Trekking Tales The fun of VIA Rail travel and its idiosyncrasies

Day 2 of our three-day train trip from Clearwater to Prince Rupert saw us leaving Jasper around noon

Part 1: Jasper to Prince George

Day 2 of our three-day train trip from Clearwater to Prince Rupert saw us leaving Jasper around noon, a rather scrawny dark brown bear seeing us off.

Our whole unit was only four carriages long, with a snack bar, no sleepers or dining car. The train, the crew, and on-going passengers would overnight in Prince George.

Once again, although we could wander from here to there, the dome car with its superior visibility was our favourite haunt. It seems to be up to the employees on VIA Rail which announcements they make. And we really lucked out with our lady conductor/server/first aider/luggage handler for the rest of our journey rattling over the rails.

After making announcements about safety, her five jobs and more, with “Two engineers doing one job up front!” she invited us to relax and enjoy ourselves on VIA Rail (otherwise dubbed “Very Irregular Arrivals” by some).

We did, and loved every minute of it, with varied descriptions of the historical places we saw en route. Passengers waved the train down here and there, and others alit into almost deserted areas. This train is a life-line for people living along this route – First Nations particularly needing its services.

As we retraced our “steps” west from Jasper, we saw again the devastation left by the passing of the pine beetles. A couple of days later, hearing of fire near Jasper, we were horrified. Although eventually hearing the fire was in unique Maligne Canyon was bad enough news, we were relieved that it was not roaring across those red mountain-sides.

We passed Moose Lake once again, and, with map in hand this time, could track the Fraser River making its tiny entrance into that large lake, and exiting to continue its long journey west with us as far as Prince George.

That morning, the cloud had risen higher during our leisurely window-shopping in Jasper; John and I hoped that Mt. Robson would be clear. It was indeed, the train slowing almost to a standstill so we could snap several photos of it – proof that it has glaciers on its wide shoulders near the peak.

After that and Tete Jeune Cache, it was on to the grasslands and ranches of McBride. Tree-covered hillsides and mountains closed in later.

Bridges, with us upon them, crossed the white, tumbling water of the juvenile Fraser River often. At times we saw the highway we were also paralleling, cars whizzing along, not held up when another vehicle came from the other direction as we were!

Freight trains put us into sidings for long and short waits. The train used to stop in the community of Penny, even when the postmaster was its only inhabitant, so passengers could buy post cards and mail them back to Penny, thus keeping the place in business for several more years. It closed down in 2013.

As we approached Prince George, we could see the Nechako River flowing in from the west, joining right at the bend of the Fraser where it makes a big swing southward to empty into the Pacific Ocean near Richmond and Steveston.

The Aussies with us would not see it again, but John and I paralleled it again on our homeward drive as far as Hope.

Here, in central B.C., we crossed it one last time on the old bridge that once had cars using the outside lanes with the railway in the middle. Cars now have a bigger, fancier bridge, slightly downstream.

We were not quite on time rolling into Prince George, but our friendly B&B man/chauffeur, had been in touch with the station and was waiting for us when we arrived.

“Would you like to have a tour of the city?” he asked. And off we went to see downtown, the site of the recent Winter Games, the University, and points in between.


His hospitality was a symbol of the lovely home where Vera had arranged for the five of us to stay the night. And don’t get me started on the delicious breakfast menu….