Trans-Canada Rail Adventure
October 2003

Revised 16 February 2004,
Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer

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 another file
  2. Days 8 - 13 Banff to Vancouver in the present file

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

Day 8: Banff to Kamloops via Rocky Mountaineer (16Oct03)
  After two full days without seeing a train, this morning we were bused to the Banff Train Station to await the arrival of the Rocky Mountaineer that would transport us from Banff to Vancouver with an overnight stop midway in Kamloops. Unlike the previous VIA Rail train, the Rocky Mountaineer is a privately owned train devoted to the tourist trade between the Jasper, Banff, Calgary areas and Vancouver. We would not be sleeping on this train, rather the we would spend one night in Kamloops in a hotel. Also, the Rocky Mountaineer offers two classes of service on its trains: Red Leaf and Gold Leaf service. We had opted for the more expensive Gold Leaf service as it included reserved seats in a domed viewing car, and prepared meals in the dinning car below the dome seating. The Red Leaf service does not offer a dome car, and the meals are of the box lunch variety. I cannot compare the two classes of service as we were separated from those in our group who did not opt for the Gold Leaf service, so it is hard to say if the extras were worth the extra cost. My general philosophy is, if you only plan to do something once in your life, you might as well do it right.
  The scenery the first day of travel on the Rocky Mountaineer between Banff and Kamloops was quite spectacular, and made opting for the dome car seating seem very worthwhile. As we climbed Roger’s Pass the temperature dropped and the gathering clouds began to produce snow, which made for a short, but beautiful, train ride through a winter wonderland.
  Oh did I mention that drinks, i.e. alcohol, are included in the Gold Leaf Service? I think Ray soon agreed the extra cost was worthwhile.
  We arrived in Kamloops after 6 PM and were met by a fleet of buses that carried us to our hotels for the night. The Gold Leaf people we bused to the Sheraton Four Point Hotel, which is an excellent facility, but we did not even have time to take the obligatory room pictures before re-boarding in less than 30 minutes to be bused to a Western show and buffet dinner in Kamloops. The Two River Junction ‘dinner theater’ is operated by the Rocky Mountaineer and cost an additional $25 per person for those in Gold Leaf. I know the others enjoyed the show more than I did, but in the morning I think they might have wanted to spend more time in the hotel room too. We arrived back at our hotel after 10 PM and need to be back on the Rocky Mountaineer for a 6:30 AM departure. Needless to say we did not have a lot of time at the Sheraton Four Point Hotel in Kamloops.
Waiting for the train in Banff (DSCN1240.jpg) Rocky Mountaineer pulls into the station (DSCN1242.jpg) Rocky Mountaineer logo (DSCN1218B.jpg)
Peughs & Schwers waiting to board(DSCN1243.jpg) Norm & Ray welcomed by the dinning staff (DSCN1244.jpg) The ever vigilant photographer (DSCN1221B.jpg)
Ray & Norma in the front row (DSCN1245.jpg) Ms Becky was pleased with the Gold Leaf dome car (DSCN1246.jpg) Looking toward rear of dome car (DSCN1222B.jpg)
Scenery leaving Banff (DSCN1216B.jpg) Scenery leaving Banff (DSCN1226B.jpg) Scenery leaving Banff (DSCN1227B.jpg)
Scenery along the railway (DSCN1223B.jpg) Scenery along the railway (DSCN1247.jpg) Scenery along the railway (DSCN1249.jpg)
As we climbed up Roger’s Pass (DSCN1250.jpg) it began to snow (DSCN1253.jpg) and soone we were in a Winter Wonderland (DSCN1257.jpg)
View from rear car (DSCN1256.jpg) View from the dome car (DSCN1234B.jpg) Gold Leaf Service was First Class! (DSCN1236B.jpg)

Day 9: Kamloops to Vancouver via Rocky Mountaineer (17Oct03)
  Breakfast was served in the lower dinning car area on the Rocky Mountaineer, and we were happy to have first seating. The seatings for dinning over the two days rotated between the rear half of the dome car (a large group of good-natured Brits) on the first day, our (GCT group) front half on the second day. The food on the Rocky Mountaineer was excellent and easily rates a step above that provided on VIA Railway. The service was superb on both trains. On the Rocky Mountaineer we had two ladies in the dome car to attend to any request, and two attendants in the dinning car for meal service; all four staff members were excellent, and left no room for comment on improvement, nor correction. Yet another reason to make this trip east to west (Toronto to Vancouver), is that I cannot image stepping down from Gold Leaf Service on the Rocky Mountaineer for two days to three days on VIA Railway.
  Our good luck with the weather ran out on this day. Shortly after departing Kamloops we encountered rain which dogged us all way to Vancouver. Although the rain, and downpours, made for poor picture taking through the windows of the dome car, it did provide many spectacular impromptu water falls down the steep sides of canyons, and through narrow gaps in the rocks. Most of these pictures had to be deleted from this section, as they were of poor quality.
  On our first day on the Rocky Mountaineer our two service ladies said there would be a ‘poetry’ contest the today, and urged us to write something appropriate related to the journey. I think there were about six people that supplied entries, and I know mine was not necessarily the best of the six, but the two ladies seemed to like it, as I personalized to them. See the “Ladies of the Line” below. All entrants were given a small lapel pin recognizing them as a member of the “Order of the Trout” which is in the shape of a trout. I assume this reference to trout is due to the train traveling along the Fraser River, the longest river in British Columbia, and its wild trout population.
  We were delayed, waiting on a railway siding, several times en route to Vancouver. One of the downsides of being a privately operated train is the Canadian rail freight traffic has priority on single-track stretchs of the right-of-way. We arrived in Vancouver in the late afternoon under a dunning drizzle. Ww were greeted by a hoard of Rocky Mountaineer employees with umbrellas to shelter and guide us along the train platform and into the station. After shrugging off two male employees, I noticed a particular attractive young female Rocky Mountaineer employee, with an umbrella, and submitted to her welcoming smile. We chatted briefly until we arrived at the all-to-nearby train station and shelter from the drizzle.
  Our GCT Tour Guide Ann gathed us under the large clock in the train station and then went forward to find our bus. She herded us onto the bus, that took us from the train station to our nearby hotel, the Empire Landmark Hotel.
  Overall I would say the Empire Landmark Hotel was a nice facility, but considering it is owned and operated by a Japanese corporation, and staff by Japanese, I was shocked to see the state of disrepair of the tiles in the shower. Not only were the tiles mold infested, but they were literally falling of the wall. I talked with two other (male) members of the group the next day, and they confirmed their showers were also mold infested. Now you know it has to be bad if men comment on such items. As a postscript, I sent an email with pictures to the hotel manager, and CGT, and received an apology from the Empire Landmark Hotel manager stating that he had personally inspected the shower in our room and agreed with my assessment, i.e. the prospect of serious water damage to other units required immediate attention to the shower tiles. He assured me that the hotel was undergoing a refurbishment during the soon to start off-season, and the situation would be improved by spring.
  Dinner this first night was on our own. So we wondered along Robson Street for a few blocks until we saw a Hon's Wun-Tun House Ltd. This was quite the Chinese restaurant. The place is huge with separate cooking stations for the various house specialties including Potstickers, Wun-Tun Soup, BBQ Meats, and dimsums. A clue to the popularity of this place was the line for take-away food that extended out the door, with people waiting and in the rain, umbrella in hand.

Ladies of the Line

I rode upon the Rocky Mountaineer,
with Maple Leaf Service in the Grand Upper Tier.

Although it was a day with weather quite dreary,
The service was provided by ladies quite cheery.

One a raven haired lass by the name of Ren,
with a parent of ancestry from the Land of the Yen.

The other a boisterous blonde answering to the letter "V,"
Her bright bouncy manner fit her to a "T."

Our chief occupation on this journey,
was to eat in the fashion of a competition tourney.

We saw the sights through rain and snow,
made all the more pleasant by Ren and "V" taking us in tow.

Dinning area was below the dome seating area (DSCN1241B.jpg) Narrow straicase (DSCN1242B.jpg) between upper & lower floors (DSCN1243B.jpg)
Train entering one of several tunnels DSCN1246B.jpg) It rained all day (DSCN1251B.jpg) and quite a bit too! (DSCN1253B.jpg)
It was dark when we departed Kamloops (DSCN1258.jpg) Norma can read with her eys closed (DSCN1260.jpg) Lights of Vancouver from our hotel room (DSCN1265.jpg)
Our Vancouver hotel room (DSCN1261.jpg) Empire Landmark Hotel (DSCN1262.jpg) Not exactly a 5 star hotel! (DSCN1263.jpg)

Day 10: Vancouver City Tour (18Oct03)
  Our day started with a 'before sunrise' breakfast atop the Empire Landmark Hotel in the “Cloud Nine Revolving Restaurant” on the 42nd floor. The view on this morning was spectacular, with the sunrise and clouds making for a warm and inviting awaking to our first day in Vancouver.
  Our bus tour of Vancouver was quite informative as our GCT Tour Guide is a many year resident of Vancouver. She pointed out the many ethnic neighborhoods of Vancouver which gives the city a very cosmopolitan mix of people. Our first stop was the world famous Stanley Park, which serves Vancouver as an intercity recreational facility, and a wonderful area to escape from city life. The park has many roads and walking trails, but for tourists it is best appreciated for its many interesting vistas of Vancouver, and its harbor. The park was dedicated by Lord Stanley in 1889 for the “use and enjoyment of all people of all colors, creeds, and customs for all time.”
  Our next stop was Vancouver’s large Chinatown, the third-largest Chinatown in North America. Here we visited the tranquil beauty of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. After Chinatown the bus deposited us back at the Empire Landmark Hotel and we had the remaining half-day as free time.
  We opted to spend part of the afternoon on a self-guided tour of Vancouver via its SkyTrain. We walked about a half mile to the nearest SkyTrain entrance and then rode the train's Millennium and Expo lines in a great circle around the Vancouver area. We did some shopping along the route back to our hotel, that included a Japanese style bento box for my lunch.
  Dinner again was on our own, and Ms Becky suggested we try the nearby Greek restaurant. Kalypso Restaurant is located in the heart of Vancouver's shopping district and has a large outdoor patio that overlooks Robson Street. Needless to say it was too cool to sit outside. We did find a few other couples from our OAT group inside the restaurant, and had a pleasant if not memorable dinning experience.
Dawn view of Vancouver (DSCN1266.jpg) from revolving restaurant (DSCN1267.jpg) atop Empire Landmark Hotel (DSCN1268.jpg)
First tour stop was Stanley Park (DSCN1273.jpg) First Nation totem poles (DSCN1274.jpg) fall colors (DSCN1259B.jpg)
Harbor view from Stanley Park (DSCN1272.jpg) Harbor view from Stanley Park (DSCN1276.jpg) Bridge view from Stanley Park (DSCN1275.jpg)
Vancouver's Chinatown (DSCN1279.jpg) Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (DSCN1277.jpg) Oriental Garden (DSCN1278.jpg)
Riding the Vancouver SkyTrain Light Rail Network (DSCN1289.jpg)

Day 11: Victoria & Vancouver Island Tour (19Oct03)
  We boarded our Vancouver tour bus early in the morning for the 30 minute drive to the ferry that would transport us, and our bus, to Vancouver Island. The ferry, and ferry service, is quite amazing as you watch the long queue of cars, buses, and trucks enter and exit the ferry. The transit across the sound takes about 30 minutes and deposits you in Swartz Bay, about a half hour drive north of Victoria, the main city on the Vancouver island.
  We did not have long to wander about the city of Victoria, but we made a pass along a few of the tourist trap shopping streets until we found an agreeable place to have lunch. After lunch we re-boarded our tour bus for the drive to Buchart Gardens. Everyone has heard of Buchart Gardens and it is probably the main reason most people for visit Vancouver Island.
There is more than ample reason why this one spot is such a universal favorite: the gardens are spectacular! Please note that the pictures in this section were taken in late October, so one would not expect any garden to be too interesting, especially gardens north of the 48th parallel, but Buchart apparently puts on an impressive show anytime of the year. I will allow the pictures to speak for themselves.
  The Ferry ride back to Vancouver was delightful as the sun was setting and the ocean waters were calm.
This was to be both our last night in Vancouver and the last night of the GCT tour. We had out ‘Farewell Dinner’ in the hotel, and bid our traveling companions goodbye. Meeting very friendly people, of a like mind, is always one of the a most interesting, and pleasant, parts of such organized tours.
Daytime view from our hotel room (DSCN1262B.jpg) The gulls have learned (DSCN1260B.jpg) that some hotel guest (Norma) feed them (DSCN1261B.jpg)
The famous for High tea Empriss Hotel (DSCN1281.jpg) The Crew in downtown Victoria (DSCN1282.jpg) Entrance to Butchart Gardens (DSCN1297.jpg)
You do need a map! (DSCN1286.jpg) Ms Becky with a Japanese Maple (DSCN1284.jpg) The Crew resting for a minute (DSCN1283.jpg)
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 (DSCN1290.jpg)  (DSCN1291.jpg)  (DSCN1292.jpg)
 (DSCN1293.jpg)  (DSCN1294.jpg) 'Hidden' inlet access to Butchart Gardens (DSCN1295.jpg)
 (DSCN1287.jpg) Ms Becky next to huge hedges in parking area (DSCN1298.jpg) Norm getting oriented with map (DSCN1263B.jpg)
 (DSCN1264B.jpg)  (DSCN1265B.jpg)  (DSCN1266B.jpg)
Ray & Norma (DSCN1267B.jpg)  (DSCN1268B.jpg)
 (DSCN1269B.jpg)  (DSCN1270B.jpg)  (DSCN1271B.jpg)
 (DSCN1272B.jpg) Norma & Ray in Oriental Garden section (DSCN1273B.jpg)
Sunset (DSCN1299.jpg) as we cruise (DSCN1300.jpg) back yo Vancouver from Victoria (DSCN1305.jpg)
Relaxing on the passage back to Vancouver (DSCN1303.jpg) Spirit of British Columbia (DSCN1302.jpg)

Day 12: Vancouver to San Francisco (20Oct03)
  Our GCT Tour guide Ann Hunter made sure that everyone on her tour departed in a timely manner from the hotel to the Vancouver Airport, and their flight back to the States. We shared a limo to the airport with a couple from our group, and after clearing US Customs, and checking our bags, we retired to the Air Canada lounge to await our flight home.
  All-in-all it was a long, but memorable trip. If I were to do this trip again, I would start in Jasper, with the Rocky Mountaineer, and spend a few more days exploring Vancouver and Vancouver Island. This western part of our trip was spectacular and worth revisiting in the future.
Our GCT guide Ann with Norma & Ray (DSCN1306.jpg) Norma & Ray relaxing in the Air Canada lounge (DSCN1307.jpg)

Days 1 - 7 Toronto to Banff Click to view Part I of this trip.

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Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer