One train ride may be worth a thousand

on 10:18 pm

In my 18 years of living in Canada (from 1979 to 1997) I only rode the train once.

As we all know, Canada is a vast country. Getting from one place to the next can take hours on end if not days or even weeks. Flying is most definitely one of Canada's best friends. Here in Portugal, to get around the country, you can opt for the Rede Expresso (buses) or CP (trains) as far as public transportation goes. In Canada you can take Via Rail or the Greyhound bus. For those living in the northern outreaches of Canada, however, seldom do rail or 'the dog' become travelling options. And this is the very reason why in my 18 years living in Prince George, B.C., I only rode the train once.

It was on a trip to Vancouver in 1991. On the way down, the bus ride lasted (and still does) 12 hours. On the way back, as I ended up sleeping in, I also ended up missing the Greyhound back up north. My only option was Via Rail, a ride that would take an extra 2 hours compared to the bus. The first few hours on that Via Rail train provided some amazing scenery. The ride through the Coastal Mountains (before and after Whistler) was truely beautiful. The closer I got to Prince George, however, the less exciting things got. No knock on the scenery (although not as breathtaking), more like the fact one gets a little sick of being on a train.

Jump forward to October, 2009. A couple of years ago I spent 33 days travelling to Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal to carry out fieldwork with Portuguese-Canadian descendants. From Ottawa to Montreal there I was again for the second time on a train in Canada.

I thought back to that Vancouver to Prince George trip 18 years earlier and thought about how distance truly makes Canada different. Not only different in comparison to a country like Portugal, where bus and train and getting around is a lot easier, but also different within itself. I mean Ottawa to Montreal is a couple of hours on the train. Rail travel around Ontario and Quebec is a lot more common; locations a lot closer. And for this very reason there are a lot of Canadians that also don't 'get Canada', at least not the complete package. In Vancouver they say "there's no hope beyond Hope (the town)". That's because many have never gone beyond Hope (outside Vancouver's Lower Mainland). For these folks, Canada is truly not the vast country those in rural communities and far off towns know. But then again, maybe this is common to big city folk in general. Surely for us who live in the metropolis, we may ride a lot more trains and buses, but the truth is we ain't getting far. God only knows how many times I've ridden the Lisbon - Cascais train line, for example. Equally beautiful - as much as I try not to take it for granted - but the truth is there are times when it feels like we're approaching Prince George on that line as well.


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