I expected to wake up in Winnipeg, but instead we’re stopped in the middle of nowhere. I can tell we’re in Manitoba, because the landscape has become flat and grassy instead of Ontario’s rocky forests and lakes, but I don’t see Winnipeg anywhere. Still no internet connection.
The train is moving again. We just passed a farm that seems to be raising cows and abandoned trucks.
Our train has a layover of about 3 hours in Winnipeg. The Via Rail station is located beside The Forks, a historic part of Winnipeg of significance to First Nations people. This site has been used as a meeting place for at least 6000 years. It’s especially active today because today is Aboriginal Day.
The site also hosts the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (which was still under construction last time I was here), a farmer’s market that is open today, and a couple historic rail cars. A pedestrian bridge (the Esplanade Riel) links it to Winnipeg’s French quarter, St Boniface, across the river. (Until 1971, St Boniface was its own predominantly-francophone city, a rarity in Western Canada.)
I didn’t spend much time looking about, however. I went straight to the Assiniboine Athletic Club, just two short blocks from the Via Rail station’s main entrance, to take a shower. This is the only opportunity to shower between Toronto and Vancouver. It’s $11 for a day pass to the gym. I would have had a workout too, but I didn’t pack any shorts.
The rail car in the above picture used to belong to the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, later known as the Ontario Northland Railway. Owned by the Ontario government, it’s one of the few railways in Canada which isn’t privately owned. Unfortunately, the Ontario government shut down ONR’s passenger services last year. It now only provides freight service and occasional tourist service.
Update: Somewhere in Manitoba
Manitoba is more scenic than you’d think. We’re currently in a rather pleasant-looking valley.
We’re now on tracks that were built by Grand Trunk Pacific. These tracks go from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert in northern BC. Together, Grand Trunk Pacific (which operated west of Winnipeg) and National Transcontinental Railway (which operated east of Winnipeg) were the third and final transcontinental rail route across Canada.
Like most Canadian railways, they eventually went bankrupt and were nationalized by the Canadian government, becoming part of the government-owned Canadian National Railway. The only major railway to escape this fate was Canadian Pacific Railway, leading to today’s situation where CNR and CPR (usually now called CN and CP) dominate Canada’s rail industry as a duopoly. CN was privatized in 1995. Apparently the largest shareholder is now Bill Gates.
The GTP tracks are still well used. Prince Rupert is a popular port for shipments from China. Due to the shape of the Earth, Prince Rupert is closer to China than Vancouver is. It’s easier to see on a globe.
Musical Interlude III