I’m traveling by train to learn as much as I can about Canada; the country I know everything and nothing about.
I’ve been lucky, and have had the opportunity to visit several regions across Canada before, but I’ve never had the freedom to explore on my own. When VIA Rail offered passes to go anywhere on their trains for the month of July, I was overjoyed by the opportunity to see as much of the country as possible.
Earlier this spring, I was one of the fortunate youth who got one of the special VIA Canada150 passes. I had another job for the summer, but my mother (who is smarter than I am) coaxed me into buying a pass and going on an adventure. “Tyler, you will never get an opportunity like this ever again,” she told me. “Don’t be ridiculous – get on the train.”
If I was going to venture across Canada, I decided that I would use every resource and contact I knew to create the most exciting itinerary possible. I planned to visit twenty-six cities across the eight provinces that VIA travels to. The route covers nearly 15,000km, and will take the entire month of July. I left on Canada Day at 7:00am and I won’t return home (west of Toronto) until August 1st, after I’ve visited both coasts and come back again.
When I first started planning, I wrote an outline of what I hoped to learn as I travelled. Knowing I would get to visit so many new and familiar places, I began brainstorming with relentless optimism and thought about the questions I wanted to answer. I know Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and this would be a rare chance to see the vastness and range of the country and its people.
My questions were focused on the size and scope of our country: How are the individuals and communities across Canada different? How are they the same? I wanted to know what made each place I visited special, and how they shaped Canada’s identity as a whole. But I also wanted to explore some qualities about myself: Who am I, as a Canadian? What is my place as a citizen of Canada and the world? And most of all, who do I want to someday become?
Once I started on my expedition, I was determined to stay open-minded and visit whomever, whatever and wherever I could. I was (and currently am) going to accept any safe opportunity that presents itself to me. I want to explore Canada with a lens of authenticity, and learn about the pride and challenges of the country I call home.
I’m now just over the halfway mark of my monthlong adventure, and every day I’m amazed at what new discoveries I make. I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil, attended the Calgary Stampede, walked atop the CN Tower, had an 11-course dinner in old Quebec City, seen numerous museums and visited multiple national parks. I’ve seen Manitoba’s prairies, Alberta’s mountains, and Nova Scotia’s breezy shores. Everything I find and see is more breathtaking than I ever imagined it would be.
I’ve been so blessed to see and do extraordinary things. I am also wholeheartedly grateful that I get to visit so many places because of my relatives and friends across the country who have been hosting me everywhere I go. Even friends of friends have let me stay in their homes this month! I’m more than just lucky – I’m extremely fortunate to know so many warm, generous people who are excited to help, as well as eager to live vicariously through me as I travel coast to coast.
As I’m writing these final paragraphs, I’m aboard the train in Saskatchewan, enjoying the sunset views from the Panorama car, and listening to some new friends of mine singing a Tragically Hip song downstairs. Travelling on so many trains this month has forged a unique connection between me and other passengers, staff, and everyone I meet, in each city I visit.
We as a country have been marking Canada’s 150th birthday this year with celebrations across the nation. While I was lucky enough to spend Canada Day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, I’ve also been warmly welcomed at parties and events everywhere I’ve been. Canada is celebrating more than a vivid history, it’s celebrating everything our country is today and hopes to become in the future.
Everyone on board is using the hashtag #VIACanada150 to share their adventures this summer, and it’s a real treat to see the amazing things other people are doing. But I’m eager to discover everything that’s waiting for me.
I knew when I started I would never have an opportunity like this again. So I’m letting myself stop and marvel at everything I find.
You can follow the rest of Tyler’s trip across Canada in several ways:
Daily Travel Journal and Blog: www.tystraintrip.weebly.com
On Instagram: @mrtycollins
Tyler is a writer, critic, and playwright born in Campbellton, New Brunswick. He currently lives in Oakville, Ontario. Find him on Facebook @MrTyCollins.