Considering it a took a railway to unite a nation with geography as vast as Canada’s, it’s surprising to foreign visitors, especially Europeans, that they can’t see more of the country by train.
There are certainly excursion and luxury trains that cherry-pick some of the most scenic routes and a few regional operators, but to get from one side of the country to the other or to travel serious distances, your only choice is VIA Rail.
If you’re interested in taking things slowly, then train travel is definitely appealing and VIA has some incredible routes to discover. Here’s a roundup highlighting the most popular:
The most iconic of VIA’s routes is the trans-continental trip from Toronto to Vancouver. The Canadian is no Trans-Siberian Express, but it’s definitely one of the great Canadian experiences that let’s you truly appreciate the vastness of the country, especially during those long hours through the forests and lakes of northern Ontario.
Designed for people who aren’t in a hurry, The Canadian is notoriously late as it frequently gets diverted on to sidings waiting unpredictable lengths of time so that priority freight trains can pass. That doesn’t really matter to the passengers on board as they don’t want to journey to end.
The Canadian‘s vintage dome cars make it perfect for admiring the scenery, especially the highlight that is the Canadian Rockies, and the camaraderie that is forged between passengers over the four-night passage makes it a truly special journey.
Living in the suburbs of Montreal, I’ve long travelled by commuter train from Central Station and often hear announcements calling passengers to board The Ocean, the overnight train that travels all the way to the Maritime’s largest city, Halifax.
The announcement would ring out across the cavernous station hall listing stops along the way like Rivière-de-Loup, Rimouski, Matapédia, Miramichi, Moncton and Truro. Those place names sounded a lot more exotic than the commuter stop I was heading to.
Sure, you could drive or fly between Halifax and Montreal, but The Ocean is a much more civilized journey.
The Hudson Bay
Travelling to Canada’s North can be an expensive and difficult proposition, but taking the train from Winnipeg to Churchill couldn’t be easier.
Known as a polar bear and beluga whale paradise, the Manitoba city of Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay is one of Canada’s most accessible adventure destinations and the Winnipeg-Churchill train is the only dry land connection to this incredible community.
Sadly, the train is no longer officially known under it’s old name The Hudson Bay, but is now marketed by Via as one of its ‘adventure routes.’
Another of VIA’s new-fangled adventure routes, the Jasper-Prince George train formerly known as The Skeena is one of the railway’s most under-appreciated journeys.
Linking Alberta with British Columbia, the train travels through spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery that will leave you breathless. Even better, there’s an overnight stop at the mid-way point in Prince George so you won’t miss any of those vistas during the night-time hours.
Another of VIA’s adventure routes (and there are others), the Senneterre-Montreal link was once-upon-a-time known as The Abitibi, named after the remote Quebec region that the train passes through. Thankfully, it never used the full name for the region which is Abitibi-Témiscamingue which isn’t so easy to pronounce.
The route is especially popular with anglers and hunters who come to this unspoiled natural region to enjoy the services of numerous professional operators who guide them to some of the best fish and game spots in the country.
Perhaps the least glamourous of its itineraries, the VIA trains that travel the Quebec City to Windsor corridor are definitely the busiest as they connect Canada’s two most populous cities, Montreal and Toronto.
These trains are well-appointed and the service onboard is impeccable making them a much more pleasant experience than driving or flying so if you’re looking for a more relaxed way to explore through this region, I’d definitely recommend you checking out VIA’s offerings.
To find out more about VIA Rail’s trains, here is a complete list of all of their routes: https://www.viarail.ca/en/explore-our-destinations/trains