VIA Rail “The Canadian” Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Travelling across Canada by train has long been on my bucket list. What better way to experience just how big and diverse my home country is than slowly by train? This experience, although affordable in economy class, is not cheap if you want any sort of comfort. This made me sceptical that my Canadian train review would ever leave the station.

This scepticism was squashed with Canada’s 150th birthday and me wanting to cover as much of the country as possible. With VIA Rail being the only option to travel the country by train, I pulled the trigger. This is my Canadian train review.

What is The Canadian Train?

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Disclaimer: I feel with any review where I have any sort of negative experience I should point out that it is usually because I hold the service to a higher standard, usually due to cost or similar services I have reviewed. This was the case with my Canadian Train review. Also note, my VIA rail Canadian train review is not the result of sponsorship with VIA. To support my site please consider booking your VIA Rail Canadian train tickets through my affiliate links.

Connecting a Country

The Canadian train is an appropriate name given that it covers the country on the very rail line that united it in the first place. To get the western province on board with joining Canada, the railroad was key to convincing them. It took 10+ years to survey and, impressively, only four years to complete.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

In the end, the 4,500 KM’s of track connects Ontario to British Columbia and crosses 5 provinces, 670 bridges, and travels through dozens of tunnels and mountain passes along the way.

In 1885 the railroad was finished and began a new era for a new country. To aid in settling the west and the vast new country, the Canadian government gave away land to new settlers. The rail line was key in bringing people from the piers of Halifax to the Prairies.

Once settled, the rail remained a vital lifeline, connecting these new settlements with the world. Today that lifeline is still intact for many small communities along the way. This was evident for me with seemingly middle-of-nowhere stops where everything from snowmobiles to coffins were loaded and unloaded.

What Types of Service Is There on The Canadian Train?

Tickets on The Canadian range from Economy to Sleeper Plus to Prestige Class. The prices vary wildly in between.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience
Economy class on this Canadian Train review. 4 days and no shower and lots of bare feet. Just saying.

During my trip, VIA Rail was offering a promotion for unlimited train travel in economy to students for just $150 dollars. The first-class offering in Prestige Class costs $4,000+ and that is just a one-way ticket. The latter does include all your meals, drinks, access to the Park Car, and a comfortable room with a private bath but that is one helluva gap $$$ wise.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience
Sleeper Cabin for one. Note the personal toilet…

Sleeper Plus

I opted for a lower berth in Sleeper Plus, the middle-of-the-road service, for a few reasons:

  1. At ~$1,200 it was $1,000(!) cheaper than a private cabin.
  2. It includes all meals.
  3. It includes access to showers, to the Panorama Car, and Prestige Park Car

Essentially, it is first class service minus the private room and bath. It turned out to be a great deal.

During the day the beds convert to bench seating, usually while you’re at breakfast service, and then back in the evening during dinner service. As noted in my 10 Things VIA Rail Doesn’t Tell You About “The Canadian” But Should post, the upper and lower birth are in the hallway meaning you are essentially in a walkway.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience
Sleeper berths by day

Although a bit concerned at first by this discovery, I’m happy to report that with the curtains drawn the experience felt very private and super cosy. Also noted is the upper birth does not have a window, thus a cheaper rate by a couple of hundred dollars. I’ve heard it can feel very disorienting and claustrophobic so consider this if you are looking to save.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

I truly enjoyed my lower birth window. Waking up to see where we were in Canada each morning was a pleasant surprise and watching Canada go by while reading in my bunk was a great pass time.

Rocky Start

After spending an awesome weekend exploring Kingston Ontario, I arrived by train to Tronto‘s Union station. Concerned about sleeping in a hallway, something I only discovered while leafing through a pamphlet about The Canadian train, I asked at check-in about upgrading to a private room. In a tone that could only be interpreted as “are you really going to make me check on something you have no intention of paying for?” I was told it would be an additional $1,400.

I politely passed and made my way to the lounge. Inside staff seemed frantic. The train, although not uncommon, was very late. So with a few hours to kill before my Canadian train review departed I decided to check my luggage and explore.

At baggage check, I asked what time they closed and was told not to worry, “we are here until your train leaves.” When I came back at 12:15 when our very delayed train was finally boarding I was surprised to find my bag all by itself out in the open. When I walked up to it I received attitude from the clerk I had spoken to earlier.

“You’re lucky, I was just about to leave.” I smiled remembering our previous conversation and would have left it at that but then was told: “next time make sure you pick up your bag 30-minutes before you leave or you will not get it.“

I get it. I held her up but was not told I had to be there 30-minutes prior. It was also not the warm welcome I was expecting when I was about to depart on such an epic (and expensive) trip.

Sadly, this type of “I don’t give a f@ck” attitude would pop up throughout the trip. I came in with an attitude that I should expect more. This was the wrong attitude to have.

What Is it Like on Board The Canadian Train?

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

I shrugged off the odd attitude and enjoyed a very relaxed and laid back trip. My days onboard The Canadian were filled with enjoying Canada going by. I would be rocked awake and would eagerly peel back the curtain to take in the view. If the train happened to be stopped (which is frequent given The Canadian has to give way to freight trains) I would head for the shower to avoid a bumpy wash. There was never a wait for this.

That said, the ride is surprisingly smooth in comparison to other train trips I have done. This is thanks to the thorough eyeballing the wheels get after each journey. This includes wheel levelling and grinding down any rough edges to provide the smoothest trip possible.

I would then hit the breakfast dining car with friends made onboard followed by enjoying the complimentary coffee and view from the domed Skyline Car. With four days of no Internet, this meant no distractions. I was free to relax and truly enjoy Canada going by. From the Wheat Kings and endless fields of the Prairies to the bogs of the Canadian Shield, it was a slow yet incredibly scenic way to see the country.

I spent the afternoons napping or having cocktails in the Park Car. There I taught a Guatemalan immigrant about Canadian culture – hello Caesars, euchre, and The Tragically Hip.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

This schedule stays true up until Edmonton with the addition of the Panorama Car. This makes the journey from Jasper to Vancouver that much more scenic, however, I was partial to the view from The Park Car as:

  1. The seats are on the upper level giving a better view.
  2. It’s above a bar.
VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

There are activities onboard each day and include educational talks and performances by musicians. The activities seemed a bit forced on staff that did not want to host them however the musicians were great.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Where Does The Canadian Train Stop?

The Canadian is first and foremost a method of transportation from A to B. Stops are few and far between and never clear on how long. The only exceptions are in Winnipeg where the crew changes, Edmonton with the addition of the Panorama Car, and Jasper.

Depending on whether the train is on time or not, stops are not consistent in length. If long enough, there is a tour is an option in Winnipeg. On my trip we were running behind so I set off on my own a self-guided tour of Winnipeg.

Jasper only offered enough time to stroll the main drag and stop for a flight of beer at Jasper Brewing Company. This is unfortunate as there is much to see and do in the area.

NOTE: VIA Rail does offer stopover options and would highly recommend for those expecting to see more than the train on this trip. Jasper, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Kamloops are good options.

What Is The Food Like on The Canadian Train?

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Meal service on this Canadian train review, although a bit confusing at first, get people fed in an efficient way. At the beginning of your trip, you select a seating time which stays the same for the duration of your trip. Meals are surprisingly good, although I am always impressed when food of any quality can be pushed out on a train, plane or river cruise. Meals included many regional dishes which was a nice touch and I never left hungry, day or night.

The service itself was a bit lacking. Plates were often slapped down in a messy heap and on several occasions, I could see staff wiping off silverware with the table clothes. Nothing crazy but again, for the price paid I expected more.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

The odd lacking service continued in the bar car. Although the staff was more than happy to assist in the Prestige Park Car, the Skyline Bar Car, not so much.

One night while drinking in the Prestige bar I purchased a round at last call for my new friends and took a bucket of ice to the observation deck of the Sky Line Car for a view of the wildfires in British Columbia. Not even one beer in the attendant working that car accused us of bringing the beer on board and made us finish the drinks or she would take them away. It was shocking to me to see this, again because of the ticket price.

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Over breakfast the next day I got a better understanding of why the service fell short on this Canadian train review. While dining with a tour guide who used to work for the Rocky Mountaineer, Western Canada’s premier train service, he pointed out that VIA Rail is a subsidized and a unionized company. The Rocky Mountaineer is not.

Interesting and sad if that is the heart of these service issues on this Canadian train review. Also, I can’t help but feel that because there is no competition to The Canadian, the staff does not have to bring their best. That could just be me…

Would I do it again?

VIA Rail's The Canadian Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience

Despite the many shortcomings I experienced on my Canadian train review, I’m happy to say I would do it again. Yes, the staff could have been better and the trip could have been more than getting from A to B but the overall experience is something so incredibly Canadian that it only inspired and strengthened my already strong love for my country.

I arrived at the Pacific Central Station in Vancouver refreshed and energized by the trip. I rode the rails that united a nation, something very few people have done.

Perhaps my next journey will be in Prestige Class or Economy and I will have a different take on the experience but the takeaway should be that there will be another Canadian Train experience for me. There truly is no better way to see the diversity of Canada’s vast geography…and no other company to take you.

What say you?
Thoughts on this VIA Rail Canadian Train Review? Would you take this trip?
Let’s hear it!

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24 replies on “VIA Rail “The Canadian” Train Review: An Unbiassed Experience”
  1. Avatarsays: Marimae Matthews

    We just completed the Via Rail trip from Toronto to Vancouver, and had a private Sleeper Plus cabin for two. You mentioned the Sleeper Plus as being what we would call upper and lower semi-private berths. This is one type, and the Sleeper cabin for two is also very comfortable and offers private toilet and sink. This would have been good to review.

    Plus comments: great food, generally good service, comfortable beds, wonderful scenery, chances to leave the train for short periods of time.

    Con coments: No Wifi on board. This is not acceptable in 2022. The ride is long with very little to do, and the ability to watch movies and browse the internet would help. Also, there was no entertainment short of champagne and snacks when we boarded in Toronto. I expected some musicians, informative talks, other entertainment to wile away the hours.

    Suggestions: A gift shop on board would do very well with passengers with nothing to do and some money to spend. An exercise room with at least treadmills would be helpful as walking the train involves frequent moving around passengers and staff in the narrow halls.
    More advertising in Canada would be really helpful. Our particular trip had many American travellers and few Canadians. I think there is a lot Via Rail could do to boost ridership within Canada and advertising would be a start.

    1. Thanks, Marimae and I agree on advertising for sure. It would be nice for more Canadians to experience their country this way as it gives some context to how big and diverse the country truly is.

      The Wifi, although I agree should be standard these days, is kinda nice to not have IMO. I enjoyed the break from my phone and it forced me to read a book and interact with others, something lost these days.

  2. Great to hear Grant! I am in the same boat and was actually booked to repeat the trip in 2020 but then Covid happened. As far as the negative comments, it was certainly my experience at the time and know that everyone can have a different experience based on the circumstances. The takeaway certainly is that it is a great way to see the country as you point out! I ended up driving across Canada three times during the pandemic and loved it but it is exhausting. The train, not at all!

    I hope to rebook soon in Prestiege. Curious, how much time did you actually spend in your room? I think that is a good factor on determining if the upgraded class is worth the price tag.


  3. Avatarsays: Grant Wilson

    April 2022: My wife and I just completed the Toronto to Vancouver trip. I don’t know if Via Rail has changed after Covid, but we experienced nothing but fantastic service from both the Toronto to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Vancouver crews. We booked the trip thinking this would be a once in a lifetime because of the cost and ended the trip knowing that we will be doing the trip again. We booked the Prestige room and at the end felt the expense was well worth it. I would like to try booking the upper and lower berths next time and enjoy the lounge that is available to others after 4:00 pm. I was surprised how few used it after 4. The first 3 rows in the dome are reserved for Prestige after 4, but during the day we all spread out and we often sat in the last row! Take out the negative comments that you experienced and I’d say your review was right on. No, the food is not great, but it was very good and filling. The equalizer was the view out the window – all classes saw the same view. We have driven that route in our car, but this was a whole new view, especially from the dome. As the driver I often missed things, but not on this trip. One is never truly relaxed while driving. Riding on a train is total relaxation!!!!

    1. Avatarsays: Kathy Gower

      Hi Grant,

      Can you give me an idea of the dimensions of the bed in Prestige? We recently stayed with someone who gave us a (what I know as a 3/4 bed) about 4′ wide. Is the bed this small?
      Thanks in advance.

  4. Avatarsays: Gary Behling

    My intention is to take the best train trip there is in the Americas. If the train is late— all the better. Means I’ll be on the train longer. If the crew isn’t up to snuff, I don’t care about that either. I will get what I need from them and I always turn a negative in to a positive by getting free stuff afterward as a repayment. So there’s that.

    What I need is some advice. I’ve never ridden VIA rail before and don’t know the ins or outs. There will be two of us but we can’t sleep together because I move around too much. So— I want to get one Prestige room for two and something for myself to sleep in for just overnight. Then I can rejoin my wife for daytime.

    More than anything, I am looking forward to that 4 day train ride. On Amtrak, the longest trip is 2 1/2 days. And there is a big difference in comfort and food quality between Amtrak and the Canadian. BUT— I’m no food Gourmet either and I pretty much like everything.

    What I need advice about is knowing what month to go for the best experience. When to book by. What car to ask for and for me– what sleeping accommodations make the most sense. $22,000 is a bit too much for adjoining Prestige rooms—although it really would be awesome! Right?” We want to begin in Toronto and end in Vancouver. Does it matter what our starting point is? We figured that we’d start at the most boring part and end in the most exciting part. Make sense?

    Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Well, the Canadian is certainly for you as it is the only passenger option across the country. I loved it for that and will be doing it again!

      As for your sleeping arrangements, I would think the cabins can be configured for separate beds. It’s not clear on their site so I suggest you contact VIA to confirm this and options. There are options in the sleeper cars for 3 or 4 people so I am sure they can accommodate.

      The food is good, not great. I am always impressed by meals on moving kitchens so am more than happy with the offerings. If you are interested in a true food and train experience, check out the Presidential Train in Portugal! –>

      As for dates, summer months between July and September are best for nicest weather however it will be busy. The fall would be my recommendation as crowds are less, prices are lower, and you still get nice weather. I suggest late September as you will get the fall colours in Ontario. If you travel west to east and depart early you have a better chance of seeing more but are at mercy of CP rail delays. If you are really looking for scenery I suggest taking the Rocky Mountaineer as it is a scenic ride where as VIA is A to B.

      Hope that helps! Would love to hear your recommendations on Amtrack trips in the states. I have only done the Cascade from Vancouver to Portland.

  5. Avatarsays: David

    Enjoyed reading your review. My family and I took the Canadian (sleeper class for four), or its then-equivalent, from Vancouver to Toronto back in 1974 when I was a kid and had just moved from New Zealand to Canada, and my parents wanted to show us what the country was like. Great experience. I’d like to do it again one day…

  6. Avatarsays: Trevor

    I get clostrophobic and need lots of air feel like I panic for air when I feel closed in . I don’t have ashma .. Does a ten across Canada make me feel like that is lots air of needed . I know Windows don’t open . I watch vidios makes me panic a little

  7. Avatarsays: Parkobility ParkobilitySalman A..

    I am from Germany and after reading this, it has made me want to visit at least once and take the amazing train ride.
    Good Article!

  8. Avatarsays: CM

    My husband and I paid the full $10,000+ for Prestige Cabin and it failed to meet the expectations set forth by the Prestige Cabin advertisements. The staff from Toronto -> Winnipeg were amazing: friendly, accommodating, helpful, etc. The staff switched from Winnipeg to Vancouver and were not friendly, unhelpful and complained to us about vacuuming the hallways. While the private, in-cabin bathrooms were lovely with plenty of hot water and unexpected (but great) Le Labo amenities, the food in the dining car was not very good and it meant we spent a lot of time in our private bathroom. The wine on the trip is substandard (Canada is known for many things but wine really shouldn’t be one of them) and we were not able to bring our own and pay corkage. Marketing this trip as “luxury” while failing to demonstrate a true understanding of providing a luxurious experience left us feeling like we never wanted to return and will definitely not recommend this trip to anyone with luxury expectations. I absolutely feel that $10,000 was a waste for this trip and regret not going elsewhere. If I had joined the train at a lower price point and had a lower expectation for the amenities and food, I would have been satisfied.

    1. Avatarsays: Shaun

      Oh my. So sorry to hear. I experienced the poor service with some of the staff as noted and sorry to see that extends to the Prestige Cabin as well. I think this highlights my choice of a bunk instead of a private cabin and the value that provides. Hopefully VIA Rail sees these comments and addresses.

    2. Avatarsays: Kathy Gower

      Hi CM,

      We’re hoping to travel this way in May 23. Have taken on board your comments. Can you tell me how the double bed was? I cannot find the dimensions anywhere. I am thinking we may be more comfortable in separate bunks.

  9. Avatarsays: Carson

    Hi My name is Carson and I will be taking the Canadian in July 2020 Great review down to earth. I liked it one thing I noticed was Canada became a country in 1867 not In 1885 or 1886. I liked your pictures well done.

  10. Avatarsays: Frank Ruehlicke

    After taking Via from Jasper to Prince Rupert (return) we took the Canadian from Jasper to Edmonton. The Jasper – PR trip was terrible. The Canadian experience was a little bit better, mostly because it had a dining car which the Via trip did not offer. That being said I can’t recommend the Canadian. You will be better off driving between Jasper and Edmonton – you will see almost the same scenery, be able to stop along the way and save yourself half a day of time. The trip is scheduled to take 6 1/2 hours which is twice what it takes to drive. Then add on several hours because the train is always late. And almost always by 2 or more hours. It’s just not worth it

    1. Thanks for the comment Frank and sorry to hear about your experience. I took the Canadian from Edmonton to Jasper for Christmas one year and really enjoyed it. It allowed us to not worry about a car and enjoy the scenery while having a drink and playing some cards. Totally agree though, driving you can get out and see more and VIA is terrible at keeping its schedule!

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