Canada By Train

Via Rail Canada’s slogan is The More Human Way to Travel. I pondered the words, and determined it was a case where the paths of reality and marketing blur together. I am not complaining just musing. I voluntarily chose to take Canada’s Ocean Train Route from Sarnia, Ontario first to Quebec City (13 hours) then from Quebec City to Halifax (another 17 hours). This is not a high-speed train. It is North America, not Europe. There is no zipping along smoothly at 200 MPH on a sleek bullet train, rather a loud locomotive that clanks and churns forward through wilderness, marsh and endless forest. Top speed is about the same as a vehicle traveling on the freeway and near station stops, much….much slower. Via Rail should market their slowness to travelers: Take our low-speed trains. Take the slow way. Take the scenic way. Why not take the human way! If human means long, slow and arduous (albeit with gorgeous scenery along the way) then by all means travel by train in Canada!

I needed to be in Halifax, Nova Scotia by Nov. 2nd for the AICF Conference (The Association of Irish/Celtic Festivals). The Canadian government even subsidized International delegates with cash for hotel and entertainment. They believe strongly in their musical and arts exports. Music Nova Scotia week was happening simultaneously, bringing the Maritime provinces’ best musicians, fiddlers, dancers and singers hoping to be booked by a festival or event. It was a conference where typical classroom sessions are mostly replaced with nightly music showcases. The showcases are set up in strict 30-45 minute blocks where each band performs its “best set” then plies the delegates with cards and demo CD’s…of course over a pint at the bar. It was my task as a board member of Michigan Irish Music Festival to research musical talent in wild and scenic places along the Atlantic coast. It was event planning and festival organization by day then Celtic music in various pubs from The Old Triangle in Halifax to the Nook & Cranny in Truro. We determined the world’s stock of fiddlers hail from this area and that every child has to take mandatory step or Irish dance lessons. If you can’t sing, dance or play the fiddle well you are certainly not from these parts.

My festival cohorts (Chris & Debbie) took the fast way (five hours to my five days) to Halifax. I met them at our host hotel, The Atlantica. With five days logged of training and touring, I was ready for some company and a good chat. I shared stories of taking the slow way and an overnight stay in Quebec City then explained how Old Quebec is a UNESCO site, its walled gates still protecting a bricked French-colonial neighborhood. I spent time exploring French Canadian history along the St. Lawrence River and gawked at the Chateau Frontenac from Le Promenade des Governours. I renamed Quebec, The City of Steps from traversing up and down walls or stairs from riverside to central Quebec.


Here in this city and Provence, France and Canada collide in a variety of forms, one being the cuisine and a curious menu staple. Poutine. It sounds elegant and French but is assuredly backwoods and country in origin. Only in Canada would you dress French fries with cheese curds and meat gravy and call it dinner. A gourmet poutine might be a variation like cream sauce with chicken and mushrooms over fries. Also, in Quebec, all signage and everyone’s first language is French but the vast countryside is distinctly Canadian full of forest, Junipers, maple syrup, hockey fans and plenty of elk and moose.

Eventually, after touring and the conference winding down, I had to bid Au Revoir to Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to return home. For the return trip, I traded a train for a plane and was back in Michigan in a matter of hours.

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