CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART I - FROM FLORIDA TO NOVA SCOTIA
TRILOGY: PART I - FROM FLORIDA TO NOVA SCOTIA BY RAIL
Text by Jack M. Turner, Photos by John C. Turner
When planning for our Summer 2008 trip began, we
were amazed to discover that it had been seven years since our last
visit to Canada. Prior to that we seemed to have crossed the
northern border every couple of years for a period of time and it
seemed only a short time since our 2001 journey aboard VIA Rail
Canada's Ocean from Montreal to Halifax with a side trip to Sydney on
the Bras d'Or and a middle of the night connection to the Chaleur for a
journey to Gaspe.
Our objective on this trip was to experience VIA's
Renaissance equipment, which was introduced since our last trip to
Canada, and to tour Newfoundland, the one Canadian province we had yet
to visit. Along the way we would explore several interesting
train routes and cities and would search for signs of the Newfoundland
Railway which was abandoned approximately 20 years prior.
My son John would accompany me by train and serve as
my official photographer while my wife would use frequent flyer miles
to fly to Halifax. The cumbersome airline frequent flyer program
basically dictated the days we would travel as she had to leave from
Orlando on one specific day and return on another specific day.
Moving her travel either way would render her points useless for this
purpose. With Amtrak not offering any type of three person sleeping
accommodations on its eastern trains, it was important for the budget
that she fly.
The Silver Meteor to New York
Wednesday June 25 found us boarding the northbound
Silver Meteor at 5:30pm in Jacksonville during a heavy
thunderstorm. We were underway at 5:48, just over an hour late as
a northbound CSX freight rumbled alongside on the closest main
track. The Jacksonville Amtrak station's two tracks merge into
the double track mainline just beyond the station platform and it was
curious that another train appeared headed for the same point as our
train as neither was showing signs of stopping. As we neared the
switch where the tracks merged, we noted the freight using a crossover
to switch to the outer main track without skipping a beat. This
was a first for us on many trips out of Jacksonville and was a sign of
We occupied roomette # 2 in sleeper Orchard View, a car we
had never been assigned to in the past, and found it to have good
air-conditioning which is a key element in making us happy. Our
car attendant had thoughtfully made dinner reservations for the 6:30
sitting and we made the short trek to the diner after viewing the
railfan pavilion at Folkston, GA. which always seems to host a few
train spotters. We were seated with Dan and Joanna of
Philadelphia who are regular train travelers and it was good that we
found plenty to discuss since the meal service was very slow.
Once dinner arrived, our meals were delicious with the flatiron steak,
mashed potatoes, and green beans making a nice entree. We had to
remind one of the waiters to bring our iced tea then had to flag him
down after a long wait for dessert. During dinner we enjoyed
views of numerous rivers and inlets and the busy stop in Jesup.
Stops in Savannah and Charleston, SC were familiar
from our frequent trips on the Florida trains as were the small towns
and Ridgeland that we passed through. After the station stop in
Charleston at 10:15pm it was time to climb into the upper bed for a
night's sleep. We were about an hour and a half late which suited
us fine as our connection at New York in the morning would not be as
On recent trips over the CSX "A" Line we found the
tracks to be exceptionally rough, however, judging from the quality of
our sleep, this seemed not the case this time. Part of the reason
for the smooth ride could be attributed to our location near the center
of the sleeper but major trackwork in recent years may have improved
the ride as well. After nodding off near Florence, I didn't
awaken until our departure from Richmond, VA at 5:15am and I quickly
drifted off again until about 7:15am, somewhere south of
Alexandria. Herein lies one of the bits of magic about rail
travel as you can sleep through entire states and wake up seven hours
closer to your destination.
The 20 minute stop in Washington to switch from diesel to
an electric engine was very efficient allowing us to make up 15
minutes. Breakfast brought much quicker service and we enjoyed
listening to our server, Charles, talk about working aboard Seaboard
Coast Line's West Coast Champion, Silver Meteor, Florida Special, and
Miamian. The return of traditonal railroad french toast to the
menu fit perfectly with conversation about the SCL trains I grew up
riding. While we dined, train # 98 passed above the historic
former Baltimore & Ohio route which twists through a wooded area
south of Baltimore. Today that line hosts MARC commuter trains on
what is referred to as the Camden Line.
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Monument and Jefferson Memorial seen from the Silver Meteor crossing
the Potomac River on June 26, 2008.
Our sleeper Orchard View at Washington, D.C.
trays are among baggage loaded into the baggage car at Washington.
Car # 8502,
shown during our stop in Washington, is one of 20 Heritage fleet diners
left in Amtrak service.
The Silver Meteor departed Baltimore 95 minutes late
then lost 15 minutes at Wilmington as a passenger with a medical issue
was tended to then another few minutes delay ensued as a shelled wheel
warranted inspection. We were thus two hours late at Philadelphia
which validated our decision to allow plenty of connecting time in New
York. The final 90 minutes of our ride on # 98 passed smoothly
and we arrived in New York at 12:35pm ready to stretch our legs.
After stowing our luggage in the first class Club
Acela, John and I set out for a long walk that took us to the base of
the Empire State Building then on the Grand Central Terminal. We
were very impressed by the majestic GCT and enjoyed peering at the
famed clock in the center of the main concourse as well as the ornate
ceiling lamps and decorative celestial designs on the ceiling.
The row of Metro North ticket windows conjured up images of Cary Grant
attempting to buy a ticket on the 20th Century Limited in Alfred
Hitchcock's thriller North by Northwest which remains one of our
favorite movies with major scenes aboard a train. My last look at
Grand Central was over 20 years ago when Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited
still served that station and we were much more impressed this
time. The return to Penn Station was quicker as we rode the
subway shuttle to the Times Square stop then transferred to a subway
train serving Penn Station.
Grand Central Terminal, New York City.
clock in Grand Central Terminal's main hall.
view of the clock and the ornate ceiling and windows of Grand Central.
An Evening on the Lake Shore Limited
The comfortable chairs of the Club Acela were
inviting after our walk and time passed quickly leading up to boarding
of the Lake Shore Limited. Our departure was ontime at 4:00pm
though the new Amtrak timetable listed a 3:45 departure with a hard to
notice footnote indicating that weekday departures would be at
4:00pm. Our home for this segment was roomette # 2 in sleeper
Tower View, a car we had riden on a previous trip. Shortly after
the conductor lifted our tickets, the dining car steward came through
and took dinner reservations and we settled on the early seating to
ensure we were finished by Albany.
A few minutes into the trip, train # 49 joined the
Hudson River which would be followed for over two hours. Maritime
traffic was very heavy on this day and the journey along the Hudson
brought frequent views of sailboats moored in lovely harbors, passage
under numerous towering highway bridges, and passing commuter
trains. Just 40 minutes out of New York City, we spied Hook
Mountain State Park across the river from Scarborough and several more
mountains would form the perfect backdrop to the Hudson as we watched
the sun begin its daily retreat to the west.
One of many
ships we passed while paralleling the Hudson River.
races along the Hudson as seen from the Lake Shore Limited.
views of the mountains across the river from our train's route.
A CSX freight
follows the west shore line near West Point, NY.
twin I-84 highway bridges near Beacon, NY.
Anchored sailboats near Poughkeepsie.
We were curious about dinner as the Lake Shore now
uses a converted Amfleet II lounge car as its dining car. Our
first surprise was being greeted by a larger dining staff than found
aboard the Silver Meteor and we also were pleased that the tables were
covered with linen tablecloths. A trailing Horizon fleet car
served as lounge car which prevented the constant foot traffic we had
expected while eating. The menu offered a couple of choices we
liked and we were pleased with our selection of short ribs, mashed
potatoes, and carrots with ice cream for dessert. We shared our
table with Nicki and Logan from western Ohio and learned that the trip
east was young Logan's first train trip. She reported it was
"lots of fun" and we confirmed that she should get her folks to take
her out west by rail.
dinette 28022 on the Lake Shore Limited.
Dinner was finished in plenty of time for us to
stretch our legs at Albany-Renssalaer while the dual mode engines were
swapped out for a pair of P42's that would lead train # 49 to
Chicago. The new station at Albany-Renssalaer looked beautiful
but a close inspection would have to wait until our return
journey. We checked out our passage through Schenectady then
decided to attempt to get some sleep since we would detrain near
midnight in Buffalo. Sleep was not easy to come by at an early
hour but we managed to get a couple hours before the Lake Shore's
12:45am arrival at Buffalo's suburban station in Depew. A
very long station stop in Syracuse and some slow running approaching
Buffalo had caused our tardiness.
Limited at Albany-Rennsalaer, NY.
Tower View in
front of the Albany-Rennsalaer station.
While we waited for our hotel shuttle van to arrive,
John and I watched a westbound freight with Union Pacific engines pull
up and stop to wait for the track signals to clear up. In minutes
we were nodding off again in the comfort of the Hilton Garden Inn
opposite the Buffalo Airport in Cheektowaga. This hotel was
fresh, new, and quiet. It also was convenient for picking up a rental
car at the airport the next morning. With its courtesy shuttle
available at all hours, this is an excellent hotel for rail travelers
planning to rent a car in the Buffalo area.
The Amazing Race To Ottawa
We were on the road at 8:30am for what was billed as
a two hour drive to Toronto. Plans had been made to drive to
Toronto to catch the 12:20pm VIA Rail Canada train to Ottawa.
Waiting for Amtrak's train to Toronto would have necessitated an
overnight in Toronto while traveling via Montreal instead of Buffalo
would have required a night drive from Montreal to Ottawa thus a much
later arrival. The drive out of Buffalo and the border crossing
were smooth and we anticipated a couple of hours to explore Toronto
Union Station for the first time since 2001.
Then our plans threatened to unravel. Traffic
came to a dead stop on the Queen Elizabeth Highway about 50 miles from
Toronto and after a couple miles we spotted a "construction ahead"
sign. With two hours to burn we felt little concern until we came
upon another sign indicating construction was taking place for the next
18 kilometers. There was only one choice: get off the expressway
and take local roads paralleling Lake Ontario. This would allow
us to keep moving albeit at about 40 km per hour with traffic signals
to contend with in downtown Oakville and other communities.
Unfortunately our Ontario map did not provide detail for these local
roads and soon our journey began to replicate the mad dashes seen in
television's The Amazing Race rather than the well planned trip we had
set up. As the clock ticked perilously close to train time, we
said one last prayer and took a side road back to the expressway after
driving about 35 miles of local roads. Much to our relief,
traffic was flowing fine and we pulled into the Union Station parking
garage 20 minutes before our train's departure. There was no time
to even take in the beauty of Union Station's main hall as we dropped
off the car keys at the Hertz counter and sprinted to the train
gate. The power of prayer was obvious as we made it in time for
VIA train # 44 which departed on time at 12:20pm.
Our five car train was pulled by a smartly painted
P42 locomotive and consisted of five LRC cars. We rode in VIA-1
class which was located in the first car behind the engine and we
appreciated the relative roominess of our seats after the rush to catch
the train. Soon after departing Toronto we were able to catch
occasional glimpses of Lake Ontario and many small boat harbors.
As train # 44 left Belleville shortly after 2:00pm train attendants
Jeremie and Marie-Helene began lunch service with warm hand towels with
which to freshen up. Lunch was served at our seats in courses,
first a noodle based salad, then beef with oriental vegetables and
pasta, topped off with a slice of mocca cake. Wine was served to
those wishing to partake and hot tea was brought to the rest of us with
frequent refills. Views of Lake Ontario flashed by our window as
we enjoyed the excellent meal.
seen from VIA
Rail # 44 between Scarborough and Oshawa, Ontario on June 27, 2008.
between Oshawa and
A canal near Cobourg.
beverages on train # 44.
Lunch in VIA-1 class.
Departing Brockville the line to Ottawa split off
from the Montreal route and about an hour later we arrived in Ottawa at
4:53pm. The Ottawa station is a modern edifice located three
miles south of downtown. In a bygone era trains served a large
station downtown but urban growth and operational considerations led to
the construction of the suburban depot. The historic station
still stands and has found life as a convention center. Across
the street from the old station is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a
historic hotel built by the Grand Trunk Railway. This was our
hotel for the night and we appreciated its location adjacent to
Parliament Hill, eclectic By-Ward Market, the Ottawa River, and the
Rideau Canal. Chateau Laurier opened in 1912, two months later
than planned due to the loss of railway president Charles Melville Hays
aboard the Titanic. The exterior of the hotel reflects the
combination of French Renaissance and neo-Gothic styles replicated in
many hotels built by the railways across Canada. The lobby,
ballrooms, and dining rooms each are decorated with ornate furnishings
that reflect elegance and the hallways and guest rooms have high
ceilings typical of the era. The hotel's guest list through the
years has included dignitaries ranging from King George VI, Queen
Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Charles deGaulle, Pierre Trudeau, and
Herbert Hoover to celebrities such as Roger Moore, Harry Belafonte,
Shirley Temple, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama.
VIA Rail train # 44 after
arrival in Ottawa.
LRC cars on VIA # 44 at Ottawa.
The entrance to
Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
resemblance to a European castle is evident from this view.
The locks on
the Rideau Canal
are located between Chateau Laurier and Parliament Hill.
Grand Trunk Railway
station in downtown Ottawa is now a convention center.
Ottawa is a wonderful city to visit with something
to suit just about any taste. The city's signature attraction is
the Canadian Parliament which houses the federal government of
Canada. Construction of the Gothic Revival style buildings took
place between 1859 and 1927 . Free tours of Parliament are
offered and visitors have the opportunity to see the Senate and House
of Commons chambers plus the magnificent Library of Parliament.
The Peace Tower rises above Parliament's Centre Block and visitors can
travel to the top for a bird's-eye view of the city. Among other
sites within walking distance of the Chateau Laurier are the Royal
Canadian Mint; the Bytown Museum adjacent to the locks that control the
Rideau Canal's water flow; the ByWard Market which features
restaurants, shops, and a popular farmer's market; and the National
Gallery of Canada. Many other activities take place outside of
downtown including the NHL Ottawa Senators, minor league baseball's
Ottawa Rapidz, and a variety of other sporting events. The Royal
Canadian Mounted Police perform the acclaimed RCMP Musical Ride Sunset
Ceremony on select dates in early summer at a suburban facility.
The ceremony features 32 police officers and horses who perform a
variety of intricate maneuvers choreographed to music. Outdoor
enthusiasts will enjoy walking, rollerblading, or bicycling along the
miles of paths lining the Rideau Canal. During wintertime, the
canal is transformed into a huge ice skating rink that is extremely
The clock tower
Parliament's Centre Block on a foggy morning.
complex display old world stone architecture.
Inside one of the Parliament
The magnificent Parliament
Eastbound to Montreal on VIA Rail
The morning of Saturday June 28 started early as we
needed time to tour Parliament and take in a couple of other sights in
downtown Ottawa before taking a taxi to the VIA Rail station. VIA
train # 634 welcomed a sizeable crowd for its 12:45pm departure to
Montreal. Ideally we would have made this part of our trip on a
day other than Saturday as # 634 is the last eastbound train of the day
on Saturdays while other days have either one or two later trains that
connect with the Halifax-bound Ocean. Our assigned seats were in
the train's fourth car, car # 7213, and we were pleased to find a nice
wide window in the new Renaissance Comfort Class coach. The
Renaissance cars are immediately recognizable as they are shorter in
height, width, and length than standard North American passenger cars
as they were originally built to operate through the Chunnel under the
English Channel. The comfort class coaches contain
two-across seating on the left side (seats A and B) and single seating
(Seat S) on the right. The wing-back seats are wider than
standard coach seats and are slightly raised from the floor making for
a smooth ride. Our six car train carried a VIA-1 car behind the
engine but this space is not sold on Saturdays. Because
Renaissance cars are more or less permenently coupled, the VIA-1 car
must deadhead on Saturdays.
The modern VIA
Rail station in
Ottawa during boarding of train # 634 to Montreal.
Following stops in Casselman and Alexandria,
Ontario, train # 634 joined the CN/VIA line from Toronto at Coteau Jct.
at 2:05pm. About 15 minutes later the wide Canal Ste.-Anne was
crossed at Ile Perrot. The former Canadian Pacific mainline also
used by Montreal commuter trains was now parallel on our left
side. A westbound CP stack track passed on the parallel line as
we pulled into the Dorval station which serves the Dorval/Pierre
Trudeau International Airport at 2:30. Twenty five minutes later
we arrived at Montreal's Central Station which historically housed
Canadian National passenger trains and today is home to the intercity
trains of VIA Rail Canada and Amtrak plus two local commuter routes.
# 634 during the
station stop in Alexandria, Ontario.
A rear looking view of # 634
lounge area on train # 634.
The interior of
comfort class (coach) car on # 634.
As our layover was just under four hours, we had
arranged a tour of the city. By checking one of our large
suitcases from Ottawa to Halifax and leaving the other large bag with
one of the many available redcaps, we were free to explore Montreal
unimpeded. Our guide, Celine Bernier, took us on a two hour
driving tour which allowed us to see sights beyond walking distance of
the station as well as those easily accessible on foot. On the
city's north side we drove past St. Josephs Oratory, one of the world's
largest basilicas, which dates to 1904 then visited the top of Mont
Royal which features miles of biking and walking trails, a public park,
and beautiful views of the city. On the west side of the city we
toured the magnificent Westmount community where multi-million dollar
homes with beautiful landscaping abound. Heading back toward the
center city, we traversed many ethnic neighborhoods with unique
residences, eateries, and shops. Downtown Montreal was bustling
with shoppers visiting the dozens of stores lining city streets as well
as those located in the impressive underground city as many sales were
taking place on this weekend. Opposite Central Station we passed
old world looking Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and a couple blocks
away the glassy new home arena of the Montreal Canadiens NHL hockey
team. Herein lies a unique characteristic of Montreal as historic
old buildings stand in close proximity to modern edifices and one is
likely to hear both French and English spoken throughout the
city. Our tour next took us to Old Montreal, located close to the
St. Lawrence River, several blocks from the railway station. The
Notre Dame Cathedral is the most recognized sight in Old Montreal but
the area is also popular for its cobblestone streets, horse drawn tour
carriages, restaurants, and historic buildings. A number of
upscale boutique hotels have sprung up in this area, some of which
reside in converted bank buildings.
One of the
beautiful homes we
viewed during our tour of Montreal.
Many homes in
Westmount feature magnificent flower gardens and landscaping.
Another stately home in the
Mont Royal area.
buildings such as
this bank headquarters reflect European styles.
Montreal's cobblestone streets which are lined with restaurants, shops,
cathedrals, and lodging establishments.
An old mansion
in Old Montreal
which has been converted to commercial purposes.
Riding a Renaissance Sleeper on the
Checking one's luggage with a redcap in Montreal is
an excellent means of saving time and energy as they are reliable and
will place your luggage right in your room aboard the train. We
spent part of our remaining layover in VIA's Panorama Lounge in the
station then lined up for check-in at about 5:45pm. A long line
had formed by the time the sleeping car check-in desk opened; we had
learned our lesson years earlier on prior trips to the Maritimes.
Dinner reservations were provided at check-in; our meals would be
included since we purchased Easterly Class tickets.
Montreal's Central Station (Gare Centrale).
A smartly lighted VIA Rail
sign in Central Station.
Boarding for VIA Rail train # 614, the Ocean,
commenced at 6:10pm and we found our suitcase inside deluxe bedroom # 5
in Renaissance sleeper 7516. The room feautured a lengthwise blue
couch which is a departure from the classic former CP Rail VIA sleeping
cars which contain movable chairs by day. At night the couch in
our room would fold down into a lower berth while the upper bed would
be folded down from the wall. Due to the lower height of the
Renaissance cars, there was no overhead storage space and we realized
we would have to work around the large suitcase. It is wise to
only carry hand luggage aboard these cars. Our room contained a
large bathroom that also included a sink and shower. On the wall
beside the head of the bed, a telephone connected passengers with the
car attendant's voice mail. A unique feature of these cars are
bedroom doors that are unlocked by a hotel room style key.
The shower was welcomed after a day of sightseeing
in Ottawa and Montreal and we were already on the bridge over the St.
Lawrence River by the time I was ready to head to dinner. The
walk to the diner took us through five other sleepers and we quickly
noticed the narrow corridor along one side of each car plus the feeling
of openess provided by the open end doors between cars. The final
car before the dining car was the service car which contains the food
preparation galley, a takeout window, lounge seating for sleeper
passengers, and a handicapped bedroom. Another service car was
located on the opposite side of the dining car. The dining car,
meanwhile, was very tastefully appointed with 4 tables for 4 along one
side of the car and 4 tables for 2 on the opposite side, a mid-car
service area, and a another section of 4 tables for 4 and 4 tables for
2 at the opposite end of the diner. Tables were separated from
one another by a glass partition bearing the Easterly Class logo, and
each table was topped by a stylish lamp. Each dining table had
individual seats that folded up when unocciped for easier access
The head end of
Renaissance equipped Ocean extends beyond the Central Station covered
son John takes a
break from his photography duties to enjoy dinner in the Renaissance
Dinner was outstanding with a salad (John had fish
chowder) followed by pork medallions topped with an apple glaze,
carrots, small potatoes, and dinner rolls, capped off with delicious
chocolate cake with raspberry topping. Good conversation was
enjoyed with our tablemate Jim Creggan, bass guitarist for the band
Bare Naked Ladies, and his three year old son Finn. Jim is a fan
of train travel and was in the midst of a trip with his wife and baby
who were back in their bedroom. Following our enjoyable
conversation over dinner, John commented how fortunate we had been to
have dined with interesting people on this trip.
Following dinner, our favorite part of any overnight
VIA train, the Park car, beckoned so we made our way to the rear of the
train and grabbed a pair of front row seats in the dome. Yoho
Park is one of 17 dome-observation-lounge cars built for the Canadian
Pacific Railway over five decades ago. Today 13 of these cars
remain in VIA Rail service and passengers enjoy the dome seating atop
the train, the Bullet Lounge at the rear of the car, and the Mural
Lounge located below the dome. Additionally, three bedrooms and a
three-bedded drawing room are located in these cars.
The Mural Lounge in the Yoho
Bullet Lounge is a
perfect place to read or watch scenery recede behind the train.
leading to the dome pass
beside clocks displaying the time in each Canadian time zone.
topped dome section
of Yoho Park seats 24 and permits a bird's eye view of passing scenery.
A pouring rain chaperoned the train through
Drummondville and followed us all night across eastern Quebec.
Despite the rain, we had a good view of the farmlands that dominate the
region, meets with opposing trains, and the crossing gates and
trackside signals ahead. After crossing the wide Riviere Chaudiere, the
Ocean pulled to a stop at Charny, the suburban stop for Quebec
City. Due to the CN's abandonment of the Levis Subdivison, the
Ocean has to back out of Charny, recross the river, then resume forward
on a freight line that passes Joffre Yard. After watching this
process, we turned in for the night and slept until Matapedia at 6:40am
then drifted off again until about 8:30.
Breakfast in the diner was excellent as we enjoyed
blueberry pancakes with sausage while tracing the southern shore of
Chaleaur Bay. The rain had paced us overnight and it was windy
and wet outside. Stops at Bathurst, Miramichi, and Rogersville
each deposited a few passengers and it was fun watching family reunions
from the dome car. Families with young children found the
transition car located between the last Renaissance sleeper and the
Yoho Park a convenient play area for their children as the car was
basically empty as its sole purpose is to allow the attachment of a
Park car on the rear by means of a specially adapted coupler on the
trailing end of the car. The car interior for this Renaissance
car was not totally bare as framed flags of Canada's eastern provinces
were displayed on its inside walls.
One of the
province flags displayed in the transition car.
The interior of
car connecting the Renaissance cars with the Park car.
Moncton was reached at 1:05pm which allowed time for
a stroll on the platform while dodging intermittant rain. In past
years the Ocean often dropped a couple of sleepers here since many
passengers detrain to visit this city or travel to Prince Edward
Island. This is no longer practical given the length of time
required to uncouple Renaissance cars. East of Moncton, the 19
car long Ocean made an impressive sight winding through the tidal
flats. Our lunch seating was called by the use of chimes on the
intercom in much the same fashion as on cruise ships. While we
dined, train # 614 stopped at Sackville, New Brunswick and Amherst,
Nova Scotia. We made it back to the Yoho Park just in time for a
meet with the westbound Ocean then viewed the Wentworth Valley from the
dome as our train reached the highest point on the route. Park
car attendant Lyne conducted a wine and cheese tasting then
demonstrated how lobster traps work to bring a bit of Maritime life to
visitors. She noted a bit of trivia that our stop in Truro was
the easternmost active train stop in North America. This seemed
like folly to me as our train would terminate in Halifax, over an hour
ahead. A check of our highway map supported this contention as
Halifax is, indeed, just a few miles farther west as the train travels
south-southwest from Truro to Halifax. Our prior trip to Nova
Scotia in 2001 took us farther east by rail as VIA's weekly Bras d'Or
operated to Sydney which was much farther east than Truro. That
train was cancelled a couple of years after that.
of Renaissance cars and 1950s era equipment is apparent during our stop
car Yoho Park at Moncton.
Renaissance cars carry
their own fold-down steps.
National local freight passes the Ocean in the rain at Moncton, New
The author enjoys lunch
time in the dining car.
Fold down seats
Renaissance dining car are both comfortable and convenient.
prepared in the
service car's galley adjacent to the dining car.
seen from the rear window of the eastbound Ocean.
the markers for the westbound Ocean.
coordinator "Lyne" explains how lobster traps work.
Bedford Basin are viewed from the dome.
The Ocean pulled into Halifax 85 minutes late at
5:45pm ending a most enjoyable eastbound journey. The Four Points
by Sheraton hotel was just a few blocks from the train station and
offered very comfortable accommodations. The hotel was just a
couple of years old and its location was convenient for walking to many
sights along the waterfront. An evening stroll took us to
O'Carroll's Pub for a good Maritime dinner. Numerous other dining
establishments are located in the downtown area and the waterfront area
presents a charming place to walk.
arrival at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The Four Points
Hotel in Halifax was conveniently located near the waterfront and the
VIA Rail station.
The following morning John and I visited the
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which displays everything from a
lighthouse lens to torpedoes to relics recovered from the
Titanic. The item that struck home was a glove found in the
Titanic wreckage that had belonged to Charles Melville Hays, president
of the Grand Trunk Railway, whose loss delayed the opening of the
Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. The museum opened in 1948 and its
collection has grown to over 24,000 nautical artifacts making it a
must-see for visitors to Halifax.
Museum of the
Atlantic is one of Halifax's leading attractions.
A lighthouse lens displayed at
the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
A child's shoes
Our next stop took us to Pier 21, the preserved
gateway to Canada for over one million immigrants between
1928-1971. The facility has been transformed into an interesting
museum whose highlight is a multimedia show that transports visitors to
the heyday of Pier 21. An old heavyweight Canadian National coach
is displayed outside as many of the immigrants boarded trains to
western points. A trip aboard the tall ship Mar provided a nice
view of Halifax Harbour while under sail. This excursion is
operated by the Murphy's on the Water company. We then traveled
back along Lower Water Street for lunch at the Harbourfront Market and
watched glassblowers perform their craft at a shop where fine glass
pieces are created. Our final sightseeing stop of the morning
took us to the star-shaped Citadelle located high atop a hill
overlooking the city. The 19th century fortress is among the best
preserved in North America and visitors get a closeup look at the
various rooms, barracks, and fortifications within the Citadelle's
massive walls. In late afternoon John and I drove our rental van
to the Halifax Airport, approximately 20 miles outside the city, to
pick up my wife. Her flight routing took her from Orlando to New
York to Halifax and she was glad to leave the cramped confines of jet
where we enjoyed
Nova Scotian cuisine.
Quaint shops facing Halifax
National coach in front of Pier 21 where immigrants arrived from
The CNR logo
displayed on the
side of the heavyweight coach.
The art of
glassblowing can be
viewed at a waterfront shop where ornamental glass pieces are made.
A bagpipe band
plays at The
Citadelle. Later we saw many more bagpipe bands perform at the
Royal Nova Scotia International Tatoo.
The Citadelle's main barracks
A firing squad lines up to
shoot at The Citadelle.
That evening we walked several blocks through
downtown to the Halifax Metro Centre arena to attend the Royal Nova
Scotia International Tatoo. This event was first staged in
Halifax in the late 1970s and has grown to become the hottest ticket in
Halifax. The term tatoo dates to the 17th century when drummers
marched through the streets of Dutch villages summoning British
soldiers to return to their quarters from the taverns and inns.
The Royal Nova Scotia International Tatoo continues to honor its
military roots bringing together military and civilian marching bands
from Canada and numerous other countries along with a variety of
acts. Included are singers, gymnasts, dancers, acrobats, and a
multitude of bagpipe bands along with other entertaining acts. Each
year's 2 1/2 hour show features different acts from the previous
year. One can expect to see acts from nations as diverse as
Germany, France, Great Britain, Jamaica, New Zealand, and host Canada
during the Tatoo. The event typically is staged for about a week
beginning on Canada Day (July 1). Tickets generally go on sale in
early October and advance planning is important since the shows sell
There are many other sights to be seen in and around
Halifax including nearby Peggy's Cove and picturesque drives along the
eastern and western coasts of Nova Scotia's southern region. Our
itinerary dictated that we travel north on this trip and, after
stopping by the VIA Rail station, our route took us along the Eastern
Shore north of Halifax using Highway 7. The names of towns we
passed through: Ship Harbour, Spry Harbour, and Spanish Ship Bay,
reflected the restful nature of this sea hugging road. We
followed Route 7 northward to Antigonish then joined the higher speed
Route 104 to the Canso Causeway, a narrow strip of land constructed to
bridge the Strait of Canso which links Chedabucto Bay and the Atlantic
Ocean with St. Georges Bay and Northumberland Strait. The former
Canadian National line to Sydney, now in the hands of a shortline
operator, parallels the highway across the causeway. Years ago
one could watch VIA Rail Canada rail diesel cars cross this causeway
and earlier this century the dome car equipped Bras d'Or trundled
across on its weekly trip between Halifax and Sydney. Today only
the occasional freight travels this route.
The next day's
ready at Halifax with Assiniboine Park carrying the markers.
VIA Rail Canada's Halifax
Highway 7 hugs
coast of Nova Scotia north of Halifax.
Lupines grow alongside Highway
from the highway
near Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia.
The Strait of
offers a shortcut to small watercraft.
The Canso Causeway includes
the rail line that VIA Rail's Bras d'Or used to travel along.
Our highway route then took us through the scenic
neck of Cape Breton and along St. Patricks Channel to Baddeck where we
would pause for the night. The Inverary Resort proved to be an
excellent lodging choice as its beautiful lakefront grounds overlooked
sparkling waters that flow into Bras d'Or Lake. Our room had a
commanding view of the water and we found the town of Baddeck both
charming and restful. The resort's dining room was set beside the
lake providing glimpses of many boats coming and going from its
dock. At night we watched an outstanding Canada Day fireworks
show with many of the fireworks reflecting in the lake waters then
prepared for the next day's voyage to Newfoundland.
stands in the harbour at Baddeck.
The Inverary Resort, Baddeck,
The view from
our table in the
restaurant at the Inverary Resort.
The view from
our table in the
restaurant at the Inverary Resort.
Canada Day fireworks in
finale marked the
end of our Nova Scotia sightseeing