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Across Canada by Train Chapter Four: toronto to montreal to halifax

I can't pretend we weren't glad to get off The Canadian in Toronto - sleeping slouched in uncomfortable chairs is tricky for the best of us I think! Although we certainly enjoyed having access to the Dome car, and hot meals, both of which ended in Toronto.

Having family accommodations to avail of in Toronto made our brief stay there easy and comfortable. I'm quite at ease getting to my favourite places in Toronto, so it was a relaxing couple of days although we still crammed the time full.

After browsing Queen Street West we made our way to the Textile Museum to see what exhibits they might have on. What a spectacular one we found! Yarn painting is a traditional fine craft achieved by meticulously adhering strands of wool to a beeswax coated backing board. It is a craft that is practiced by the indigenous people of western Mexico, the Huicholes. The photos really can't capture the vibrancy of these pieces - they absolutely dazzled the eyes.

By José Benítez Sánchez

There was also an exhibit of kimonos, both embroidered, and painted ones, as well as this beautiful dyed shibori example.

Near City Hall we saw this exhibition about dementia installed in the fountain. Nice place to put something like this - just accessible enough while still protecting the art works, and (bonus!) naturally lit.

A few of the maybe dozen brains on display.

No trip to Toronto is complete without a trip to the St. Lawrence Market. The foods! The foods!

And a mighty fine beer from my sister's fridge. Says me, who doesn't actually like beer generally. But who can resist that label?! Prophets & Nomads, Gose: pink Himalayan salt and coriander. Can't really say it tasted like any of those things though.
Day Two saw us down at the waterfront. First stop were the fascinating exhibits at the Power Plant gallery. From her Wooden Sleep was by far my favourite. The theme explored racism in fairy tales.

With the myriad of snacky foods we picked up at the market yesterday packed for our lunch, we visited the Toronto Music Garden.

Reflecting First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, by Bach, the garden was designed by YoYo Ma and a landscape architect (named ?, I didn't write it down unfortunately). There is an audio tour which I think I might do next time, but there are signs along the paths to help frame the journey through the piece.

It is a beautiful oasis in a concrete jungle. Having wandered some major cities thus far, Toronto surely lacks frequent green spaces in its downtown core.

One focal point is the iron maypole sculpture at the highest point in the garden.

It was a lovely spot to picnic after wandering through its winding paths. I'm sure it would be interesting to see in different seasons.

The afternoon was passed at the aquarium. Swarming with people as the end of summer vacation neared, I was wishing for earplugs to help me not lose my mind. But the same creatures held the same magic for me as the last time I visited - the jellyfish, the rays, and the corals. I could watch them all for hours. The octopus was hiding very well. Despite our patience relative to the assembled masses he failed to show himself.

Next stop: Montreal!

The train to Montreal the next day was refreshingly new and well-appointed. But it was also more of a commuter style train. And after the ~5 hr journey the seats did feel a bit hard. But the steward came through the cars with the food cart from which you could order the same good selection of cold foods as we'd had access to on The Canadian.

Of note on this journey were the two ~8 yr old boys who sat opposite us, with their Mom across the aisle. I will confess when they first sat down, each opening a package of skittles, I dreaded how raucous the journey might be. But neither of them had a "device" (as had been the case for most all of the children we'd shared the western part of our scenic journey with!). Instead they assembled a mini lego kit, coloured in colouring books, and before he fell asleep near the end of the trip, one of them was starting to read Harry Potter in French. There was no bickering! No whining! All the while their Mom sat across the aisle watching a Netflix series. I don't mind saying it was refreshing and inspiring to see.

Our first morning in Montreal took us up to Rue Sherbrooke to see the many public art installations that lined the street. Too many to share, but here's a taste.

The Architecture in Montreal is of course a major draw, and even the crumbling buildings are appealing in their own way.

Habitat 67, which I would love to visit in person someday. Though a decent zoom on my camera got me closer than I've ever been!
Art was everywhere, feisty squirrels in the parks, and a couple of notable vehicles.

Our last day in Montreal (and only day on the whole trip - remarkably!) was nonstop rainy. But we couldn't just sit around so we set off to climb Mount Royal. We got ourselves a bit turned around and walked way too far out of our way before we even got to the bottom of the mountain. But finally we were climbing up. Drenched and cold, but on the right track. We took the stairs up, which are beautiful in their own right, and when we saw a sign for the Chalet we followed it. Oh what a welcome sight! So chilly and wet we forgot the signs at the bottom said the top was in fact supposed to have a cross not a chalet.

It was warm and dry inside and we dawdled over our packed lunch with our outerwear draped over the adirondack chairs placed at all the big windows inside. There was also a lot of fascinating history posted about the controversial building itself - relating to the differing public opinions over the purpose of the structure through the years. My favourite detail though was the addition of the concrete squirrels up in the rafters. They were even included on the blueprint posted with the historical documents.

After hiking back down we finished the day drying out (again) at the train station as we waited for our evening train. No delayed departure this time! Yay!

Not quite as anticlimactic as the Edmonton bus station posing as a train station, but close: the Montreal train station has, from the time it was built, been under a hotel. The entrance is far from picturesque.
A highlight of the departure from Montreal was passing the Lachine locks while a ship was in them. Not too much wiggle room there!

Wow what a pleasant surprise the train from Montreal to Halifax was after the rather decrepit Canadian we rode out west. The Ocean was a modern, clean, and well-appointed train, even though we still struggled to sleep sitting up - it's a skill I think I just never will master.

The last leg of our train trip was gorgeous in totally different ways from any of the other gorgeous legs of this epic journey. I was especially captivated by what I later learned are the Tantramar Marshes.

Bookending our coast to coast journey, these coastal creatures greeted us as we passed Bedford harbour on our way into Halifax.
Our final train station!: Arriving in Halifax on a lovely evening.

We spent the final day of our trip with family again, before an evening flight home to St. John's.

We took a leisurely time exploring the diverse exhibits at the Museum of Natural History. Learned a few things: like the fact that "rushes" come from salt water marshes, and "cat-tails" come from fresh water bodies.

A curious basket.
A flax hackle.

The highlight of the museum for me was the sandbox. (Background image). With a topographical map projected onto it, the image adapted to changes that were made in the sand: hills and valleys, forming waterways. I want one of these setups in my house!

Another interesting exhibit was the reptiles and amphibians of Nova Scotia. Pictured above is a spring peeper. These little one inch frogs woo their ladies with remarkable volume in the spring. The females are silent.

A must see destination in Halifax is the library. I could browse through books for hours of course, but this library is also a marvel of modern people-centred Eco-design. We enjoyed a coffee in one of the two coffee shops onsite after browsing the stacks. The runoff from the green roof (background image) supplies the building's wastewater needs. The panoramic views from the walls of windows are spectacular, but inevitably take their avian sacrifices.

We were certainly happy to get home after living out of our backpacks for a month. While there is no doubt our trip was a "once in a lifetime experience", it was for very different reasons than we expected. I do wish that passenger train travel in Canada was valued enough that a higher quality of service could be expected. Also, it's a shame there's no longer a train across Newfoundland to make this journey truly a coast to coast train trip. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed all the stops we made along the way, as well as the gorgeous scenery we watched slide by the windows during the days we spent on the train. We made memories to last a lifetime.

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