COLUMN: Rail travel brings us closer together

The MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay took a cross-Canada trip by train recently

When the House of Commons rose in late June, my wife and I decided to take the train home from Ottawa instead of flying straight back. It’s always been on my bucket list and I thought the trip would be a good way to unwind after a hectic June on Parliament Hill. I had some trepidation — things can always go awry when you’re stuck inside with a hundred strangers for four days and nights, with no wi-fi, very little cellphone coverage, and almost no opportunity to escape outside for a walk.

But my concerns were completely unwarranted, and the four days flew by. The lack of digital connection to the outside world was a real blessing, forcing everyone to just watch the world go by, in our case the wonderful world of Canada.

We all know that Canada is a big place, but you can only truly appreciate that from the ground. That appreciation kicks in after the first day and night of travel, when you wake up and find you haven’t even got to Sudbury. After a full day in northern Ontario you go back to sleep, only to wake up and find out that you still haven’t reached Manitoba. A very big place.

I was constantly reminded of the great Arrogant Worms song “Canada is Really Big” that has the verse: “Our mountains are very pointy, our prairies are not; the rest is kind of bumpy, but man we’ve got a lot!”

We often had to pull over to let freight trains go by, resulting in late arrivals at stations along the route (some VIA trains have been more than 24 hours late when they finally reach Vancouver — ours was only four hours behind schedule!). The freights gave us a good view into our national economy, at least the products moving west into central Canada — potash, oil and grain from the prairies, carload after carload of British Columbia lumber, containers and cars coming from Pacific ports.

The conversations with a very diverse lot of fellow travellers from all over the world — including an Australian businessmen, a British construction worker, an American rocket scientist, two young women on social assistance, a top nuclear physicist, a German train technologist, and many more — were also entertaining and illuminating. We didn’t solve all the problems of the world but we all learned a lot from each other.

It was good to get home, though. Home to this most beautiful part of our big, beautiful country. On Canada Day I travelled across the riding, starting with flipping hundreds of pancakes in Grand Forks, then cutting two huge cakes at the Trail festivities, more cake in Rossland, and finishing with a big community street dinner in Naramata.

Summer vacations give us the opportunity to really explore this big country. And even if you don’t get a chance to take the train across Canada this year, we have world-class destinations here in British Columbia — Haida Gwaii, the Rockies, the beaches of western Vancouver Island, and of course the lakes, mountains, and vineyards of the Okanagan and Kootenays. Get out there and enjoy this big country!

Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

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