Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 4 (Part 2)

DAY 4: Part 2 – The Far Saskatchewan

Note: A huge thank you to everyone who’s been following along so far – I hope you’ve been enjoying it! Much of the best is yet to come… Unfortunately I’m going to have to leave a bit of a gap in here, as I’ll be off to Ontario for a week (heading out on the train tomorrow, in fact), so there won’t be any more posts until at least the 24th. Now, back to the trip…

With Winnipeg behind us, we made our way across the remainder of Manitoba and into Saskatchewan. Through the journey across the prairies I couldn’t get a particular song out of my head – this one, by Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Tom Lips:

My family had his debut CD (Made of Sky) when I was growing up, and it formed the soundtrack to many a car trip. That particular song was one that I came to appreciate more and more over the years. It’s such a beautiful and moving reflection on an experience that is common to many people, all across the country – of having a home that you love, and having to leave for whatever the reason may be. You go somewhere else, but your heart is always drawn back to that place you came from. Here is a post from Tom Lips, talking about the inspiration for that song:

I find it impossible to look out at the endless expanses of the prairie landscape without that song rolling through my head, even if the first chunk of the trip was really in Manitoba…

In a way, there is another sort of family connection to that song, and it ties us back into where I’ve made it to with this trip so far. My grandmother (Oma, as she was to us) was born in the small prairie town of Justice, Manitoba, to Mennonite immigrants. The youngest of twelve children (and the only one born in Canada), she would ultimately grow up in Leamington ON. Justice was one of those places that I knew of purely for that reason, but didn’t really know anything about. When I set out on this trip, it didn’t even occur to me that the CN mainline actually passed right through Justice; in fact, it is one of many communities along the railway that really only exists because the railway went through there.

I wouldn’t realize it was there until Rich, the map-carrying train-travel-enthusiast, was pointing out where we were on the map as we chatted in the dome. Looking at the towns coming up on my Railway Atlas, I realized that “Justice” was just a few places away! MP 122.7, according to Rich’s more detailed maps.

Before we got there we passed a track gang installing welded rail on the siding, which may explain why we had 3 freight meets at the last siding. We then met another freight at MP106 (CN Harte), an intermodal with 3 EMDs up front.

Track gang. The most railroad-y of all gangs.

Just a short time later we rolled through Justice. There isn’t much there – just an elevator to the south, a single grade crossing, and a few homes to the north surrounded by farmlands. It’s the sort of place you’d hardly even notice if you weren’t looking for it. It’s strange to actually see a place like that; an essential piece of our family story, but one that until now was just a name and a vague idea. Yet there it was. I wish I could tell Oma about this, and show her the pictures. I know she would have been happy to know that I was thinking about her in the midst of this grand adventure – how could I not?

MP 122 on the Rivers Sub - just 0.7 miles from Justice

The grain elevator at Justice, MB

Justice, MB

The single grade crossing in Justice, MB. That appears to be the main road, and pretty much the entire town is visible in this photo. Trains stopped here at one time, but not anymore. 

Just as quickly as it had come, Justice disappeared behind us...

At this point in my journal, I wrote: “I dedicate this section of the trip to her, and to Grandpa too. I remember their stories about taking the train through the mountains to go visit Dad in BC…This will soon be my first taste of that mountain railroad experience. Admittedly, my ideas of what it will be like are in so many ways influenced by those stories. How will reality compare? That’s a question for tomorrow to answer…”

One final note on Justice: why the name? Rich explained that many of the towns along the route were named when the railway was constructed, and at that time the Grand Trunk took to naming some of these sections alphabetically. Shortly before that we had passed Harte, and there was an “I” name after that. When they got to this point, they needed a “J” name, and “Justice” clearly fit the bill.

Ok, moving along! We had another meet at Knox (alphabetically following Justice), a manifest train with lots of tanks, hoppers, boxes and lumber.

Meet at CN Knox

Some prairie scenery. This would be pretty gorgeous in a few months' time.

We were given a heads-up that we would be reaching the Uno trestle at MP 185, something I was really looking forward to.

Our new Park car attendants out of Winnipeg were Walter and Karine. Walter was nice and quite professional, and Karine was absolutely lovely. She’s been working on The Canadian for a long time now, and clearly loves her job. She spent plenty of time in the dome telling us about things that were coming up, and pointing to things of interest.

At MP 137 we overtook a westbound freight, all centrebeams with a GEVO and SD75I leading. Nice to be given priority for a change! Though I suspect that was likely because they would soon have to meet an eastbound freight.

Indeed – at Rivers, we met CN 8806 and 2566 with another manifest train. 4:22pm.

CN meet at Rivers, MB.

There was a huge halo around the sun at this point, which looked quite eerie. One guy in the dome points out an old Air Force base just south of Rivers that was being torn down, or so it appeared.

Next wildlife sighting – a fox! Not as interesting as some things, but it still got everyone pretty excited. Jennifer, who is from Dublin (Ireland) and travelling on the train to see Canada, comments that foxes are all over the place where she lives, much like a lot of us see squirrels or raccoons.

A fox! Well, it's there somewhere - on the move, perhaps racing our train.
We meet another freight (an 88xx leader and yet another 4-window Dash 9) at CN Oakner. While we waited, a pair of muskrats swimming in a pond on the north side provided some welcome entertainment. They were chasing each other around in circles, which was fun to watch but also difficult to photograph! There were lots of black ducks in the marshes as well, and some red-winged blackbirds.
Another one of those grungy looking 2500s at Oakner.

Muskrats! If they would have stopped moving around so much, I could have got a clearer picture. 

I noted many derelict buildings in this area, including an entire farm that appeared to be abandoned, with a house and barns falling apart. Yet there were some metal silos that looked in good shape, so I suspect it was still being used as a storage site at least.

We then headed into the most scenic part of the entire prairie crossing. Most people think of the prairies as flat and boring, and much of that is true – but there are still some rather spectacular areas. The Assiniboine River snakes through the Qu’Appelle Valley, and the train follows along high on the side of the valley. If you look on a map, this stretch of the rail line begins just north of Miniota, MB, and continues up along the winding river to St-Lazare.

This stretch is absolutely stunning, easily the most impressive scenery of the trip so far. Unfortunately it’s dull and brown in the early spring, and a gloomy day – I’m sure in the later spring and summer, this would be spectacular.

Enjoying the view.

Again, this would be spectacular in a few months, but it was still something to look at!

At MP 184.5 we have a yellow over red (clear to stop) signal, and just past that we would enter into a curve towards a bridge that I recognized immediately. It has been widely photographed, and I even have a calendar at home that has a shot from the westbound Canadian, looking forward to the approach to this bridge. It’s a nicer shot than mine, but it was still cool to see!

This is the Uno bridge, an impressive trestle that crosses the Minnewashtack Creek before it joins the Assiniboine River. It’s located near the town of Uno MB, and is a pretty amazing thing to cross!

Far off in the distance, an oncoming freight that we would soon meet.

Approaching the Uno bridge.

Crossing the Uno bridge. That freight is now at the other side, waiting for us to clear.
The view from the bridge. It's hard to appreciate from the photo just how high up we were!

There was a freight waiting for us, and we immediately took the siding after leaving the bridge. The train was mostly lumber centrebeams, with some boxes and a tank-hopper-gons-tank-hopper combo at the end.

Up close and personal with that freight.

Moving away, and looking back at the monster freight as it heads across the bridge. One of the coolest things about this area is being able to see these huge trains in their entirety.
The scenery continued to be breathtaking past this point: rolling slopes, winding rivers, marshes, and so much grass. The sky was somewhat overcast, and very little green vegetation yet. It’s hard to capture this well in photos, so while I took a few, I mostly opted to just relax and take it all in.

The speed through this section is 70/60, but some spring slow orders were in place in marshier areas. All roads that I saw were gravel/dirt, but well kept. I suspect we were following freights on this section, as we hit yellow signal after yellow signal…

The Assiniboine River meanders a LOT. You can see this if you take a look at a map or satellite view. There are plenty of oxbows, where the river meandered so much that it connected back on itself and isolated little lakes.

Across the valley I spotted a massive potash train. It was hard to photograph, but beautiful to watch! It’s amazing to see these huge trains in their entirety. We met another freight (intermodal, 2273 leading, 8884 mid train DPU) at MP 212. The variety in those intermodal trains can be amazing. Sure, they’re largely the same type of car (though plenty of styles within that), but the wide range of colourful containers can be fascinating.
Potash train across the valley, with as much telephoto zoom as I can manage...That's a C40-8M and an SD75I leading.
The first dinner call came at 6pm, and the second was expected for 8pm. As usual, I had opted for the late options.

There was a huge potash mine across the way at MP 216, and now we’re in Saskatchewan. Hi, Saskatchewan!

We were away from the valley at this point and on sold, flat, prairie land. You can see for miles, and miles, and miles…

Now that's a prairie. Welcome to Saskatchewan.

But it's still not all flat.
We reached Welby SK. Based on the naming convention, I was excited to see what weird X, Y  and Z names we might see. Next should be X…aaaaannndddd…it’s Spy Hill. Hmm, that’s a letdown.

Karine told us a bit about potash. The mines extract the potash from the ore that they dig up, and then leave all of the leftovers in a huge pile. These piles will eventually be pushed back into the mines when they are exhausted. It makes for an incredible sight, as the huge mountainous piles dwarf anything else on the landscape. Potash mines build the mountains of Saskatchewan…

Those mountains are the byproducts of potash mining. Gives you an idea of how much this mine has dug up! They will eventually be pushed back into the ground when the mine ends production. On such flat land, they really shape the landscape.

A potash mine.
Karine also told us that the sunrise and sunsets in Saskatchewan can be spectacular, especially in the winter. Sometimes you can see the northern lights faintly. Unfortunately we wouldn’t see either of those on this trip.

We met another intermodal at CN Code, and spotted a ton of hoppers (with some weird ones in the mix) at an adjacent potash plant.

Oh look, another freight train.

Some of the variety of hoppers. Astonishingly, this was not the only Rock Island hopper I saw. There was another in this cut of cars, and I saw at least 2 more later in the trip.
Yarbo – hey, there’s the “Y”! – at 6:55pm. It was getting a bit chilly in the dome, so I decided to retreat downstairs to the lounge. We met another eastbound manifest, at speed (they were in the siding).

With suppertime approaching and a decent cell signal, I checked the VIA app to note that were running about 1.5h behind schedule. At this point I wondered if we would make up the time. I had no worries about being late, but I was a bit concerned about missing mountain scenery in the dark. Of course if that were the case, we’d get more canyon/valley scenery on the last morning – a bit of a trade-off.

Another meet – intermodal, while we wait in the siding. 10 minute call to Melville, SK, where we would make a 10 minute stop and could get off for fresh air. Another meet with an intermodal led by 2 GEVOs, still in the same siding.

More prairie scenery - again, note how the potash mines change the landscape...

Wavy lines in the roof of Glacier Park. Fun fact - these are the result of damage to the car during its Prestige rebuild. Apparently the contractor didn't secure the car properly when lifting it off its trucks, and the stress caused the roof to warp. I believe this happened to a few of the cars, if not all of them. 

Back in my roomette for a bit, staring out at the hazy prairie sun.

At Melville there’s a good sized CN yard with loco servicing facilities. A train was waiting for us to arrive – a BC Rail Dash 9 and CN C40-8M break up the monotony of GEVOs.

Something colourful! Nice to see some BC Rail units still in red white and blue.

CN Melville
A whole lotta hoppers
The stop in Melville was pretty quick, but lots of people got off to walk around. It wasn’t that chilly, and I was okay outside without a sweater on. During the stop, one of the guys on board who I’d only chatted with briefly asked if I could take his photo with a car that was mounted on a pole nearby – he wanted it to look like he was holding up the car. I obliged, and he took a look at the image on my camera and said it looked great. But he never asked for a copy of the photo, nor did I ever get his name or any sort of contact info so I could send it to him. So here it is – I hope he stumbles across this blog!

The Canadian at Melville, SK.

The Canadian at Melville, SK.

Man with car. I never got his name, but I did get this picture for him. I hope he finds it! 

Here's a shot for all of you whose eyes immediately went to the Terra Transport container in that last picture! I swear, these things are everywhere.
The stop would only be about 5 minutes, then we were back on the train. The supper call came just after that, at 8:17pm. Departure at 8:20pm.

Supper continued the trend of excellent meals. I had the tomato bisque to start, which was astonishingly good for a tomato soup (I really don’t usually like tomato soup). Then I had the trout main, and it was absolutely superb. The dessert was a chocolate cake, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Dinner menu

Tomato bisque

Lake trout crusted with Canadian hemp and seared on the grill, accompanied by potatoes and string beans. It had never occurred to me that one could crust fish with hemp, but it was delicious.

Blurry, blurry, chocolate cake. It tasted great, but it just wouldn't sit still.
I had great company at this meal, once again. To my left was a VIA engineer who works out of Hearst ON, and runs the Canadian to Sioux Lookout. He was good natured, and quite boisterous; he reminded me of some farmers that I’ve known. Across from me was an assistant professor at the Université de Montréal (she’s originally from France), and next to her was a research associate at Oxford University, in the Transport Studies Unit of the School of Geography and the Environment (he’s originally from Victoria). Everyone was really pleasant to chat with, and we had great conversation that ranged from cities and urban transportation, to fisheries, the environment, and life in northern remote communities. We ended up staying and talking well after we finished supper, and I was sad to have to head our separate ways afterwards.

There was no real sunset, and it had gotten dark. I decided to head back to the Park car for a while, with the thought that I’d spend some time reading in the lounge before heading to bed. I grabbed a Granville Island honey lager from the bar, and sat down with Good Omens (by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). Jennifer passed by and asked whether I was reading it for Pratchett, or for Gaiman – I explained that I was just dabbling onto both. She had also been reading something of Terry Pratchett’s, and I asked her for any good suggestions. She made a few suggestions on where to go with Discworld, and would later offer some suggestions on Gaiman books to check out.

Of course I never actually got anywhere in Good Omens. I got through about a chapter, but it was getting late and had been such a full day that I decided it was time for bed. Tomorrow would be a big day, as we headed into the mountains! There would be a longer stop in Saskatoon that evening, but by this time we were still running well over an hour late, so there was a ways to go yet. We had been stopped for a while for two more freights over supper.

The time zone would change overnight again, so here was the chance to get a really good sleep. I had been finding my roomette exceptionally comfy and sleeping really well, and this night would continue that trend.

So goodnight from the far Saskatchewan! When day breaks, we’ll be in Alberta, and nearing Edmonton. The Rockies await…
_ _ _ 

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ll be away next week so there will be a bit of a wait for the next post - expect it around the 24th or so. The next part is what I’m sure many of you have been waiting for, so stay tuned! 

There are still 6 parts to go - Day 5 (the Mountains), Day 6 (Vancouver), On-board tour of The Canadian, Day 7 (The flight), Day 8 (Toronto to Montreal), and Day 9 (back to Halifax).

It seems wrong to end a post with a blurry chocolate cake, so here's Glacier Park, bringing up the tail end of #1 at Melville, SK. I'd say "bringing up the markers", but they don't have those anymore. "Bringing up the red tail paddle" doesn't have quite the same ring...

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 4 (Part 1)

DAY 4: Part 1 – Winnipeg
April 17, 2017
View from my roomette as Day 2 on The Canadian began. Still gloomy, but very different landscape from the previous night!

Good morning! Day 2 on The Canadian, and Day 4 of my trip, began as we approached the once-major-railway-hub and capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Despite having made a trip west back in 2010, this would be my first time in Winnipeg, as we had previously just driven around it on the bypass highway.

I woke up that morning at around 5:30am, and then went back to sleep until about 6:45. My alarm was set for 7, but with the time changing again (welcome to Central Time), my body was ready to go early. I headed off to shower (it was free, so no wait), and then to breakfast.

A side note: for those who have travelled in the roomettes in VIA’s Budd equipment, you’ll know that the bed folds down over the toilet in the room (more on this in a future train tour post, for those of you not familiar). This can be a hassle if you need to use it in the night, as you have to get up and flip up the bed to access it. In the Chateau sleepers, this involves getting out into the hallway, so I always just go down the hall (or more often to the front of the next car, since that’s closer), and use the proper bathroom. In the Manors, by contrast, I found that the cutout section of the bed actually provided plenty of room for me to stand up and flip up the bed without leaving the roomette. Cozy, for sure, but it was definitely doable and surprisingly easier than I expected.

It was another gloomy morning, but no snow - yet as I’d soon discover, it was plenty cold! The view out the window was a dramatic change from the night before. The hills, rocks, and trees were gone, replaced by much flatter terrain and sparser trees. This would gradually change even more as we made our way farther west later in the day. Being April, everything looked pretty brown and bland, particularly on such a gloomy day.

I had breakfast that morning with the mother of the twin boys, who was really very pleasant, and the twins themselves. They live mostly on an island on the coast of Maine; she raises oysters, runs the general store, and her husband is a lobsterman. We had plenty to chat about, and I think we unfortunately bored the twins quite a bit! I would ultimately leave with an invitation to come visit if I ever found myself in that part of Maine.

Breakfast this morning was markedly better than the day before, though perhaps I just made a better choice. I went for the pancakes, and they were splendid – well cooked, and tasty. I’m not usually a fan of pancakes at restaurants, but these were actually really good.

Breakfast menu

Breakfast! Tasty pancakes.

We arrived in Winnipeg on time (actually slightly early). The stop in Winnipeg is scheduled for 3h45min, as they do major train servicing at that stop. The crew changes (our crew out of Toronto is Winnipeg based, working Winnipeg-Toronto-Winnipeg, and the new crew heading west would be Vancouver-based, working Vancouver-Winnipeg-Vancouver), the train is re-supplied, windows are washed, laundry and garbage are taken out, and the whole thing is just generally spruced up to ensure that it’s in top shape for the second half of the trip. Passengers are invited to de-train and explore the city. There’s the formal tour, but you can also just go wandering by yourself. Access to the train and platform is restricted from 10-11am, while the cleaners are working, and boarding re-commences at 11:15 for the 11:45am departure.

I didn’t get off right away, as I was still finishing breakfast. There’s no rush, so I disembarked at 8:36am (CT), and headed in to the station to get on WiFi and check some emails, send some messages, and make a phone call. You never know when you’ll have service on this trip, so best to take advantage of it when you can! As I left the train I thanked Dan and bid him farewell, as I would have a new attendant when I returned. Two freights passed us while in the station (before I got off), and unfortunately I didn’t see another one during the stop, aside from a stopped intermodal train just beyond the station.

The Canadian at Winnipeg. Freights pass on the tracks to the right.


There was no snow here, so we brought some with us!
The station itself was incredible! I had no idea Winnipeg had such an enormous, impressive station. The dome roof alone is breathtaking, and the whole thing is just gorgeous. You can tell it was built for a time when Winnipeg saw more far more than a handful of trains each week. There was relaxing jazzy music playing inside, which made for a lovely atmosphere.

Descending from the platforms into the station

Winnipeg station

Winnipeg station. Canada 150 deco here too. I would hit most of the stations on that list during this trip.

The top of the dome inside the station

Winnipeg Union Station - interior main doors

While I did enjoy getting to wander about in Winnipeg, it was unfortunately bitterly cold! The windchill was below zero, so I was glad to have at least brought gloves. I decided not to wander into downtown, and instead headed off to the Forks. I explored a bit on the paths around the park by the river, and checked out the markets as well. I was amazed by how much of a railway theme there was everywhere – the past influence of the railways on Winnipeg was evident everywhere you looked! A lot of things unfortunately hadn’t opened yet. The major thing I was waiting for was to get in to the Winnipeg Railway Museum. It came very highly recommended, but it didn’t open until 10am.

Intermodal train stopped on the bridge over the Assiniboine River. The Forks is of course where the Assiniboine and Red rivers split.
High water on the Red River
Looking towards downtown from the other side of the bridge over the Red River.

What, just because the sidewalk is underwater I can't use it?? Okay fine, I'll try the other side.
This is the other side. Hmm...funnily enough, this also had a "sidewalk closed, please use other side" sign. What to do...

He seems unperturbed by the sidewalk closures. 
...probably because he can just take off and fly to the other side. Sidewalks? Where we're going, we don't need sidewalks.

High speed buses. Or something like that.
Hotel Fort Garry.

An old lift bridge, now part of the paths at the Forks and adorned with interesting visuals.

An old caboose.

Some old boxcars, now a stage (on the other side)

This car and its companion...

...had been turned into an arcade!

A VIA van!

Not sure if that's legitimately the heritage of these buildings, but I do know this area used to be all railway property.

Inside one part of the markets at the Forks. Really nice, but most things had yet to open.

My train, just hanging out and getting freshened up.

Another bridge over the Red River - this one has a restaurant halfway across.

Gandhi, in statue form, takes a stroll in front of The Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Back entrance to Union Station.

A VIA pickup
After killing some time, 10 o'clock rolled around, and I headed back inside the station to find the entrance to the museum. The Winnipeg Railway Museum is located right in the station, and has many of its displays on two of the former station tracks that are now enclosed. I’ve been to quite a number of railway museums over the years, and I would say that this is easily one of the absolute best. Their collection is impressive and well taken care of, the displays are interesting, and there is so much equipment that you can access and interact with in some way that it makes it all the more engaging. It may have helped that I was there early on an off-season Monday, because I ended up being the only person there. I felt like I had the free reign of the place, and the staff made me feel that way too. You know how some places feel like the employees are watching your every move, paranoid that you might break or steal something? Not here. They made me feel welcome, and while I didn’t talk to them much, they were clearly very knowledgeable.

That hour and a bit just flew by. From the model railway display to the first steam locomotive in Western Canada, to getting to play around in the cab of a GMD-1 and enjoying the impressive VIA “shrine”, I had an absolute blast. The collection was impressive, the general layout of the museum was well conceived, and the ambience was really nice (good lighting, various railroad sounds playing in the background, etc.). I could easily have spent a few more hours there, and definitely felt like it was $5 well spent (and easily worth much more than that!). I would highly recommend it to anyone passing through, even if you don’t have a particular interest in trains. The general historical information and context alone was fascinating. They also had a neat gift shop, and I picked up a little VIA Skyline car pin – one proper souvenir from the visit!

A look inside the Winnipeg Railway Museum
The Countess of Dufferin - the first steam locomotive to operate on the Canadian prairies, way back in 1877.
This railway museum has trucks too.
Really funny looking trucks...
An unusual electric locomotive.
A description of that unusual electric loco.

A cab simulator. This would be neat, but...
...there was also a real cab to check out!

Yeah, I had a bit of fun there. In the cab of CN 1900, of which I took no exterior photos, for some bizarre reason.

There was a window to look out to the in-use station tracks. The Canadian was on the far track, and Chateau Laval was hanging out on the nearer track. 
Inside the Point Ste. Charles van (or "caboose", if you prefer that term)
Some old passenger cars

A signal/telegraph display
The VIA "shrine"! I felt very at home here :-)

More VIA stuff

More interesting little locomotives

An old rail bus

A display about women on the railways

Very fittingly, a display about the history of The Canadian

At 11:15, after what felt like an overly brief visit, I headed back to the station to wait to board the train. A crowd had gathered, and it was clear lots of people had taken advantage of the time to get off and tour about. I got chatting with a guy in line who I had seen before on board, but hadn’t talked to yet. He had a really impressive camera, and was clearly much more serious about his photography than I was about mine. We chatted cameras for a bit, and I recall he also mentioned having some connection to the east coast (I believe he recognized the X ring), but for some reason I didn’t note that in my journal – and now I’ve got myself confused. Was it actually a connection to Prescott? Bah! In any case, I would chat with him and his wife more through later parts of the trip.

Back at the train I met my new car attendant, Greg. He seemed nice as well, even if his name wasn’t also Dan. We left on time at 11:45am.

Returning to board the train. A useful sign-board reminds us of when we can return.
I’ve been debating where to cut this section off, since there is a lot to cover later on in this day. Let’s keep going through lunch time, and then cut it off after that.

I had a nice chat on the phone with my girlfriend as we pulled away from the station. Cell reception seemed much more reliable at this point, though it would disappear again as we got into more remote territory.

The first lunch call was at 11:55am. I had kept my reservations for the late sittings (new reservations were made after the previous night’s supper), so I wouldn’t be going yet. Heading out of town I spotted a large red fox in a field, and had a good look at VIA’s Winnipeg Maintenance Centre. Among other things in the yard I spotted Evangeline Park, which a friend of mine (whose daughter is named Evangeline) had been keeping an eye out for. It had been a regular on the Ocean for quite a while, but had been hanging around out west more recently.

VIA WMC - some locos and a baggage car.
More VIA equipment at the WMC. Evangeline Park is the second Park car in from the left.
Heading back to the Park, it was still a cloudy day, but brighter than the day before. The lack of snow in the air probably helped! Little laminated “reserved for Presige” tags had now been added to the tops of the reserved rows in the dome, presumably by the new crew.

The new landscape. What lives in those little blue domes? I can only think of X-Filesy explanations...
More railfan-fanning. Man, it is hard to get good shots of these guys! It's like they position themselves based on what will get them the best photo of the train, not make them easier for me to photograph. How selfish.

Another one of these snaky train photos. As the topography opened up, these got a lot easier to take. Now if only it would get sunny...

Reserved for Prestige. In case we didn't see the huge band across the seat back.
We arrived at Portage la Prairie at 1:10pm. This is a very popular spot among railfans, as the CN and CP lines converge in town, and the CP and CN even cross just west of the station. There’s an old CPR station that is now a museum, with an old caboose, GE switcher, and baggage car preserved outside. We were picking up a few passengers here, and would depart at 1:14pm, only to be stopped immediately at the signal just west of the station. I also spotted a Cavendish Cryo-Trans car – a long way from PEI, but interestingly enough, you’ll never see any of these cars anywhere near the island where their product originates.

Cavendish car, healthily graffitied. You won't see one of these on PEI (or any active railcar, for that matter).

The old CPR station at Portage la Prairie, now a museum.

A classic CPR baggage car.
A plume of smoke appeared in the distance. If I hadn’t known better, I could have sworn a steam engine was approaching! In reality, it turned out to be a smoking GE – CN 2685 – which was really throatily chugging and belching smoke as it made its way past us.

Something smoky this way comes...
A toaster getting toasty. The trailing unit is an early 2500-series unit with the 4-window cab. I saw a lot of those on this trip.

The second call for lunch came at 1:28pm. Before I headed for the diner, I spotted the next thing we were waiting for – a CP train crossing the main ahead of us, with a GP20C-ECO and a string of hoppers and reefers. We got back on the move, and I headed for lunch.

CP GP20C-ECO...the only CP power I would see until Vancouver.

As I settled in to the diner, the sun arrived! At long last! Some patches of blue sky began to appear over the prairie. At lunch I was seated with a group of passengers from the Economy section – evidently there was enough space at the second sitting, so they were allowed to come in for lunch. There was Jon and Hope from Winnipeg, who are now living in Calgary and were taking the train back from Winnipeg to Edmonton (can’t recall how they were continuing to Calgary) as they moved their final things to the new locale. Then there was Jonathan from Quebec, a francophone and language teacher. They were all young (similar age or a few years my junior), and all very pleasant. We talked about hobbies – Jon and Hope love escape rooms, and Jonathan loves rock climbing. Jon is also a big Star Wars fan, and we both chatted excitedly about the new trailer for a few minutes.
Lunch itself was excellent, continuing the increasingly impressive meals as the journey continued. There was cream of asparagus soup to start, and then I opted for the bison burger with Cesar salad – really delicious, and super filling, very much what I was in the mood for. Then black cherry ice cream for dessert – you can’t go wrong with that.

Lunch menu

Cream of asparagus soup

Bison burger and Cesar salad - spectacular!

Black cherry ice cream. Always a favourite of mine, and even better on a train.

My table mates at lunch were astonished by the quality of the food – they were expecting airline style stuff, and had no idea that it would be as good as it was! They had clearly missed the memo about The Canadian’s reputation. Even paying for their meals, they felt like it was excellent value and very much worthwhile.

We had three freight meets in a single siding while at lunch – the congestion was really picking up.

The new crew in the diner seemed nice. There were several trainees, clearly getting used to the routine of working on the moving train. There were also some veterans – Danny, our dining car steward for this leg, was quite the character! As we all got settled in to the dining car, he came out and shouted “Everybody, stop talking! Ok, today’s soup is…”, followed by the soup selections, and then “…ok, you can talk now!” He was quite entertaining and charming, and repeated this routine at every meal, much to the amusement of everyone around. The dining car atmosphere was always bustling but relaxed, and very social.

After lunch we would continue on across the increasingly open, flat country of the prairies. Some bits of snow were still visible from time to time, but not much. This was farming country, no doubt about that.

Alright, I think that’s a reasonable place to split this installment. When we return, we’ll continue our voyage across the prairies…

Could it be?? The sun! Blue skies! At least we'd get a bit of this in the afternoon. Stay tuned...