Hello! My name is Evelynne and I’d like to share my experience making the epic train journey from Vancouver back to our home in Montreal.
My husband and I have been talking about this trip for some years. However, it was our becoming Canadian citizens last year and being eligible to take advantage of the Canadian Cultural Access pass that prompted us to finally make that booking.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Cultural Access Pass, it is a program run by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship which grants new Canadians free access to many of Canada’s museums and also a substantial discount on one train journey with Via Rail, Canada’s passenger rail carrier. The pass is valid for one year from grant of Canadian citizenship.
The idea behind the pass is to encourage new Canadians to get out and explore their new country and to learn about what Canada has to offer.This is a very generous offer, and my husband and I decided to take advantage of it for our trans Canada adventure.
Our itinerary involves flying to Calgary and spending a day there before moving on to Banff where we spend a couple of days before taking a coach tour to Vancouver stopping in Kelowna for a night before heading on to Vancouver. We spend a few days in Vancouver before boarding The Canadian to take us all the way across the country to Montreal with a stop in Jasper.
What follows is our experiences as we discover our new country.
So the big day has finally come! We set off for Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport with a destination of Calgary. The flight is around four and a half hours and with the time difference we landed on schedule in Calgary in the early afternoon. We realised early on we were no longer in Montreal – the airport hospitality staff wear stetsons!
There is also a rather beautiful life-size statue of some wild horses in the airport:
After dropping our bags at our hotel, we set off to explore Calgary. Neither my husband nor I have visited the town – or even the province – so we were keen to see what we could discover.
As I mentioned our Cultural Access Pass gives us free access to many of Canada’s museums, so we decided to check out the Glenbow Museum, which was free with our pass. For me personally this was one of the most interesting museum we visited on our trip. It had a theme of Alberta Mavericks and gave a very good insight into the history of the province. When you think of history in Quebec and Ontario you immediately think of British and French colonisation and the conflicts between these two nations. It’s all wars and the Plains of Abraham and “I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouth of my cannons and muskets” famously said by Count Frontenac.
The history of Alberta is very different, as we found out at the museum. In Alberta, history is more focussed on coming to grips with the untamed land and also the dealings with Canada’s First Nations aboriginal people, which, sadly, weren’t always in the interests of both parties. This is a part of history we don’t hear much about in Quebec. The museum also explained Alberta’s history with oil and the boom and bust economy that results.
There were some other very interesting exhibits, including a jaw dropping sculpture in barbed wire of a bucking bronco.
After the museum we headed for the Calgary Tower. This offers stunning panoramic views of the city. We realised how flat the countryside around is, with just a hint of the majestic Rockies in the background.
Before heading back to our hotel we stopped for dinner. Calgary’s nickname is Cowtown so I was determined to have a burger. As my husband is vegetarian, we had to look around a bit to find a place that would suit us both!
Today we had another morning in Calgary, which we planned to spend visiting a couple of museums with our Cultural Access Pass. We had planned to visit the Heritage Park Historical Village and Lougheed House, to both of which our passes granted free access. However, We discovered that as it wasn’t quite holiday season yet both museums were closed until later in the week. This is something we encountered throughout our trip, and it’s something worth bearing in mind for future trips.
However, we were able to visit Gasoline Alley which is part of the Heritage Village and is a collection of old cars. It was well done and very interesting, although not our real area of interest.
As we didn’t have a great deal of time before setting off for Banff mid afternoon we decided to check out Calgary by public transit. We just sat on the C train to the end of the line and saw a lot of Calgary that way.
The next stage of our trip involved heading to Banff with a regular service Greyhound bus. This gave us our first view of the Rockies and for me was one of the highlights of our trip. We were on a scheduled bus rather than a tour bus and most of our fellow passengers were locals. It was quite amusing to see their looks of “oh right, tourists’ as we were clicking away with our cameras at the astounding scenery as they just sat back and read their newspapers!
It has to be said, today was a little frustrating. We had intended to make full use of our Cultural Passes, but found that due to the time of year, several of the museums were closed during the earlier part of the week when we were there.
One of the few museums we found open – and which accepted our Cultural Passes – was the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. This is a museum which showcases the art and other objects collected by Catherine and Peter Whyte. It’s also a museum which highlights Banff’s development and growth as a tourist jumping point for the Canadian Rockies. The museum was interesting and did highlight the history of the town.
Despite the frustrations of the museums’ being closed we did spend a very pleasant day in Banff. The town itself is very pretty and the setting is breathtakingly beautiful:
We did see a couple of amusing sights:
I didn’t know they served poutine west of Montreal! For the non Montrealers amongst you, poutine is a Montreal speciality which consists of fries, cheese curds and gravy. Thad and I did eat at Carlito’s, although we had pizza and not poutine.
Good to know! Not something you typically find in Montreal…
For our transport between Banff and Vancouver we decided to go on an organised coach tour with The Moose Travel Network. This was a two day tour stopping in Kelowna to break the journey. We joined an eight day tour for the last leg of the journey so many of our fellow travellers knew each other already.
The Moose Travel Network is primarily aimed at backpackers and has an arrangement with SameSun backpacker hostels for accommodation. We found the group cosmopolitan and friendly, the 20-seater bus very clean, comfortable and modern and our driver/guide, Carly, very approachable and knowledgable. The only real downside from my point of view is that there was constant loud music played in the bus throughout the two day trip. That did get on my nerves after a while. I understand the music is a typical part of a Moose tour.
Other than that the tour was great. We drove through some fantastic scenery and made some great stops along the way. We took a gentle walk through a forest at Mount Revelstoke and stopped at the point where the Last Spike in the trans Canada railroad was driven.
We arrived in Kelowna in the early evening and, as it was the last night of the tour, the group had dinner together. We didn’t see much of Kelowna.
Leaving Kelowna after breakfast, we drove through some more wonderful scenery:
As part of the tour, we had the option to go paddleboarding on Lake Okanagan. I’d not heard of it before, but it looks something like this:
My husband had a go, but I was too nervous. Growing up my parents called me a water magnet – if there was any in the vicinity I was guaranteed to fall in!
We continued our journey, stopping at the pretty little community of Hope
We arrived in Vancouver in the early evening and after saying goodbye to our group, we had dinner and a quiet evening in our hotel.
Today was partly business for me. My company has an office in Vancouver so I had arranged to visit there to meet some of my coworkers. Thanks Kevin for showing me around!
I met up with Thad later in the afternoon and we took a walk around the Vancouver waterfront. Beautiful. The Asian influence in Vancouver is readily apparent. With Vancouver being Canada’s gateway to the Pacific there were noticeably more Asian faces than in Montreal.
We watched a cruise ship depart for Alaska.
and found proof that poutine is not restricted to Montreal.
One of the prettiest parts of Vancouver is Gastown, which is the older part of town. There is a steam driven clock there which is quite fascinating.