Saturday, September 15, 2012

Not quite full of prairie promise

Winnipeg has seen better days, about a century ago when the sky was the limit. We head up the Broadway, where the street cars used to run, and work our way over to Portage and Main, in the city centre. We are offered a free donut by some insurance folk in a random act of diet madness. We take coffee and WiFi at the library.
The Peg, like many other North American cities, has been ruined by one-way streets, four-lane race tracks designed to scare the bejesus out of pedestrians. Many historic buildings have met the wrecking ball and the town has a broken-toothed appearance. We just have time to duck into the streetcar museum, in a replica car, where we learn that the only survivor #396 is being restored. We return to the magnificent 1911 station on Main in time for free coffee and biscuits.

We head out west past Rivers, MB, and into the Qu'Appelle Valley. Soon we are passing the potash mines, a source of prosperity in Saskatchewan. We stop in Melville, SK, and I photograph an old Pontiac up a gantry at a bodyshop. Past endless sloughs we reach the CN Walker yard at Edmonton, AB, via Saskatoon and Ardrossan. We eventually reverse through this massive rail yard arriving at Edmonton VIA station at 05:17, followed by frühstück at 06:00. A large party of Germans is leaving the train here.
Edmonton has a miserable modern station in the suburbs, stuck between the City Centre airport and a grotty trading estate. Train travellers get no taste of the city, like in Ottawa. We depart not having spent a cent.
We repair to the dome car, heading west past numerous container trains with their Hanjin, Evergreen and Italia signs. We spot nodding donkeys pumping oil in the fields. The Grey Cup Special train, vinyl wrapped, is heading towards us. Our train now has a special observation car spliced in, not elevated but with a glass roof. We stick to the 1950s version. We reach the Pembina River gorge where the train pauses on the bridge. Passing large lakes to left and right we reach Edson, AB, a hardscrabble town with railyards, timber and fracking supplies for gas. Another whistle stop at Hinton and we reach Jasper, AB, in the Rockies shortly after 1:00 p.m. We are glad to detrain after three days of rock 'n roll.

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