The Canadian: Reflections During a Train Journey
by Adam Goodwin | 2015 | Last Updated: November 26, 2015
In June 2015, I had the opportunity to travel on Via Rail‘s (or, I should say, Canada’s) The Canadian train through the Rocky Mountains. During the full-day journey, I had much time to think and reflect. Below, are some of these thoughts.
Some Random Thoughts
This past week, I had the opportunity to train with Via Rail from Edmonton, Alberta to Kamloops, British Columbia. Besides the very Canadian landscape (i.e., beautiful), something struck me as I sat in the dome care atop the Canadian (the train that goes from Toronto to Vancouver). The comradery. The loose connections between train goers. The bond between conductors and travelers.
Some travelers are on the train for three days – they board in Toronto and traverse Canada’s shield, the prairies, and the majestic Rocky Mountains (or vice versa). In today’s ‘now’ world – our food must be quickly cooked and devoured, highways faster to get us from A to B in less time, texts delivered instantaneously – traveling by train may be counterintuitive.
To drive from Edmonton to Kamloops would be about a 10 hour drive. To fly is about 70 minutes (if a direct flight was offered). Taking the Greyhound would be about 14 hours. So, why, then, sit on a train for 16 hours?
That’s not quick. Even hitchhiking may be quicker (with a pre-trip shower to make yourself look a little more friendly).
If you’re a businessman or woman, there may be good reason to travel by train. There is not always networks available so there can be spotty cell reception and internet access. Why is this a good thing? Uninterrupted work time. Don’t have to stop and take phone calls. If there is not internet, then don’t have to stop and answer that email from your boss.
But it is also much more than this. If you bring your family, it is an opportunity to spend hours in one of the cars playing ole card games. Or catching up with their extracurricular activities.
These are all very rational reasons. And many will agree that these are also reasonable reasons.
But, there is a different reason. It goes back to an earlier paragraph. One reason to travel by train is connections to Canadiana. The landscape. The people. A deep reflection on the type of society we wish to exist in.
Obviously, Canada has a beautiful landscape. As we crossed through central Alberta between Edmonton and Jasper, we passed creeks, rivers, and lakes that I had never heard of before. We passed through some of Alberta’s cottage country. Beautiful landscape that reminds us of why Canada’s founding fathers and soldiers fought (and continue to fight) so hard to protect the opportunities and lifestyle that is available for all Canadians (natural, immigrants).
Secondly, Canada has fantastic people. This is a combination of Canadians and visitors. Millions flock annually to our country to visit family and friends, sightsee, and share in the celebration of the consumption of tourism. There was a nice foursome from southern USA that I had a brief, but fascinating conversation with in the early morning of the journey. I met a family from Winnipeg, a married couple from Alberta who no longer had kids at home and thought that a last minute trip to Vancouver to visit their granddaughter would be a week well spent, and a few younger adults who were ‘finding themselves’ through a train journey in Canada’s hidden travel gem – travel.
The 16 hour train journey was also a time to reflect on what is important. Obviously, having traveled through Alberta, it was difficult not to notice some of the oil patches that dotted the fields along rail tracks. If you keep updated with politics in Canada, you may know that Alberta recently had a historic provincial election result – electing a New Democratic party to power. Since, Alberta’s conservatives and neo-liberals have made it known that anything that is seen as ‘threatening’ the oil sands is worthy of scorn and hate mail. That a carbon tax or any other policy that is seen as a direct or (long ball) indirect threat to the profitability of the oil companies will cripple the province.
I am not an economist. I know a bit about supply and demand. I also know that some measure of a country’s economy can correlate to health and other social outcomes. These individuals may be somewhat correct (I doubt the extent some go to, however, is realistic).
However, something I cannot fathom is that any government would intentionally let an economy collapse. Why would they? Firstly, all democratic governing parties want to maintain power and so as to completely destroy an economy would be a likely early death sentence. Secondly, why would politicians (99% of whom get into politics in the first place to better their region/province/nation), allow the nation they want to build be completely obliterated? I don’t think it would be possible to find a politician who is purposely trying to destroy the city/province they represent.
What I do know, is that regardless of government’s policies, actions, or inactions, economies naturally fluctuate. Sometimes this is good news (e.g., more jobs), and sometimes these fluctuations are not positive news. Whenever an economy starts to, typically the government will react.
A good example, is British Columbia’s response to its forestry industry (and thus the economy) crashing. Since, BC has diversified its economy (e.g., the technology hubs in Kelowna and Vancouver, tourism, natural gas) and made progress in being one of Canada’s strongest provinces.
As we (train travelers) fly past the oil rigs, this is my message to Albertans. All economies have challenging periods. This is natural. Furthermore, eventually the oil sands will disappear. Instead of suggesting that the NDP are trying to eradicate Alberta by hampering the oil sands, instead look at ways to diversify the province’s economy for the long-term (i.e., post-oil sands). This will be much more helpful and useful to ensuring a sustainable, and vibrant Alberta (something that as a boy who grew up in BC, is hard to cheer for…).