The Canadian arrived in Edmonton, Alberta at roughly 7:30am MDT on Friday, October 17, 2014. It was right around dawn. The Via station is located northwest of downtown, right by the airport. I stretched my legs on the station platform, watching the sunrise glow behind the city’s skyscrapers.
During the stop, a truck fueled the train’s diesel locomotives. The train had arrived in Edmonton about an hour late, but gained half of it back by cutting a scheduled hour and 15 minute stop to maybe 40 minutes.
After breakfast we went up to a Skyline dome car to watch the scenery. Wabamun Lake (meaning “mirror” in Cree) was particularly impressive. Fog obscured the far shore. Unlike the windy prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan the day before, a lot of trees along the lake still retained bright yellow foliage.
Just past the west end of Lake Wabamun, the train entered an area of thick fog that took maybe 45 minutes to an hour to traverse. The fog gradually lifted after Edson, though it remained pretty cloudy. The train was actually making up time, either because of padding in the schedule or because there was no interference from any eastbound freight trains.
Around 11:35am, just before arriving in Hinton, the Rocky Mountains came into view for the first time. Hinton would be the last town before Jasper (where my father and I would be disembarking for a stopover in the mountains). Hinton is about 30 minutes from the entrance to Jasper National Park, though even the area outside the park is pretty scenic.
The town of Jasper sits surrounded by Jasper National Park. The approach through the mountains (of which the last 45 minutes or so is within the park itself) is really something. The heights of the mountains seemed to be constantly increasing from green and rocky to snow capped.
The train’s route parallels the Athabasca River from just outside Jasper National Park all the way to Jasper itself. The Athabasca is an unusual river. The river’s source is in the Columbia Icefield that we would visit the following day driving the Icefields Parkway. At various points, the river varies drastically in terms of width from narrow to wide to narrow again. My initial impression of the run into Jasper was admiration for the park’s beautiful lakes. In fact, what I was seeing was simply wide portions of the Athabasca River!
As we approached the town of Jasper I returned to my seat to gather my belongings. Jasper’s rail yard was popular with Canada geese feeding on grain that had spilled out of a railcar. The Canadian pulled into Jasper at 1:00pm MDT on the dot for an on-time arrival.
Jasper has an attractive old train station. A sign on the station proclaims that Jasper is 534.9 miles from Vancouver and 2,408.8 miles from Montreal (860.8 km from Vancouver and 3,876.6 km from Montreal). Jasper is the only station on the Canadian‘s route aside from Winnipeg that has a long enough stop for passengers to go further than the platform and explore the city itself. In the case of my father and myself, we would be stopping over until the next train arrived in four days, taking advantage of Via’s policy allowing one stopover per trip at no extra charge.
While waiting for my suitcase to be unloaded from the baggage car, I noticed a worker on an elevated platform washing the windows on the Skyline dome. It’s nice that Via makes the effort, since I’ve often been disappointed by how dirty Amtrak windows were when traveling through particularly scenic areas.
Jasper is a nice town with a decent variety of shops and restaurants. Unlike some towns in immediate proximity to parks (like West Glacier in Montana), Jasper seems to be an actual community rather than just having a tourist infrastructure alone. We picked up our rental car and Dad purchased a Parks Canada pass. (Since Jasper is within Jasper National Park itself, it seems you technically need a park pass just to drive in any direction leaving town!) We checked into our hotel, the Best Western Jasper Inn and Suites.
My father was planning to drive west to the area around Yellowhead Pass to try and photograph the Canadian once it got underway. After three nights on the train, I’d had my fill of all things railroad for the time being and asked him to drop me off at the Old Fort Point trailhead so I could hike. It was a wise decision, since it afforded me my first view of bighorn sheep, a species I’d been disappointed that I’d missed seeing during my earlier visit to Glacier National Park.
Series on Via Rail Canada’s Canadian
Night of Departure and Day One (Across Ontario by Train)
Day Three (Across Alberta by Train: Edmonton to Jasper)
Day Three—journey resumed after stopover in Canadian Rockies—and Day Four (Jasper, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia by Train)