2014 Amtrak-VIA Circle Trip: Day 7

Day 7 (Wednesday, May 28, 2014) of my Amtrak-VIA circle trip began amid the trees. It would also be the only day during which I would not have cell phone reception.

The VIA agent in Vancouver who had checked my luggage had mentioned that she went all day through Ontario on the third full day out without cell phone reception.

Some people were able to get a signal, but I never did. One VIA employee mentioned that they carry a satellite phone for emergencies because of the spotty cell phone service in this part of Ontario.

The scenery on this day was forests, forests and more forests. There were also lots of lakes and rock outcroppings.  It was also far more desolate than I expected it to be.

We did not stop in one city of any size on this day, only a succession of small towns, many of which probably owed their existence to the railroad. They had names like Savant Lake, Mud River and McKee’s Camp.

The day began with pancakes and sausage in the dining car. It was good, but not outstanding.  It was also very filling.

My three table companions were all women and all Canadians, including one from White Rock, British Columbia, through which I had passed on Sunday aboard the Amtrak Cascades.

Lunch was a salmon cake with a pasta salad and pickle spear. It was preceded with a rice and vegetable soup, and finished with apple crisp with whipped cream topping.

During the day I split time between the dome car and the Kokanee Park. During one of those times in the rear lounge of the Park car I encountered a guy from New Zealand, I think it was, who will be hard to forget.

He was an expert on everything. He talked and talked and talked at length about the politics of every country in the British Empire, the proper use of the English language, farm policy in Canada, and whatever else came to his mind.

My dominant image of him is his holding court in the observation end of the Kokanee Park while others listened to his lectures. I also endured one of his lectures in the dome section. After he left, a woman returned to her seat and commented on how she couldn’t take any more of him so she had left.

I had a run-in with him one night in the dining car. I had with me some Canadian currency that had been lying around my house for several years. I supplemented that with paper bills obtained at a bank branch near my home.

Once in Canada I learned just how old some of that currency was. Later, while buying a souvenir for my wife at the CN Tower in Toronto, the clerk asked me if I wanted to keep the money I was using to make the purchase “as a keepsake.”

On this particular night, I was getting some good natured razzing from the Canadians at the table over my “ancient” currency and my confusing a Tooney with a Looney.

The New Zealand guy happened to be going past, saw my “ancient” bill and began talking about it. If that wasn’t bad enough he also launched into a lecture about the thickness and quality of the paper used by various countries for their paper currency.

To illustrate the point, he picked up my bill and started to tear it in half, presumably to show how flimsy Canadian currency is or used to be.

I was furious but didn’t want to cause an international disturbance. One of my tablemates told the guy – twice – that he ought to replace my bill. But he didn’t and mercifully he left.

The bill was torn, but the steward accepted it and I received change in “newer” Canadian currency.


Mr. Know it All was an exception. The vast majority of those I met aboard the Canadian were friendly folks with whom I shared good conversations. They had interesting stories to tell about why they were riding the train and what they had done in their lives.

Given the Canadian’s worldwide reputation, it was not surprising that many were on long vacations or holidays as the locals might say.

Take my dinner companions on this night as an example. They included a woman and an older man who I presumed was her father.

They were from Australia and traveling around the world on a three-month trip that had taken them thus far to Seattle, Alaska and Vancouver.

Once in Toronto they would continue to Montreal and then travel to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

They would then fly to London where the woman had a son who lived there. They would finally get back home to a Land Down Under in July.

The woman made a comment that I heard others from Australia and New Zealand make. Because those countries are so far from everywhere else in the world, if you are going to leave you may as well leave for a long time and see as much as you can afford to see.

Some of those from Down Under had traveled by cruise ship to a West Coast port.

Earlier that day during lunch I had shared a table with three Canadians, including a woman from Vancouver and man from Calgary. The latter in particular was gregarious.

Then there was another woman from Australia I had lunch with who had boarded the Canadian in Vancouver after traveling on a cruise ship for 29 days.

The ship had made numerous stops en route. She was going to Montreal but not sure of where she would travel beyond that. Perhaps she would go to New York City.

At the same table was a retired teacher from Clearwater, British Columbia, and a guy from Toronto who identified himself as Newman and said that he traded stocks. These were enjoyable people to converse with.

VIA is sensitive about the perception that its flagship passenger train, which appears on the back of the Canadian $10 bill, primarily carries foreign tourists.

VIA claims that most who ride the Canadian are Canadians. Based on my limited dealings with those riding, I can’t say either way.

I met many foreigners such as myself who were riding to see Canada. I also met many Canadians riding for the same reason why Americans ride Amtrak. They are going from Point A to Point B and wanted to see their country in between.

It is noteworthy who I didn’t meet aboard the Canadian. I didn’t meet any railfans.

I know that American railfans and train buffs from around the world ride the Canadian. But I never met any or spotted anyone other than that one guy with guidebooks who was acting like a railfan.

Late in the afternoon we pulled into the service stop at Hornepayne, Ontario. I thought I might get a cell phone signal here, but I didn’t.

I had studied the schedules of VIA Nos. 1 and 2 and determined that if both trains were on time they would meet here or near here. We had passed No. 1 earlier in the trip, but that had been in the middle of the night back in British Columbia.

Neither train was on time and we got to Hornepayne first. I had been sitting in the dome section of Kokanee Park watching for VIA No. 1. I thought I might see it sitting in Hornepayne, but it was nowhere to be seen.

The depot at Hornepayne suggests that back in the day it was a division headquarters. Maybe it still is, but if so, the offices have moved elsewhere. CN also has a yard here and you can see the remains of a large shops complex. Waiting in the yard to follow us east was a crude oil train.

The station at Hornepayne was in decrepit condition. It was far from alone. I was surprised to see how run down many of the stations were along the route except in the major cities.

One of Amtrak’s modern small town bus shelter-type stations would be a vast improvement in some places along the route of the Canadian. Some depots were on the verge of falling over from neglect.

During the layover I chatted with the Park car service attendant and learned that some crews are based in Vancouver, some are based in Winnipeg and some are based in Toronto.

This particular crew was based in Toronto whereas the crew out of Vancouver on Sunday night had been a Winnipeg crew.

It was interesting to note the differences in the personalities of the two crews. The dining car crew that worked Vancouver to Winnipeg had begun every meal by introducing by name all of the dining car staff, including the chef and his assistant.

The steward would stand in the middle of the car and conduct the introductions in a manner not unlike a team being introduced before a sporting event.

The Toronto crew did not do that, but it also offered more on-board activities.

VIA No. 1 was still nowhere to be seen as we pulled out of Hornepayne.

I took my place back in the front row of the dome section of the Kokanee Park. I had a plan. I would photograph the F40s of No. 1 from the dome and then scoot down to the observation area of the car and hope that no one else had the same idea that I had of photographing the Park car of No. 1 going away.

Each time we reached a siding I expected to see No. 1 waiting or ambling along. But sidings came and sidings went and aside from a CN freight train or two, No. 1 was nowhere to be seen. I know we couldn’t have passed it.

Finally, it showed up on a curve. I executed my plan perfectly. I was the only person aboard No. 2 interested in photographing No. 1 from the rear of Kokanee Park.

The onboard crew on the Canadian that had boarded in Winnipeg offered more entertainment than had been the case west of there.

Movies were shown in the lounge section of the dome cars. A singer had boarded the train and performed in the afternoon and evening in the dome car lounges.

Jessica, our entertainment director, had a slate of activities for this particular day. These included a wine tasting in the dome car lounge and a presentation in the dome section about what to do in Toronto. I attended the wine tasting session, but had to leave early because they called my seating for lunch.

I also attended the things to do in Toronto lecture, which included hors d’oeuvres and a trivia game. I had to leave that session early, too, because my dinner seating had been called.

But before leaving I got some ideas about what to do and where to visit during my stay in Toronto.

Many of Jessica’s trivia questions were about Toronto’s professional sports teams and at one point she said that even though she was a Canadian she was rooting for the New York Rangers to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That might be heresy for some Canadians because the Canadiens were the only Canadian NHL team to make the playoffs in 2014.

As it turned out, Montreal did lose to New York. I was not surprised to see extensive coverage of Stanley Cup playoffs in the newspapers I saw during my time in Canada. The nation loves its hockey.

For dinner I chose the pickerel (a type of fish) with mashed potatoes and roasted red peppers and green beans. I had a spinach salad and a beer from a Vancouver microbrewery. Desert was chocolate layer cake that came with a small leaf of mint for garnish.

The sun had already set before I had dinner and I didn’t expect to get a good sunset shot because of the forests. But there were enough openings in the trees to get some nice images. It was a good ending to my last full day aboard the Canadian.

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