|Service type||Intercity rail|
|Current operator(s)||Via Rail Canada|
|Former operator(s)||Canadian Pacific Railway|
|Ridership||1,579 weekly (FY 2019)|
|Annual ridership||82,135 (FY 2019)|
|Website||Via Rail - The Canadian|
|Stops||65 (55 on request only)|
|End||Vancouver, British Columbia|
|Distance travelled||4,466 km (2,775 mi)|
|Average journey time||Westbound: 3 days, 22.25 hours|
Eastbound: 3 days, 23.5 hours
|Service frequency||two trains per week in each direction off peak, one extra train per week between Edmonton and Vancouver on peak.|
|Class(es)||Economy, Sleeper, Prestige|
|Seating arrangements||Coach seating|
|Sleeping arrangements||Berths, bedrooms for one, two or three|
|Catering facilities||Dining car, Skyline Cafe, take out, in-room service (Prestige Class only), bar|
|Observation facilities||Skyline car, park car, panoramic dome car (between Edmonton and Vancouver)|
|Entertainment facilities||Artists on Board Program, WiFi (coming in later 2017 in areas with cell coverage)|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available at selected stations|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in)|
Canadian National Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway
|Timetable number(s)||1, 2 (between Toronto and Vancouver)|
3, 4 (between Edmonton and Vancouver)
The Canadian (French: Le Canadien) is a transcontinental passenger train operated by Via Rail with service between Union Station in Toronto, Ontario and Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Before 1955 the Canadian was a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train between Toronto and Chicago. In 1955, CPR renamed its transcontinental route between Montreal/Toronto and Vancouver the Canadian, with new streamlined trains. Via Rail took over in 1978, and in 1990 reduced the Canadian to Toronto–Vancouver service primarily along Canadian National tracks.
In the years following World War II, passenger trains on the CPR consisted of a mixture of prewar heavyweight and pre- and post-war lightweight cars, even on its flagship transcontinental The Dominion and its eastern extension, The Atlantic Limited. While these cars were serviceable, American trains of the early 1950s, such as the California Zephyr, had already adopted streamlined all-stainless steel consists featuring domed observation cars. Following an evaluation in 1949 of the dome cars featured on the General Motors / Pullman Standard demonstrator Train of Tomorrow, CPR management, including then Vice President Norris Crump, resolved to upgrade its rolling stock.
In 1953, CPR placed an order for 155 stainless steel cars with the Budd Company of Philadelphia that included 18 rear-end dome cars (Park series), 18 Skyline mid-train dome cars, 30 coaches, 18 dining cars and 71 sleeping cars (Manor and Château series). A subsequent order for 18 baggage-crew dormitory cars brought the final to total to 173 cars, sufficient for establishing an entirely new transcontinental service and partially re-equipping The Dominion. The interior design of these new cars was contracted to the Philadelphia architectural firm Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson (a company known for its industrial designs on other prominent passenger trains such as the Pioneer Zephyr), and the resulting furnishings and pastel-shaded colour schemes were widely acclaimed.
After deciding to name the Park series dome cars after famous Canadian parks, leading Canadian artists, including members of the Group of Seven, were commissioned to paint suitable murals for these cars. When the decision was made to add budget sleeping cars, the Budd order was supplemented by 22 existing heavyweight sleepers that CPR refurbished in its own Angus Shops, each fitted out with Budd-style stainless steel cladding. To complement the new rolling stock, the CPR ordered General Motors Diesel FP9 locomotives to supplement an existing fleet of FP7s. Although these F-units remained the preferred power for the train, it would occasionally pulled by a variety of motive power, including Montreal Locomotive Works FPA-2s.
CPR christened its new flagship train The Canadian and service began on April 24, 1955. Running time between Montreal and Vancouver was reduced from about 85 to 71 hours, so that passengers spent only three, rather than four, nights en route. Although CPR competitor Canadian National Railways began its own new transcontinental service, the Super Continental, on the same day, CPR was able to boast honestly that The Canadian was "The first and only all-stainless steel 'dome' stream-liner in Canada" — it was not until 1964 that the CNR acquired dome cars from the Milwaukee Road.
The train operated with Montreal and Toronto sections which ran combined west of Sudbury, Ontario. The Montreal section (also serving Ottawa) was known as train 1 westbound and train 2 eastbound, while the Toronto section was known as train 11 westbound and train 12 eastbound. Matching its streamlined appearance, The Canadian's 71-hour westbound schedule was 16 hours faster than that of The Dominion.
Although initially successful, passenger train ridership began to decline in Canada during the 1960s. Facing competition from airlines and increased automobile usage following construction of the Trans-Canada Highway, the CPR cancelled The Dominion in 1966, and petitioned the government to discontinue The Canadian in 1970. Although this petition was denied, CPR during the 1970s attempted to remove itself from the passenger service market. The Canadian was operated at reduced levels, with the government subsidizing 80 percent of its losses.
Via Rail, a federal crown corporation, formally assumed responsibility for CPR's passenger services on October 29, 1978, although the Via identity was not assumed by the trains themselves until the following summer. Following the takeover by Via, the Canadian became the company's premier transcontinental train, and initially operated over its old CPR route. It was supplemented by the former CN Super Continental, which operated over the parallel, but more northerly, CN route. The Canadian continued to be operated in two sections east of Sudbury and provided daily service west to Vancouver and east to Toronto and Montreal.
The Super Continental was discontinued in 1981 due to sharp budget cuts. Since then, the Canadian has Via Rail's only true transcontinental train. While the Super Continental was brought back in 1985 amid popular demand, it only ran as far east as Winnipeg.
In the aftermath of another round of deep budget cuts made to Via Rail on January 15, 1990, Via again discontinued the Super Continental, this time permanently. The Canadian was moved from CPR trackage to the CN route plied by the Super Continental for its first quarter-century, dropping the Montreal section. The new longer route bypassed Thunder Bay, Regina and Calgary in favour of Saskatoon and Edmonton. This maintained transcontinental service and allowed Via to operate its government-mandated service to small communities along the line. At the same time, the absence of transportation alternatives along the CPR route allowed entrepreneur Peter Armstrong to develop the Rocky Mountaineer excursion service. Moreover, while pre-1990 schedules had daily service on both the CP and CN routes, service following the 1990 cuts was a mere three days per week, reduced further to two times a week in the offseason.
In 2007 the schedule was lengthened so that the train now takes four nights, rather than three, to travel between Toronto and Vancouver. The four-night schedule is almost identical (in terms of travel time) with that of the 1940s, despite substantial technological change since then.
In 2013, the train was honoured by being featured on the back of the new polymer Canadian ten-dollar note.
As of 2018[update], Via Rail continues to operate the Canadian using the rebuilt ex-CPR Budd passenger equipment.
The schedule was lengthened again effective July 26, 2018 to four days and four nights in each direction due to continuing schedule reliability problems on the host railway. The Canadian currently takes 94 hours 15 minutes westbound vs. 95 hours 29 minutes eastbound. This is 13h50m vs. 12h19m slower than the Continental's 80h25m vs. 83h10m and 13h5m vs. 12h24m slower than the Dominion's 81h10m vs. 83h5m schedules from 1952.
Service on the Canadian (along with most of Via's other services) was suspended due to protest blockade at several points on the Canadian National Railway. After the blockades were lifted, within a month, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the suspension of nearly all Via Rail services, including all trains on the Canadian.
On March 21, 2020, the Canadian and most other Via Rail services were suspended due to the pandemic. This suspension continued until December 11, to accommodate inspection and repair work as part of its Heritage Modernization Program. Beginning December 11, the Canadian was reinstated between Winnipeg and Vancouver only and ran once a week. Service to Toronto resumed on May 17, 2021, still operating once a week.
When operating on the normal schedule, the Canadian operates twice per week, departing Toronto on Wednesdays and Sundays and Vancouver on Mondays and Fridays. The total journey takes about four days. An additional train operates once-weekly between Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto in the summer months.
The great majority of stations operate as flag stops; passengers boarding or detraining at these stops must give advance notice.
The Canadian's eastbound journey begins at Vancouver's Pacific Central Station. It uses the BNSF tracks through suburban communities including Burnaby, to New Westminster. After the train crosses the New Westminster Bridge, the Canadian leaves BNSF for CN tracks east. From New Westminster to Gifford, British Columbia, the route passes railroad yards and industry.
At Gifford, the train diverts from the CN mainline and crosses the Fraser River to Mission. CN and CPR utilize directional running through the Fraser and Thompson River canyons; eastbound trains use the CPR lines and westbounds the CN tracks. Thus, for the section through the two canyons, the Canadian runs on its original CPR route. From Mission to Cisco, the CPR runs west (north) of the river; afterwards, it runs east (south). Near Basque, the eastbound Canadian transfers onto the CN main.
Westbound, the Canadian stays on the CN tracks all the way into Vancouver. The CN route passes through Painted Canyon, and features CN's 800-foot (240 m) steel-arched bridge over the Fraser River and the CPR mainline at Cisco. The tracks in Painted Canyon are only approximately 200 feet (61 m) above the Thompson River. After Cisco, the CN mainline stays of the east/south side of the Fraser River all the way to the New Westminster Bridge, where the two routes merge.
On their regular schedules, both east and westbound Canadians travel through the Fraser and Thompson river canyons at night.
Traveling eastbound from Basque, the CN line crosses back across the Thompson River. Aside from a few brief deviations across the river, the line stays on the north/west side into just outside Kamloops. Arriving in Kamloops, the train halts at CN's North Kamloops Station.
North Thompson River Canyon
For six hours after departing Kamloops, the tracks run north, following the North Thompson River for much of the way and indeed crossing it several times.[original research?] The scenery changes gradually from the dry, rolling plateau – though miles of irrigation soften the starkness – to the lusher, evergreen forests. Narrow valleys bordered by mountains on both sides feature farmlands, pastures, forests, logging camps, and small communities. The latter often have flag stops — for example, Clearwater and Blue River. Near Clearwater, the train crosses the Clearwater River. The Monashee Mountains lie to the east for much of the way to Valemount.
Some of the most dramatic scenery along the route occurs in this area as the train clings precariously to the mountainsides – particularly Groundhog Mountain and Mount Cheadle. Although railway slide fences protect the route, the train creeps along at a cautious pace – usually 26–30 miles per hour (42–48 km/h).
On the downslope side of the train lies the North Thompson River; in the distance are often-snow-covered mountains. The icefields of the Albreda Glacier should be visible for several miles. At Little Hells Gate (Port d'Enfer), the track lies above treacherous rapids similar to Hells Gate farther south on the Fraser. One of the prettiest sights in this area is of Pyramid Falls, which cascades 300 feet (91 m) down the side of Mount Cheadle. The train slows down enough for passengers to get close-up looks and get a photo op.
South of Valemount, the train passes a memorial to the Canoe River crash. The train then crosses the river over a 240-foot (73 m) bridge and arrives at another flag stop (Valemount station).
North of Valemount, eastbound and westbound trains routes again diverge. Eastbound trains use CN's Albreda Subdivision, which continues to climb until Milepost 65.6, a curve near Jackman. The line then runs eastward at constant elevation through Mount Robson Provincial Park, with views of Mount Robson. The line passes through a 1,670-foot (510 m) tunnel, where a 1905 avalanche buried railroad workers,[dubious ] and then descends to Redpass Junction, where it joins with CN's Robson Subdivision. The latter is used by westbound trains; it is lower in elevation and has more favourable grades than the Albreda Subdivision.
Redpass Junction is near the western shore of Moose Lake. The lake is another scenic highlight, as the train follows along the north shore of the lake for several miles, and there are a couple of splashing waterfalls cascading down from theī mountains into the lake. The south shore of the lake is the Selwyn Range, which the train has essentially detoured around. The Yellowhead Highway (Highway #16) parallels the CN tracks to the north.
After Moose Lake, the train travels through a narrow valley nestled between the mountains, crosses the Moose and Fraser rivers and continues following the Fraser. Soon the train comes to the next major scenic highlight of the trip: Yellowhead Lake. Yellowhead Mountain continues to hover overhead to the north while Mounts Rockingham (7,797 ft [2,377 m]) and Fitzwilliam (9,549 ft [2,911 m]) can be seen to the south across the lake. The train finally crosses the Continental Divide at Yellowhead Pass, which at 3,718 ft (1,133 m) is the lowest crossing of the divide in North America.
Yellowhead Pass marks the boundaries between British Columbia and Alberta, the Pacific and Mountain time zones, the Pacific and Arctic watersheds, and Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park. Once again the train hugs mountainsides among the Victoria Cross Range (to the north) above the Miette River and creeps through tunnels and past protective slide detector fences. Whistler Mountain is in view as the train descends, rounds a curve and pulls into the Jasper train station.
Main article: Jasper railway station
The Canadian, in both directions, is scheduled to be at Jasper station for an hour and a half for servicing. Mount Edith Cavell (11,033 ft [3,363 m]) is visible toward the south. Pyramid Mountain (9,075 ft [2,766 m]) and the Victoria Cross Ranges are to the northwest. The Whistlers, to the southwest, can be summited via the Jasper Skytram.
Passengers are encouraged to get off the train and wander around downtown Jasper. In addition to shops and restaurants, downtown Jasper contains Jasper Park Information Centre. The centre provides maps and other information about the park and surrounding UNESCO World Heritage site through which the train travels.
The station itself has a few attractions: the Jasper Raven Totem Pole and a vintage CN 4-8-2 steam locomotive are on display, and inside the station is a café barista that also sells railroad memorabilia and other gifts. The station building was constructed by the CNR in 1926 and was declared a heritage railway station by the federal government in 1992.
The town of Jasper sits inside of a big "U," as it relates to the railroad. The railroad comes in from the northwest and rounds a curve into the station. At the station, the train is actually facing northeast. Upon leaving the station, the train continues in a more northeasterly direction rather than due east. Also the train has descended into Jasper from Yellowhead Pass and now climbs a grade shortly after leaving the Jasper railyards. The train is once again hugging mountainsides overlooking the Athabasca Valley and River and surrounding mountains. There is usually a flock of bighorn sheep grazing on the bluffs above the train to the north. During the winter, they can often be seen licking salt off the parallel Yellowhead Highway. Other Canadian wildlife that may be seen from the train include bear, deer, elk, mountain goat, and various species of Canadian birds.
To the north/northwest, passengers will see the peaks of the Victoria Cross Range—so named because six of the peaks are named after Canadian recipients of the Victoria Cross. Mount McKean (2,743 metres [8,999 ft]) and Mount Zengel (2,630 metres [8,630 ft]) are two such mountains that can be seen from the train. Looking southward (across the river), there is the Colin Range. Hawk Mountain (2,553 metres [8,376 ft]), Roche Bonhomme (2,495 metres [8,186 ft]), and Morro Peak (1,678 metres [5,505 ft]) are among the peaks in this range that can be seen. English is the top of the grade, after which the train descends into the Athabasca Valley, passing Henry House. The Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) continues to parallel the route.
The train then crosses the Snaring River.
Snaring and Chetamon Mountains (the latter 2,606 metres [8,550 ft]) and the De Smet Range including the Roche de Smet (2,539 metres [8,330 ft]) can be all seen from the train to the north. The Snaring River Campground is near the confluence of the Snaring and Athabaska Rivers. Looking to the south, passengers can see the Jacques Range including such peaks as Roche Jacques (2,603 metres [8,540 ft]) and Cinquefoil Mountain (2,259 metres [7,411 ft]).
The train reaches the north shore of Jasper Lake and rides along it for several miles. The Yellowhead Highway rides along the south shore of the lake. The lake is a shallow, wide section of the Athabasca River. This has been the site of many CN publicity photographs—including of the Super Continental[failed verification] —through the years, and it is still popular with photographers, railfans, the present-day Canadian, its advertisers and its passengers. The Jasper Lake Sand Dunes are on the northwest shore of Jasper Lake and can be seen from the train. They are the only sand dunes ecosystem in the Canadian Rockies. Parts of the mainline have been built on causeways away from the shore, which have created several mini lakes. This adds to the effect of being out on the water, creating additional views of the lake, its waters and the forests and mountains surrounding it. The lake is surrounded by mountain ranges, many of which can be seen the train from various places along the lake. They include:
From southeast to southwest:
Northwest to northeast:
The train crosses Stoney River, glides through a 700-foot (210 m) horseshoe tunnel underneath Disaster Point, and begins riding along the shores of Brûlé Lake. Along the way, it passes Black Cat Mountain (1,800 metres [5,900 ft]) and Mount Solomon (1,585 metres [5,200 ft]). The Yellowhead Highway is on the other side of the lake. Folding Mountain (2,844 metres [9,331 ft]) should be visible as the train crosses the Athabasca River. The river is now on the north side of the tracks.
Entrance is the official easternmost point of the Canadian Rockies (at least on the CN), but the Miette Range usually is still visible for many miles as the train heads out across the prairies. The surrounding landscapes are still heavily forested and the riverbanks a bit dramatic, but the land slowly opens up to ever broader valleys, plains, and farmlands. About 3 miles (4.8 km) west of Hinton, the train crosses an impressive trestle over Prairie Creek with the Athabasca still in sight. The train crosses a curved trestle over Sundance Creek just west of Edson; then crosses the McLeod River on a 1,066-foot (325 m) bridge and Wolf Creek on a 652-foot (199 m) bridge. The train rides along the shores of three lakes: to the north Chip Lake; to the south, Octopus Lake and Wabamun Lake. Westbound, passengers should be able to start seeing mountains (still way off in the distance) just after crossing the Sundance Creek trestle.
The train finally reaches West Junction wye, and backs into Edmonton Via Rail station. (Westbound trains also back into the station.) The train is scheduled to dwell at the station for an hour for a crew change and other servicing. The Panorama car travels only between Vancouver and Edmonton. Here, the car is taken off (eastbound) or put on (westbound). Edmonton station is a suburban development across the street from the former airport Blatchford Field; the skyline of downtown Edmonton is off in the distance.
The train (in both east and westbound) backs into the station upon arrival with the train facing north while standing at the station. Departing out of Edmonton station, the train heads east past the CN Walker Yard (city skyline is visible to the south) and cuts across the Canadian prairies for nearly 470 kilometres (290 mi), paralleling Alberta Highway 14. The train stops in the rural communities of Viking and Wainwright, Alberta, before turning south to follow Alberta Highway 610. The train then crosses the Alberta–Saskatchewan border and stops in Unity, Saskatchewan, before passing over the Killsquaw Lakes en route to Biggar. Now paralleling Saskatchewan Highway 14, the train enters Saskatoon from the west, stopping at the modern Saskatoon station south of downtown on the site of the CN Chappell Yard via a short spur line.
After re-joining the CN main line, the train follows Saskatchewan Highway 11 out of the urban core of Saskatoon before once again paralleling the Yellowhead Highway. Now heading southeast, it begins to follow Saskatchewan Highway 2 into Watrous, where the tracks branch off once more. Staying on the CN main line, the train heads east towards Melville, paralleling Highway 15, and heads southeast towards the Saskatchewan–Manitoba border. After entering Manitoba, the train stops in Rivers, and heads east to Portage la Prairie, now following the Trans-Canada Highway. It then continues east towards Winnipeg, where the tracks turn north, following the Assiniboine River, and enter the historic Winnipeg Union Station. Here, passengers can transfer to the Winnipeg–Churchill train. Northeast of Union Station, the train crosses over the Red River, and heads east through CN's Transcona Yards. This section has a distance of nearly 714 kilometres (444 mi).
With its journey through the prairies almost over, the train heads out of the yards and continues east, following Manitoba Provincial Trunk Hwy. 15, towards the rural community of Elma, then turning east-northeast towards Brereton Lake, Ophir and Winnitoba, and crosses the Manitoba-Ontario border after traversing Whiteshell Provincial Park. Now in Ontario, the train travels through the rugged Canadian Shield, stopping at Rice Lake and Copelands Landing station en route to Malachi. After Malachi, the train loops around and heads through Ottermere, Minaki, Redditt, Farlane, Canyon and Red Lake Road, where it loops around once more and stops at Richan and Millidge, and continues into the town of Sioux Lookout. Afterwards it heads through Savant Lake, Flindt Landing, Allanwater Bridge, Collins, Armstrong, Mud River, Ferland, Auden, Nakina, Longlac, Caramat, and Hillsport en route to Hornepayne. After Hornepayne, it stops at Oba, where passengers could connect with the Algoma Central Railway's Sault Ste. Marie-Hearst train until 2014. Stops are made at Elsas, Foleyet, Gogama, Westree, Ruel, Felix, McKee's Camp, and Laforest before the train enters Capreol. At Sudbury, the train stops at Sudbury Junction, where passengers can transfer via taxi to the Sudbury-White River service. The many flag stops between Winnipeg and Sudbury are usually only accessible by rail transport, and between Winnipeg and Capreol passengers may reserve to be dropped off or picked up at any location.
The train then turns south towards Parry Sound, Ontario and Washago, Ontario. From the junction of Wanup to Parry Sound, directional running with both CN and CP Railways is again put into place. This time however, eastbound (southbound) trains utilize the CN Bala Subdivision, whilst westbound (northbound) trains use the CP Parry Sound Subdivision. Thus the latter follows its original CPR route here, traversing the Parry Sound CPR Trestle. Through Parry Sound, all trains make use of both CNR and CPR stations depending on the direction of travels. At Bala, both CN's Bala Subdivision and the adjacent CPR line diverges for the final time.
From Bala, the trains continue along the CN trackage for approximately 40 km (25 mi) to Washago, its final stop before Toronto. Until the 1990s, the train travelled through and stopped at Barrie and Orillia via the Newmarket Subdivision, which intersected with the Bala Sub in Washago, but was rerouted along the Bala Subdivision after most of the Newmarket Sub trackage was abandoned between Washago and Barrie. The Bala Sub parallels the shore of Lake Simcoe as far as Port Bolster before heading southwest into York Region. South of Gormley, the route is shared with GO Transit's Richmond Hill line commuter services, although the latter does not share stations with the Canadian. The Canadian passes through Richmond Hill and western Markham into the city of Toronto proper, with a scenic route paralleling the Don River for the final 10 km.
Trains returning to Vancouver leave Union Station either from the east as it came in from (if turned around prior), or from the west. In the latter case, the train would then proceed north along the Newmarket Subdivision, shared by GO Transit's Barrie line. This subdivision was the route for the transcontinental train until the 1990s as far north as Washago; however, the train only continues as far as Snyder Diamond in Vaughan today. There it proceeds eastbound along the York Subdivision towards Thornhill in western Markham to meet up with the Bala Subdivision at Doncaster Diamond and from there continue Northwest leaving the Greater Toronto Area towards Washago and eventually Vancouver.
In 2014, the train served 93,810 passengers receiving a government subsidy of $591 per entrained passenger or $0.50 per passenger mile. Because the Canadian is used primarily by tourists, these subsidies have been the source of significant criticism.
Most fares on the Canadian between major cities exceed the cost of discounted pre-purchase scheduled air travel by a fair margin, even in Economy Class. Significant cost savings are possible in Economy Class through the use of a Canrailpass, or in Sleeper service using "Discount Tuesday" offerings. Military members, former railway employees, serving Members of Parliament/Senate, and children are often eligible for additional discounts. Via also offers discounted/complimentary transportation for artists willing to entertain passengers through their "Artists on Board" program.
One factor driving the decision to move the Canadian over to the Super Continental's route was lobbying by Vancouver entrepreneur Peter Armstrong to privatize Via’s summer excursions to Banff, Alta., introduced in 1988. This came with the understanding his fledgling operation would get route exclusivity and some initial financial assistance from Via to ensure the venture’s success. After a few shaky early years, Armstrong invested heavily in speciality dome cars to make Rocky Mountaineer a financial and creative success in a way the publicly funded operator never could.