When we last left our wandering Yanks in Canada, my mom and I had just completed a morning tour of Manitoba’s capital, Winnipeg. Back on board our railway vessel, we waited to pull out of the station. I was busy scrolling through photos and organizing them while my mom was attending to her needlepoint projects. So, business as usual. In addition, our Via rail crew was swapping out for a new crew. Before we knew it, the train slowly pulled out of the Winnipeg station and continued its long trek to Vancouver.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We had a choice of a BBQ pulled pork sandwich or a fried chicken sandwich. I went for the latter and while it was not haute cuisine, it was most satisfying. Dessert, however, was superb. It was a warm square of bread pudding smothered in whipped cream. Simple, but very satisfying.
The scenery whizzed by and, like most train journeys, the land changed. We went from the frozen woods of Ontario to the open and spacious prairies of Manitoba. There were farms upon farms blanketed by acres of freshly fallen snow. The snow and ice crystals seemed to glisten in the midday sun. There were trucks and tractors just idling in the front yard with houses spread out so few and far between. There was one stop along the way that did have a fair share of houses in a suburban style. That place was Portage La Prairie, our next stop outside of Winnipeg. There was a large station depot across from the current station house and Via Rail signage. It was a lovely, old house that was painted in a creamy-light yellow with a Canadian Pacific Railway banner across the top of the house. With so much snow covering it, the old station depot looked like something out of Siberia or a film about the Klondike Gold Rush. As we made our way out of Portage La Prairie, I saw a freight train on a separate track switching onto a spur as it made its way to a depot. It was still within an eyeshot of me as it curved away from the Via Rail; I was trying to count the cars as fast as I could before it disappeared. Speaking of freight trains, that would become a massive headache to all the passengers on board. Several times on this journey, we were at the mercy of the freight trains of the Canadian National Railway. Because the Via Rail was on the CN line, anytime a freight train rolled by, we had to yield for them. And because those freight trains were incredibly long, our delays would last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours! Note to all future Via Rail passengers: you may not arrive at your destination on time due to the endless freight rail traffic. It is expected that you will not hit your target ETA (estimated time of arrival) on most journeys.
As the day continued, the sky went from blue and sunny to lavender and partly cloudy. It was so surreal to see such an ethereal setting set against a quaint backdrop. Lavender and swirls of white in the sky touched sky-high grain silos that seemed to pop up all over the prairies of Manitoba. I never imagined I’d be spending my birthday in Canada’s breadbasket. That is another reason I love to travel. It is refreshing to get out of your own backyard and see how the rest of country or how the rest of the world lives. It was so cool to see how people in this part of Canada lived day by day. What usually takes me a few minutes to do a daily chore or errand usually takes a few hours for anyone living in this back of beyond. I’m guessing nearby towns were about an hours drive away and tending to chores required a lot of muscle and some heavy-duty hardware. Oh, it wasn’t uncommon to see hardware stores selling farming supplies and rentals along the way.
As night fell and as the train crossed into Saskatchewan, my mom and I hurried off to dinner. This time, the menu revealed a tantalizing set of choices that would make any four-star restaurant green with envy. There was a choice of a roasted veal chop, pan-seared duck, grilled Canadian lake trout, or roasted Portobello mushroom caps. While I dined on the veal chop, my mom went for the duck. But with the kitchen fresh out of the afformentioned fowl, she settled for chicken. To start off the meal, the wait staff passed around slices of French bread with a pepper aioli spread. The veal chop truly devine. I couldn’t believe that food of this calibur was being served on board a train. Still, I didn’t expect any less from Via. The real star of dinner was a big birthday cake presented to me by the entire dining car! Just when I thought I’d be going cakeless on my birthday. Apparently, Dan and Walter, our two original Via Rail staff members that changed hands once we got to Winnipeg had a trick up their sleeves. They went into Winnipeg earlier that morning and went and got a birthday cake for me! To say that the Via Rail staff are attentive and caring would be a big understatement. Then again, what else do you expect from those friendly Canucks?!