“Ladies and gentlemen we’ve been informed there are moose coming up on the south side…”
Popping up like a gang of meerkats in fleeces, passengers craned necks towards the window with cameras in hand and false hope in their hearts. For the third time that day the alleged wildlife had scarpered so I slumped back in my seat. I’d long since given up on spotting bears and was content to gaze at the army of Douglas fir descending the mountainside – and maybe spy a skunk or two. For a brief moment I was filled with a sudden and sociopathic urge to slap the glass and scream “BEAR!” just for the fun of riling up my companions. Alas Gill and Tracy, a double-act in navy and neckerchiefs, began serving coffee and tea and I was forced to abandon the plan, sit back, and behave myself.
Two days earlier in Vancouver I had boarded The Canadian, a train so beloved it’s even on the Canadian $10 note. Resembling a Dualit toaster from the 1950s, the silver juggernaut of a train rolled off at dusk, on a cross-country mission to Toronto, but pulled into Jasper after breakfast the next morning where I had hopped off to take a round-trip detour on the Skeena.
The Skeena train from Jasper to Prince Rupert, also known fondly as “The Rupert Rocket”, or the rather dull official name “Train 5”, goes where no one else really goes. Way up north and wiggling west a little bit, the train cuts through British Columbia, terminating at the port town of Prince Rupert just 40 miles south of the Alaskan border where there is nothing to do but fish, hike and eat crab on Cow Bay Road. Canadians don’t take trains. They fly or drive their monster trucks from one province to the next, so taking the Skeena is the perfect way to go off-piste and travel with local residents and First Nations people, who, if not hitchhiking or waiting four days for a bus, have no other way to travel in this remote part of the country.
It’s also home to some of Canada’s most beautiful scenery. Dusted with snow, the Rockies soared into an electric-blue sky, a perfect mirror image broadcast onto the still waters below. Tall trembling aspen lined the tracks, their round leaves shaking like tiny silver bells ringing in the slightest breeze. Staring mindlessly out of the window I began to tally up all the different trains of the previous four months when a large black bear standing in the middle of a field looked up as we flashed past. “BEAR!” I yelled, thrilled, and a bit smug that no one else had seen it. The sighting was a blessing as I saw little more than a herd of tatty-looking farmed bison once I’d got back on The Canadian – while munching through a bison burger. But where The Canadian faltered on wildlife it excelled in lamb steaks, pancakes, and beautiful lakes. Over four days and three nights we curled around mountains, cruised through prairies and arrived amid Toronto’s skyscrapers having undergone one of the greatest journey’s in the world.