Rocky Mountain Train

By Jon Haggins
Photos by Laurel Van Horn

Vancouver is a port city surrounded by water from where many ships arrive and depart. It’s also the third largest city in Canada. We stayed at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, a four star property with all the amenities, even a pillow boutique, where one can select a preferred pillow. The dining experience was exceptional with the freshest local produce and meats.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden sits in the heart of Vancouver. The park creates a peaceful environment with water lilies and a pagoda with the sound of a chime here and there. Gastown is the oldest part of Vancouver and harkens back to the days when street lamps were fueled by gas and an old steam clock blows its whistle on the hour.

The Aquarium has a collection of colorful sea life in large tanks. The dolphins in the outdoor pool were fascinating because they leaped out of the water like acrobats. It’s a perfect place to learn about sea life.

The people of Vancouver make lots of usage of the waterways such as: yachting, kayaking, canoeing and ferries. Granville is just on the other side of the river and the Public Market has a number of cafes and shops that offer a variety of fresh produce, floras, meats and entertainment.

Passengers are shuttled from one side of the river to the other in little Tea Kettle shaped boats. I happened to board the wrong shuttle boat where I meet Carol, a local who said, “My friend is having a party on his yacht today and I’d like to invite you.” I quickly replied, “That’s better than Shakespeare”.

On board the Southmere yacht were two Russians, two Canadians, and us (two Americans). Let me not forget the flowing Vodka, sushi, and splendid company. We sailed along the river while the captain and owner, Wayne Wilkins, entertained us with his horn blowing and wild 80’s Russian disco music.

Stanley Park is one of the largest Parks in Vancouver and offers the best view of the city and its harbor. There is a collection of colorful First Nation Totem Poles standing proudly in the park. Capilano Suspension Bridge was built in 1889 out of hemp rope. It spans 450 feet and is 230 feet high and has been known to terrorize some of those who try to walk across it over the very deep chasm. The park is surrounded by natural beauty and its wildlife is protected by a conservation project. Vancouver’s oldest attraction, Treetop adventure is seven suspended bridges 100 feet off the forest floor. They shake when you walk. It’s located in a rainforest and especially beautiful during the summer months.

A sky lift to the top of Grouse Mountain offers a spectacular view overlooking Vancouver. The zip line is one of the featured adventures of the mountain. Several guests rode the zip line hanging from their heels to show off their skills and dare devilishness.

The next morning we boarded The Rocky Mountaineer Train. It has two classes of service: the Gold Leaf class and the Red Leaf Class. The Gold Leaf offers views of the Rockies in the upper dome with panoramic windows where one can observe a view of rolling glacial mountains, lakes, waterfalls and countryside. The cocktails never stop flowing. There are two separate dining seatings on the lower level. The Red Leaf Class serves meals at your seat. The chef on board offers local produce and farm-raised salmon and offers a large variety of Canadian red and white wines, and of course Ice Wines. You can also take photos from the open vestibule.

The Rocky Mountaineer stopped for an overnight in Kamloops where we visited the First Nation archeological site. During the winter the First Nation people lived in a structure called Kick Willy. Kick Willy is dug into the ground and used by 40 to 60 people. The largest Kick Willy is used as a social hall. The Kick Willys are located next to the South Thompson River. The river is used as a means of transportation like a highway. During the summer they live in teepees on the side of mountains.

The Heritage Park consists of a beautiful trail along the South Thompson River that allows visitors to explore a 2000-year-old pit house and an ethnobotanical garden, which is filled with traditional Secwepemc plants. The First Nations Museum has four different galleries showcasing the cultural and traditional lives of the Secwepemc People. Dinner was in a super restaurant overlooking the river.

After an overnight in Kamloops, we boarded the train for breakfast and onward to Banff passing gracious flowing water falls and unbelievable natural unspoiled scenery.

Banff is a quaint little town at the edge of the Banff Mountains. The town of Banff sits in the middle of Canada’s first national park where there are a number of shops, dining and adventures. The park has limited expansion because they believe in protecting their spaces.

Banff Gondola is open year round. It lifts you to the top of Sulphur Mountain, which is 7500 feet to the top for a panoramic view of the Banff Spring Fairmont Hotel and entire town of Banff. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the hotel 132 years ago to lure guests from around the world. The hotel sits in the middle of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site established in 1885 as Canada’s first national park. Beautiful mountain peaks at the convergence of the majestic Bow and Spring Rivers surround the hotel. Bow is perfect for canoeing. Let’s not forget the hot springs where one can relax in the outdoor pool overlooking the town.

The hotel is styled after a Scottish Baronial castle and is known as the “Castle in the Rockies.” The chef prepared lots of dishes with local ingredients, such as wild fish, local fruits and vegetables. The Banffshire Club Kitchen offers 600 different wines.

The Fairmont Banff Hotel is a perfect getaway for couples, singles, honeymooners, and you can even bring your dog. The hotel offers a heavenly view of the mountains and glaciers.

We arrived at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel by coach. I woke up the next morning, turned on the TV and low and behold, there was a film with Carmen Miranda at Lake Louise. I jumped out of my bed and rushed to the window where there was an unbelievable site of Lake Louise and the white glaciers. Later that day I hopped in a canoe and paddled along the peaceful, beautiful turquoise water. Rowing is the best exercise especially in this scenic environment of rolling glacial, aqua marine waters and clean air.

British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains
was a memorable experience.