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10.2.13

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Escape.com.au

Rail Canada HISTORIC CONNECTION: The Rocky Mountaineer passes a lake; and (below) a couple sit on a train’s cowcatcher in a 19th-century photograph.

Front line of adventure One of the world’s most famous railway journeys was launched by a female daredevil in spectacular fashion, writes Roderick Eime

SUSAN turned to her husband, John, and said plainly: ‘‘I wish to ride the rest of the journey on the cowcatcher.’’ A brazen proposal for any woman, let alone the wife of the Canadian prime minister. But Lady (Susan) Agnes Macdonald was no ordinary woman and this was no mundane occasion. Her husband, Sir John Alexander Macdonald GCB, KCMG, PC, PC (Can), QC, was the first prime minister of Canada and the couple were undertaking a momentous journey across the country aboard the new and incredibly expensive Canadian Pacific Railroad. At first her request to sit on the device mounted at the front of a locomotive to deflect obstacles was dismissed out of hand by railway officials, and Sir John also thought the stunt ridiculous. ‘‘When I announced my desire to travel on the cowcatcher, Mr E. (the superintendent) seemed to think that a very bad job indeed.

CANADA British Columbia

Alberta

Kamloops

Banff

Calgary

Vancouver

US

‘‘To a sensible, level-headed man as he is, such an innovation on all general rules of travelling decorum was no doubt very startling.’’ But Lady Agnes prevailed and by force of will installed herself on the cowcatcher, seated only on a discarded candle box.

The sensible Mr E. was obliged to travel with her on the front of the engine and the two completed the 1000km from Banff in the province of Alberta to Vancouver in British Columbia that summer of 1886. ‘‘This is lovely,’’ announced Lady Agnes, with great satisfaction. The stunt was a public relations masterstroke and the CPR was catapulted on to the front pages of newspapers all across Canada, doing her husband’s re-election prospects no harm at all – so much so that the most prominent women of the new Confederation insisted on emulating their idol and often rode in mock fashion perched on the front of the engine. The railway line that took 10 gruelling years to build and united a nation is still in place today and passengers enjoy the identical scenery that so enthralled Lady Agnes all those years ago. Continued Page 14


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Rail Canada From Page 12

While it may no longer be possible to sit on the front, today’s famous Rocky Mountaineer has an open-air viewing platform on the rear of the train that affords similarly staggering views of the unfolding mountainscape that passes through such curiously named locations as Hells Gate, Kicking Horse and Yellowhead Passes and the Rocky Mountain Trench. With such scenic treasures, the railway quickly became a tourist attraction thanks to Lady Agnes’s colourful descriptions published in the popular Murray’s Magazine. ‘‘Sunlight flashes on glaciers, into gorges and athwart huge, towering masses of rock crowned with magnificent tree crests that rise all round us of every size and shape. ‘‘Breathless – almost awe-stricken – but with a wild triumph in my heart, I look from farthest mountain peak, lifted high before me, to the shining pebbles at my feet.’’ One hundred years after that momentous last spike was hammered, a new incarnation in rail transportation arrived in the form of the Rocky Mountaineer – a railway service designed specifically with the tourist in mind and following the historic line as ridden by Lady Agnes on her candlebox. Named First Passage to the West, the 1112km, four-day journey to Calgary is the Rocky Mountaineer’s signature route and most faithful to the history of the region. Three other routes complete the steel rail catalogue, taking in newer lines, and visiting Whistler, Quesnel and Jasper. The superbly comfortable GoldLeaf carriages are almost cabriolets with massive domed panoramic windows through which to digest the sprawling landscape. Speaking of digestion, this top-tier service (of three levels) serves sumptuous a la carte meals in a private dining room beneath the passenger compartment, with complimentary beverages throughout. We get regular but unobtrusive commentary with our champagne top-ups. Without sleeper cars, the entire train stops overnight en route, ensuring not a minute of the spectacular scenery is missed and bringing valuable tourist dollars to the little towns along the way. At the authentic frontier town of Kamloops, we disembark for a night at the Thompson Hotel, named, I assume, like the adjacent river for David Thompson – the prolific surveyor and explorer who mapped almost the entire Pacific Northwest in the early 19th century. Ambling lazily down the main

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Touring there Rocky Mountaineer has five rail journeys throughout the Pacific Northwest in three categories: Red, Silver and Gold. Fares for the two-day Classic First Passage to the West start at $C1249 ($A1200) (RedLeaf, double occupancy). Cruise (with Holland America) and road extensions are available, as is a Coastto-Coast rail extension with VIA Rail. Hotel partner Fairmont offers packages for GoldLeaf guests. See rocky mountaineer.com

Staying there Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver has 489 guest rooms, with 300 overlooking the harbour. See fairmont.com

Getting there Air Canada flies between Sydney and Vancouver daily. Ph 1300 655 767 or see aircanada.com More: See canada.travel

FASCINATING SIGHTS: A glass-domed car in GoldLeaf class on the Rocky Mountaineer; and historic posters for the Rocky Mountaineer and Canadian Pacific.

street, I hear rock music from one of the lively cafe pubs, but we grab a table at Felix on Fourth and tuck into some tapas, tuna and steak. Local red wine from the nearby Okanagan Valley is surprisingly good. The cattle, milling and mining town of 90,000 has grown beyond austere beginnings in the semi-arid region of BC to a tourist hub of its own and one could easily spend an entire holiday here, ticking everything off the list of

101 things to do. It reminds me of Bathurst or Orange and comes complete with bushranger legends. On May 8, 1906, the infamous Gentleman Bandit William Billy Miner held up his second CPR train just south of Kamloops and was captured three days later by Mounties as he and his two accomplices calmly ate lunch. The three were brought back to Kamloops for trial amid a media circus.

The CPR’s railroad monopoly had made the company unpopular in some circles and Miner was elevated to folkhero status for taking it on. A mural on the main street depicts his daring, but polite exploits. These days, thanks to the Rocky Mountaineer, the railway enjoys a different kind of notoriety, garnering awards and accolades. While some may tout the experience as the world’s best train

journey, it certainly deserves a place on anyone’s very short list. Many, it is clear, share Lady Agnes’s giddy excitement. There is glory of brightness and beauty everywhere, and I laugh aloud on the cowcatcher, just because it is all so delightful. The writer was a guest of Rocky Mountaineer, Tourism BC and Tourism Vancouver.

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