July 24th, 2024

Teen back from cross-country train adventure

By Gillian Slade on August 24, 2017.

Theo Weigel next to the flower sculpture of Alberta's provincial flower, at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau QC. The project was MosaiCanada 150.--SUBMITTED PHOTO


After his cross-country trip on a VIA Rail student pass to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday, Theo Weigel has discovered the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination.

Estimating he travelled 8,000 km on 10 separate legs of his trip, Weigel recommends train travel allowing you to conveniently incorporate the journey into the whole experience.

“It was eye-opening, a really good picture of what Canada is,” said Weigel.

He embarked on his travels in Edmonton at the beginning of July. In one month he visited Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Charlottetown, Niagara Falls and Winnipeg.

“Canada is a lot bigger than people realize,” said Weigel, noting that the vast areas of sparsely populated wilderness are breathtakingly beautiful.

Weigel is one of more than 4,000 young people who took up VIA Rail’s offer of a $150 pass for unlimited travel in Canada for the month of July.

When VIA Rail posted the $150 pass on its website on March 27, word spread on social media with about 4,281 VIA Rail Canada 150 passes selling in less than 36 hours.

For someone who had never travelled by train before, the long journeys were not tedious, said Weigel. It was an opportunity to talk to fellow travellers and really get to know them. Staying in youth hostels also presented opportunities to meet unusual people.

One night, after delaying bedtime in favour of journaling his travel experiences, he discovered someone else sleeping in his bed. There was also a man of about 65 who was very talkative about seeing UFOs and extraterrestrial beings, including an alien that was 900 years old. Rather than get annoyed with it all, Weigel found it interesting and a reflection of Canada’s diversity.

A garden in Quebec, the Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, provoked memories of Alberta. A Canada 150 birthday project called “MosaiCanada 150” featured a flower sculpture of Alberta’s provincial flower, said Weigel.

It took a long time to finally reach Canada’s East Coast, and then there was so much to see. There was a “Europeanesque” atmosphere with local people “open and welcoming”, said Weigel. The pace of life was a little slower and more laid back.

For the first time Weigel visited Niagara Falls. He found it beautiful but also very commercial. It would have been easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of tourists. He took the Maid of the Mist boat ride to get a better look at the falls and got thoroughly soaked. He still gloats about the Canadian side of the falls being so much better than on the American side.

“I wish I’d had more time. I got a little feel for a lot of Canada,” said Weigel, who thinks VIA Rail had a great idea.

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