Great rail journeys: Lakes, elks and luxury coaches

Cleo Paskal has an eventful journey through the Rocky Mountains

Iguess I shouldn't have been surprised at the choice of the first sing-a-long. We were half-way through a two-day trip from Vancouver to Calgary aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, a train designed to make what is already one of the most interesting train trips in the world also one of the most comfortable. In "Red Leaf" class, the economy section (a relative term), travellers got extra roomy seats and tasty box lunches delivered to them. "Gold Leaf" passengers got a state-of-the-art dome car and a dining car where they were served haute cuisine on real tablecloths. Both classes got the same postcard-perfect, spectacular views.

As we slithered along the banks of the Fraser and Thompson rivers on Day One, my 700 or so fellow passengers and I had "wow-ed" at gushing whitewater-capped rivers, wide and wild valley floors, wooded mountains and big osprey nests. Really big osprey nests.

We were also fed and watered regularly. And, throughout the day, on-board guides doled out curious bits of Canadiana. There was history, geology and local lore, such as the story of the guy who had tried to start up a fox farm on "that island right over there... look quick! Out the left side of the train." All went well until one winter when the river froze and the foxes all escaped. The man wasn't too popular with his neighbours after that.

At the end of the day, we tied up in Kamloops, the natural midway point. It's been a resting stop for a very long time. The word Kamloops comes from a Shuswap First Nations word meaning "meeting place" as the town is at the junction of the North and South Thompson Rivers. Since the train is designed for daylight travel, passengers sleep in hotels scattered throughout town. But several hundred of us reconvened at night for the Two River Junction Dinner and Musical Review.

From the time Canada's transcontinental rail system was completed in 1885, the "spine" of Confederation has produced many odd offshoots. There were the track-side utopias, frenzied and sometimes murderous land speculation, and honest-to-Betsy genuine Swiss mountain guides imported by Canadian Pacific to guide its mountaineering guests safely to unclaimed peaks.

And now there is a packed-to-the-rafters, internationally acclaimed musical revue in Kamloops.

In order to give the hundreds of Rocky Mountaineer travellers something to do during their overnight stop in Kamloops, the company helped start up a dinner show using local talent (another option is The Great Canadian Lumberjack Show for those that like their entertainment with a bit more wood). The waitress who, only minutes before, had cleared away my buffet plate was now on stage with a score of other Kamloopians encouraging the audience members to sing along to, yes, "I've Been Working on the Railroad".

And because much of the audience consisted of happy, tippling, Americans and Australians, we did sing along. And enjoyed it. There is definitely something to be said for travelling with people who think cynicism is just that, a sin.

After the singsong got our blood circulating and our feet vaguely tapping, the show moved into the "story" section of the evening. Something about Billy Miner and a bank robbery that netted $15 and a handful of liver pills (something many of fellow passengers would probably be in need of in the morning).

The next day we blearily boarded the train not all that bright and much too early. Legendary locations flew by fast and furious. First came Craigellachie, site of the driving in of the famous Last Spike that connected the west of Canada to the east of Canada by rail, and tied the country together. It ushered in a new industrial era in Canada and was another nail in the coffin of traditional ways of Native Canadians.

It's hard to underestimate the value of the railway to Canada. Geographically, North America is naturally a north-south kind of place. The Canadian Prairies have more in common with the American Great Plains than they do with the fishing communities of Nova Scotia, which themselves have much more in common with Maine than with the people of Alberta. The thing that created Canada, that made it work, was the railway.

In the early 1870s, when British Columbia had to choose between joining Canada, going independent or joining the States (which had already bought Alaska and was trying to put the squeeze on the whole Pacific coast), one of its main conditions for entering confederation with Canada was the building of a railway through the Rockies, to tie it into the rest of the country. It was done. And Canadians started thinking east-west, instead of north-south.

As the steel track stitched the country together, it created a new way of life. Dauntingly isolated and beautiful valleys were suddenly a steam whistle away from daily newspaper delivery. Remote lakes saw 100-room hotels spring up on their shores. Once-unclimbable peaks were being scaled by Yale boys up for the season.

The train brought colonists, prospectors, industrialists, religious refugees, farmers, ranchers, teachers and tourists. Lots of tourists. William Cornelius Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway, launched an aggressive marketing campaign, selling the country any way he could. It was "50 Switzerlands in one!" It was unfished lakes. It was Noble Natives and Gallant Mounties. And the tourists are still coming to see Emerald Lake, Mount Cathedral, Lake Louise, Banff, all sites so spectacularly beautiful, CP Rail used them to brand the image of Canada's mountain splendour.

Equally impressive is the engineering. To tame the peaks, engineers designed contorted stretches of track that twist, turn, double back, tunnel and huddle under avalanche sheds. Spiral Tunnels were built, like other treacherous stretches of track, at the cost of countless lives, mostly those of Chinese labourers.

All the while, our guides told us stories, the train slowed when it came to good photo ops (an elk, a bear, a beautiful-to-the-point-of-cliché snow-shrouded mountain), and we were stuffed silly. The only dangers were a seemingly shrinking waistline on my slacks and the guide's jokes. ("Did you hear about the sheep that was chasing a female on a mountainside? He went right over a cliff. I guess he didn't see the ewe-turn.")

Towards the end of the second day, the trip started to wind down. Many passengers left the train in Banff to continue their trip through the Rockies by car or bus. Others stayed on for the two extra hours (and one extra meal) to Calgary.

I opted to waddle off in Banff, hoping to walk off some of my post-rail cruise excess baggage. I stood on the platform, marvelling again at the view that had lured Victorians halfway around the world. In front of me, one of my fellow passengers, an American with a happy, silly grin, said to the world at large: "That was something, wasn't it?"

It sure was.

INFORMATION

The Rocky Mountaineer (01 604 606 7245; www.rockymountaineer.com) offers several different routes and adventure trips throughout the Canadian Rockies and Canada, from the two day Rocky Mountaineer classic trip to a 16-day trans-Canadian adventure. Prices start from £245 (per person and before tax)for the Red Leaf trip from Vancouver to Banff. Gold Leaf on the same route starts around £510. Gold Leaf on the trans-Canadian route starts at around £2,200.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past