief description.

Day 1 - Toronto Arrival (09Oct03)

Apology to my Readers – I normally keep a daily travel journal during these types of adventures, but not for this trip. Thus, the commentary accompanying these pictures are my recollections of the high and low points. In some ways this may be more useful information for others seeking to take the same trip, than my immediate impressions recorded in a daily journal.

  We departed at 7:30 AM from San Francisco Airport (SFO) on 9 October 2003 on a non-stop Air Canada flight to Toronto’s Pearson Airport (YYZ). We arrived about 3:30 PM, cleared immigration, got our luggage, cleared customs, found an ATM for some Canadian cash, found the recommended bus transportation to the city center, and arrived at our hotel, the Sheraton Centre Toronto about 5 PM. We ventured out for an early dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and then returned to our hotel to meet our Grand Circle Travel (GCT) group for a welcome reception hosted by our GCT tour guide Ann Hunter; a very nice, and humorous, lady with a native British accent from her upbringing in England; she now resides in Vancouver.
  The Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel is an excellent facility with a good location and wonderful views of the city’s skyline. There is also easy access to the underground shopping maze of stores and restaurants called the “Eaton Centre shopping mall.” It seems all of underground Toronto is connected via various shopping malls and passageways.
Ray & Becky (DSCN1176.jpg) Norma at Toronto Airport (DSCN1177.jpg) Sheraton Hotel Room (DSCN1178.jpg)
Sheraton Hotel Room  (DSCN1179.jpg) Moon Rise over Toronto Skyline (DSCN1182.jpg)

Day 2: Toronto City Tour (10Oct03)
  Our city tour of Toronto consisted mostly of an interesting bus ride through the city with narration by our CGT guide Ann. The various ethnic neighborhoods were the emphasis that I remembered most, and obviously contribute to the very international flavor that makes Toronto so unique. The other major portion of our city tour was a cruise on Toronto’s famous harbor. While this is usually a very nice experience, our luck with the weather did not hold as almost the entire harbor cruise was cloaked in a thick fog.
  After the harbor cruise the bus returned us to the hotel. Ms Becky & her Mother, Norma, took off on their own to visit Casa Loma. While I did some work on my ever present laptop, and Ms Becky’s Father, Ray, did some reading and no doubt napping in his room.
  That evening was our CGT sponsored ‘Welcome Dinner’ at a restaurant accessed via the underground maze of the Eaton Centre.
 Eaton Centre glass-roofed shopping galleria (DSCN1107.jpg) Old Bank facade inside Eaton Center (DSCN1108.jpg) CN Tower - World's Tallest Building (DSCN1109.jpg)
Casa Loma: Toronto's famous castle (DSCN1110.jpg) City View with CN Tower at right (DSCN1112.jpg)  Casa Loma (DSCN1114.jpg)

Day 3: VIA Train Day 1 of 3 (11Oct03)
  We had an early morning departure from the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. I recall waiting with the others from our group for the hotel restaurant to open for our included buffet breakfast. Then it was onto the bus for a short ride to the Toronto train station where we waited for our west bound VIA Rail Canada train. This is Canada’s passenger rail service, operated as an independent Crown corporation, similar to AMTRAK in the States.
  This train was to be our ‘home’ for the next three days, and two nights, as we traveled from Toronto to Jasper with only brief stops to refuel the locomotives and replenish the stores onboard the train. Our sleeper car attendant showed us to our room and explained the details associated with the room and life onboard the trans-Canada train. The most important detail of which was the dinning room schedule. There would be three seatings for lunch and dinner, and assignment to these seatings was determined by the dinning car supervisor. Both supervisors we had, the crew changed in Edmonton, used the system of first-to-breakfast gets to select their lunch and dinner seatings; the other method is same seating always after first selection. This first-to-breakfast method worked in our favor as I am an early riser, and so are Norma & Ray. Thus we always had the first seating for lunch and dinner.
I would say the lunch seating probably did not matter too much, but the last dinner seating was at about 9 PM, which was very late for our quartet. One advantage of doing this trip east-to-west, i.e. Toronto to Vancouver, is every day you gain one hour as you cross time zones; thus the early breakfast call is one hour later each morning. The food on the train was good, and you were never hungry, as eating meals was the main activity onboard the train for three days.
  The scenery leaving Toronto was very nice, e.g. lots of forests and lakes. We risked a later in the year departure, i.e. colder temperatures, for the advantage of viewing the fall colors. The colors were very good and we had good luck with the weather for majority of our trip. At our first refueling stop, as you can tell by the pictures of Ms Becky & Norma, the temperature was quite mild, probably lower 70’s. As noted above, the tedium of the train trip made such refueling stops a welcomed diversion, if only to get off the train and walk about in the associated small town (village). I spent most of the day working on my laptop in one of the activity cars; the smoking car was nearly empty and my preferred place. Many people walking through the train would stop and ask me why I was working while on vacation? My reply was it was either work or reading a book. They then seemed to understand my preference for work.
Waiting at Tronto Train Station (DSCN1116.jpg) Two seats in sleeper room  (DSCN1119.jpg) Sleeper room (DSCN1186.jpg)
In room toliet (DSCN1187.jpg) Best way to spend time on a train (DSCN1121.jpg) Beds deployed for sleeping (DSCN1139.jpg)
Flag Stop Town (DSCN1126.jpg) Landscapes of Ontario Province (DSCN1127.jpg) Landscapes of Ontario Province (DSCN1129.jpg)
Landscapes of Ontario Province (DSCN1131.jpg) Landscapes of Ontario Province (DSCN1132.jpg) View from Dome Car (DSCN1134.jpg)
Norma's fancy camera (DSCN1138.jpg) Becky at end of VIA Train (DSCN1190.jpg) Norma & Becky  (DSCN1189.jpg)
Norma & Becky walking to town  (DSCN1191.jpg) Fuel Stop Town (DSCN1188.jpg)

Day 4: VIA Train Day 2 of 3 (12Oct03)
  As you will note by the lack of pictures on this day, it was another day on the train. Our refueling stop was Sioux Lookout a location probably only in existence because the train stops for fuel, and there is the railyard for track repair and maintenance. There was a minimal amount of narration on the train as we arrived at, and passed, towns of significance.
I recall the conductor announcing we were passing a remote, but exclusive lodge, that had mysteriously burned to the ground the night before; you cannot see it in the picture of the woods and lake, but the lodge was in that direction. Later in Jasper, we heard several TV news reports about the lodge burning and speculation on the circumstances.
Sioux Lookout - fuel stop (DSCN1141.jpg) Downtown Sioux Lookout (DSCN1192.jpg) I thought about staying longer (DSCN1140.jpg)
Dinning was a BIG event (DSCN1143.jpg) Nice haircut huh? (DSCN1144.jpg) Lots of lakes in Ontario Province (DSCN1145.jpg)

Day 5: VIA Train Day 3 of 3 (13Oct03)
  The plains of Saskatchewan, nicknamed the ‘Wheat Province’, finally gave way to the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies and the town of Jasper. We overnighted in Jasper, at the Chateau Jasper, and were glad to have a bed that did not rock-and-roll with the rails, and especially to have a full-sized shower and bathroom. The facilities on VIA Rail are adequate, but it is a train, and space is used wisely.
  Since we were separated from our luggage while on VIA Rail, i.e. only a small carry-on bag was permitted, I took advantage of this overnight stop to do a load of laundry at the nearby sister motel; the Chateau Jasper does not have guest laundry facilities.
This ‘rule’ about carry-on only bags makes sense as there is very limited space in the sleeper rooms when the beds are deployed.
  We had dinner at Chateau Jasper, as it was included in our tour and ‘downtown’ was about a mile away. The staff at the Chateau Jasper was overwhelmed with our group and while the staff did their best, it was obvious that more help was needed. But there should be no excuse, as they knew we were coming and there is another similar group every few days during the season.
The Plains of Saskatchewan (DSCN1154.jpg) Quickly Replaced by the Canadian Rockies (DSCN1156.jpg) Fresh snow on Canadian Rockies (DSCN1157.jpg)
Canadian Rockies  (DSCN1158.jpg) Canadian Rockies  (DSCN1159.jpg) Jasper Train Station (DSCN1160.jpg)

Day 6: Jasper to Banff (14Oct03)
  For me, the best day of this tour was the bus ride from Jasper to Banff. Our bus driver was excellent. Not only his driving skills, but his knowledge of the roadway and the wildlife along the way. We saw elk (not too unusual), a black wolf (very unusual) and mountain goats. The goats obviously frequent certain parts of the route as our bus driver ‘spotted’ them in a position that would require him to do a 90+ degree (side) view out the right side of the bus. Still ‘Graham’ was a great driver and I am sure everyone on the bus was grateful for the luck–of-the-draw that matched his schedule with our tour.
  The main event along the way, other than the breath taking views of the Canadian Rockies, was a stop at the Athabasca Glacier. This was an amazing experience to be able to walk around on this slow flowing river of very blue ice. To get on the ice field you are first bused from the visitors center to a staging area close to the glacier. At the staging area you board a specialty bus called a “SnoCoach” that drives onto the glacier, while your driver provides a interesting narrative. The specialty busses have very large tires to minimize the impact of the buses on the glacier by lowering the pressure applied to the ice.
The route onto the glacier is also changed frequently because a small amount of discoloration of the ice, due to excess traffic, will cause that ice path to absorb more sunlight and thus melt faster than the surrounding ice. We had about 15 – 20 minutes on the glacier to walk about and take photos, which was plenty of time as it was fairly cool being surrounded by ice.
  Our next stop on this 185 miles transfer was beautiful Lake Louise, and lunch at the elegant Chateau Lake Louise. This is one of several grand hotels built by the original developers of the Trans-Canada railway in an effort to entice tourist to these very scenic areas, and make even more money from the train fare and lodging expenditures. I am sure the wealthy who made the journey were pleased with the value they got, at a minimum from the scenery.
  We arrived in Banff in the late afternoon and checked into the Banff International Hotel, which is a nice lodging facility. Banff is a tourist trap type of town, with lots of souvenir shops, but its location is so beautiful that it is easy to ignore the tourist trappings and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding mountains. br>   There was a wide range of restaurants to select from for our fist night’s dinner in Banff. We selected a 50’s style dinner a few blocks from our hotel. The menu had an eclectic selection of foods from burgers to Chinese.
Chateau Jasper room (DSCN1161B.jpg) Bathroom  (DSCN1162B.jpg) Jasper street views (DSCN1163B.jpg)
Jasper street views  (DSCN1164B.jpg) Jasper National Park stop (DSCN1177B.jpg) Norma & Becky on bridge near falls  (DSCN1196.jpg)
water down the falls (DSCN1171B.jpg) Quiet water under the bridge (DSCN1173B.jpg) Glacial Blue hue to water (DSCN1175B.jpg)
Grazing Elk (DSCN1178B.jpg) Views from the bus (DSCN1183B.jpg) Views from the bus (DSCN1187B.jpg)
Athabasca Glacier Welcome Center (DSCN1199.jpg) Athabasca Glacier (DSCN1200B.jpg) Ray stayed warm in the bus (DSCN1191B.jpg)
Vey large tires on bus (DSCN1192B.jpg) Norma (red coat) with some of our group (DSCN1202.jpg) Becky with large bus tire (DSCN1203.jpg)
Becky & Len on the glacier (DSCN1194B.jpg) Len on the glacier (DSCN1197B.jpg) Our tour guide Ann (center) and glacier bus driver (DSCN1198B.jpg)
Glacier ice closeup (DSCN1206.jpg) Small glacier (DSCN1193B.jpg) The weather started to change (DSCN1199B.jpg)
Emerald colored lake from glacier runoff  (DSCN1201.jpg) Glacier on top of ridge (DSCN1207.jpg) A crow at the welcome center looking for food (DSCN1201B.jpg)
Ms Becky at the welcome center looking for food (DSCN1210.jpg) more Canadian Rockies (DSCN1213.jpg) more Canadian Rockies (DSCN1214.jpg)
Chateau Lake Louise (DSCN1218.jpg) Chateau Lake Louise (DSCN1202B.jpg) Lake Louise (DSCN1217.jpg)
Ms Becky at Lake Louise (DSCN1220.jpg) Chateau Lake Louise (DSCN1219.jpg) Mountain Ash at Chateau Lake Louise (DSCN1221.jpg)
Approaching Banff (DSCN1222.jpg) Banff International Hotel (DSCN1223.jpg) Our room in Banff (DSCN1225.jpg)

Day 7: Banff (15Oct03)
  The next day was a half day tour of Banff on the bus with Graham our driver, and Ann our GCT tour guide providing the narration. Our first stop was the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. This local attraction features the art of artists who used the Canadian Rockies as their inspiration. The museum also displays native Indian (First Nation) art and artifacts. We had about a 1 hour docent guided tour of the museum.
  Our next stop was the famous Banff Hot Springs, but it was no yet open so our GCT tour guide Ann talked with Graham and we took what CGT likes to call a ‘Discovery’ along the Bow River, which runs through Banff, to a small water falls in a very scenic setting. From there the bus took us on the scenic Tunnel Mountain Drive that loops around the Banff National Park.
At one point on this drive we stopped for a view of the famous Banff Hot Springs Hotel which, like Chateau Lake Louise, was originally built by the railroad developers. Our final bus stop of the day was back at the hot springs. There is an interesting movie that the tells the story of the discovery of the hot springs that is worth viewing.
  The remainder of the day was free time. The ladies went shopping and Ray & I caught up on reading and work, respectively. Although at about 4 PM I easily convinced Ray we needed to check out the local wine shop, and upon our return we commenced to imbibe after announcing the “Cocktail Light” was officially lit; a small military joke for us ex-Navy & Army men. When the ladies returned we could not make a decision on where to go for dinner, so we arrived at the compromise of going to the nearby Safeway Food Store and each foraging for what struck our fancy for dinner, and toted it back to our hotel rooms.
Ms Becky at Banff Hot Spring (DSCN1226.jpg) Banff Scenery (DSCN1204B.jpg) Small water falls on Bow River (DSCN1206B.jpg)
Looking downstream on Banff's Bow River  (DSCN1209B.jpg) Bow River Scenery (DSCN1229.jpg) Ms Becky on trail along Bow River (DSCN1230.jpg)
Banff Springs Hotel (DSCN1211B.jpg) Len, Norma & Ms Becky (DSCN1213B.jpg) Ms Becky & Banff Springs Hotel (DSCN1234.jpg)
Ms Becky & Banff Scenery (DSCN1236.jpg) Banff Scenery (DSCN1212B.jpg) Banff Scenery (DSCN1238.jpg)

Days 8 - 13 Banff to Vancouver Click to view Part II of this trip.

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Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer