It was an early day today, I got up at 4:30 am, and my husband dropped me off at 5:45 am at Toronto’s historic Union Station. Several buses of young students were already unloading their luggage and ready to enter the train station. At about 6 am the Via Rail counters were opening up and since I had a first class ticket (called Via 1), I was directed to Via’s Panorama Lounge, a special section with comfortable armchairs, free newspapers and soft drinks. This was my first time on a Canadian train and I was very excited about experiencing train travel and not having to fight my way through traffic driving to Montreal.
Via 1 passengers received their own special priority boarding announcements and off we went to the first coach behind the locomotive. I made myself comfortable in the seats and stretched my legs. The seats recline very far back so a tired traveler will have a chance to get a good rest. Shortly after I was joined by a gentleman, a businessman from Edmonton who had some appointments in Toronto and was now heading to Montreal for other business duties. Ray kept me entertained with his family stories and humorous tales of growing up in Montreal and time passed quickly as we started rolling through the suburbs of Toronto.
Early morning departure from Toronto’s Union Station
We stopped at the Guildwood Station and then headed off into the green farmlands of Ontario farm. My ticket also included meal service and in a short while we received breakfast, starting with a fruit plate. For our main breakfast dish we had a choice between a Ranchman’s Breakfast (a Cheddar cheese omelette and grilled beef steak served with mini rösti potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and cherry tomato), the second choice were buttermilk pancakes filled with apple cinnamon and cranberry compote served with Canadian back bacon and Quebec maple syrup. Giving in to my sweet tooth I opted for the pancakes.
Mid-morning I got a bit tired and apologized to Ray and said I had to sit back, relax and close my eyes a little since I had had such an early morning. We both fell asleep for a while and Ray was soon entertaining us the whole compartment with a very talented lumberjack impression. I think he cut down an entire old growth forest in the hour and a half during our last stretch to Montreal. When he woke up just outside of Dorion, he told me he never has a problem falling asleep in a train or a plane, and believeme, I could certainly attest to that.
Breakfast on the train
But all in all, I really enjoyed the ride, especially once we started rolling into the suburbs of Montreal. We passed through some of the old industrial areas, some still in their original state, and some beautifully renovated and refunctioned as condos. Montreal, a historic shipping and railroad centre, is one of the cradles of the industrial revolution in Canada and its industrial history includes tanneries, wordworking factories, breweries, shoemaking, textile milles, tobacco and rubber factories, all on display during our train ride through the southern outskirts of downtown Montreal.
Downtown Montreal and its skyscrapers came into view and I was excited to embark on my explorations of this exciting city. Just about 5 hours after we had left Toronto our Via Rail train rolled into the subterranean Gare Central (Central Railway Station), dating back to 1938, at 12 noon. I caught a taxi and was astounded at the congestion in the street in mid-day. The taxi driver himself commented on how busy the city was today. It seemed everyone was getting ready to do their last errands before the long weekend.
Via 1 railway car
I arrived at the Holiday Inn Downtown, located at 90 Viger Street and realized that I was in a perfect location, right in the heart of Montreal’s Chinatown. I was literally only 5 minutes away from Montreal’s biggest and most impressive church: the Basilica of Notre Dame, Montreal’s City Hall was about 7 minutes away and right across the street is the Place d’Armes subway station. I could not have had a more convenient location. Finding a hotel room on this Canada Day long weekend, which incidentially coincides with the July 4 long weekend in the United States is certainly a precarious proposition, and I was very fortunate that the Holiday Inn Downtown had a room available for me. I dropped my luggage with the concierge since the room was not ready yet and I was ready for my first real adventure in Montreal: a personally guided driving tour through the centre of the city which would give me a great lay of the land.
View of downtown Montreal, just before we are entering Gare Central