1. Halifax-Montreal 2.Montreal 3.Montreal-Toronto
4.Toronto-Windsor 5.Toronto-Niagara Falls 6.Toronto-Winnipeg
7.Winnipeg-Jasper 8.Jasper-Prince George 9.Prince George-Vancouver
10.Vancouver 11.Vancouver Island 12.BC Rail Steam/BC Transit
Links Loco Observations Locos & stock photos
Feedback Text only Return to website main Index Page

 

The text for this website is taken directly from a diary I compiled immediately after I visited Canada in 1997. I have not amended it, to include any additional up-to-date information, as I feel that the immediacy of the original text would be lost. However, if any reader wishes to submit further updated notes I will post this on a page on this site.

A RAILWAY JOURNEY ACROSS CANADA BY TRAIN

HALIFAX - MONTREAL

SUNDAY 20th JULY 1997

The flight from Manchester to Toronto was not as interminable as expected. The in-flight films were dire so I listened to the two one-hour long selections of classical music (three times each!) and read a book set during the construction of Ribblehead Viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel. There were amazing views of Greenland as we passed to the south of it - mountains, cliffs and enormous glaciers, as well as icebergs.

From Toronto I flew on to Halifax in the company of a retired aero-engineer who gave me a running commentary on the journey and some of Canada’s problems. On the far side of Lake Ontario could be seen Buffalo in the USA and the entrance of the Niagara River into the lake. The plane flew over Maine and the Bay of Fundy to approach Nova Scotia from the South-East. I was able to see the long spit on the North coast of Nova Scotia. From Halifax airport I took the shuttle bus to the VIA station which was a five minute walk from my hotel. After a walk in the town the jet lag caught up with me and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

MONDAY 21st  JULY 1997

 

CN switchers at Halifax container depot

The hotel was very close to the container depot so I walked to an over bridge over the yard entrance and watched a pair of Canadian National locomotives switching. There were no container ships at the berths but I heard that two had been loaded the day before. Then I went to confirm my reservations at the station. Halifax station has one train in and out six days a week to Montreal. Only one of its five platforms is in use, although there is also a VIA maintenance depot by the station. The main concourse has been tastefully restored and evokes the atmosphere of another age. Afterwards I walked along the waterfront- very interesting with a museum of naval history and several preserved ships. 

The Halifax skyline from the ferry to Dartmouth

Then I took the ferry across the harbour to Dartmouth - this is the oldest ferry service in N.America. The weather was very pleasant and the 15 minute crossing enjoyable. There were plenty of naval ships in the dockyard (Halifax is the principal naval base of Canada). Opposite the ferry terminal was the CN Dartmouth freight yard with one of the two surviving Montreal Locomotive Works M636 CoCos stabled there.

Back in Halifax I walked through the town to the Citadel - ramparts, ditches and barracks - a little like Berwick-upon-Tweed, but still in use as a military base. I was just in time to see and hear the twelve o'clock gun being fired and the guard being changed. It was almost as if I were in Edinburgh with soldiers playing pipes and wearing kilts! Later in my trip I heard all about the Halifax explosion of 1917, which killed thousands of people  when an ammunition ship blew up in the harbour.  

The "Ocean" before departure from Halifax for Montreal

  Back at the station I phoned home to mark the start of THE JOURNEY from coast to coast. My berth was in the sleeping car next to the “Park” dome and bar car at the end of the train - most convenient. The train was made up of 11 rebuilt Budd cars built originally by the Canadian Pacific in the 1950s and now totally rebuilt for the 1990s. I ensconced myself in the dome before departure, which was on time at 13.30.  

 

The centre domecar on the "Ocean"

The route of the "Ocean" from Halifax to Montreal

Route map courtesy of VIA

The journey across Nova Scotia was initially along the shores of Halifax harbour and then through forests, past lakes and across cattle ranches. The soil was a reddy brown and coloured all the rivers.

The first stop at Truro showed that the “Ocean” is a real train, not a tour train, with numerous people boarding and alighting - a pattern which was repeated for the rest of the journey and explained the length of the train. During lunch in the restaurant car, the westbound “Ocean” passed us running late due to have to switch in and out cars at Moncton.

Near Sackville, Fort Beaesejour was passed - built by the French but promptly captured by the British. The line came down to the Bay of Fundy on the approach to New Brunswick - an area of marsh and deep channels. The sea here has one of the largest tidal ranges anywhere in the world.

The train stopped at Moncton for half an hour to refuel the locomotives from a road tanker and to cut in two more sleeping cars. Most passengers got off the train and wandered around. I met a retired railway man who’d been a conductor and he filled me in on many Canadian railway practices, which would otherwise have been a mystery to me .  

The locos of the "Ocean" are refuelled at Moncton

  Travelling onwards through New Brunswick the train left the CTC signalled main line and headed north on an un-signalled line, through more forests, past beaver lakes (which destroy the trees by flooding their roots) and over several deep valleys. I had a 3-course dinner in the company of three Canadians and was told I could easily get a teaching job in Ontario such was the shortage of teachers! The meal was ridiculously cheap at $16, about £7. Then it was back to the dome car as the train made its way north very slowly, due to poor track conditions. North of Moncton the line operates under the modern equivalent of train orders- the crew have sometimes to set the switches at passing sidings when they meet a train. The sunset was spectacular - such wide-open skies. The line passed several large saw and paper mills.  

From the domecar somewhere in New Brunswick

North of Bathurst it became dark. Along the Baie des Chaleurs it is quite densely populated. The train was put in a siding to allow a freight to pass and then reversed out before pulling forward, thus saving the conductor a long walk to change the hand operated points. At Campbelltown a running-gear check was done on the coaches during the stop. At Matapiedia the section of the "Ocean" from the Gaspé peninsular line was added during a long and complicated switching process. The train left 60 minutes late with 19 cars and 2 locomotives.  

TUESDAY 22nd JULY 1997 

Sunrise at Quebec with the St Lawrence River in foreground

  I awoke as the train ran along the St. Lawrence River. We were 45minutes late at Levis, the ferry station for Quebec City. The sun rose as the train was standing in the station and lit up all the buildings in the city opposite. The cantilever bridge across the St. Lawrence (rather like the Forth Bridge) was seen as we headed west towards Montreal. 

The countryside is mainly arable and to my surprise the line was still single track. Closer to Montreal there were several hills rising above the plain - volcanic plugs. The approach to Montreal was through the inevitable urban sprawl of houses, motorways and industry. The railway crosses over the St. Lawrence on a long single-track bridge before entering the awful underground platforms of Gare Centrale. In Canada platforms in large stations are not for lingering on! An Amtrak train to New York was ready to depart behind a F40PH. The station concourse was reached up escalators and was more like an airport, although without enough seating.

The "Ocean" approaches Gare Central in Montreal

To return to top of page click here

To go to next page click here

For locomotive observation for this section click here

 

1. Halifax-Montreal 2.Montreal 3.Montreal-Toronto
4.Toronto-Windsor 5.Toronto-Niagara Falls 6.Toronto-Winnipeg
7.Winnipeg-Jasper 8.Jasper-Prince George 9.Prince George-Vancouver
10.Vancouver 11.Vancouver Island 12.BC Rail Steam/BC Transit
Links Loco Observations Locos & stock photos
Feedback Text only