Monday, January 9, 2012

Coast-to-Coast Across Canada...4,000 Miles by Rail.

(This story originally ran in International Living magazine and subsequently appeared on the web site.)

In the broad protected harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, General Sir William Howe organized the invasion fleet that captured New York City in 1776. During two world wars, convoys of merchant ships loaded with the men and material of war assembled here before setting out for England across the North Atlantic through the terrible gauntlet of German submarines.

This morning, Halifax is also the jumping-off point for a 6,500 kilometer rail journey taking me from Canada’s Atlantic Coast all the way to Vancouver on the shores of the Pacific.

The double glass doors of the Halifax train station swing open and passengers begin moving in small clusters along the platform where VIA Rail’s Train # 15, the Ocean, waits – a dozen cars, in blue and teal livery.

Precisely on time at 12:35 p.m., the train begins to move and my trans-continental train odyssey has officially begun.

An hour later, we’re speeding through wooded countryside, forests of pine and birch interrupted occasionally by small farms. Every few minutes we cross streams running at the top of their banks, swollen from the Spring thaw. Freshly plowed fields have standing water in low spots.

Around 4:00 in the afternoon, under lowering clouds, we cross into New Brunswick Province and run along the shores of Chicnecto Bay. Farther to the south, it empties into the Bay of Fundy, known for tides that can rise and fall as much as eight feet an hour.

When I appear for my 7:00 reservation in the dining car, the steward seats me with a young woman named Veronica. She’s a Montreal native who works for a pharmaceutical company, translating everything from advertising to medical texts from English into French.

Somehow our server instinctively knows to address me in English and Veronica in French, switching languages effortlessly in mid-sentence saying, as she presents me with a menu, “The special tonight is beef stroganoff and (shifting her glance to Veronica) vraiment, il est tres bon.”

When I return to my compartment, I find that the car attendant has lowered my bunk, turned down the bedcovers and plumped up my pillows. A dozen pages into a paperback book, my eyelids close.

(More to come)


Christopher Parker said...

Have fun, Jim!

I love that spot where the train (and the driver) from Nova Scotia enter New Brunswick. Somehow it's *always* under lowering clouds there.

JIM LOOMIS said...

It was a great trip, start to finish. I'd love to do it all again, although the next time I'll spend several additional days in Quebec City ... and most of that time in restaurants!