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Awake early this morning. Again. Clocks went forward last night as somewhere in the dark we passed from Ontario to Manitoba. Up and showered before 5 am. I do like the showers on the train. Very clean and  easily controllable. Much better in fact than many of the hotels that I’ve had the pleasure of being a guest in.

Had a really solid 8 hours sleep last night. The beds are far more comfortable than I was expecting and the gentle rocking is very soothing. Air con has given me a bit of a headache though.

I’m currently sat in the middle panorama dome as I type. There are proper tables in this one surrounded by four seats. I’m sat at one now. The seats also appear to be lower in the back giving better viewing.

Stopping again for another goods train. I am surprised at how often we do have to give way to goods train. Must be every 20-30 minutes with some delays of 10 minutes waiting for the cargo train to arrive and pass us. I noted yesterday at Hornepayne that we were running about 30 minutes behind schedule. Can only assume that we are much later now and that is one of the other reasons for the 3 hour stop over at Winnipeg I image: to allow for late running trains. Having said that I am hearing rumours from some of the other passengers that trains have been known to be 4-5 hours late into Vancouver. Not a bad thing if we take it really slow through the Rockies though, but I’m sure there’s less freight traffic there.

Passing through a lot of lakes covered in cabins and jetties this morning. And why not? Although not high mountains the rolling hills and lakes are beautiful. I could. Easily. Some great photo ops this morning. Just passed the very pretty station of Malachi, or Malachi on the Lake as I would prefer it to be called. Very picturesque.

Looks to be a bit greyer than yesterday and I’m hoping that it will clear up before Winnipeg. I think, although not sure as we were sleeping, that there was a stop at about midnight, Sioux Lookout. We are due in at the next stop, Winnipeg at 7 am and there is about a three hour lay-over while they refresh the train but, more importantly, the crew. The crew do seem, to English eyes at least to work some stupidly long hours. The car attendants who look after the sleeping accommodation are on call 24 hours a day and put up and put away all the beds twice a day. (Point to note is that we get fresh sheets and towels every day! Again, better than most hotels I’ve stayed in.) The dining crew I think work harder though.

Breakfast runs 06:30-09:00

Lunch runs 11:15 – 16:00

Dinner runs 17:00 – 22:00

With only an hour turnaround between meals and three sittings at each meal it means they are effectively on the go from 06:00 to 23:00. Hats off to them that they remain so positive throughout. That’s Canadian’s though, eh.

Just saw one ‘cabin’, for that read enormous mansion, with it’s own built in waterfall. I would do that. Easily. Why can’t I get a job in Canada I ask myself. Come so close twice. Probably too old now.

Wifey and I have promised to be good from here-on-in. After both loosing some significant weight over the last eighteen months we feel that we are sliding on this holiday and so have pacted to go back to basics and only have the entrees at the meals: salads and soup. We will stock up with carbs at breakfast with oatmeal, yoghurt and toast. Got to keep the ‘trimmer’ figure and there really is no opportunity on board to get much exercise. Has to be done. Hoping it will be easier once we’re on the bike to be good.

Also hearing from fellow travellers that the Rockies are still cold and that there is likely still to be snow fairly low down. We brought waterproofs but not really any warmer clothing than leather jackets and jeans. We do have light fleeces but a little concerned that the weather turns nasty. Fingers crossed that Accuweather’s long-term forecast we saw at the weekend for next week holds.

Breakfast eaten and resolve has held. Porridge and toast only for me and yoghurt and toast for her.

We breakfasted with a couple returning home to Winnipeg after a 16 day holiday given to them by their children to celebrate their 45th anniversary. She was originally from the Philippines who came to Canada in 1966 after being sold a ticket to a new life. Don’t worry about a job, she was told at the time by the travel agent, we’ll find one for you when you get to Canada. A travel agent as immigration and job-hunting service.

He was from French-Canadian stock. He called his family ‘French Bushwhackers’. Apparently in northern Ontario the French Bushwhackers used to do all the logging but as the lumber mills shut down they had to find other things to do. After doing a few things, he finally ended up back in the ‘family’ business by working for the forestry people.

Their holiday sounded and interesting one. They took the train to Toronto then to Montreal where they took a cruise ship up the St Lawrence to Quebec, Nova Scotia and Boston. Returning to Canada by train to Buffalo where their son picked them up and they stayed with him for 3 days before catching The Canadian back home to Winnipeg. Sounded lovely. He’d specifically wanted to visit Pier 21 which was the Canadian equivalent to Staten Island. Millions of immigrants came through Pier 21 as did Canadian troops in both World Wars and where their war brides landed as well. Must have been difficult for the 48,000 war brides after WWII. Arriving, very often, not to be met by their husbands and having to find their own ways to them.

Approaching Winnipeg he pointed out the massive drainage ditch that surrounds the city. It must be quarter of a mile wide and about 50 ft deep. Winnipeg, and indeed this whole part of Manitoba, is on the dry bottom of a giant inland sea that dried up millennia ago. However, the area is still very prone to flooding. As we crossed the river he pointed out the reconstructed fort at Fork Forks that was the original centre of the town and where all the treaties with the First Nations were signed. Biggest two tribes being the Cree and the Sioux.

Train pulled in at 07:35, not that late. Seemed they were pulling the time back over the last few miles as the woods and lakes of the shield behind us and the tracks are straight.

Now sat on the train in Winnipeg station waiting to be let off. Apparently they do a crew change and may even swap some coaches here. But passengers aren’t allowed on the platform between 10 and 11.

We strolled with Christine the passenger from Barrie we had lunch with yesterday out of the station and over to the Forks Market. It was just coming alive and was your usual market looking like it was in old sheds from either the port or the train. Need to look that up, Nice bread shop and was so tempted by the huge cinnamon swirls they had. But we were resolute.

Outside we walked down to the fork in the river and came across a most fantastic set of sculptures. Now, I’m not normally a great fan of municipal art, but for this I will make an exception. There are about 8 ‘pipes’ pointing skywards. At the base of each there is a description of a star or constellation from a world civilisation such as the Egyptians, Maya etc. The carvings are fantastic and the descriptions are written in 3 languages: English, french and Cree. Each pipe has a cross-hair and if you stand in the centre of the circle on the day specified and look at the cross-hair you will see the start. A celestial observatory made accessible. A modern Stonehenge if you will. Interesting to see a modern take on this ancient, cross-cultural connection with the stars. Really enjoyed it. Would like to come back on one of the dates, but unlikely that I ever will. Will remember it every time I pass Stonehenge though.

We walked across one of the bridges at the forks and watched some Korean ladies collecting dandelion leaves, assuming for salads where I have heard they work. Remember trying to eat dandelion stalks as a kid but the latex juice was disgusting.

Back into the market for postcards and a coffee by the cinnamon swirls and from there to the station. There is a museum which is worth $5 and an hour of anyone’s time. Some engines, some cars, a car (automobile) and lots of other items of interest. They even had books on electronics and equipment that I remember being trained to use in the RAF back in 80’s. Scary.

Now sat in the Panorama Lounge on the lower concourse being serenaded waiting to be loaded. May have mentioned it before but musicians get to travel for free. Nice touch. The two singing at the moment look like brother and sister and are going home to Edmonton.

Train loaded at 11:30 and pulled away pretty much on time at 11:45 and dinner was called at 12:00 just as we arrived in the dining car.

We sat with the lady and her sister who tried to explain to me that glass is everything when it came to photography yesterday. Wasn’t expecting them to be good company but we had a good natter. For dinner we had French onion soup and a cobb salad. Again, cannot fault the food.

After dinner did something completely unusual for me: I slept. I had an afternoon nap, Put my head down at 13:30 and woke at 16:00. Unheard of. Trip catching up on me and I do need to rest before the ride on Sunday.

The train does seem to be making very slow progress at the moment. We are stopping quite regularly. Three times between 16:00 and 17:00 and in between stops we can’t be doing more than 40 mph.

Dinner promptly called a 17:00 and I believe we may have been the first to arrive. We were joined by a couple from Oregon. They’ve been married for 25 years and as an anniversary present they were just finishing a three week trip to Boston then on cruise to Nova Scotia, Quebec and Montreal and then back to Vancouver on the Canadian. Hang on, thunk I. That is the exact reverse trip of the couple we had breakfast with, and as an anniversary present. How weird is that?

He’d been a fire chief in Portland for 30 years and had now been retired for 30 years. Hat off to the guy. She had worked in the travel and hotel industry and had only just retired. He had been her house maid for the last 25 years and now that she had retired also, he was getting his own back. She’d travelled extensively around the world and we had a great conversation. We even touched on the fact that not many Americans travel and she mentioned that when she mentioned to a friend that you needed passports and visas the friend pulled a credit card from their wallet and said : “like this?”. Good meal and good company again.

Their home is in a small town about an hour outside Protland in the foothills of the Rockies and they overlook a good fishing river. Sounded idyllic and I wasn’t jealous one little bit.

Now in the middle Panorama dome on-board with the new crew. Lunch is a little later today at 12 as the train doesn’t leave until 11:30. And it’s started to rain. Had WIFI in the lounge and posted the blogs from the last couple of days but no coverage in the train.

Winnipeg’s station is uniquely called Union Station. That’s so unlike the Union Station at Toronto as to be untrue. At least they seem to celebrate the Cree language here.

After dinner retired to the middle observation deck where the steward brought around sparkling wine as there was a newlywed couple on the train. Any excuse.

The steward, Walter, is from Manitoba and is far more voluble than the stewards on the first section. He even asked us to wave at his grandmother’s apartment as we left Winnipeg and has kept up a stream of interesting facts such as Manitoba being a huge potash producer. And we have seen some huge piles of potash.

Lots of ponds hereabouts partly due to the amount of snow, a late thaw and a huge amount of rain. There are a lot more birds being spotted including blackbird with a red throat, coot and even a hawk, In Winnipeg we were introduced to the North American robin which is about 4 times larger than our English variety.

We are now about to stop at Melville it’s 19:55. Wayne has just explained the reason for the slowness of the train. One of the two units is having problems and we will have to stop and get some work done to it. Should be about an hour to fix so we get to visit Melville as an extra stop. It seems to have interrupted Wayne’s plans for wine tasting this evening but don’t think that it’ll be too bad. All part of the fun in travelling and we’re not in any rush to be anywhere. As long as we are in Vancouver by 09:00 on Sunday morning.

More news from the train as it happens.

Walter is providing a wine tasting session whilst we wait for the engine to get fixed, Wifey has gone to stretch her legs while I sit and drink one white and one red. Definitely feel a little local rivalry between Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Walter’s commentary.

Wifey has returned from Melville (pop. 4600 – Saskatchewan’s smallest city) after visiting the local stores and buying some of that local delicacy – lucky charms. I know.

Walter has just informed us that the musicians are playing downstairs as we wait and once the train is up and running he will be screening Skyfall. Feel sorry for the third sitting for dinner. As the power is out there’s no kitchen, no kitchen no food. Could be a late supper for them and a late stack for the chef’s and stewards.

Update from Walter at 20:40 is that the engine at is still being worked on. The other unit should be able to pull us but at a much slower rate and worst case there is a replacement ready and waiting in Jasper. Probably lost in excess of 4 hours by now. Slow boat to China anyone? Got a feeling it’ll be a while before we are moving again and a longer trip to Vancouver than we expected.

Update at 20:51 – power has been restored. Assume we’ll be away in the next 10 to 15 minutes. Third sitting for dinner has been called.

Update at 21:11 – we are moving. Will not count the chickens until I see just how fast we are moving. We were due to be in Melville at 17:27 and it’s now 21:11 so that’s 3:45 behind schedule. Saskatoon won’t be, at the very best, until almost 02:00 tomorrow and Edmonton at 11:00. Should’ve taken the opportunity to take some photos in Melville.

Not much more to do for tonight but turn off and go to bed, remembering first to put the clocks back again as we enter Mountain time which is 6 hours behind BST.


Photogallery

Day 5 - The Canadian | Day 7 - The Canadian