TORONTO, March 12, 2012 — On VIA Rail’s Skeena train, which travels 684 miles from Prince Rupert in Northern British Columbia to Jasper, Alberta, we fully expect the scenery to be stunning. And it is. From the lush coastal rainforest with towering moss-covered red woods and the interior forests to the climax of snow-capped Mount Robson, the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains, the views out of the windows make us grateful we no longer have to buy film.
Equally captivating are the stories we encounter of the small communities we pass through and the people who inhabit them. We meet Steve, a self-described gold-miner and part-time hobo, who lives in the bush with only his dog for company. He chats happily about his chosen life of treacherous climbs, hard physical labor and a rough cabin with no modern conveniences.
It’s not a poor one, though. “I average about $200 a day, and if I’m lucky I can make $1000, he says as he pulls out a small mustard-colored nugget that looks nothing like our gold jewelry. Independent and self-sufficient, it’s clear that Steve is rich in more ways than one.
“If it got any better, it would be too good,” he declares. Before long, the train stops and Steve disappears into the bush.
The train picks anyone up anyone who flags it down along the route, providing an important service to the remote communities of the region.
“We’re always happy to see Steve,” says Tracy Maclean, the service coordinator onboard. “He depends on us and we depend on him for entertainment value.”
All the communities along the way have their tales. There’s Penny, which has a small wooden post office and claims to be the only place in Canada that still gets its mail delivered by train, and small logging and missionary settlements like McBride and Cedar Vale. The latter turns out to have a personal connection to the train’s service manager, which he shares with the passengers in the panoramic lounge.
“My great-grandmother grew up in the three-room cabin we’ll be passing by soon,” he tells us and then recounts anecdotes of his relatives as school children rushing across tracks to arrive at school before the freight trains passed and as young adults walking long distances along the same tracks dressed in their best to attend dances in neighboring towns.
When the train passes his relative’s homestead, now owned by a recluse, passengers rush to the windows to snap pictures of a scene that probably would have gone by unnoticed if we hadn’t known about its history.
“The stories give it a more human touch,” says Moira Graham, a passenger from Glasgow.
About the Skeena Train: The Jasper-Prince Rupert train takes two days with an overnight layover in Prince George (you will need to book your own hotel room). www.viarail.ca/en/trains/rockies-and-pacific/jasper-prince-rupert
About Prince Rupert: Situated on an island on British Columbia’s North Coast, a short distance from the Queen Charlotte Islands and Ketchikan, Alaska, Prince Rupert is easily accessible by air, rail, cruise ship, ferry, car, or RV. Exceptional wildlife viewing, sports fishing, a rich First Nations history, and attractions like the Museum of Northern BC make a visit to this small town (population 15,000) a truly memorable experience. www.visitprincerupert.com
About Jasper: A self-described little town in a big park, Jasper is the gateway to Jasper National Park, the largest in the Rocky Mountains, covering 6,976 miles. A World Heritage Site, Jasper gives visitors access to pristine wilderness, including awe-inspiring glaciers, wildlife, clear turquoise lakes, waterfalls, canyons and evergreen forest. www.jasper.travel
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