By the time I am in the Rockies, marvelling at them, and having come this far across Canada, I begin to wonder if the subdued Canadian personality might have resulted from the recognition of the impoliteness of boasting. It is such a huge country, and so often such a beautiful country, and there are so few of us to lay claim to it that I wonder if perhaps we are reluctant to be strident about it for fear someone will come along and take it away.
"Train travel isn't what it used to be 25 years ago," the retired dentist says, looking up the length of the dining car as the waiters serve dinner. "You wouldn't even have thought of sitting down for dinner without wearing a suit and tie. There were roses in snifters on the table, fresh white inen, the silver was polished, and at every sitting after the meal there would be a finger bowl."
|...nothing could be finer|
Canada and the Train: Inseparable.
By Pierre Berton, from the Reader's Digest condensed from Maclean's, January 1990:
This common love affair with the railway - or, more properly, with the idea of the railway - is as old as Confederation. If we have been shaped by the railway, it is because we are shaped like a railway - a 6,400-kilometre population strip along the border, for the most part no more than 320 kilometres thick. No other country faces this kind of problem. The railway has held us together, spanning a bleak Precambrian desert, an angry ocean of plumed mountains, a chill wasteland of muskeg, to give us the unity we could not otherwise have achieved.
|Westbound at Butze, Alberta|
Railways and Canadian nationalism [not Canadian National-ism - Ed.] have been inseparable since the days of the Intercolonial system that preceded the CPR in the Maritimes. After the turn of the century, Canada went railway-mad. One transcontinental line would not do. Two would not do. Three were scarcely enough. Railways, it was held, spelled prosperity; the very promise of a branchline sent real-estate values soaring.
|Junction in Saskatchewan|
We have lost both the nerve and the pride that ushered in the Golden Age of Steel. If we lose the railway, we lose more than our heritage, and the day will come when we will welcome it back as an old and trusted friend.
|Manor view, northern Ontario|
Deer leap from the snow-covered tracks as we gain speed. My mind leaps, too, as the train click-clacks forward. I recall a grainy black-and-white photograph of men in top hats driving the Last Spike at Craigellachie, BC. I hear Gordon Lightfoot singing about "an iron road running from the sea to the sea". And I smell the paste of schoolroom dioramas about "The Wedding Band of Confederation". That thin, steel strip that crosses this country is the most important thing we have in Canada when it comes to trade. Vancouver is an Asia-Pacific gateway only because we have a national railway system. If we didn't, Vancouver would be just some backwater fishing village.
|Where it all began. Canadian Pacific - Craigellachie|
The train at times glides along at a leisurely 30 miles per hour, which is slow enough to get a long look at wildlife we pass. There are no billboards, fast-foot joints or roadside trash to clutter the view - just a rolling panorama of wilderness, with the two gleaming rails pointing the way forward.
|Waiting. Uno, Manitoba|