Friday, August 15, 2014

Canada's Most Scenic Trainwatching Spot?

Where is Canada's Most Scenic location to watch trains? Not necessarily the most tains, or the best trains, but the most photogenic trains due to supremely scenic surroundings. I intended to do a Top Ten. Then I realized it would become a Top 20. You may think the most scenic spot is right where you are. Let's face it - just because Trackside Treasure names Elbow Rapids, ON as Canada's Most Scenic, doesn't mean that a plethora of readers will travel there, cameras in hand to record the rail action. For less effort, less money and more satisfaction, that spot may be one or two miles from where you live, making up in easy access what it may lack in serendipitous scenic splendour. That said, let's get scenic!
Dundas Hill, Ontario - never been there, but I revel in any high-angle photo of this supremely scenic scene that I come across. It was even featured in a United Church bulletin from 1996, illustrating Genesis 12 - Going Out Not Knowing (below).  Even though TRAINS magazine and others have featured ground level photography here, it's just not the same. The top of the Dundas Peak gives one a hawk-like view of the sweeping vista. Present in early photos, it's too bad the station and back track are now gone. (Above) - from page 37 of Greg McDonnell 's superlative Signatures in Steel, CN SD's 5021-5047 lead a train there in June 1972.
I'm not even going to mention Bayview Junction (well, I just did). Mad train frequency, cool recently-redesigned trackage and legendary variety. Not scintillatingly scenic. Not even scenic, though lots of greenery and gardens are nearby - CN rolls pulpwood past the bay in 1981:
A Trackside Treasure poll revealed that 60% of respondents find British Columbia's trackside scenery to be Canada's most photogenic. I couldn't agree more. That's why my next two most scenic spots can be found on the left side of Canada. The first is Painted Canyon, sometimes called White Canyon at Mi 93 of CN's Ashcroft Sub between Lasha and Pitquah. Large rockslide sheds, 20+ bridges and tunnels totalling one mile in 20 miles of trackage have been constructed to CN's mainline through the topography. Here's my vestibule view of rockslide sheds, taken from VIA No 4 in 1985:
I believe the most supremely scenic site in BC is in the Fraser canyon, 6 miles west of Lytton, BC at Cisco. Here, CN and CP's main lines exchange sides of the river. More about Cisco in an upcoming post!
"At Hell's Gate, the waters boil through a small opening between columnar rock formations that once must have formed a natural dam. A suspension bridge and an overhead aerial tram complement the two railways in a tableau of the human assault on this hostile topography.  Nowhere I have traveled has there been such a striking juxtaposition of ferocious natural obstacles and ingenious human inventiveness in conquering them."
The CN looms above CP's Cisco bridge and the frothing Fraser below:
Closer to home, I would nominate CN's Kingston Sub double-track stone-piered bridge over the Napanee River at Napanee, ON. While there are more scenic rail bridges around, the stone-arched and steel Grand Trunk Railway bridge certainly puts passing trains 'on a pedestal'. But the real scenic highlight comes from being aboard a train crosssing the bridge over the river, especially westbound. A placid early morning view from VIA No 651:
VIA Turbo at Napanee, on the same bridge (Brian Schuff collection) and a commercial postcard aerial view (top photo) set the scene:
The river and rapids curve below, and the former Gibbard furniture factory, flag-flying town hall and small-town streets hug the shoreline of the river. Napanee, early-1900's Vintage Kingston Facebook photo:
Based on the stiff sceneramic competition, it may not be surprising that no-one in the Trackside Treasure poll chose the Corridor as Canada's most scenic trainwatching area! An eastbound CN freight led by 9525-2328, crosses the bridge on April 24, 1994 (below). I was proud to have my logo with the numerals '2000' nested in the arches chosen for Napanee's Millennium logo back in Y2K!
"[Her memoirs] revealed a lifetime of love for the scenes of the prairie - the wildflowers exploding like fireworks from the spring grasses, the promise of infinite possibility in the huge sky, the mornings like an invitation to participate in the beginning of the world." CN 5357-9588-5107 lead 85 cars east through fields springing with life, into Portage la Prairie, MB on June 13, 1982:
While the Prairies were voted second-most scenic region, what about the Rockies - taken from aboard VIA on CN rails at Henry House, Alberta in 1986. The Spiral Tunnels, Field and so many other scenic delights were unfortunately sold out to private interests when VIA retreated from the southern Alberta CP route.
"All morning the Canadian winds along the spectacular shore of Lake Superior. To the right is the immense emptiness of the Great Shield, rock without end only partially overgrown with ragged forest that struggles vainly to set down roots and veined with rivulets of water running south. To the left is the blue of the lake stretching to three horizons with sizeable white breakers crashing on the rocks just below the railway grade.  How the voyageurs must have welcomed their first glimpse of the water after nearly a thousand miles of stams and portages from the east. And how they must have yearned to be free of it after a week of storms and wetness, rounding each point of land only to confront another vast expanse of blue and another point on the far horizon."
CP Red Sucker tunnel, taken from No 1 near Coldwell, Ontario in 1985 while VIA's Canadian ran on CP's former especially scenic Superior route - another route no longer accessible by VIA Rail:
Italicized excerpts from Last Train to Toronto - A Canadian Rail Odyssey by Terry Pindell - a fine read!

What locations would you nominate for your top ten, top three or favourite most scenic trainwatching spot?


Zartok-35 said...

My vote goes for Portage; you can't go wrong with that Thunder cow/Hell cat/Not quite black widow with EXPRESS! Baby that's what I like!!

Eric said...

Thanks, Elijah. That (thunder) cow is out in its field, right where it should be, streaking across the endless prairie! Fast mover for sure.

I need to crank out some more Portage posts from the 80's, don't I?


Unknown said...

Hi Eric! I would agree in nominating spots along the corridor for their scenic qualities. One good one would be the Lakeshore road bridge over the Kingston sub at Newcastle. Catching a westbound here offers a sweeping curve and the blue waters of Lake Ontario in the background. On Lake Superior I would say Neys Hill on CP's Heron bay Sub. Many photographic angles there!

Eric said...

Agreed, 5879. Anywhere west of Trenton there is a good chance of getting CN and CP together - I see many good spots from aboard VIA Rail, though the train won't stop for me to hop out and try a photo there :(

Neys Hill - classic!

Thanks for your nominations!

Robert in Port Townsend said...

Without question, Thompson River Canyon. Bridges and viaducts are man-made; geography hands down winners.

Eric said...

Just between us, Robert (and everyone else reading this) I would rather spend a few hours in those canyons than all day in the mountains! There's also the chance to see the competitor's (now directional running) trains across the water!

Thanks for your comments and for being a great blog partner,

Unknown said...

Anywhere in Paris, Ontario!


Eric said...

Great nomination, Barry.

Having been there once, while my wife and in-laws visited Mary Maxim's headquarters store, we had some fine trainwatching on the straightaway there. Hope to return to see more someday soon.


Michael said...

Where to start? Banff, Alberta was my favourite spot, but I agree with you. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. There are many spots along the Ontario corridor that are great spots. I would also nominate the Jock River trestle in west Ottawa along the Via Smiths Falls Sub. Now if only there were a few more CN freights to shoot there!

Eric said...

Yes, scenic value does not necessarily equate to trainwatching value/frequency. Now, if only we could bring a train into that scenic view we've framed, on command!

To paraphrase Cornelius Van Horne, if we cannot export the scenery, we'll have to import the trains!

Bridges do improve the scenic view of track and trains, lifting the trains out of the weeds and putting them on a pedestal. Plus, as I referred to re:Napanee, the view from the bridge is often pretty scenic as well!

Thanks for your comments, Michael.