Colour Us Lucky
by Tricia Dower
The VIA train they call “The Canadian” left Toronto last Saturday and deposited us in Vancouver three days later. We headed north, passing through Felix, Gogama, Minaki, Ottermere, Mud River, and a slew of other Ontario towns I’d never heard of, even though I spent 24 years in the province. We were too late for the fall colours—only a few yellow leaves clung to the tops of white birches. Near Sudbury, the completely bare birches with blackened trunks formed a post-apocalyptic landscape. They were followed by a succession of clear blue lakes seemingly untouched by development. So much water, such a rich land! A former bush pilot we met over dinner one night told us of flying over parts of Canada that few people ever get to see. For a while on our train, I felt as privileged as he had felt in his plane.
We spent nearly all of Monday in the dome car, not wanting to miss a minute of our approach to Jasper, Alberta. Edmonton’s flatness gave way to foothills, then mountains that had us craning to see their peaks. Clouds hovering over deep valleys transported me into Tolkien’s Middle-earth. We’d been without news of the outside for several days, and I felt suspended between worlds. Imagining the awe of the first people who discovered what I was seeing.
A broken rail delayed our arrival into Vancouver, enabling us to ride along the Fraser River in daylight. One of our breakfast companions was sure she saw a moose in it. "They do swim, you know," she said.
As we pulled into the station, Colin spotted a sad-looking man on the side of the tracks.
“Homeless?” I asked.
“Hard to say.”
For a month, we’d traveled across the US and Canada, sleeping on clean sheets and eating three squares a day (including unexpectedly gourmet dishes aboard VIA). In Victoria, the brilliant red, orange and yellow leaves were waiting for our return. And our city’s homeless were erecting tents two blocks from our house after a judge sensibly ruled that people have the right to shelter themselves from the elements.
We were very lucky, we agreed in those last minutes on the train, and more than a little ashamed of having so much when others have so little.
Photos: Approaching the Rockies in VIA’s dome car; I took the top bunk in our sleeper; Colin at a lakeside bonfire the night before we left Wellington, Ontario.