Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

VIA Rail takes us to preview Christmas at Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge.

Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Maxine George boarding VIA Rail train in Vancouver

The promise of Christmas in November might have been just what we needed to get us into the Christmas Spirit. Both my husband and I were eagerly looking forward to a trip down memory lane aboard VIA Rail traveling from Vancouver to Jasper, Alberta. I have many memories of life as a child in a small prairie town. A trip to Calgary meant an overnight rail trip on the Canadian National Railway (CNR) which ran through our town. As the train was a night train, it meant we would be sleeping on the train, with the seats made into berths, an upper and a lower berth. Heavy dark curtains gave the occupants privacy. Now my husband and I were traveling overnight, due to arrive in Jasper just before noon the next day. With visions of my childhood train rides traveling around my mind, I boarded the train in Vancouver.

The train left Vancouver at 5:30 on a cloudy Friday afternoon. We deposited our luggage, and then settled into the club car, at the rear of the train, as the lights of the city passed by the windows circling the room. Before we had gone more than a few miles, a gentle rain began to fall outside. The train was warm, dry and comfortable.  We chatted with a congenial group of travellers, while being served champagne and hors dโ€™oeuvres. It was not long before the announcement, “First call for dinner,โ€ could be heard over the intercom. That was our call. We began our trek through the rolling and gently rocking train, following narrow passageways though each rail car and onto the next. Walking through the train, we would stop and look ahead as we came to the passageway leading through the rail car. If someone else was approaching, we waited at the corner, then proceeded through the car, after they passed us.  Several cars along, we came to the dining car. Greeted by the maรฎtre d’ as we entered, we were shown to a nicely appointed table – table cloths, silver flatware and assorted glasses that sparkled in the soft lighting. We were seated with a pleasant couple from Ontario. It really was a bonus, because we enjoyed their company. The menu included a choice of soups, salads, entreeโ€™s and desserts. The food was tastefully prepared and visually pleasing. Dining aboard trains has always been known for fine dining and excellent service. VIA lived up to railway’s well deserved reputation, the food was excellent as was the service.

Richard George (left) sits in club car at back of VIA Rail train

Instead of a berth, my husband, Richard and I were fortunate to have a sitting/sleeping room near the back of the train, in close proximity to the lounge and dome car. We were warned to bring along something to wear to the shower, if we chose to have one, as there is only one shower in each rail car and passengers must go down the corridor to reach it. The shower is really quite accommodating as it also has a small dressing room. We had our own washroom facilities (toilet and sink) adjoining our compartment. Dick was quite happy to be able to sit up in the dome car, even well into the evening, especially as we traveled through the Fraser Valley, where he could watch the lights of the towns and villages as the train traveled on its way. I wondered if I would be able to fall asleep as easily as I once did as a child. Our porter came to make up our beds. I watched amazed as he quickly pulled the fully made beds out of the wall and ceiling. In less than five minutes the room had been turned into a comfortable sleeping room. I crawled into bed and listened for a few minutes as the clickety-clack of the wheels rolling down the track provided the lullaby to lull me to sleep.

Overcast sky and fresh snow along VIA Rail route to Jasper

In the morning we awoke to a winter wonderland. By now we were north of Kamloops well on our way to Jasper. Under the heavily overcast sky, there was fresh snow covering the landscape. The boughs of the evergreen trees were gently touched with pristine white snow. It was a lovely changing scene to observe as we sat in the dining car having our breakfast. As we traveled north, we left the snow behind and again watched the fall coloured scenery. 

Snowy scene as seen from VIA Rail on the way to Jasper

All too soon we arrived at our destination, Jasper, Alberta. The porter helped us with our luggage as we stepped out onto the platform. A totem pole standing tall and welcoming beside the platform, brought to my mind my last visit to that spot. I stood beside that totem pole as a child, to have my picture taken. This town is surrounded by snow-capped mountains making this a wonderful place for a rail hub. Passengers can stretch their legs while drinking in the natural beauty of this small valley nestled amongst the Rocky Mountains.

Totem Pole at VIA station in Jasper

Glimpsing a young man wearing a red and white Santa hat led me to suspect he was connected to Christmas in November at Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge. Sure enough, the hat was being worn by the driver of the shuttle van which would transport us to The Jasper Park Lodge. A pleasant young man, he told us a bit about the history of the Lodge during the short drive. The lodge has a long and illustrious history, since its humble beginnings in 1915 when visitors would find accommodation under canvas. It has welcomed many famous guests over the years, including Elizabeth, our present Queen and years before her, her parents, King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. The Queen’s parents stayed at the Lodge during their visit to Canada in 1939. Movie stars and many other rich and famous people have found a haven here over the years and still can be found inconspicuously present amongst the guests. 

Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge is nestled amongst the Rocky mountains, between two lakes, Lake Mildred and Lac Beauvert. Even in November, the setting is spectacular with the fresh snow cresting the mountains. A little later in the year, we were told, the lakes would be frozen over so that ice skating on Lake Mildred becomes a fun activity for many. As the van pulled up in front of the Lodge, we realized that the Christmas Spirit already had arrived at Jasper Park Lodge! Tall candy canes and a sleigh with reindeer were decorating a small grassy island in the centre of the curved driveway.

Entering the lobby to register, we were greeting by desk clerks wearing red Santa hats, trimmed with white fur. We were soon ensconced in a comfortable cabin, within easy walking distance from the main building. There are a wide variety of cabins, cottages and luxurious houses available to meet the needs of a variety of guests. 

Christmas was in the air throughout the main Lodge as we wandered through the Great Hall and the Emerald Lounge, admiring the decorations and the tall beautifully decorated Christmas tree. As it was time for Christmas in November there were a variety of events taking place. Presenters gave an assortment of decorating, cooking, fashion and mixology classes with Christmas themes, to help guests get a head start on Christmas preparations. For us it was our first time visiting Jasper Park Lodge. For others this appeared to be a yearly tradition.

Lac Beauvert in the fall

A light dusting of fresh snow greeted us again the next morning. My husband and I took the opportunity to take a walk in the snow and explore the landscape. As we wandered down to Lac Beauvert in front of the main lodge, we noticed that there had been elk in the area too. We were told that it was not unusual to see wild animals in the vicinity, during every season of the year.

VIA Rail Station, Jasper

Our weekend at Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge was too soon over. Again we returned to the town to catch VIA Rail for our journey back to Vancouver. We took the opportunity, while waiting for time to board the train, to wander through the streets of Jasper that comprised the local business area. Some interesting shops caught our attention. We would certainly spend more time investigating those shops if we have the opportunity on another occasion.ย 

Via Rail Passenger train in Jasper BC
Via Rail Passenger train in Jasper BC

Again our VIA Rail journey home was comfortable and enjoyable. The sun was shining and we sat in the lounge car admiring the scenery as the train proceeded south. We had the opportunity to get a rare glimpse of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, before the sun went down. Again we enjoyed an excellent dinner in good company. The evening went quickly. Before long we were being lulled to sleep by the gently clickety-clack of the wheels rolling along the rails as the train continued on its way.

We chose to leave the train in the Fraser Valley at 5 a.m., so we did not have to drive back home from Vancouver in rush hour traffic. The porter made sure we were awake in time to be ready, and then he came to pick up the luggage before our arrival at Abbotsford. The train stopped and we alighted almost in the shadow of the Mission Bridge, thankful to see our son, Ed standing there, in the dark, waiting for us, as the stop is really out on a country road, some miles from the Abbotsford city centre. Arriving home we were ready to get on with Christmas preparations with an enthusiasm that we had not felt before our journey. We discovered there were many people who routinely use VIA to travel throughout Canada, both Canadians from all walks of life and tourists from throughout the world. As well as a scenic way to see Canada, the train proved a sociable and relaxed way to travel.

A rare glimpse of Mt. Robson through the train window
The ties that bind Canada together!

Story and Photos by M. Maxine George

Photo of Maxine boarding train in Vancouver courtesy of Ursula Maxwell Lewis

Last updated December 16, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster

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