When I was a kid in Marquette, Man., we lived beside the railroad tracks.
I’d run outside when I’d hear the whistle blow, hoping to see the passenger train go by. I always wondered who those people were behind the glass, and to what faraway places they were going.
Forty years later, I finally got to take the train to my own faraway place — from Winnipeg to Churchill. The Via Rail service departs Winnipeg’s Union Station on Tuesdays and Sundays at noon, arriving in Churchill two days later at 9 a.m.
For me, taking the train was all about the journey. My adventure started at Union Station, a magnificent building that celebrated its 100th birthday in 2012. Back then, train travel was the only option besides horses. Trains brought people home, and took others away. The train station was the centre of celebrations and sadness, joy and tears, hopes and fears.
When it was time to board my train, I ascended the escalator along with the gaggle of other passengers, into unknown territory — the platform. Even though there was no contingent to see us off, I imagined all the people who have stood there over the past century bidding adieu to loved ones, laughing, crying, and hugging.
Once in the sleeper car, I was shown to cabin #8 — my home for the next two days. It was like I’d imagined, only much smaller. At first, I wondered how I’d live in such a teensy space, no bigger than my hall closet at home. But after exploring every nook and cranny, opening every tiny door, and discovering the awesome bed that pulled out from the wall, I was satisfied my cabin had everything I needed.
Beyond my cabin, there was a lounging car where you could hang out and meet other passengers, a dining car which offered hot meals and cold beverages, larger restroom facilities, even a shower room.
The train really did have everything I needed, including good company.
The most enjoyable part of the journey was sitting and watching the world go by. It was like having my own special television that changes channels every second, never showing the same channel twice. Every time I looked out the window, I was privy to a different view.
I saw the Manitoba landscape change from multi-coloured prairie fields, to patches of sunflowers and cornstalks, to rolling escarpment dotted with cattle and horses, to densely forested stretches broken by rivers and lakes. At night, dancing northern lights lit up the darkness. Eventually, we reached the tundra, signifying we would soon be in Churchill, and the trip would end.
The final night in my cozy bed, the rocking motion lulled me to sleep. But it wasn’t long before I was awoken by a train whistle. I sat up, eagerly glancing out the window, hoping to see the train. Then I realized we were on the train. I was on the train! Just one of those people behind the glass, on my way to some faraway place.