Wednesday, November 18, 2020

VIA's Lake-Series Club Lounge Buffet Cars

Great Slave Lake, Caribou, Muskoka, Ontario, Lake Couchiching and Lake Makamik (later VIA 573-578, respectively) were built by Canadian Car & Foundry in 1930 for CN, half of a 12-car order of 400-series Bay-class solarium-lounge-buffet cars. They were 78 feet long, weighed 88 tons, with clerestory roofs and six-wheel trucks. They featured a 36-seat lounge seating area, barber shop, small buffet section and restrooms.  The cars were placed in service between Jasper and Prince Rupert.

In 1935, the cars were rebuilt as parlour cars with a seating area for 26 (only 22 for Athabaska and Caribou), a nine-seat smoking parlour (buffet for Athabaska and Caribou), and restrooms, (and one compartment for Lake Couchiching and Lake Makamik). Air conditioning was added in 1936. They were renamed from Bays to Lakes, and renumbered into the 500-series (see renumbering scheme below), seeing service in central Canada. 

During one of these rebuildings, the roofline was altered. The clerestory roof was covered in, resulting in the cars' extra-high roofline - a spotting feature. Rejecting the traditional parlour car two-row rotating seat tradition, in 1966, CN installed two-and-one seating, now club cars with 45 two-and-one seats and a liquor-dispensing area beneath modern drop ceilings. CN placed these 'new' club cars in Corridor (and Rapido) service upon outshopping. The cars were still listed as 'club' in CN passenger car inventory listings in 1971 and 1974, though CN apparently downgraded the cars to coach service around this time, keeping their two-and-one set-up. For the first time in their careers, these cars were saleable revenue seating, not just providing service or recreation.

On the eve of VIA in 1975, the cars were once again reconfigured as club lounge buffet cars, with seating for 27 and installation of lounge space for 19.

  • CN 400 Buckley Bay; 573 Great Slave Lake*; 4891.
  • CN 401 Burlington Bay; 574 Caribou; 4890.
  • CN 404 Cardigan Bay; 575 Muskoka; 4892.
  • CN 405 English Bay; 576 Ontario; 4894.
  • CN 406 Georgian Bay; 577 Lake Couchiching; 4893.
  • CN 407 Glace Bay; 578 Lake Makamik; 4895.
*Interestingly, 573 was originally named Athabaska, renamed Great Slave Lake so as not to conflict with Sceneramic full-length dome car 'Athabasca', acquired from the Milwaukee Road in 1964.


The cars saw VIA service in the Corridor east of Toronto from at least May 1976 to September 1978, often coupled to a Club car. Caribou is at Toronto in 1977 (above - online auction site photo.) All of them were repainted into VIA blue & yellow between mid-1977 and mid-1978. In 1977, Lake Makamik was on the train to Churchill, as well as No 2 at Winnipeg. Brian Schuff reported that Lake Makamik replaced a Sceneramic on VIA No 4 at Edmonton to Toronto, in July 1979! The cars were used in southwestern Ontario from 1979 to 1982, and occasionally east of Toronto as well. During this second period of use east of Toronto, in 1980-81, the cars appeared in the middle of the consist as overflow seating.  Imagine boarding one of these in VIA Corridor service and finding yourself in what was essentially a club car at coach prices! Muskoka was on CN No 133 ex Montreal in August, 1980! They really got around.


In 1982, the cars' interiors were reconfigured to 62 coach seats and renumbered into the VIA 489x-series. The cool reason for rebuilding these cars, entering their sixth decade, was their electro-mechanical air conditioning. Newer coaches were being retired at the same time due to their outdated ice-activated systems, while these classics rolled on!

On June 10, 1982 I observed 4891 and 4892 on CN's East Yard coach yard tracks in Winnipeg. Interestingly, I rode a train with one of them in the consist - on Monday, March 5/84, on VIA No 651 from Kingston to Toronto. The conventional consist was VIA 6787-5652 (my car)-3220-4894! 

These survivors operated with two 6300’s and a baggage car on the summer-months Campers Special from Winnipeg to Farlane, Ontario in summer 1984. Winnipegers reaching rail-only access points - summer cabins on relaxing lakeside weekends. In winter months, the cars returned to Montreal for overflow service to northern Quebec service to Senneterre and Chicoutimi. In Winnipeg, I observed 4891, 4892 and 4895 at East Yard on June 6, 1986. The survivors again travelled east, in use on Corridor trains in southwestern Ontario in 1986. With more LRC coaches reliably supplying Corridor trains, 1950's-era coaches could now shift to remote services. These moves meant that these 1930's cars were no longer needed by VIA.

STORAGE and SALE 1987 and later

Placed in storage, then retired in March, 1987 four of the coaches - 4891, 4892, 4893 and 4895 - were stored in Winnipeg (top photo by David J. Gagnon - June 1987 at East Yard). Thence moved from storage in Winnipeg  to storage in Ottawa in mid-1988, remaining there into 1989. Already in storage at VIA's Montreal Maintenance Centre were 4890 and 4894. In mid-1990 the cars were sold to Drumhead Publishing and moved to Cedars, Quebec where they remained in storage until at least 1997, and where at least one, 4891 was scrapped in October, 2000. In 2001, 4893 made its way to Kamloops, BC! 

  • GREAT SLAVE LAKE: One sighting on the train to Churchill, observed at Portage la Prairie, MB on July 3, 1976; 30 Corridor sightings (all at Kingston, March 1977 - August 1980); and one at Toronto Union Station on August 22, 1981.
  • CARIBOU: 22 Corridor sightings (March, 1980 - December 30/80); one sighting on a 15-car VIA No 72 at Bayview Junction on June 22, 1981; and one sighting at Toronto Union Station with a coach yard switcher on August 22, 1981.
  • MUSKOKA: 25 Corridor sightings (December 24/76 - January, 1980, plus one on June 14, 1981); one sighting at Bayview Junction on June 22, 1981.
  • ONTARIO: 18 Corridor sightings (May 1977 - July 1980, plus one on October 24, 1981).
  • LAKE COUCHICHING: 10 Corridor sightings (August 1976 - December 1979, plus one on August 5, 1981).
  • LAKE MAKAMIK: 11 Corridor sightings (May 1976 - July 1980, plus one on February 15, 1981).
VIA 4892 on VIA train No 73 captioned April 6, 1986 (Online auction site photo):

 Running extra...

The John Counter Boulevard overpass is open. The first vehicles to cross were a bicycle and a Kingston Express bus. Like the Division Street overpass, since the existing alignment was left in place during overpass construction, the overpass is slightly curved. No matter - there is a sidewalk on the station side and a bikelane on the east side. I'll get over there one of these days to try out Kingston's newest railfan 'platform'.
I recently, self-aggrandizingaciousmittentively changed my social media handle to 'Renaissance Man in Retirement'. But I have nothing on Steve Martin's rebirth: movies, plays, novel, stand-up comedy, banjo virtuosity, half-century career, short stories, tweets, Broadway musical, and now co-creating a book of cartoons 'A Wealth of Pigeons - a Cartoon Collection'. Steve said the book was a question of proving himself to himself. Steve Martin for President!

Electile dysfunction continues to our south. I remember a CBS 60 Minutes episode some years ago profiling the inauguration celebrations. As the Armed Forces parade was rehearsed, a military officer, in charge of this part of the peaceful transfer of power, being interviewed became rather emotional when his pride showed through his bravado. It IS remarkable. This is NOT some tin-pot dictatorship. This MUST happen as it always has.

1 comment:

Eric said...

[from Bill Staiger] I have in my collection
a VIA pocket TT showing Train Service to Lake Resorts East
of Winnipeg dated 10/27/1965. I had hoped to do some kind
of comment to your blog, but couldn't quite figure out how to
do it. I was surprised that the service where they stopped at
any station between Winnipeg and Sioux Lookout on advance
notice to entrain or detrain passengers. I was actually surprised that they would promote this in this fashion after the summer season was over. October seems late in the year for people to go to these resorts. Did you ever do a blog on these trains? It would be interesting.