The Canadian

I’ve just booked passage on the Canadian to travel from Vancouver and Toronto, and I’m quite excited about the journey. Having taken Amtrak across America, it will be nice to experience the Canadian equivalent.

I was able to get quite a good deal. While I was happy with taking Amtrak from Bellingham and Toronto for 303$, I’m even happier with the discount I’ve procured on Via. I’ve actually booked a sleeper class ticket, because through the via-express deals website the price was only 331$ plus tax. That means a bed, and all meals included. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this, it’s a truly ridiculous deal, and a chance to experience the luxury of yesteryear at below modern economy prices. (For comparison’s sake, the regular discounted economy fare is 442$ plus tax).
Traveling Sleeper Class is an experience all its own, and one I have not experienced since I was a small boy when we took the Canadian to Calgary to visit relatives. When we took it then, the Canadian was on its traditional CP route through Banff and Calgary – soon before the switch to its current route through Jasper and Edmonton, which is generally considered less scenic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the thing that excites me most about taking the Canadian, specifically taking it sleeper class, is the Park car. The Park car sits at the end of the train, and has a curved end which is really more for style than aerodynamics. It houses a bar, two lounges, and a dome. Mostly, it is excessive – the train doesn’t need it to function. However, it provides space to move around, space for people to socialize in after the berths have been converted to night mode and the children have gone to bed. And, in the early hours of the morning, according to Stuart Maclean it is a place of peace, of tranquility – where you can watch the prairies go by illuminated by the moon. The prairies are largely what I’m looking forward to on this trip – I believe they will look different from a train than from a car. Especially at night when the car’s headlights prevent your eyes from adjusting to the soft light of the moon.

The Canadian is a train with some history: it is the “Train of Tommorow” of 1953 – a time when the old was being replaced with the new, and everything was chrome and a new Chevrolet. Unlike the Chevy, however, the train still looks new. Not a modern new, more the new of the Avro Arrow – from the fifties, but still fresh and clean. The fact that some things from the fifties don’t yet look retro has to do with the fact modernity itself has positive content.

Maybe I can say the Canadian is like John Locke – factually old, but whose ideas don’t seem dated, whereas the Chevy from the same year is Bach – approximately the same period, but much more dated and explicitly from the past. Or maybe you don’t like this analogy.

Still, I think the Canadian looks new, and that it will mean something when it doesn’t anymore. As for that, there is a Park car at the Exporail museum in Montreal now, and although it is outside with a tarp wrapped over it, its even being there indicates that the Canadian’s railset – most of it a solid 54 years old – will eventually all be consigned the museum and scrap heap. It will undoubtedly be replaced by something new and European. But, will it live up to the iconic status of these cars? It is hard to imagine calling any other trainset “The Canadian”.



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