With two kids in middle school, our dinner table has become a lively forum for Canadian history. Nightly topics cover everything from the fur trade to the Yukon gold rush. Our son’s favourite subject is how the railway helped build the nation. Wanting to foster this newfound passion, we decided to leave the car at home and take the train to Jasper National Park for our annual summer holiday.
Over the five-hour Via Rail journey from Edmonton to Jasper, we discuss the impact of the railroad and revel in the unique scenic perspective that only train travel can provide. As the train pulls out of the station, the kids are beyond excited. A flurry of research on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was conducted in the weeks leading up to the trip. My young tour guides cannot wait to impart their newfound knowledge.
A Moving Story about Wabamun
Passing the pristine waters of our favourite lakeside vacation spot – located about 45 minutes west of Edmonton – I learn that its village was relocated to take advantage of the railway line. In the winter of 1911-12, Wabamun was moved building by building across the frozen lake to its present day location. With this new access, the village was promoted as a summer resort to encourage rail tourism from Edmonton. Wabamun Lake Provincial Park remains a popular holiday destination today. We’ve spent many summer weekends camping, boating and hanging out on the beach. The area is also home to a variety of bird species including ospreys, kingfishers and sandpipers. Last year we felt pretty lucky to have spotted a great gray owl.
Canadian Rockies Sighting in Edson
At Edson we are halfway between Edmonton and Jasper. Named after the general manager of the Grand Trunk (Edson J. Chamberlain), the town also has strong ties to the railroad. But we’re more interested in the scenery as it’s just west of here that we get our first sighting of the magnificent Canadian Rocky Mountains. Our animated chatter tapers off and we stare in anticipation, as the tallest peaks in our mountain parks rise up to meet the prairies on the horizon. This year, we’ve promised to take the kids for a ride on the Jasper SkyTram, Canada’s highest and longest aerial tramway. I can hardly wait to see the park’s towering mountain ranges from a bird’s eye view. We even have our choice of hiking trails up there.
Gateway to Jasper
The town of Hinton was named in honour of another Grand Trunk exec, William P. Hinton. It’s known today as a recreational hub and considered the northern gateway to Jasper National Park.
Just beyond Hinton, rail history quickly fades into the background. We’re an hour outside of Jasper and the alpine views have taken our breath away. Mountain goats move surefootedly across jagged rock faces. Passengers whisper excitedly of a possible moose sighting up ahead. Glittering waterfalls and rushing rivers sparkle in the afternoon sunshine. In this moment, I’m looking to the future, not the past – eager to see what’s around the next bend.