Time on the Canadian is immaterial. Its measurement is by breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleeping, watching the world pass by from the observation deck. “What day is this?” is a common refrain.
After Jasper, the mountains slowly fade into the black of night. People are tucking themselves in for the evening. I have the dark dome car to myself. My view takes on an eerie quality as the train glides around bends, left and right. In the darkness, snow-laden trees glow from the warm lights of the train. Up ahead, green signal lights appear on a regular basis, changing to red as the lead locomotive passes. The two red orbs swoop overhead and the scene goes black until the next curve of illuminated forest, the next green signal. The clock of the train.
Eventually, I too am ready to bunk down – or up – in my berth. By now I have adjusted to the rocking of the train. I have a good night's sleep. But the train moves on and we passengers wake to a different world. Gone are the mountainsides and the snow. Up to now, walking between the train cars has been a somewhat treacherous journey across icy, snowy steel floors shifting wildly like a bad fun house ride. Now the passage is dripping wet and warm.
We are approaching our destination, Vancouver. Considering this town's reputation, it is almost outrageous that we should be seeing our first sunny day of the trip. Its rays only serves to spotlight the dreary approach trains tend to ply on their way through big cities.
One final time, the Canadian plays games with our sense of time. It arrives a half-hour early!
Vancouver's station epitomizes the glory days of passenger train travel. We detrain into the splendid high-ceiling hall of the historic Pacific West station and pick up our checked bags and, for a few, crated dogs before exiting into the city and its comfortably warm and moist air. Directly in front, is the first of many public art pieces I will discover in Vancouver, a surreal bronze bird-man by artist Ivan Eyre. A Winnipeg-based artist I might add.
Had I really left home?