The origins of the Canadian can be traced back to the Canadian Pacific Railway, which began their transcontinental trains in the early 20th century with its flagship train, the “Dominion”, with connections to Nova Scotia, via the “Atlantic”. By the fifties, most trains used light and heavyweight coaches with both pre and post war heritage, however, many other trains in North America had transitioned to the modern stainless steel streamlined cars. The construction of the new cars began when the railway began to evaluate Pullman Standard’s demonstrator, the “Train of Tomorrow”, which boasted modern streamlining technology, and up scale amenities.
Norris Crump, the Vice President of the Canadian Pacific during this time, decided to upgrade its fleet to the modern streamliner, placing an order to the Budd Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for 173 streamlined passenger cars to update its fleet. Included in this order were 18 rear end dome cars, 18 Skyline mid-train domes, 30 coaches, 18 dining cars, 72 sleeping cars, and 18 baggage cars. These cars were to be used on the Canadian, which was to be introduced as a new transcontinental service, and to replace the rolling stock of the existing transcontinental train, the “Dominion”. Additionally, 22 heavyweight sleepers that were already in service were refurbished at the Canadian Pacific Angus Shop, to supplement the new Budd rolling stock. Each type of rolling stock was assigned a series name. The rear end dome is called the Park series, dining cars after notable hotels across the country, and the sleeper cars called the manor and chateau series.
Currently, the passenger services on the Canadian Pacific were utilizing EMD FP7 and ALCO FPA-2 locomotives, however, FP9A units were ordered to add additional motive power to the fleet, upon the introduction of the modern rolling stock, which were produced at GMD’s London, Ontario plant. The Canadian’s first transcontinental run occurred in April of 1955, however, competitor Canadian National introduced its new service called the “Super Continental”, which was designed to cater to the affluent travelers, and to provide to them a luxury travel experience. Although luxurious, the Super Continental did not include streamlined equipment until 1964, when stock from the Milwaukee Road was purchased, and thus the Canadian Pacific was the only railway that had streamlined passenger service in Canada for almost ten years. The service was quicker than past transcontinental services, as it reduced travel time by 16 hours, and allowed for only a three night stay on the train instead of four, which was quicker than its previous flagship train, the “Dominion”.
The introduction of new rolling stock attracted many travelers to the rails, as it was a comfortable and high class experience, however, the train was introduced at the height of the automobile industry boom, and the completion of the trans Canada highway. Additionally, air travel was beginning to popularize, and ridership on the streamliner began to fade, resulting in the termination of the Dominion. By the seventies, low ridership levels on the Canadian resulted in a reduction of service, and many attempts were made to terminate the service.
As an effort to keep transcontinental passenger service a viable option for travelers, CP Rail was relinquished of its duties for passenger service, in favor of government subsidized, VIA Rail, which began operations in 1978, in which the Canadian became the country’s flagship passenger train. VIA took over all Canadian passenger trains that were formerly operated by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.
After the VIA takeover, the only transcontinental trains to continue operation was the Canadian (Montreal/Toronto-Sudbury-Winnipeg-Calgary-Banff-Vancouver), and the Super Continental(Montreal/Toronto-Capreol-Winnipeg-Edmonton-Jasper-Vancouver).The Canadian continued to traverse its original CP route, which was supplemented by the Super Continental that traversed the northern route on Canadian National trackage. The Canadian operated daily in both directions as VIA #1 westbound, and VIA #2 eastbound. During the early days of VIA Rail, the previous connections to Toronto via the Canadian, and the branch to Montreal were abolished.
In 1990, due to the dramatic budget cuts that plagued VIA Rail, the Super Continental was abolished. The Canadian now operated just three times weekly, and was transferred to the northern route formerly used by the Super Continental, instead of its original southern route, and the trip was lengthened to four nights. The Canadian continued operating because it was a vital lifeline to many small communities, of which, the train is the only source of transportation. Today, people from all corners of the earth come to ride the Canadian, as it is truly the last silver streamliner.
Equipment and Classes of Service
Manor and Chateau Series
Built between 1954-1955, the Chateau class sleepers offer travelers world class accommodations, as well as all the comforts of home. The Chateau series includes eight duplex roomettes, four sections, three full sized bedrooms, and a drawing room. Altogether, these accommodations could handle up to twenty-five passengers comfortably. After almost forty years of operation, the Chateau class was rebuilt by AMF in the mid-ninties, which included the addition of a shower.
Delivered in an order of 42 between 1954-955, the Manor series sleepers included five bedrooms, one compartment, four sections, and four roomettes. These accommodations could handle up to twenty-four passengers comfortably. Upon delivery, these cars were named after renowned English Canadians, who were one of the first to build settlements in various Provinces in Canada. Similar to the Chateau series, these cars were rebuilt in the mid-nineties to include a shower at one end of the car.
Delivered in 1954, the Park Series is a fleet of eighteen end of train dome cars, of which were named after Canadian national or provincial parks. Included in the car were three bedrooms, a drawing room, and of course, the dome area. In the rear of the car was the lounge in which the seats face each other, while allowing passengers to look out the rear window, as the passing landscape fades into the distance.
Originally, the lounge in the rear of the car was named the “mural” lounge, as each car had its own specially painted mural of the park of which the car was named. However, during their rebuild in the mid-nineties, the murals were replaced by clocks displaying Canada’s six time zones.
Delivered between 1954-1955, the dining cars aboard the Canadian are stainless steel and captivate the glory of streamlined travel. This series of cars are named after luxury hotels across Canada, however, they are also numbered. These cars include 48 seats in the dining room, and the kitchen in one end of the car.
The dining experience on the Canadian is one of the most upscale dining car meals in North America. Travelers can taste the flavors of the local provinces, as well as wine and other beverages. The meals are included with the purchase of a Prestige or Sleeper Plus accommodation.
Delivered in 1954, the coaches on the Canadian feature a stainless steel finish, and comfortable interior. The coach class aboard the Canadian is a viable alternative for those that do not want to pay for a sleeper accommodation, or for those that are not staying the full four nights aboard the train.
Even in coach class, the Canadian can still be an exciting journey. The coach class seating aboard the Canadian is comfortable and is sure to be suitable for a short hop aboard the train. However, some customers decide to travel coach during the journey in its entirety.
Panorama Car (Dome)
The Panorama Dome is a truly unique addition to the consist, as it gives travelers unobstructed views of the passing scenery. This car was built by Colorado railcar in 2000, and three were purchased by VIA Rail in 2002 for use on the Canadian. The car can seat up to 74 people comfortably. This car travels on the Canadian between Edmonton, Alberta,and Vancouver, British Columbia, which is the portion of the route that traverses through the most dramatic scenery, including the beautiful Fraser and Thompson River Canyons.
When Canadian Pacific still operated the Canadian, it used FP7, FP9, and FPA-2 locomotives for power. These locomotives were the mainstay of the train until 1987, when VIA Rail ordered 53 F40PH-2D locomotives. These locomotives were the mainstay of Amtrak diesel power at the time, and proved to be reliable and efficient, making them attractive for use by VIA on some of their most rugged routes. In 2010, VIA had to make the decision to either rebuild or replace the locomotives, they chose the former, and completely rebuilt the locomotives removing the prime mover, and refurbishing and replacing various components as needed. The rebuild will extend the life expectancy of the locomotives for at least twenty more years.
FP7 & FP9
The FP7 was the primary motive power on Canadian Pacific passenger trains. With 1,500 horsepower, the locomotive was powerful, versatile and easy to maintain, and was useful in mountainous terrain due to its 4 axle design. The FP7 was similar to the freight variant, the F7, except for the fact it was 4 ft longer to accommodate the head end power steam generator. The Canadian Pacific examples were produced by General Motors Diesel (GMD) in their London, Ontario plant.
The FP9 was also built at the London, Ontario plant, and was ordered simultaneously with the order of streamlined passenger cars in the mid-fifties, to supplement the FP7’s. The FP9 also had two-hundred more horsepower than the FP7, making it 1,750 horsepower. Together, the FP7 and FP9 provided reliable service throughout the Canadian rail network for over thirty years.
The 3,000 horsepower F40PH locomotive was already proven on the Amtrak network as a powerful, rugged and reliable machine, capable of any task large or small. The locomotive quickly proved itself on the Canadian, traversing the rough terrain of the Rocky Mountains with ease. These locomotives included a desktop cab control stand instead of the original AAR type, due to VIA specifications.
These locomotives began rebuild in 2011 to increase their operating life by twenty years. These upgrades included the addition of a head end power generator separate from the prime mover, which would supply the hotel needs for the passenger cars. This gives the prime mover more power as it no longer has to generate power to the passenger cars.
Locations to See
Traveling on the Canadian from the west, the train departs Vancouver Pacific Central Station and traverses over the beautiful architecture of the New Westminster Bridge. Not much nature is seen during this section of the journey, as the train passes many industrial areas and bustling towns.
As the train travels towards Gifford, British Columbia, the Fraser and Thompson River canyons come into view. During this portion of the route, the eastbound trains traverse through the river canyons via Canadian Pacific trackage, and the westbound counterpart traverses this portion on Canadian National trackage. The original Canadian route utilized the CP route before being diverted onto CN in the early nineties, so the eastbound runs on its original route for a few miles. The canyons are some of the most scenic areas on the route, especially on a clear day. After traversing the canyons, the train makes a station stop at Kamloops, where you are free to exit the train and take in the views.
The train parallels the Thompson River for a time and as the train rolls eastward, the scenery becomes mostly farmland and small towns, of which, the train is a vital lifeline. The train will make stops on request at these small towns, allowing residents a medium to the world. As the train continues to parallel the Thompson River, Glaciers and snow topped mountains can be seen in the distance, making for a wonderful view.
As the train approaches Redpass Junction, the train parallels Moose Lake for a few miles. As you cross the lake, take in the beauty of the clear blue water, with snowy mountaintops in the background. After Moose Lake, the train continues along the Fraser River and approaches the Yellowhead Lake before crossing the continental divide. After crossing the divide, the train enters the province of Alberta, where it has a station stop at Jasper. Built by the CN in 1926, Jasper station was named a heritage railway station in 1992. While at Jasper, take in the exquisite mountain ranges that surround the station. Also, if you are a rail enthusiast, check out the CN 4-8-2 steam locomotive, which is on display next to the station. At Jasper, crews clean the windows on the streamlined equipment to ensure unobstructed views out the picture windows.
After departing Jasper and passing through the various rail yards, the train continues northeast and approaches the Athabasca Valley and River. Many species of wildlife can be seen including elk, sheep, and birds. Looking to the northwest, the Victoria Cross Range will enter view and Mount McKean and Mount Zengel, along with the Collins Range. Afterwards the train reaches English, where it crests the grade and descends towards the Athabasca Valley.
The train then reaches the Jasper Lake, which it parallels along with the Yellowhead Highway. This is a key part of the route as it is a popular spot for photographers and railfans alike to take pictures of the trains hugging the side of the lake. In fact, many marketing campaigns with the Canadian National’s former flagship train, the “Continental” , where photographed at this location in an attempt to highlight the scenery along the route and attract customers. This makes for a great location for photographs, as in the background of the lake lies the mountain ranges of Miette, Jacques, Colin, Victoria, De Smet, and Bosche.
After traversing Jasper Lake and the many mountain ranges, the train crosses the Stoney River, and parallels the Brule Lake while passing Black Cat Mountain and Mount Solomon. It is at this point the train reaches the easternmost point of the Rockies, and the mountainous scenery starts to dissolve into vast valleys and fields.
After passing various trestles and paralleling Octopus, Wabamun, and Chip lakes, the train reaches a wye before entering into Edmonton Station, here both eastbound and westbound trains back into the station. This is a lengthy station stop, as it is a scheduled crew change and briefing point.
Edmonton – Winnipeg
As the train departs Edmonton the city skyline is in view. After exiting Edmonton, the train parallels Alberta Highway 14 for a few hours while whisking through the various prairies and farmland alongside. The train passes through many small towns and makes a few quick stops before reaching the Saskatoon Station.
The train continues to pass through the prairies until it reaches Manitoba, where it makes a quick stop at Rivers, and begins paralleling the trans-Canada highway. The train parallels the Assiniboine River, which includes an urban backdrop, until it reaches Winnipeg Union Station.
On the final leg of the journey, the train passes through many farm towns and lakes before exiting the prairies and entering the province of Ontario. The train then passes through the ancient Canadian Shield and makes two short stops at Rice Lake and Copelands Landing. The train then parallels many rivers and continues eastward toward Parry Sound, which is traversed using the CP Parry Sound Subdivision for westbound trains, and the CN Bala Subdivision for eastbound trains. The train passes Lake Simcoe before making its final run towards Toronto, on the final few miles the train uses tracks courtesy of GO Transit, which operates commuter trains in the area. The train then makes its way to it final destination, Toronto Union Station.
To book your trip on North America’s last streamliner, visit the VIA Rail website to purchase tickets and for additional Q&A.