So on from Winnipeg with a new crew. Thankfully the old crew had disappeared, and the new lot in the dining car were much better. The new supervisor was very friendly and did not snarl at us at all - quite a change.
A new day and new scenery. Gone were the Rockies and the Prairies. Now we were travelling across the Canadian Shield. What you might ask is the Canadian Shield. Basically it is mile after mile of impenetrable bog, lake and forest. The original railroad builders had more problems crossing this stuff than in crossing the Rockies.
"The Canadian Shield is a massive geological rock shield covered by a thin layer of soil. It has a deep, common, joined bedrock region and stretches north from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, covering over half of Canada; it also extends south into the northern reaches of the United States. Population is scarce, and industrial development is minimal, although the region has a large hydroelectric power potential. " There you have the answer - not enough soil for agriculture, lots of water as it cannot drain away, and trees being the only thing that will grow.
The whole day is spent barrelling through this countryside, and when we wake up the next morning...we are still barrelling through the Canadian Shield.
Around 10am and about a hour and a half late (due to waiting for freight trains to pass) we pull in to Toronto Union station. Here we leave the baggage in left luggage at the station and set off to explore Toronto.
So, did I enjoy the trip? Short answer is "yes". I enjoyed the experience of crossing Canada by train, and understood Canada much more than if we had just flown from Vancouver to Toronto. I understood the scale of the country, its geography, the density (or lack thereof) of its people. I enjoyed meeting and talking to people on the train - there is no escape, so you either mix or shut yourself away in your cabin.
The quality of the train (and the value for money of the train) was less than I had expected - this was not luxury travel, but could could have been enormously improved by a bit of decent hands on management at little cost to ViaRail. The fault lies with their management for lack of proper supervision and proper training of their staff, and the lack of proper literature for the passengers. The staff could have been trained to actually look after passengers, rather than to treat passengers as an irritant to be avoided. The services director could have give a decent commentary on what we were passing, plus a half hour talk after breakfast each day about what we would pass through. ViaRail could produce a book for each passenger about the history of the railway (I read "The Last Spike" before boarding, and although it is about the Canadian Pacific route, and not the Grand Trunk one, it was very informative), and about the schedule the train followed, indicating markers along the way to be looked out for, and also including what was available on the train in the way of meals and "entertainment".
At root, ViaRail sell this as luxury travel to see Canada, but treats you as merely as British Rail treated passengers of old, as cargo to be carried from A to B. It is an expensive way of getting from Vancouver to Toronto, but we enjoyed it not because of ViaRail, but in spite of ViaRail
The Canadian Train overview