Railway Adventures across Canada: The Features

Episode 1:The Journey Begins

We travel Canada by train and experience the country the way the first explorers and settlers did, across the land, by the rivers, alongside the lakes, and through the mountains.  Our feature begins with a montage of the scenery and wildlife we will experience across Canada and leads us to the Atlantic Provinces where our journey starts at Pier 21  in Halifax in Nova Scotia  This is the eastern seaport where so many immigrants in the 1930s first set foot before taking the train to a new and uncertain life in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  During WW2 this was also the place where troops travelled to by train and then boarded ships that would take them to Europe. 

Episode 2: St. John’s, Newfoundland

Before travelling across Canada we take a side trip to Newfoundland to explore the island that has so much history and is renowned for the warmth and hospitality of the local people.   In the first segment on Newfoundland we explore the colourful city of St. John’s  , its historic harbour, some local attractions and the very popular night life. 

Episode 3: The Rail Trails of Newfoundland  

From 1882 until 1988 the railway was a critical part of Newfoundland’s history. Although the official name of the passenger train was “The Caribou” it was given the tongue-in-cheek nickname of “The Newfie Bullet” since the train took 27 hours to complete its journey, and you could travel the distance in half the time by car. Drifting snow would often trap trains and on one occasion a train was stuck for 17 days before it could be freed. South-easterly winds from the Table Mountains could gust to over 100 miles per hour and the engineers would literally tie the Bullet to the tracks to prevent it being blown off.  Trains were responsible for providing important transportation and opening up the interior of Newfoundland, but the challenging climate made it financially impossible to maintain the service and the railway running across the island was abandoned in 1988. You can still see the last steam train and other artifacts in Cornerbrook  at the Humberside Railway Museum operated by the Railway Society of Newfoundland.  For a recently published book on the Railway you can contact the museum curator and author, Brendan Dicks either by ‘phone Tel: 709-634-5658 or by email brendicks@hotmail.com  The old rail-beds have now been turned into trails and a provincial park established to preserve the area and provide access to outdoor and recreational activities throughout the year.  You can hike 900 km across the island from St. John’s to Port aux Basques, travel around the Avalon Peninsula, visit bird sanctuaries, ghost towns, explore old fishing villages, go berry-picking, hunt for rabbits or settle down in a vacation resort.

Episode 4:Iceberg Alley, Newfoundland and Labrador

The train has long since left Newfoundland, but the tracks have been turned into trails inviting the traveller to hike and bike across the province. With so much to see in this friendly part of Canada, we took the opportunity to explore some of the farther reaches of the region. Iceberg Alley was a not to be missed opportunity. Our sea-kayaking adventure started with a flight to the airport in St. Anthony at the very northern tip of Newfoundland and on to Cape Bauld on Quirpon Island, about as far north as you can possibly get on the rock. Travelling through the region’s tiny outports gives a real sense of this land that lives by the sea. And it wasn’t long before we had our first ice-berg sighting from the shore. Soon, a much closer look at these bergs… from the water…Kayakers can enjoy the stunning glacial beauty where icebergs that have sailed down from Greenland and the Arctic converge at a channel known as Iceberg Alley.Here you can paddle to your heart’s content with knowledgeable and safety-conscious guides and overnight at Tuckamore Lodge, the lighthouse inn, and enjoy traditional Newfoundland fare. www.newfoundlandlabrador.com and www.linkum_tours.com

Episode 5: The Vikings and Gros Morne, Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne National Park  is a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its geological history and exceptional scenery.  The park illustrates the concept of plate tectonics and has shed important light on geological evolution and its processes.   In our feature, we explore the park with the help of local experts who explain its significance and then head north to L’Anse aux Meadows , also an acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site where we find archaeological evidence of a Viking settlement.  At nearby Norstead we meet costumed interpreters who  demonstrate the life of a Viking port of trade as it may have looked during the Viking era (790-1066 AD).

Episode 6: The Fundy Tides

Before we start our journey across the country, we return to Halifax and take a trip to the Bay of Fundy .  Between Nova Scotia  and New Brunswick  , the power of the sea rules and this is where the highest tides in the world are generated.  They surge up the Bay creating a tidal bore.  At Tidal View Farm in Nova Scotia we are given an explanation of how the bore is formed and then visit Rocks Provincial Park  in New Brunswick to see how the tides have impacted and shaped the land.

Interesting facts about the Bay: The tidal energy is 10 times more powerful than any other site in North America and generates environmentally-sustainable electricity; Comparable in marine biodiversity to the Amazon Rainforest; Through ocean currents and massive tides, biologically linked to the rest of the world by fish, bird and marine mammal migrations; Hosts over 12 species of whales during their summer and fall feedings and half the world’s population of rare and endangered Right Whales; Has the world’s most complete fossil record of the “Coal Age” (300 million years ago); Home to the world’s oldest reptiles and Canada’s oldest dinosaurs; and site of the Triassic/Jurassic extinction.

Episode 7: The Canadian Beaver dines on National Emblem

When Canadians were wondering which animal should be given the heady distinction of becoming the country’s national emblem, we digressed from our travels across Canada to give the nod to the Beaver.  We met this guy in Jasper National Park in Alberta and were delighted when he gave us the heads up after a distinctive hearing on the subject

Episodes 8, 9 and 10Les Îles de la Madeleine, Québec (English: The Magdalen Islands) 

The islands lie in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence encircled by Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the south, New Brunswick and Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula to the west, Québec to the north and Newfoundland to the east.  They comprise a region of the province of Quebec and a part of Canada to which I have returned. My first visit was in the early summer exploring the islands and tackling the Big Hill on Île d’Entrée; my second, the winter seal excursion, an experience that rates with travelling to photograph the polar bears in northern Manitoba. I was lucky enough to be able to stay out on the ice floes overnight: though sleeping in the confines of an ice-breaker with seven other photographers, most of whom snored, is not generally available nor something I would recommend to the average tourist. The photographers had come from all over the world and were rising early to catch the dawn light, working all day and then out again for magical sunsets resulting in some fantastic images for their magazines. I’d love to think that all this is helping to build a relatively new industry for the Madelinots with tourism replacing some of their need to rely on fishing and the controversial harvesting of seals. The seal excursion is limited to the time when the ice freezes in the gulf and it is possible to land helicopters. It generally takes place between February 26 and March 12 subject to the appropriate winter conditions. I stayed at the Chateau Madelinot where I also met researchers who take this opportunity to monitor the health of the seal population. The hotel offers complete packages that include all the clothing you need for your winter seal adventure, helicopter transportation and a guide on the ice plus other excursions throughout the islands. Make sure you have all the necessary batteries for your camera, ipad, etc., and check any instructions regarding temperature limitations and protective measures.

There are twelve islands, seven are inhabited. The names of the islands are: Île de la Grande Entrée and Grosse Île, Île aux Loups, Île du Havre aux Maisons, Île du Cap aux Meules, and Île du Havre Aubert. Two other islands are part of the archipelago as well: Entry Island, inhabited and located 10 km east of Havre Aubert; and Île Brion, an uninhabited island lying 16 km north of Grosse Île.

Rain or shine there are always fun and exciting things to do in Les Iles de la Madeleine:  Tickle the fish: Blue-eyed scallops, a skate that loves to have its tummy tickled, treasures of the deep, environmental hazards and orphaned harp seals are a few of the attractions at the aquarium in the historic site of La Grave.  La Musée de la mer: Shows films and videos and has excellent written material on the history of the islands and their links with the sea. Learn about fishing, exploration, navigation, transportation and the many shipwrecks that took place on these shores.  Café des artists: Join the musicians, photographers, artists and singers at Le Café de la Grave.  Enjoy a coffee, tea, lunch, chowder, croissant or home-made cakes while you chat, sing and play board games. A fun and relaxed atmosphere adorned with Nicole’s lampshades.  Dive with the seals: A unique 4 hour excursion from L’Istorlet by zodiak with wet suit. Nature Trails: Each year, vegetation encroaches on the lagoons and peat bogs and salt marshes give way to dwarf forests stunted by the winter winds but which in turn offer protection to the rare plants, wild berries and mushrooms that grow between July and September.  Where to stay: Le Château Madelinot was our hotel of choice in Cap-aux-Meules offering an excellent restaurant, swimming pool and helpful staff.  Tel: 418/986-3695. You can also rent a private home from the local tourist board 418/986-2245.  Food: While this is the lobster capital of Quebec, the islands offer a wide variety of sea food including scallops and blue mussels. Another regional specialty is lamb. There are excellent restaurants. Try lunch at Le Vieux Couvent, the old Convent of the Congregation Notre Dame, and enjoy superb bouillbaise, frites and soups. For romantic dinners with gourmet menus and fine wines visit La Table des Roy and Auberge La Marée Haute.  Bird watchers: On the islands you may spot up to 240 species including Snowy and Boreal owls, Fox-sparrow, the Great Cormorant, Thick-billed murre, Atlantic puffin, Piping plover and Horned Grebe.  For more info visit: Les Îles de la Madeleine

Episodes #11: Saskatchewan, Grey Owl and the Beavers of Prince Albert National Park — see episodes 15-22. 

Episodes 13 & 14:  Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula

Winter comes alive in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, where the dramatic scenery has created some intriguing opportunities for winter sports. Feeling adventurous? Try camping in Forillon National Park, then explore Gaspésie by ski or snowshoe, dog sled or snowmobile, and discover this magical winter wonderland.  Some places to stay: Motel l’Eglantier in Percé features fine dining at La Table à Roland. Motel Adams  has a wonderful view of Gaspé Bay and is just 20 minutes from Forillon National Park.  The Auberge Gite du Mont Albert in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts offers an exceptional panoramic view of the Parc de la Gaspésie. The Micmacs established permanent settlements around the Gaspé Bay during the 16th century. The Gespeg Micmac Interpretation Site is not generally open in the winter, however you can usually arrange a visit if you contact them ahead of time email  micmac@globetrotter.net  The wide open areas of the peninsula boast over 2600 kilometres of recreational trails for snowmobile enthusiasts. For snowmobile rentals, guides and accommodation information contact Riotel in Matane.  To get the latest conditions of the snowmobile trails, la Fédération des clubs motoneigistes du Québec (Federation of Quebec Snowmobile Clubs) has a website www.fcmq.qc.ca   For more information on snowmobiling and other winter activities contact Tourisme Gaspésie and Le Québec Maritime and Destination Québec.

Episodes 15 – 22:  The Boreal Forest — Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

In producing the features on the Boreal Forest, we focused exclusively on Prince Albert National Park 200 km north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  We visited the park on a number of occasions in order to film during the extremes of both winter and summer and based ourselves at The Hawood Inn in Waskesiu, a small town, just inside the park.  

Organizations that assisted us with our research and content included: Atmospheric Environment Service – Environment Canada;  BOREAS Secretariat – Geomatics Canada – Natural Resources Canada; Canadian Museum of Nature; Earth Observations Laboratory – Institute for Space & Terrestrial Science (ISTS); Mount Royal College; NASA ; National Hydrology Research Institute – Ecosystem Conservation Directorate – Environment Canada; University of Toronto; University of Saskatchewan.  Our Scientific Consultants included: Dr. Josef Cihlar, Dr. W.A. Andrew (Environmental Science), Dr. Irwin M. Brodo (Lichenologist), Dr. Fazal Mohammad (Botanist), Dr. John Pomeroy (Snow Hydrologist).

More information on the Model Forests can be obtained on Prince Albert ; on all the Canadian Model Forests; and International sites.

Brad Muir, our park guide and naturalist has since started his own company, SunDogs and continues to share his love and knowledge of the boreal forest while teaching people to run a dog sled team.   While Sundogs Excursions is busy on the dogsled trails in winter, summer visitors to Anglin Lake and Prince Albert National Park are also invited to join their expert naturalist-interpreters on a guided hike or iconic, common loon excursions by boat. 

Our series on the boreal forest also includes a feature on Grey Owl, the naturalist and conservationist who lived in a cabin on Ajawaan Lake, see episode #11 in the Railway Adventures across Canada category.     For more general information on camping, etc., see Prince Albert National Park

Episode 23 — Dog sledding Ontario Temagami

Short excursions and wilderness adventures are offered by Wolf Within  and Temagami Vacation or check out Ontario Travel for other operators.  Packages may include 40 min. shuttle ride from North Bay, Ontario.  Ideally bring a sleeping bag, wear layered clothing, Sorrell boots and have a change of clothes. All meals are included and you may spend one night or more in a bush camp. Some equipment can be borrowed. Dress as you would for cross-country skiing.  

Episode 24:  Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon Territory.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The weather does not always cooperate and we were lucky to have the one window of opportunity that allowed us to fly from Kluane Lake up the Slims River into the interior of the St. Elias Mountains and land on the Seward Glacier in front of Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. Our pilot was Andy Williams of Icefield Ranges Expeditions The company offers flight-seeing charters, glacier excursions and facilitates climbing expeditions. Our return trip followed the Kaskawulsh Glacier with its striking moraine patterns. If you go allow yourself extra time in case poor visibility restricts flying opportunities. During our visit we were based at the Cozy Corner Motel & Restaurant in Haines Junction just off the Alaska Highway and were able to spend time in and around Kluane National Park and Reserve exploring the diversity of the park and experiencing the many moods of the lakes and rivers. Kathleen Lake is especially beautiful.  We visited Klukshu, an aboriginal fishing village for the members of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations and learned of the traditional salmon drying methods.  Keep your eyes open and you may spot Dall sheep, Grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, beavers and wolves.  Best time to visit is mid-June to mid-September, the latter being spectacular fall scenery.  You can rent cars and RVs in Whitehorse. For more information contact Parks Canada.

Ep. 25: The Eastern Townships, Québec – A Spa for Men

The majority of clients at Spa Eastman, our featured spa in Québec, are women, but the number of male clients has increased over the years. Interestingly it was probably the women who encouraged their husbands to visit and experience the benefits of massage and stress-relieving therapies since most of the spa’s early promotional activities was directed towards women.  Single men and women, married couples, gay couples, all are welcome at Spa Eastman. For more information on other things to do in this region of Québec visit the Eastern Townships and Tourism Québec. 

Ep.26: Alberta – Fresh Air Adventures

In this episode we take you to one of several working ranches in Alberta in which you can learn to ride.  Homeplace Ranchis now offering the opportunity to stay at Horseman’s Lodge for self-catering Retreat and Vacation Rentals.  The Rocky Mountains are spectacular and you can enjoy the scenery cycling, driving, paddling and climbing.  Canadian Mountain Holidays has been around since 1959 expanding from wilderness guiding to heli-skiing, heli-hiking, lodge accommodation and mountain adventures through all seasons and to suit all needs.  You can climb aboard VIA Rail for the train trip across Canada or you can join Rocky Mountaineerfor their thrilling train excursions which can include an overnight in Kamloops so you get the best of the Rocky experience in daylight.  Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gives you incredible insight to the lives of the early aboriginal peoples and how they managed their environment before the advent of the ‘white man, guns and railways’.  Hard to believe that the Gulf of Mexico once reached as far as Dinosaur Provincial Park but that is why the great beasts loved the region and why the park just keeps finding more fossils that help explain our planets evolution. For more information: check out the Alberta Tourism Board.

Ep. 27: Alberta — History, Ecology and Responsibility

Fort Edmonton was built in 1795 as a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River to facilitate the fur trade with the aboriginal peoples. Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and the fort’s original location is now occupied by the Houses of Parliament.  To preserve the City’s history, Fort Edmonton Park was built in 1974.  Costumed interpreters, a wealth of artifacts, original buildings and old vehicles provides insight to four periods of time – a terrific learning opportunity for all members of the family. The Ukrainian Heritage Village is another excellent opportunity to see what life would have been like for the settlers who arrived between the 1890’s and 1930’s in what would have been an inhospitable and challenging environment. There are several tramways now that will take you high into the mountain ranges overlooking Jasper and Banff.  These incredible views over glaciers, mountains, rivers, valleys and railway tracks illustrate the position that Alberta holds as the hydrological centre of North America.  For an up close and personal experience on hydrology we take an excursion on the Athabasca Glacier.  At Elk Island and Jasper National Parks, we gain an understanding of the challenges of human interaction with the environment and the struggles faced by Park Wardens to educate travellers who put themselves and wildlife at risk. For more information: check out the Alberta Tourism Board.

Ep.28: Manitoba – Legacy of a Lake

Manitoba is not just a flat prairie province that most people envisage it also has tundra, forests, lakes and rivers.  In this episode we feature:  the architecture of the old City of Winnipeg and the restored Cathedral and Basilica ruins at St. Boniface; Oak Hammock Marsh, a restored wetland; the annual Islendingadagurinn celebration of the Icelanders who settled in Gimli and Hecla on Lake Winnipeg; Spruce Woods Provincial Park where archaeologists have found spear tips dating back to the Clovis culture; Spirit Sands an exceptional vista of sand dunes left after the glaciers receded; and Churchill, Canada’s only arctic seaport and polar bear capital of the world where we travelled on Tundra buggies in search of the elusive mammal and saw Inuit carvers at work.  We travelled by ViaRail across Canada arriving in Winnipeg where you can rent a car to explore the province. You can take the train to Churchill or a short flight from Winnipeg.  For further information check visit Manitoba Tourism and Winnipeg Tourism.

New Brunswick:  Links and information for episodes #29-31 will be updated shortly. Sorry for the delay. Busy editing.

Québec:  Information and links will be updated shortly.  Sorry for the delay.  Busy editing.  In the meantime our grateful thanks to Library and Archives Canada for the use of two images in episode #35 – Quebec City: The Battle for Canada.

Print: The Death of General Wolfe   Source: Library and Archives Canada/Canadian Historical Prints Collection/C-012248

Print:A View of the Landing Place above the Town of Quebec… with a distant view of the action between the British and French Armys, on the Hauteurs d’Abraham, September 13th, 1759    Source: Library and Archives Canada/Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana/e002511278

In view of the timelines, following information for episode #37:  The festival d’été de Québec unveils its line-up for 2014!    From July 3 to 13: Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, The Killers, Bryan Adams, Snoop Dogg, Journey, Steve Miller Band, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Louis-Jean Cormier, Local Natives, Three Days Grace, Daniel Lanois, Cypress Hill, Paul Daraîche, Grand Corps Malade, Gogol Bordello, Émilie Simon, Tiken Jah Fakoly, St-Vincent, John Mayall, Father John Misty and many more! The 47th Festival d’été de Québec stays true to tradition by offering once again a top quality, well balanced and diversified program.  For more details on ticket prices, venues, and to view this year’s complete line-up, visit infofestival.com.

British Columbia:  Sorry for the delay. Busy editing. Episode links and information will be updated shortly.

Episodes 37 – 43: Sorry for the delay.  Busy editing. Links and information to be updated shortly.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *