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The Canadian

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This article is an itinerary.
The westbound Canadian near Jasper in February

The Canadian (French: Le Canadien) is a 4,466 km (2,775 mi) passenger train route operated by Via Rail Canada running from Toronto to Vancouver, with numerous intermediate stops including Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. The trip, which takes over three days, is the longest passenger train route in North America, and covers several distinct landscapes. It runs from Toronto's financial district, through the sprawling suburbs of the Greater Toronto area, passing Ontario's Lake Country and through the massive Canadian Shield, the open expanse of the prairies, across the Rocky Mountains, and into the lush Fraser Valley of British Colombia, before ending in the bustling Pacific city of Vancouver.

Understand[edit]

Scheduling

This train is very slow and often quite late, as much as 12 hours late (though it is not unheard of for it to be early). Via has no control over the tracks and the train often has to wait for freight trains to clear the tracks. Via does not recommend you make same day connections, though it will rebook you for free if you are connecting to another Via train on the same ticket. There are faster and more efficient ways to travel across Canada, and unless you are travelling to a place not served by any other means of transportation, you are taking this train for the experience itself and not just to get from one place to another. The train is not the most efficient way to cross Western Canada.

The Canadian is the longest scheduled passenger train outside Eurasia, and at 4,466 km, it is 542 km longer than the California Zephyr, though it is less than half the distance of the Moscow-Vladivostok Trans-Siberian Railway.

The train inherited its name from a previous service operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which ran from Toronto to Vancouver, albeit on a more southern route that ran through Thunder Bay, Calgary and Banff. The current route is largely that used by the rival Canadian National Railway's Super Continental. After both railways turned their passenger service over to Via in the 1970s, Via operated both trains until the southern route was mostly cancelled in the 1990s due to budget cuts, and the Canadian brand was transferred to the northern route.

The train operates using an assortment of cars used on the original Canadian cars and cars of the same era purchased from US railways. The cars, mostly built in the 1950s, have been rebuilt several times and while quaint, are functional and have been modernized to a limited degree. During the summer months, when demand is higher, the train will be longer than 20 cars. While the train is dominated by tourists, especially in the summer, one of its purposes is to provide transportation services to the remote communities between Capereol and Winnipeg, and thus it makes many stops in remote places along the line.

Service on the train and major stations is available in English and French, all staff will speak English and most will speak French as well. With a few exceptions the communities served by the train are primarily English-speaking.

Getting on[edit]

Tickets[edit]

Seasons

Peak season runs from early May to mid-October. During this time the train runs thrice weekly (instead of twice weekly in the off-season). Prices are higher during this season (full comparison in the Sleep section of this article), and generally seats are harder to find on sale.

Tickets can be purchased directly from Via Rail its website, over the phone (+1 888 842-7245 in Canada and the United States, +1 514 989 2626 worldwide, +1 800 268-9503 TTY), in person at any staffed Via station counter, or through overseas travel agents. Unlike European rail tickets, the ticket is valid only for a specific date of departure.

See the sleep section of this article for a breakdown of classes and full prices.

Discounts[edit]

Sales and special online discounts are available through sporadically on Via's website for both economy and sleeper tickets, but unless there is a general sale, discounts for the next few weeks of travel in economy class are available every week Tuesday Toronto (Eastern) Time. Sleeper class discount fares are available on a separate page at any time. Especially in the off season these sales can halve the base fare. Via sometimes offers $15 fares for children age 11 and under between any two points on the route during the peak season.

Boarding[edit]

For passengers getting on in Toronto, Sudbury Junction, Capreol, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper or Vancouver, this is simply a matter of showing up at the station at the right time and if necessary checking your baggage at the baggage counter. In Toronto, sleeper class passengers have access to the Business class lounge. As Toronto is the only station on the route with frequent departures of other trains, economy passengers leaving Toronto should make sure that they get in the right line in the station concourse.

At all other stations boarding is simply a matter of waiting until the train arrives. Depending on the station, there my be a building for you to wait in, washrooms and a wheelchair lift, passengers should check the station's page on Via's website. Many remote stations will only have a signpost, and some not even that. Passengers check the status of their train ahead of time. When the train approaches at a remote station, stand a safe distance from the tracks, but so the conductor can see you. Approach the conductor when they beckon or turn a flashlight on you. They may ask you to take your baggage to the baggage car yourself and will help you board the train. At most remote stations you are on railway property and should abide by the directions of railway staff, though they will typically leave you alone if you keep out of their way.

Route[edit]

This description may not reflect what is visible on the train, some areas will inevitably be covered by darkness as the train passes through them. Eastbound travellers should read the travel guide in reverse.

City Km from Toronto Time from Toronto Km from Vancouver Time from Vancouver Time zone Description
1 Toronto 0 km 0 hr 4,466 km 3 days, 10 hr Eastern Canada's largest city and financial centre. The Canadian begins and ends at the massive limestone Union Station in the downtown core, a short distance from Lake Ontario and the CN Tower. Vancouver-bound trains travel slowly through the suburbs, at one point reversing a considerable distance to enter a junction. Trains entering Toronto travel through the scenic Don Valley.
2 Washago 143 km 3 hr 4,323 km 3 days, 7 hr Eastern Washago is a small village that marks the approximate boundary between the forested lands of Ontario's "Cottage Country" and the Golden Horseshoe (and the farmlands of Southwestern Ontario).
3 Parry Sound 241 km 5 hr 4,225 km 3 days, 5 hr Eastern Parry Sound sits on Georgian Bay, a part of Lake Huron. The Eastbound and Westbound trains use different tracks and thus stop at different places.
4 Sudbury Junction 422 km 7 hr 4,044 km 3 days, 2 hr Eastern Time Located 10 km from the city of Sudbury (Ontario), passengers must take a taxi or arrange a pickup. Sudbury is a nickel mining town, the train will pass several large piles of mining tailings south of the stop. Pulling into the station on the west side of the train the massive chimney of the Vale Nickel smelter is visible, the second tallest chimney in the world.
5 Capreol 444 km 8 hr 4,022 km 3 days, 2 hr Eastern A small satellite town of Sudbury, Capreol is the first/last major service stop. Passengers are allowed to get off the train while it refuels. Capreol also marks the eastern boundary of the Canadian Shield. East of Capreol until the Prairies begin near Winnipeg, the landscape is dominated by granite outcrops, lakes, peat bogs (known locally as muskeg), and spruce trees. The area is sparsely populated and forestry, mining and resource-based tourism are the dominant industries. The train will pass through a series of small hamlets, stopping sporadically. Between Capreol and Winnipeg tickets can be purchased for any point on the line, regardless of whether or not it is on the schedule.
6 Oba 859 km 16 hr 3,607 km 2 days, 19 hr Eastern A hamlet notable for being the junction with CN's Algoma Central Railway.
7 Hornepayne 921 km 17 hr 3,607 km 2 days, 18 hr Eastern Hornepayne is a forestry town that has seen more prosperous days. It is a service stop and passengers are allowed to disembark while the train is being serviced. During the summer the train will make several stops between Hornepayne and Sioux Lookout to pick up tourists staying at remote hunting and fishing lodges.
8 Longlac 1,084 km 19 hr 3,607 km 2 days, 16 hr Eastern Town located on the shores of the eponymous Long Lake. After Longlac the tracks curve sharply northward to go around Lake Nipigon, they continue east again at Nakina.
9 Armstrong 1,314 km 23 hr 3,108 km 2 days, 12 hr Eastern A small, isolated, Francophone village that serves as a hub for shipping timber. Armstrong is the furthest north the train will get in Ontario.
10 Allanwater Bridge 1,401 km 1 day 3,201 km 2 days, 11 hr Central A signpost near a fishing lodge. Allanwater Bridge is notable only because it represents the boundary between Eastern and Central Time, and that it serves as an access point to the remote lakes of Wabakimi Provincial Park.
11 Sioux Lookout 1,537 km 1 day, 2 hr 2,885 km 2 days, 9 hr Central Sioux Lookout, the largest community you pass through between Sudbury and Winnipeg, is a regional transportation hub and key centre for the forestry and tourism industries. The train stops downtown, next to the Tudor Revival former station. Should you pass through Sioux Lookout during the day, to the west of town the train passes by a floatplane base on the north side of the tracks, and just further west it passes through an active sawmill. There are 5 short tunnels cut through rock between Sioux Lookout and the Manitoba border.
12 Minaki 1,758 km 1 day, 6 hr 2,664 km 2 days, 5 hr Central Minaki is the largest and least isolated of several cottage communities you pass through between Sioux Lookout. Minaki has road access, but communities such as Ottermere can only be easily accessed by train or boat. Just east of Minaki the train crosses the Winnipeg River.
1 Manitoba-Ontario Border Central Depending on your direction of travel, this is either the train's first or last crossing of a provincial border. The westbound train is entering Whiteshell Provincial Park, and the eastbound train is entering Northern Ontario.
13 Elma 1,854 km 1 day, 7 hr 2,568 km 2 days, 4 hr Central Elma is located on the western edge of the Whiteshell Provincial Park. West of Elma the land flattens out and forests are gradually replaced with farmland, while to the east are the granite outcrops, lakes, bogs and mixed forests of the Canadian Shield.
14 Winnipeg 1,943 km 1 day, 9 hr 2,479 km 2 days, 2 hr Central Winnipeg, the capital and largest city of Manitoba is one of the train's major service stops. Depending on how on schedule the train is, it can spend up to 5 hours in Winnipeg. The opulent train station, designed by the same firm responsible for New York's Grand Central Terminal, is located in the downtown. On westbound trains, Via will offer guided tours for a fee. Passengers who want to see Winnipeg on their own can walk out of the back (east) doors of the station into The Forks: a major social hub and important historical area with entertainment, exploration, opportunities for dining at different price ranges. The odd-shaped Canadian Museum for Human Rights is also just outside the station and is a part of The Forks area, as is the Manitoba Children's Museum. If you wish to go further, cross the Red River into St. Boniface, the city's French quarter, or head north of the station in the Exchange District with its collection of early 20th century warehouses. West of Winnipeg, the land is mostly flat prairie and agriculture is the primary industry.
2 Manitoba-Saskatchewan Border This is the border between the two prairie provinces, Manitoba (whose name may be derived from several indigenous languages and means "the straits of the Great Spirit" and Saskatchewan (whose name comes from Cree and means "swift flowing river"). While the two provinces are on the same time zone, Saskatchewan does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November westbound travellers move one hour back while eastbound travellers move one hour forward.
15 Melville 2,398 km 1 day, 21 hr 2,024 km 1 day, 19 hr Saskatchewan Melville is the easternmost stop in Saskatchewan. Potash mining is key to the local and provincial economy, and there are several active mines adjacent to the tracks between the Manitoba border and Saskatoon.
16 Saskatoon 2,702 km 2 days 2,024 km 1 day, 15 hr Saskatchewan Saskatchewan’s largest city, founded as a temperance colony in 1883. The train largely bypasses the city, stopping at the modernist train station in the southwestern suburbs. Just east of the station the train crosses the South Saskatchewan River.
17 Biggar 2,792 km 2 days 2 hr 1,934 km 1 day, 13 hr Saskatchewan A farming town of 2,000, typical of many similar towns throughout the prairies. The town, in a display of boastful prairie humour, has adopted the slogan "New York is big, but this is Biggar."
3 Alberta-Saskatchewan Border The crossing of the provincial boundary with scrub on both sides. Between the first Sunday in November and the second Sunday in March westbound travellers move one hour back while eastbound travellers move one hour forward. Oil pumps, signs of an industry that is key to the economies of both provinces, are occasionally visible along the tracks.
18 Edmonton 3,221 km 2 days, 9 hr 1,036 km 1 day, 5 hr Mountain The capital and second largest city of Alberta, the train backs into the station north of the downtown core, adjacent to CN's main railyard. West of Edmonton the train approaches the Rocky Mountains, while east of Edmonton the prairies continue to until Winnipeg.
19 Edson 3,430 km 2 days 13 hr 1,245 km 1 day, 3 hr Mountain A forestry town of 8,400, Edson is where westbound passengers catch their first view of the Rockies.
20 Jasper 3,600 km 2 days, 15 hr 866 km 1 day, 1 hr Mountain Jasper is a tourist town that serves as the centre of Jasper National Park. As it is a major service stop, passengers can typically get off an explore the town.
4 Alberta-British Columbia Border The provincial boundary is also the boundary between Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park.
21 Kamloops 4,038 km 3 days 428 km 14 hr Pacific A town of 84,000, the train stops north of the town. Beyond Kamloops, the westbound train travels through rolling hills and along the banks of the Thompson River towards Vancouver, while the eastbound train heads up the Rocky Mountains.
22 Vancouver 4,466 km 3 days, 10 hr 0 km 0 hr Pacific Canada's third largest metropolitan area, with a population of 3.4 million. The train stops at the Neoclassical Pacific Central Station, located just east of the downtown core.

On board[edit]

Cars[edit]

Coach cars[edit]

These cars have large seats with significant legroom and recline, leg and foot rests and airline-style tray tables, and AC plugins. Seats are in a 2-2 configuration, with some pairs facing each other that are typically reserved for families. There are bathrooms at each end of the car, one of which is wheelchair accessible and has a changing table.

Sleeping cars[edit]

Sleeping cars, which make up the bulk of the train during the peak season, come in two different configurations: Manour and Château. The Château cars are usually used on other trains and are less common on the Canadian

  • Manour cars have 3 sets of berths, 4 single bedrooms, 6 double bedrooms, 2 common bathrooms and a common shower.
  • Château cars have 3 sets of berths, 8 single bedrooms, 1 triple bedroom, 3 double bedrooms, 2 common bathrooms and a common shower.
Dome Section of a Skyline Car.
Skyline car[edit]

There are typically at least two of these cars on each train, one of which is available to economy passengers. They feature a lounge at each end, one with cafeteria-style tables and the other with long couches, and a glass dome viewing area with seating raised above the area in between. Below the dome area there is a narrow hallway with a snack bar and a kitchen. The kitchen is only open during the peak season for economy passengers, and in sleeper class the kitchen is closed and the snack bar provides bar service and complimentary light snacks. Various activities are available in one of these cars for sleeping class passengers, and live music is provided on some trips to passengers in both classes in in the lounge areas.

Park car[edit]
A Park Car

The last car on the train. Similar external appearance to the Skyline car, with a dome section sticking out. Houses two lower lounges, a dome section and Sleeper premier and accessible suites. Available exclusively to Sleeper class passengers in the off-peak season. In the peak season it is available only to Prestige Sleeper passengers, except between 19:00 and 22:00 when it is open to all Sleeper passengers.

Baggage car[edit]

Usually the first car of the train and generally closed to passengers.

Communications[edit]

As the train passes through some remote areas, cell phone service is not available along large parts of the journey. Most travellers with Canadian mobile contracts should be able to receive voice, text, and data service between Toronto and Capreol, in Gogama, Foleyet, Hornepayne, Caramat, Longlac, Nakina, Armstrong, Minaki, and Brereton Lake, between Winnipeg and Jasper, in Valemont and Blue River, between Clearwater and Ashcroft, in Boston Bar and between Hope and Vancouver. Travellers with smaller Canadian or international mobile carriers should check with their carrier (Towers on the route belong to Rogers, Bell, Telus, Tbaytel, MTS and Sasktel, though many of these carriers have tower sharing agreements with each other that may extend to international carriers).

Free wireless internet is available at stations in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper and Vancouver.

Smoking[edit]

Smoking (and vaporizers) are prohibited on the train and that prohibition is strictly enforced. Designated smoking stops are Capreol, Hornepayne, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. The train crew may at times limit or cancel these stops if the train is behind schedule.

Eat and drink[edit]

Prime Rib in the Dining Car on The Canadian

Sleeping and Prestige Classes[edit]

Throughout the year, sleeping car passenger receive free three course meals in the dining car. Complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are available in the Park and Skyline cars. There is at least one vegetarian option available and Gluten-free, Kosher and vegan meals can be requested by calling Via 10 days before departure. A children's menu is available.

Economy Class[edit]

During peak season passengers can purchase meals from the snack bar in their Skyline car. Meals are cooked in the kitchen next door and are of generally good quality, slightly better than Amtrak long-distance dining car food and cost around $10. There is at least one vegetarian option at every meal, but be sure to specify that you are vegetarian to avoid miscommunication. There are also a few children's options. Other special diets are not explicitly accommodated.

During off-peak season, the kitchen in the Skyline car is closed and service staff come around the economy cars offering to sign passengers up for dining car sittings.

In either season, the snack bar is open stocking hot and cold beverages, snacks and pre-made sandwiches.

The dining car is open to economy passengers in the off season, and economy passengers can often get a seating in the dining car during peak season if the train is not too full by asking service staff. As the quality of the dining car meals is most pronounced at dinner, this is the best meal to eat in the dining car. Prices are higher than in from the kitchen in the Skyline car, with dinner costing around $20, though the portions are somewhat larger and include salad and dessert.

Many passengers in economy bring their own food; hot water is available from the snack bar for instant food. There are no fridges or microwaves available for passengers.

Alcohol[edit]

Alcohol is available for purchase the Park car, Dining car (though only during meals) and economy class Skyline car. On board selection is limited to a few domestic beers, several wines and a small selection of spirits and mixers. Alcohol cannot be taken outside of the car where it was sold, though passengers with cabins may drink alcohol bought off the train in their cabins. Depending on what province you happen to be in at the time, the minimum age to purchase alcohol is 18 (Manitoba, Alberta) or 19 (Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Colombia). Prestige Sleeper passengers have the cost of alcohol included in their ticket.

Sleep[edit]

Prestige Sleeper[edit]

The most expensive option by far, a double bed that converts into an L shaped coach during the day, and a private bathroom and shower. Based on double occupancy and including taxes, this cabin can cost over $7,500 for the entire Toronto - Vancouver trip.

Sleeper class[edit]

Berths in daytime configuration.

There are a variety of sleeping options in sleeper class. Pillows, sheets and blankets are provided for all.

  • Berths: the cheapest sleeper option, the lower and slightly cheaper upper berth convert into couches during the day. Mattress dimensions are 178 cm x 109 cm (5 ft. 10 in. x 3 ft. 7 in.). Bathrooms and showers are located in the same car. Unlike all other options on the train, these seats do not have their own electrical outlets, though some are available in the bathrooms. Before discounts, fares for the entire length of the route start at $1,200 including taxes ($1,700 in the peak season).
  • Cabin for one: Private room with a single bed that is replaced with a chair during the day. Mattress dimensions are 180 cm x 76 cm (5 ft. 11 in. x 2 ft. 6 in.) Includes private toilet and sink that folds into the wall, though toilet is covered when bed is set up and you must use the general toilets in the car instead. Shower is available in the car. A standard North American 100 AC outlet is provided in the cabin. Some cabins require a small step up to the bed, passengers with mobility issues should call ahead to request a lower cabin. Before discounts, fares for the entire length of the route start at $1,900 including taxes ($2,600 in the peak season).
  • Cabin for two: Private room with an upper and lower bed. Upper bed is accessed by a ladder. Mattress size is 180 cm x 79 cm (71 in. x 31 in.). Beds are replaced with chairs during the day. Includes a private bathroom, access to a shower in the same car and a standard North American 100 AC outlet. Before discounts, fares for the entire length of the route start at $2,900 including taxes for two people ($3,900 in the peak season).
  • Cabin for three: Only carried in limited number during the peak season and sells out quickly. Mattress size is 153 cm x 91 cm (5 ft. 11½ in. x 2 ft. 7 in.)
  • Cabin for four: Two combined two person cabins, not sold online.
  • Accessible Cabin: Only one per train. Includes fully accessible bathroom and shower. Full specifications are on VIA's website. Can only be booked over the phone.

Economy Class[edit]

Coach seats, one fully reclined.

Large reclining seats in a 2x2 configuration, with airline-style tray tables, a standard North American 100V AC outlets for each seat and a leg rest stowed underneath. There is a bathroom and luggage storage area at each end of the car as well as overhead storage for small bags above your seat. Groups of four seats facing each other are offered to families. Passengers travelling alone are typically given two seats to themselves if they are travelling overnight will rarely be asked to give up the second seat. There is a wheelchair tie down and an accessible bathroom at one end of the car. Before discounts, fares for the entire length of the route start at $450 including taxes ($510 in the peak season).

Baggage[edit]

Carry on[edit]

Economy: 1 Personal bag (max 11.5 kg/25 lbs., 43 x 15 x 33 cm/17 x 6 x 13 in.) and either one large bag (max 23 kg/50 lbs., 158 linear cm/62 linear in.) or two smaller bags (max 11.5 kg/25 lbs., 54.5 x 39.5 x 23 cm/21.5 x 15.5 x 9 in.).

Sleeper: 1 Personal bag (max 11.5 kg/25 lbs., 43 x 15 x 33 cm/17 x 6 x 13 in.) and two small bags (max 11.5 kg/25 lbs., 54.5 x 39.5 x 23 cm/21.5 x 15.5 x 9 in.). As there is significantly less storage space than in the coach cars the larger bag is not an option.

Purses and small folding infant strollers are not included in the carry on baggage count.

Checked[edit]

Loading a canoe into the baggage car requires a special technique, but can be done.

All passengers: Two large bags (max 23 kg/50 lbs., 158 linear cm/62 linear in. each)

Oversized and excess bags can be transported for a $40 fee. Pets in travelling crates can be kept in the baggage car for between $30-50. Bicycles can be transported for $50 ($100 for tandems) and bike boxes are available for free at major stations. Canoes and kayaks can, with some care, be loaded into the baggage car for $100 fee, though Via requires that you email or phone them to book the space. As the train serves several remote communities between Capreol and Winnipeg, Via has a fee schedule for a moving variety of unusual items between those destinations, including groceries, construction materials, and appliances.

Get off[edit]

While many international travellers (and indeed many Canadians) opt for the full distance, a decent number of people get off and on along the way, particularly in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper.

Connections[edit]

Because the train is often late Via recommends against same day connections, though it will rebook you for free if you miss a connection to another Via train.

Toronto: Union Station is the busiest passenger terminal for any mode of transportation in Canada, though the intercity train concourse is quieter than the commuter concourse below it. From here you can catch VIA Trains to Ottawa, Montreal, and Southwestern Ontario, a daily Amtrak train to New York City, GO Transit commuter trains and buses to various points in Southern Ontario including Niagara Falls. There is a major subway station below the station. There is a rail shuttle to Toronto Pearson International Airport west of the station and a bus shuttle to Toronto Island Airport across the street in front of the Royal York Hotel. The Toronto Coach Terminal, which has buses throughout Ontario and to Quebec, Western Canada and the United States, is 1.5 km (1 mile) north or three subway stations away in either direction.

Sudbury Junction/Capreol: Via offers a train from downtown Sudbury to White River, Ontario that serves various remote communities in Northeastern Ontario. You can also catch a bus to various points in Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Timmins) in downtown Sudbury. Either way you will need to take a taxi. The on board service staff may be able to have the dispatcher call one for you to time it with the train's arrival.

Winnipeg: Via offered a twice-weekly train to the sub-Arctic port of Churchill, Manitoba, most notable for its polar bears; however, service between Thompson and Churchill has been suspended since May 23, 2017, with as yet no completion date for track repairs.

Edmonton: Greyhound buses use the train station as a terminal, providing a relatively easy transfer to Calgary and other communities in Alberta.

Jasper: This is the terminus of Via's thrice-weekly train to Prince George and Prince Rupert. Luxury Rocky Mountaineer tour trains and Greyhound buses also depart from this station.

Vancouver: Amtrak offers two trains a day to Seattle, and Greyhound also uses the station as a terminal. There is a Skytrain station nearby to allow transfers to downtown Vancouver, Vancouver International Airport. There is a bus/ferry service to Victoria that leaves from the station. You can buy an open-date voucher for the Victoria connection with your train tickets by specifying Victoria as your destination in the booking engine (though you might need to book it separately if you get your tickets on sale) or at the station.

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