Train Delay: Or How to Pass the Time 

It cannot be said often enough, trains in Canada are not like trains in Europe and many other countries. They do not run on time. Factor in winter and they can be many hours behind. I arrived at the station 8:30am – only to discover it does not open until 10:00 – having taken the free shuttle. No problem, I headed for the Information Centre, opens at 9:00. Library not until 10:00. So I headed for Smitty’s where I drank copious cups of coffee. During that time I checked my email, messages and texts. An email shortly after 9:00 am from Via Rail, a delay, expected ETA in Jasper, 6:00pm. That would be the only official notice I would receive. I had to drop off my bags and find a way to amuse myself.

Via station service manager (he was at the station until the train arrived except for a couple of breaks) updated the ETA, 8pm. I needed lots of distraction. First stop, Information – again. There I found out the Jasper Pride Festival House was nearby. I wanted some stickers or pins. I headed back out into -21 C. It is important to have a destination in such weather. I thought I could hang out for a while but only managed to buy some things just prior to their closing the doors at 11:00! (I found out later they only had a handful of volunteers to man the various venues) They did tell me about a documentary that would be showing at a local hotel, In the Turn, about a young girl in Canada who is transgender and a lot about roller derby. Interesting connection.

A quick trip to the art gallery at the Jasper Libary and Cultural Centre showed little of interest to me. I was rather disappointed, perhaps it was just what was on offer at the time. Once again I headed into the blowing, dry, tiny, biting ice-snow. In the wrong direction. Perseverance, or pigheadedness, got me in the right direction and I only missed the introduction of the movie. I was a little worried I had a touch of snow blindness- my eyes and face felt quite odd. Just adjusting to the warmth and dark. It was a completely unexpected way to spend my afternoon. A short, unplanned intermission meant a chance for everyone to grab a coffee, popcorn and candies – I gravitated to the licorice allsorts. My time was slowly being whittled away.

Before searching for lunch I checked for an update. Between 8 – 10:00 PM. I felt rather sorry for the station manager having to give this news to everyone as they arrived. Lunch was at The Other Paw Bakery Cafe, on Connaught Drive I discovered on my last train trip through Jasper. I still have to find Bear’s Paw Bakery. Delicious red pepper soup. Except I had to reheat it when it was put on the wrong table. I also had a wrap with egg, red peppers, cheese and bacon. The eggs were sort of spongy, not palate friendly. Trying to think ahead I had half bagged for dinner despite not really liking it.

I actually bought a souvenir type t-shirt with a grizzly bear wearing a baseball cap silkscreened on it. Rarely do I make such purchases; however, I desperately needed something light to wear that I would not be in for another 24 hours. I headed back to the station to hang out where I discovered a VIP gala was being set up, something to do with Via Rail’s sponsorship of Jasper Pride Festival. That seemed to be the theme of my day. I suggested those of us who were actual passengers should be invited.

Then we were. Except by the time the event (it was definitely not a gala, nor does cocktail party quite work) started I was the only real passenger! Wine, hor d’oeuvres, (including canapés – it seems these are one form of hor d’oeuvres) a violinist, people mingling, laughter, chit chat and very short speeches made the minute hand not seem so excruciatingly slow. It was a pleasant way to spend three hours or so, from set up to break down. An excellent example of going with the flow. I had a sense of looking inside from within a double glass ball – like walking into the wrong wedding party, or over/under dressing for an event. The important thing is that there was no exclusion and I did enjoy myself. I think the three passengers who arrived later were not impressed. Even after being invited to partake of a glass of wine.

The VIPs missed the party – they were stuck on the nine plus hours late train. We did not depart Jasper until midnight. However, we did see some fantastic terrain when morning came that is normally passed by in the dark.

The highlights: the views of course. One free lunch and free coffee. Meeting fellow passengers, hearing some of their stories.
The lowlights: paying for my breakfast and the free dinner. By the time that meal was being served the choices were paltry. Pasta with chicken or pasta without chicken. Or, gluten free pasta with or without chicken. No soup, no juice, no bar service – just as well, I might have been tempted. There was chocolate cake though. Something to appease the masses.

               What they fed the passengers when the food was running low.

                                         Waiting for spring.

The Thompson and Fraser Rivers flow side by side near Lytton, a unique contrast of colours and the might of water. This was a sign of being nearly to our final destination, the only main attraction left was Hell’s Gate, a hop, skip and a jump downstream from Boston Bar, where I lived for about a year when a child. (We did seem to move to some strange, out of the way, places when I was growing up). The most treacherous section of the Fraser River, Hell’s Gate was named after Simon Fraser’s voyage in 1808, who declared in his journal that, “no man should ever pass through here it was truly like passing through the Gates of Hell!” Hell’s Gate is a favourite area for white river rafting and the bridge is a major tourist attraction. To this day I still have not braved the suspension bridge nor the Airtram.
                                         Just one of several tunnels.

Guess who had the right of way.

The only little church I managed to capture. They seem so randomly placed.

Some of my photos are out of order, IPhone and Canon in use and no notes.

I must admit that soon after Hell’s Gate I finally grew bored with everything and hunkered down to read my book. The coach car grew quiet. We slowly wound our way towards Pacific Station.  We were twelve hours behind schedule by the time the train arrived in Vancouver. The last ferry to Vancouver Island is at 9:00pm, there was no possible way I, and some other passengers heading to Victoria, would make it. Some frantic texting and FB messages when there was a signal finally resulted in my having an air mattress to sleep on at my ex-sister in law’s apartment.


                                           This can only mean I was on the ferry!

Interesting Stuff

The Jasper train station was build in 1925 – it is now a heritage building still used by passengers to catch the Via train, or the much more expensive Rocky Mountaineer.

There are four distinct seasons, winter surpasses them all with deathly temperatures and astounding beauty. White is not just white in these mountains.

From Jasper to Vancouver tunnels dug into the mountains and snow sheds to protect the tracks from avalanche are reminders of just how dangerous it was to build the tracks as well as travelling the rails.  I had forgotten how scary it is seeing how far below the Thompson River is and just how rickety the tracks appear at times. Factor in boulders stopped in mid roll, as though frozen in time, on one side and the sheer cliffs below to the river to envision the engineering ingenuity to build these tracks all those years ago.

In 1871 British Columbia joined Confederation, but with a condition attached: a transcontinental railway had to be built within 10 years to connect its capital, Victoria, to Eastern Canada. We did eventually get the railway, running from Victoria to Courtenay. Sadly, it shut down in 2011 and is unlikely to be opened for rail service again. There were grumblings but BC did not leave Confederation in a huff.
In 1987 VIA introduced an on time policy: passengers received travel credits if their train arrived late. When I sent a complaint about the 12 hour delay all I received was an apology. I did not find when the policy was dropped nor if it was only for specific routes. Basically sit back and enjoy the ride.

Final Expense: I managed to come in under budget! $490.00 Items I purchased before or during that I will use again were not factored in. If I add a gift I bought for a friend of my daughter’s it shows I went over by $20.00. Some savings were a result of the late train, and I saved on the tour.

Then there was the money I spent on My cat, Mozzy, $1300.00 plus for tests. I had been on the verge of cancelling, or at least changing, my trip. I am happy to report he is fine, I had a nice break and all is well. Time to plan my next adventure.

Side Trip to Jasper

Via Rail's the Canadian making its way through forests overlooked by the Rocky Mountains between Jasper and Vancouver. As a bonus, travelling long distances by rail gives you the opportunity to read a novel or two, do some crossword puzzles or simply meet other passengers and make new friends. (CP PHOTO/ HO/ Via Rail)

As if I did not have enough snow in Ontario the month I was there, and now, in the Garden City, where golfers never take a day off, we have had too many days of snow, where am I heading in a month?

The Rocky Mountains, where glaciers meet the highway, the daytime temperature average is -1.6 C to slightly above 4 C. Basically what we have in Victoria now, when we should be seeing cherry and plum blossoms. I will not be surprised if it will be unseasonably cold when I arrive in Jasper.

I have no idea why Jasper, Alberta, in Canada, suddenly popped into my head the other day, but it did. Perhaps it was when I received a notice about excellent Discount Tuesday Escape Fares for Via Rail, or it might have been while reading the Blog of another solo traveller. Whatever grabbed my attention, decision made, train tickets purchased and hostel booked.

This will be a bare bones trip. I will travel economy class, that means no fancy meal service, most likely a viewing car will not have been added for the economy coaches, and sleep will be in the seat. I already know that blankets and pillows must be rented and food can be purchased. I will pack accordingly.

Fine, at least I am prepared…right? Not exactly. Rather than drag my sturdy, heavy duty winter boots and coat home, because of course we so rarely get snow past January at home, I left them in Ontario. Along with my warm winter socks. Probably my really warm Olympic mittens too. As for winter wear while in Jasper, I do have a lighter pair of boots that should suffice, plus enough coats and sweaters that I am not really worried.


I was not planning to do any major activities in the snow. I have one month to look things up, decide on a budget and make a plan. Or change my mind and cancel the tickets before the 24 hours cancellation period is up.

Next morning, I am still going. A little background research tells me that Jasper is 1,060m (3,480ft) – this worries me, I had altitude sickness in China before hitting 1000m, above sea level. Nestled in Jasper National Park, one of the four parks designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Jasper House was established as a fur trade outpost in 1813.

How on earth anyone determined such places has always fascinated me. It can only have been stumbled upon in the ever growing search for wealth in the fur trade. Getting to Jasper remains a test of endurance. Easier on the nerves is the train, so much easier to let the engineer follow the track. I have travelled by car, bus and train into and beyond Jasper, my preferred mode of travel will always be by train.

Expected budget for five days: 500 – 600 CAD As mentioned, this will be a bare bones budget. Looking at the dollar amount so far I already feel I am spending too much on a whim.

  • Via Rail Economy seats return: $292.00
  • Jasper International Hostel 48.62 (bunk bed in a 28 female dorm)
  • BC Ferries return 34.40
  • Public Transit 20.00 (this is an estimate)

Next list, gear.