VIA Train from Montreal to Toronto

Morning came early. (When your hosts have to get up early to go to work, you get up early, too.)

The plan was simple: on their way to work, Therese and Stuart would drop me off at Central Station where, like when I arrived in Montreal, I would proceed to kill a couple of hours before my train boarded (around 11:00).

I skipped breakfast yet again (this whole vacation thing leaves me feeling not so hungry as usual), and showered for the day. I packed up the things I had unpacked for Montreal (basically, my toiletries bag and a couple items of clothing), and waited until it was time for us to leave.

Traffic in Montreal is pretty easy, at least by my standards. Other cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, are near-nightmares in some areas. Calgary, of course, is laughable, but then I don’t drive in Calgary rush-hour anyway. It didn’t take long until we’d arrived at Gare Central. I hopped out, bade a fond farewell (it will be several months, at least, before I see them again — and next time, they will be full-bore parents).

Central Station is/was the Canadian National Railway’s hub in the Montreal area, as Windsor Station was Canadian Pacific’s. I strongly suspect Central Station is a lot more recent than Windor Station — Windsor was built in the 1800s, while Central Station is more reminicent of the 1940s. It’s not the most attractive station, sadly — Gare du Palais, Toronto Union, Winnipeg Union, Pacific Central, and Waterfront are fore more appealing, at least in my eyes. But it’s a busy station — a couple of the AMT lines use Central Station as their main hub, it’s the main hub for VIA Rail east of Toronto, and Amtrak’s Adirondack train terminates at Central Station.

I was rather amazed (and a bit dismayed) to find that Gare Central has no lockers. Hence, no place to put my bag away while I went off wandering. Le sigh. The thing isn’t really that heavy — about 18 lbs (according to WestJet’s baggage scale), but heavy enough that I don’t really want to lug it around everywhere.

While trying to determine how to kill about an hour and a half of time, I realized that my body did in fact want to eat. I opted for what I think was a square cream cheese croissant. Odd, but still tasty. I relaxed a while, ate, and read my new book, The Party Monster.

I eventually tired of sitting and went wandering. I headed into the various hallways that lead to the Metro, thankfully avoiding the CAW picket lines in front of CN’s headquarters (adjoining Central Station). It seems half of downtown Montreal is on strike for something. The Metro station didn’t really offer me any inspiration — I could go places, yes, but what did they offer me in the end? Deciding to head back, I realized that a map showed not only Gare Central, but also Gare Windsor. This was when I realized that they were merely a couple blocks apart.

So off I went, in search of Windsor Station. But not so much for the station itself, but because like Central Station, the owning railway’s headquarters adjoined. Or rather, were adjoining. (Canadian Pacific relocated to Calgary back in the mid 1990s, but left offices in Montreal.) The buildings are original from the start of the CPR, and while there might not be much else to see, I had to take a look.

There wasn’t much else to see. Not surprised, though a little disappointed, I returned to Central Station to await Train #61 for Toronto. It gave me a chance to buy some provisions for the trip: a sandwich, bag of chips, oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and a bottle of Coke. Not one of them approved for my diet. But hey, I’m on vacation, like I could give a damn.

The train boarded a little late, but not so much as to cause concern. Those of us going direct to Toronto and not riding in VIA 1 were herded to the sixth and last car of the train. Despite all being on one car, I managed to get two seats all to my lonesome. It’s nice when that sort of thing happens.

The attendant started going through the car, informing people about the safety devices they were seated next to. Then, for reasons I don’t totally understand, she came to me and asked if I would come with her so I could learn how to open the doors. Needless to say, this was an odd thing to hear.

Out of everyone in the car to receive the briefing on how to manually open the door, who gets called? Me, of course. Probably the only person in the car with an iota of railroad experience outside of the staff, who has any inkling about how this stuff works, or would want to find out in the first place.

The standing rule, so I gather, is that one of the passengers must learn how one opens the LRC car doors so people can get out. It’s fairly simple, actually. Slide open the door, and flick a switch on the ceiling that will keep it from closing. Then go to one of the doors (one facing away from any other tracks, if at all possible), pull back on a lever that releases the door, pull the door open, and pop the catch over the stair well.

I sat there, half-giggling to myself about the odds of that sort of thing happening to someone like me. I would suspect it’s pretty rare. The train pulled out and headed out from the labyrinth beneath Montreal and out into the daylight. You wanna talk odds? Complicate the above with what I saw next…

Another VIA train, backing into Gare Central. The locomotive on the train was none other than VIA #6403 — the CBC locomotive (see the CBC Television 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train), still dressed in it’s 50th Anniversary glory. The only thing that could have been weirder is if it had been the locomotive on my train (as it stands, we had one of the newer P42s).

The train passed by Point St. Charles. Somewhere out there was Stuart and Therese’s house. I couldn’t see it, of course, but I knew it was in there, somewhere. If only that could be used as a flag stop on the line so I could get on or off. Oh well.

Our first stop was at Dorval Station. While a physically separate station from the AMT station (VIA runs on the CN line, whereas the AMT runs on the adjacent CP line), it still marked my entry into Montreal — not counting the airport, of course. It would now mark my exit.

As the train exited Montreal, I became acutely aware of something men are not supposed to have … biological clocks. Visiting with Stuart and Therese, and being witness to their impending parenthood, really began to make me think more about the things that might be lacking in my life. I’m 31. By this time, my mom was a mother. By this time, ancient humans were considered to be well into old age. I could actually hear my clock ticking. It’s hard to admit, but I want kids.

The train was soon rocketting off towards Toronto. We had stops at Cornwall, Kingston, Guildwood, and Toronto Union. It would keep the trip blissfully short (only about four and a half hours, though we ended up coming in a little late) and quite nice. Although I was on the sunny side of the train, it wasn’t hard to catch a nap as the train’s motion lulled me into submission. Thankfully, the sound of bratty children didn’t let me sleep well. [Insert sarcasm here.]

The train pulled into the Toronto Terminal Railway system, and suddenly everything was familiar again. Although I’ve only pulled into Toronto Union from the east a bare two or three times, the view is equitable with the one from the highway. You don’t miss much.

Hopping off the train, I speedily bypassed the slower-walking passengers, and hurried into the GO Concourse to purchase my ticket to Oakville. A train was leaving in about 10 minutes, which was timed perfectly for me. Once on the train, I called mom and let her know that I was on my way. She would meet me at the Oakville station about 30 minutes later, and take me to Cathy and Craig’s.

Upon arrival, I had a beer thrust into my hand. Now normally, I wouldn’t complain about that. However, it was Carlsberg Light. There are two problems with this. First, it’s a mega-brewery beer, which just their own nature, I don’t like. They generally have little flavour and aren’t worth the water they were brewed with. Second, and much more obviously, IT’S A LIGHT BEER. Blech.

We chatted a while, discussing my trip, Montreal, Therese and Stuart (and Kicker), before heading out to dinner. Craig had to work that night, so we needed to go out before it was too late for Craig to eat. We opted for Milestone’s, which was part of the way there for him, and not too far for us.

I haven’t had a meal at Milestone’s in years, and haven’t had their hot artichoke and spinach dip in years more. Theirs is the only one I like. Most other companies dump in huge gobs of sour cream or cream cheese, which ultimately ruins the flavour of both the artichoke and spinach.

We had to be out of the restaurant by 21:00, as there was a private party taking over. Near as we could tell, it was a staff party. There didn’t seem to be anything more special to it. But I’m far from complaining — staff always needs to be recognized for the work they do. If you don’t recognize staff, you get disgruntled staff. And that’s not a good thing at all.

Craig went off to work, Cathy and I returned to her place, and mom went home. And so began part three of my vacation. I hope the rest of this week goes nice and easy.

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