When the train pulled into the station in Ottawa to begin our trip across the Rockies, a coloured porter alighted and he confirmed we would be in his coach. He took our luggage as we entered the darkened carriage, and looking down the corridor we could seen double-tiered rows of bunk-beds down both sides of the carriage with curtains drawn in front of them and the occasional arm or foot was seen hanging out. The porter pointed to a lower bunk which Mabel moved towards and I was directed some distance away to a top bunk. I climbed into it fully dressed and wondered what happened next: did I undress and to what extent, and decided to wrestled off some of my top clothes even though there was little room to hang or store anything. Mabel was facing the same problems and both of us (we discovered later) were wishing we had visited the toilet before these events had overtaken us. We settled down and it was a remarkable experience to have the sensation of lying in a bunk on this strange train with the window curtains partly drawn open and the Canadian countryside whizzing by.
At about six in the morning there was the sound of a dull gong being sounded up and down the long sleeping-coach and gradually the lights became brighter - a new day had begun! I lost no time in getting up and finding a toilet, shaved, and called in on Mabel and direct her to the 'little room'. We then made our way to the dining car and had breakfast as we sped passed the Great Lakes: we both felt on top of the world! We laughed over breakfast as we likened our latest experience to being transported back in time into the middle of a Bing Crosby black-and-white movie of the mid-1930s.
We got off at Winnipeg (in Manitoba), once a fur-trading outpost was now a well-developed urban city with over half a million population. It was to this rich arable land that many Ukrainians settled in the early 1900s, and became known as the 'wheat belt'. It was beginning of the Western Plains Region, extending from Lake Winnipeg to the Rockies. Our next move was to reboard the train and alight at Calgary, in the Province of Alberta. 'Calgary' was a name that had always conjured up thoughts of rodeo and cattle country.
Then after a couple of day reboarded the train again, our next stopover was Banff. The views from the observation coach were breath-taking. Banff was in the heart of the mountains and we specially remember a very happy day spent in visiting Lake Louise, about thirty miles from Banff. Lake Louise is beautiful and Mabel often spoke of our day there, surrounded by magnificent mountains and our time at the splendiferous Chateau Hotel. As a result of glacier activity the lake was emerald green due to the fine particles of glacial silt suspended in the water, but it was far too cold for swimming and only used for boating and fishing.
As we left Banff for our last leg of our journey to cross the Rockies, we passed through rugged mountains, the train for a time running alongside the broad Fraser River and it often skirted close to scraggy streams as we made our way to Vancouver. I was very sad when the train journey came to an end. Mabel and I will always remember the trip and the custom of walking up and down the make-shift platforms constructed from railway-sleepers when the train had to stop to refill with water. Passengers would alight and stretch their legs, walking and chatting. We were approached at one of these stops and asked our views about the Thatcher Government and its impact on the United Kingdom!
Vancouver the capital city of British Columbia, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, we found to be a dull city with long, straight streets. However we enjoyed crossing over to Vancouver Island and spent an agreeable week in Victoria. The hour and forty minute ferry journey took us across the Straits of Georgia on a most beautiful, memorable day with the sea a shimmery mirror - it seemed like another world. Mabel met up with a West Sleekburn friend who kindly showed us round Vancouver Island. We visited the Pacific Rim National Park and saw some of the huge girth trees that one associates with Western Canada and Mabel enjoyed visiting the famous Butchart Gardens with its collection of the most beautiful flowers in the world.
Returning to Vancouver we decided to make our return trip back through America and to visit the Grand Canyon. Booking to join up with an American party we had first to fly to Phoenix in Arizona. Surrounded by deserts, Phoenix had orginally been built as a base for the American Army. We relaxed for a couple of days and then a coach came to collect us and we joined a party of Americans from the neighbouring hotels and drove via Flagstaff to reach the Grand Canyon National Park. We stayed there a couple of nights in bedrooms in a wooden-built camp, having our meals in a central refectory.
We were taken on a tour round the rim of the Grand Canyon, said to be the world's 'mightiest' gorge, and rightly described as one of the greatest natural wonders of North America. The rim is about eight miles wide and the Colorado River that flows through it is a mile below and about three miles out from where you stand. You look down on rock-formed turrets, spires and cupolas and we got an unforgettable view when we flew over and into the canyon in a six-seater aircraft. Mabel was quick to tell our family they must go and see it for themselves!
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