O Canada, you most excellent land of diverse geography and weather!

Canadian National Railways

Super Continental - VIA Train Number 3

Late October 1979

A couple of years after starting work at the hospital, I spent a vacation travelling across Canada by train.

Westbound, I took the CNR route and I came back, almost immediately, by CP Rail. I had less than 48 hours of layover planned in Vancouver between these two trips. My sleeping accommodation was in a roomette and I enjoyed my meals in the dining car. The CNR dome car, usually added to the westbound at Jasper for sightseeing in the Rockies, was bad-ordered so we had nothing. Fortunately, vestibule access was usually available. These photographs were taken with a new Yashica FX-2 SLR with a fixed 50mm lens using 100 ASA (a "hand-bomber" in steam locomotive fireman parlance).

From the 1979 summer timetable, here are fledging VIA Rail's transcontinental routes. I was on Train 3 on the northern route.

VIA Rail map 1979 showing transcontinetal routes

Starting from Toronto in the afternoon of the previous day, here is the westbound trip:


CNR Super Continental in northern Ontario

The end of October gives us snow in northern Ontario. Overnight, we travelled north from Toronto and then west from Sudbury.
Somewhere we stopped for one hour because it was the Sunday morning of the time change to Standard Time.

We are about to knock down a clear signal at the west end of a siding somewhere west of Armstrong.
(Any corrections or details from web visitors are welcome. I did not keep a photo log - I enjoyed the trip)

Radio frequency scanners weren't as common then, but having one along with a recent employee timetable, would have made it easier to keep track of where we were.
Today ... GPS (sweeet).

We had two of the CNR's 4100 class steamline roadswitchers and a B unit. During this era, steam heat for the train came from the locomotive consist.
Some eagle eyes will spot the baggage/dormitory car on the headend. This is where the dining car crew and other onboard service employees slept.

CNR Super Continental trackside kids

One of the privileges and responsibilities of passengers on transcontinental (or special steam locomotive excursion) trains is waving to people at trackside. My wavees were First Nations kids and their dog. The trains are the only tangible encroachments of "modern society" at this spot.

For urban Canadians and foreign tourists, the isolation, monotony, and vastness of this dreary part of northern Ontario is impressive.

CNR Super Continental northern Ontario

Here, we are leaving a northern Ontario railway settlement. Below us, you can see the large earthen fill which the Canadian Northern Railway must have put in place.

Looking back along the last car of our train, you can see the kerosene marker light hanging on the corner.
It's daytime, so the flagman (tail end trainman) does not have it lit.
The fact that two markers are hanging from this car makes our train "official" as far as the operating rules are concerned.

To railroaders, markers were like the period at the end of a sentence

Super Continental northern Ontario

The 4100s are pulling hard.
This extra photograph of the train's equipment is included for any consistadores out there.

4100 class power on Super Continental

Someone will know the location of this photograph by the appearance of the station (Nakina?). This is our train stopped for a crew change and servicing. These first generation diesel locomotives from the 1950s were used for freight or passenger service. For passenger service, they had to have the ability to generate, conduct or control steam for train interior heat and hot water heating.

This wasn't the only practice coming from the steam locomotive era involving these units ... Instead of having the engine crew looking out the short end of the locomotive where forward visibility was better, the CNR chose to have the long hood forward. This gave engine crew protection comparable to that of a steam locomotive in the event of a collision. (A little study in implementing change in the workplace)

The locomotive controls are located at the right side of a locomotive (during normal forward operation)
and this determines which end of the locomotive is designated as "front".

Eastbound passenger local

In the previous orange and black freight-model units, the crew is protected by lots of steel.
In the yellow and blue high speed passenger unit of similar vintage above, the crew is protected by height against level crossing accidents.
As we sit at the station, an eastbound passenger (Train 676 ?) with a steam generator car behind the locomotive sits and steams a little.
Notice the up and down pattern of my car's roomette windows.

And don't worry about the steam leaking from our train's heating system - I bought carbon-offset credits before going on this trip.
In fact, the carbon sinks I purchased are right there ... on that bulkhead flat.
( climate change gallows humour )

CNR railway yard northern Ontario

We're really getting out of town as I photograph back toward the yard. Of all the quaint, now vanished  things pictured, I kind of like the kerosene switch lamp
... see it on the low switch stand of the caboose track?

CNR Super Continental in northwestern Ontario

Here we're banging along, perhaps approaching the Sioux Lookout area of northern Ontario.
If you were working as tailend crew and you observed that the tie damage (left of centre between the rails) was FRESH, you'd be stopping the train for an inspection.

Super Continental Winnipeg

Winnipeg Union Station at night.

Switching passenger cars for different destinations.
Replenishing onboard stores with clean sheets, pillow cases, linen, food, and water.
Eastern onboard service crews go off duty - later to return to Montreal or Toronto.
Western service crews board - and check their equipment, supplies and passengers before riding to Vancouver with us.

Red dwarf signals brighten the yard.
Ventilation fans whir and steam lines make a hollow hissing sound.
A tailend trainman stands ready by a step stool, and an open sleeping car door.
The green Fresnel lens of a tailend marker is illuminated by a kerosene flame.

The final magic moments before a night train departs.


Zelma on the CNR east of Saskatoon

Just before sunrise we are whipping through Zelma on the approach to Saskatoon.
To the right is a passing track. A grain elevator lead (track) services the elevators.
A smudge of diesel exhaust on the horizon gives you an idea of our speed on this windless morning - probably close to 90 MPH.

CNR Super Continental at Saskatoon

In addition to getting new onboard service crews at Winnipeg, we swapped for a couple of "F" units complete with "Mastercraft" plug-in ditch lights ...
to help the engine crew spot obstructions as we go through the winding mountain railway ahead.
The sun is just coming up and the ties are frosty.

CP Rail van highball

Happily reliving my brief CP Rail career, highballs are exchanged with a CP Rail tailend crew.
Their track of bolted rail ran parallel to our CNR route for a distance.


Super Continental westbound

Following the right-of-way built by Mackenzie and Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway,
we are near the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers as they join to travel to the Pacific Ocean.
Travelling all night (from Jasper) through the mountains, the ditchlights have been handy to have.

CP Rail stone bridge Fraser Canyon

The sun is getting higher and we are looking across to our "rival", the Canadian Pacific Railway, which built along the "easy" side of the Fraser Canyon.
This left the "hard" side  for the Canadian  Northern to deal  with, decades later  -  with better technology.
In a couple of days or so, I'll be travelling over that bridge on my way east.

Holsteins in the Fraser Valley

In the Fraser Valley, closer to Vancouver, Holsteins do some late October grazing.
Gee, they build their stone fences tall here!



Vancouver Lion's Gate Bridge

The next morning, having spent the night in a hotel bed, here is the Lion's Gate Bridge at Vancouver, looking toward the Pacific Ocean.
  The train was perhaps 8 hours late into Vancouver and it was dark when the Super Continental arrived.

Vancouver harbour car ferry

Looking across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver, a railway car ferry moves some grain cars around.


The Vancouver skyline. Not much snow here, eh?

Vancouver harbour

Looking up Burrard Inlet.
Give yourself 100 points if you can spot "railway equipment" in this photograph.

Back to sitemap