Our Trav­els: All Aboard!

Fond mem­o­ries of a spec­tac­u­lar fall fo­liage train tour

Our Canada - - Contents - by Tim Fletcher, Grimsby, Ont.

What bet­ter way to see the amaz­ing fall colours in Agawa Canyon in north­ern On­tario than aboard a train?

In Oc­to­ber 2012, to mark our 33rd an­niver­sary, my wife Doreen and I ful­filled a long-an­tic­i­pated dream by tak­ing the Agawa Canyon Fall Colours Train Tour, run by the Al­goma Cen­tral Rail­way. We’d pre­vi­ously taken Via Rail’s “The Cana­dian“from Toronto to Van­cou­ver and back, and we were look­ing for­ward to this shorter but highly scenic trip as part of a longer va­ca­tion com­ing up through Michi­gan. We were both re­cently re­tired and en­joy­ing the fruits of ex­tended leisure time!

We ar­rived in Sault Ste. Marie, known to most as “The Soo,” late on Oc­to­ber 2 and boarded the train the next morn­ing for the 8 a.m. de­par­ture. It was al­most the last train of the sea­son, which runs from about mid-june to mid-oc­to­ber. The day be­fore had been very wet, but our travel day dawned sunny and mild with bril­liant blue skies—ideal for pho­tog­ra­phy, my pas­sion.

Soon, the two en­gines be­gan chug­ging, pulling the car­riages out of The Soo and north to­wards the canyon, 185 kilo­me­tres away. An on­board nar­ra­tion sys­tem con­trolled through the magic of GPS pro­vided on­go­ing com­men­tary as we en­tered the wild coun­try along the tracks.

It was spec­tac­u­lar, to say the least. As civ­i­liza­tion quickly melted out of sight be­hind us, the Cana­dian Shield opened in front. Forests of mixed hard­woods, ev­er­greens and shrub­bery pro­vided im­mense splashes of fall colours, with birches, maples, as­pens, firs, pines and cedars com­pet­ing to outdo one an­other. The blue of pass­ing lakes re­flected the multi-hued forests and the bril­liant sky above. Early-morn­ing fog pro­vided some won­der­ful photo ops but soon gave way to sparkling, clear views.

Although reser­va­tions are rec­om­mended, the cars on our trip were not overly crowded, al­low­ing us to ping­pong across the aisle to take in dif­fer­ent views of the pass­ing coun­try­side. A cam­era mounted on the front en­gine was dis­played on mon­i­tors in­side each car.

We passed nu­mer­ous cot­tages along the line, which pro­vides the only land ac­cess to the camps. The Agawa Canyon train doesn’t pick up pas­sen­gers at track-side, but other Al­goma trains pro­vide whis­tle-stop ser­vice for campers, hunters and cot­tagers.

While most views are of the in­te­rior coun­try­side, there are some of Lake Su­pe­rior along Agawa Bay. All along the route the track twists around bends, some­times al­low­ing you to pho­to­graph the long curv­ing line of cars and en­gines ahead of and be­hind you. One spec­tac­u­lar point comes as the train crosses a large hy­dro­elec­tric dam and tres­tle at Mon­treal Falls. There

are lakes and rivers ev­ery­where, all pro­vid­ing in­cred­i­bly scenic views for the cam­era en­thu­si­ast, or just for gaz­ing at.

About half­way to the canyon, we no­ticed a he­li­copter fly­ing par­al­lel to the train, which fol­lowed us all the way to the end with a film crew hang­ing out the open door. We sub­se­quently saw some of this footage on TV in tourism com­mer­cials.

Just af­ter noon, af­ter a long grad­ual des­cent, the train pulled into the Agawa Canyon Wilder­ness Park. We were now in a crack in the Earth formed 1.2 bil­lion years ago, and shaped and smoothed dur­ing the last ice age “only” 10,000 years ago! The tour gives you 90 min­utes to visit three wa­ter­falls and a view­ing plat­form 76 me­tres and more than 300 steps atop a nearby canyon out­crop. Although the or­ga­niz­ers ad­vise that you might not be able to visit all scenic points, we were de­ter­mined to see ev­ery­thing.

The climb to the look­out was chal­leng­ing. While Doreen waited half­way up at an in­ter­me­di­ate look­out, I man­aged to get to the top in good time to take in the in­cred­i­ble panoramic view of the train, the Agawa River and the val­ley be­low. It was hard to stop tak­ing photos and make the des­cent.

From there, we trav­elled a smooth, gold­en­leaved trail to visit the 53-me­tre-high north and south Black Beaver Falls along the canyon’s west side. It is an easy trail to walk, and very calm­ing as you pass an old wooden root cel­lar par­tially buried in the hill­side, a newer park cabin and small rills pro­vid­ing a mu­si­cal note to your walk. We pre­vailed on a fel­low pas­sen­ger to take a snap of the two of us at the north falls and then headed on to the much larger, 68-me­tre Bri­dal Veil Falls across the river. A con­ve­nient board­walk and view­ing plat­form are sit­u­ated to pro­vide an ex­cel­lent vista.

From there, you take a lovely river­side walk back to the train plat­form, where an old rail­car has been con­verted into a sou­venir store, and pic­nic benches al­low you to catch your breath and have a bite to eat be­fore board­ing for the re­turn jour­ney. We even saw a cou­ple ca­noe­ing down the river, adding a nice touch to the scene.

The climb to the look­out on the cliff was stren­u­ous, but it was not that hard to take in all the sights dur­ing the 90-minute stop with­out feel­ing overly rushed. If you have mo­bil­ity is­sues, you won’t be able to see ev­ery­thing, but the whole ex­pe­ri­ence is re­ju­ve­nat­ing. You should also check the forecast for the day of your visit and dress com­fort­ably for the weather—and for some mod­er­ate hik­ing.

While we were mak­ing our trek, the train crew turned the seats around and the en­gines re­versed po­si­tions, hook­ing on to what was the rear of the train. This en­sured a con­tin­u­ing first-class view on the trip back to The Soo.

The train comes with din­ing fa­cil­i­ties and even a bar, but we opted to bring our own lunch to eat in the park, so we could spend our time sight­see­ing along the full route. In­clud­ing the hour and a half stop, it’s a ten-hour day. While most of it is aboard the train, you can move around some­what and the vis­tas along the line are any­thing but bor­ing! Small chil­dren may find it quite a long day, so it would be wise to bring dis­trac­tions for them.

The trip is not in­ex­pen­sive when you fac­tor in travel and ho­tel costs, but to us, it was well worth it to visit this re­mote cor­ner of Canada and see its di­verse beauty in all its fall splen­dour. Trav­el­ling by train is has­sle-free, com­fort­able and very con­ve­nient, of­fer­ing plenty of view­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that would be al­most im­pos­si­ble to get any other way. n

Clock­wise from top: an in­cred­i­ble view of Agawa Canyon from the high ob­ser­va­tion look­out more than 75 me­tres above the park; the hy­dro dam over the Mon­treal River pro­vides an amaz­ing view of the tres­tle, dam and the train you’re rid­ing in; the Agawa Canyon train ready­ing for de­par­ture!

Doreen and Tim, shown here with Black Beaver Falls (north) be­hind them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.