Day 2 on The Canadian: To Winnipeg and beyond

I managed to get about fours hours of solid sleep, but woke up around two or so. We’d moved into central time so it was 3am back in Toronto. Either way, it was early. I woke up to find both of my ear plugs had disappeared and no amount of scrabbling through the sheets returned them.

I dozed off and on over the next couple of hours. There’s a little hammock in each bunk that you use to store whatever you want. It swings as the train moves. I hadn’t noticed it the night before but it squeaks every time it swings. I managed to stop it (or reduce it), only to discover another part of the bunk squeaks. I used my trousers to stop it from moving and all was right with the world.

I was up and ready when it came time for breakfast. This morning I had a different dining partner. His name is Rob, he’s a politics lecturer from Edmonton. We chatted. It was pleasant.

I then went and showered and went to the dome car to see what had changed. The trees had gotten shorter and the rocks were replaced with plains. The snow was still there though.

We rolled into Winnipeg at about 10 and a group of us jumped on a bus to take a bit of a guided tour of the city. There’s an amazing new building just opposite the station, which isn’t open yet, but when it does in September, will be the Museum of Human Rights. The architecture is really different.

The domed roof in the Manitoba Legislature - right above the star of Ishtar
The domed roof in the Manitoba Legislature – right above the star of Ishtar

We went to Forks Market (which used to house horses back in the day. 200 of them. That’s a lot of horseshit.) before driving out to the Manitoba Legislature. Built between 1911 and 1919, it’s done in the neo-Classical style, so lots of columns and sculpture. The place is rife with Masonic symbolism and Pagan gods and goddesses. There’s Athena and Medusa, Hermes (affectionately called The Golden Boy as he’s 19ft tall, covered in gold leaf, and stands atop the bulding), a star of Ishtar where the altar would be, and plenty of other pieces of pagan imagery. There’s a book called the Hermetic Code which goes into all the things that are “hidden in plain sight”.

The building is made with Manitoba Limestone, which is also what the Ottawa Parliament building is made of it. There are fossils in the stone and you can see quite a few in the walls.

After the legislature, we went to the Cathedral of St Bonifice in the French part of town (there’s a reasonable sized French population here). The original cathedral burnt down in the 60s but they’ve kept the façade and built a modern church behind it. The stained glass stations of the cross is particularly impressive. It looks like a study in geometry, rather than a work of art.

Above the entrance is Christ at the Last Supper with a whole lot of lines running out from him. These lines go to the walls where the stations are, and continue through each image. The final station, the ascension, I think, is at the altar. You can’t see it unless you’re at the back of the altar looking out at the congregation, however, at the right time of day (and when it’s sunny), sunlight shines through the orange stained glass and projects the image of Christ onto the back wall. It’s quite something.

After the church, it was back to the station to board the train. Usually the stop in Winnipeg is four hours but we were only there for about two. The tour was worth it, otherwise there wouldn’t have been much worth seeing close to the station.

We gained some new people in Winnipeg, and one joined us in our bunk area. We also got new staff to. I caused problems yet again, basically because it seems people find it hard to deviate from the script. Anyway, good with the bad.

One of many delays
One of many delays

Lunch was nice (I had shrimp and scallops) and sat with one of my bunk mates (Donna from BC) and Rob (the lecturer), and another lady who’s getting off at Kamloops.

After lunch, it was more sitting in the dome car. I caught up on some work (not as much as I would have liked, partly due to their being no wi-fi and having to tether my phone. First world problems, I know).

And then it was dinner again, with Rob and Kamloops lady, and another guy. I had a delicious tuna steak. We talked about politics over dinner. It was really interesting (and sad) to hear about the current political atmosphere in Canada and how awful Harper is. Plenty of comparisons between Canada and Australia now.

After dinner, I went back to the dome car. The landscape has changed from flat farmland (covered in snow) to some rolling hills. Janet, one of the very good staff, gave a talk about the railway and the signs on the side of the tracks. We were told to look out for Mile 213, as that’s the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

I also saw my first Canadian wildlife of the trip (other than birds) by the tracks: White-tailed Deer. And lots of them feeding and scampering on the hills and in the valleys before the border with Saskatchewan.

Manitoba: nothing as far as the eye can see
Manitoba: nothing as far as the eye can see

It’s a beautiful, peaceful part of the country, and with the sunset, it’s even more breathtaking. Literally. When we went beside one of the valleys, the view down to the snaking Qu’appelle River (“who calls”) it was just such a pleasant shock.

I stayed up until about 10 (which, with the time difference meant it was midnight in Toronto), hoping to see the Northern Lights. Alas, no such luck. I live in hope.

(I’ll post lots more photos once I’m in Vancouver.)


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