Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Luxury for Seventy-Five Cents

by Anita Mae Draper

My current work in progress begins on a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train in 1888. This involved hours of research into trains, depots and railroad employees. As you can imagine, I discovered tidbits of information missing from my school history classes. One aspect I’d like to share with you is about the luxurious dining cars and in particular, the variety and size of the meals.

1888 Canadian Pacific Railway Dining Car

One thing I didn’t know was that the dining car had its beginnings in Canada on Ontario’s Great Western Railway when the Pullman Palace Car Company put a ‘moving hotel’ into service for the first time. Basically a sleeper with a kitchen at one end, it was the first time ever that meals were served aboard a moving train. Along with 3 state rooms and 2 drawing rooms, the car contained everything needed for a long cross-country ride. And the food - even in the cramped quarters, the menu of June 1, 1967 offered oysters – fried, roasted or raw, a variety of salads and cold meats, three kinds of roast meats, half a dozen egg dishes – rum omelet included, and French drip coffee.

The CPR was formed back in 1881 when British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada and a railway was needed that stretched from one end of the dominion do the other, or rather from sea to sea (a mari usque ad Mare). Actually, "From Sea to Sea" is Canada’s motto and is derived from Psalm 72:8 KJV which reads, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

The book, Pierre & Janet Berton’s Canadian Food Guide talks about the menus of the dining cars, ‘It was the CPR that made an event and an art out of dining on the move. In the eighties and nineties, following the driving of the last spike, all meals served on Canadian Pacific trains and boats could be had for a flat seventy-five cents. As an example, if you were on a CPR train in 1887, the luncheon menu for the distance between Winnipeg, Manitoba and Medicine Hat, Alberta lists 35 dishes 8 courses for the single price of 75 cents."

Since there wasn’t a caboose back in those days, the last car was always the dining car. Hooked to the train at in the morning, it provided three huge solid meals during the day and was disengaged at a division point during the night. The next morning, at another division point, another stocked dining car would be added to the train.

World-wide fame of the CPR dining cars  grew due to the use of local native Canadian dishes. Maple syrup from Quebec, Lake Superior Trout from Ontario, Winnipeg goldeye in Manitoba, venison from Saskatchewan, Calgary beef in Alberta, and Salmon in British Columbia. And of course, blueberry pie, in season.

I’ve travelled on two trains in my lifetime, both of them CPR. Both of them were long overnight trips. I don’t remember much about those trips as they were over 30 yrs ago, except I had to sleep sitting up and the dining car was a cramped place that smelled good but water sloshed out of my glass due to the train's movement.  Although still transcontinental, the train had lost its look of luxury and and the menu was restaurant style. This was back in the '70s when train passenger service was a losing business. With a minimum profit, CPR invested a minimum amount on train 'dressing'.

However, there's been a revival in train service and a newcomer, VIA Rail, offers thrice weekly trips from Toronto to Vancouver. You could even start in Halifax on the Ocean and switch to the Canadian in Toronto for a sea-to-sea rail adventure.

Here's a video which is actually Part 4 of a series as these 2 Brits travel across Canada, but I found this one to be the most interesting. Economy would be the reclining seats and no perks. The berths, or roomettes, are very similar to the ones used in the 19th century when the porter walked along lowering the ones from the top and turning the seats into a lower one. And first class would be the enclosed bedrooms with all the perks mentioned on the video like access to the special lounge and domed cars. http://youtu.be/XjWEEHPVC_s

Have you ever eaten on a train? When and where? What did you think?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. In 2005, Anita Mae decided to return to writing and make it a priority in her life. She writes old west stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Her characters are strong because the land demands it. Anita Mae likes to write characters who sit up and notice when that special person God’s chosen just for them walks by. The story is all about the courtship between the two main characters. But it won’t be an easy path. And if they don’t know about God at the beginning of the book, they will by the end. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. She’s currently waiting to hear the phone ring and have someone say they want to buy Emma’s Outlaw. Meanwhile, she’s working on another story and trying to keep her imagination in check. A pathological picture taker, she usually has a photo or two of her western world on her blog at http://anitamaedraper.blogspot.com/


  1. I love train travel. (I know Suzie Jo will comment!) For me, it's the fact I can sit back and relax, close my eyes or read or just watch the scenery. The seats are great!

    The dining car was more like a snack bar - nachos and donuts? (sure I like them but it doesn't compare to your 'found' menu, Anita!)

    I also love the feeling that it connects me to history, and it gives me the impression of traveling to a more distant land. Europe? Taking the train into Boston and then taking the commuter out to Rockport on Cape Ann was so much fun. I felt like more of a tourist!

    Here's to the future Inky Train Travel Sleepover/Writing Conference!

  2. Deb said: I know Suzie Jo will comment!

    Suzie said: but of course!

    Deb said: Here's to the future Inky Train Travel Sleepover/Writing Conference!

    Suzie said: Amen!

    I'll be back later to comment for real. Right now I have to rush to work. Be back after two meetings to comment on my most favorite mode of travel. ;-)

  3. I found this fascinating, Anita! I've always wanted to take a train trip but have only done a very short one (Baltimore to New York). I'd love an overnight one just for the experience, but somehow I doubt it would live up to my romanticized visions of train travel from books and movies!

  4. Deb, I checked into taking the Amtrak to RWA NYC for the reasons you mention. However, the cost was only 10% less than air travel yet it would take 4 times as long. And that was for an economy seat where I'd only have a reclining chair through the night. To book a sleeper would have added at least 50% to the cost.

    I still would have gone for the experience alone, except the nearest Amtrak depot is in Minot, ND - 5 hrs away. I can't deprive Nelson of our van while it sits down in a Minot parking lot. And the only other way would be to take a bus down which would add another $200 or so to the trip - and I'd have to get to Regina to catch it first. So it just wasn't feasible this time around.

    Anita Mae.

  5. I'm so excited about our 2012 Inky Train Experience en route to RWA Anaheim. And I can't think of anyone I'd rather go with outside of family.

    Suzie, you have such good ideas. :)

    Have a blessed day at work.

    Anita Mae.

  6. I've taken the VIA rail train a couple of times. Most memorable was a trip from Saskatoon to Vancouver. We ate breakfast in the dining car -- very decadent! My strongest food memory wasn't what we ate though! There was a stop in Jasper, AB. When we got back on, one of the men had bought himself some food to eat while we traveled. Unfortunately, his food of choice was sardines. Needless to say, the aroma of that filled the entire rail car. Not fun!!

  7. i've never traveled on a train here in North America, but did a lot of train travel throughout Europe on different missions trips. Never got to dine in a dining car though - we always brought along food or the trip was short enough to not need the dining car.

    oh wait, i have traveled on a train in Colorado. the ski train from Denver to Winter Park. made for a much more relaxing day ski trip - not having to deal with ski traffic from the mountains.

    i think i'd like to look into what it would cost to travel from Virginia to Colorado via train (and how long). I think it would be a nice memory for my little one for traveling to family in Colorado - nicer than airplane travel with its cramped quarters.

    cool post anita! check your hotmail, sent you a reply. hope it works/was helpful.

  8. Anne, nice to see you. :)

    It would depend on how much you're willing to spend.

    For example, you can get a roomette or bedroom with the Sleeper Touring Class (meals included) for between $1500-2400 per person depending on the season. That's a 2500 mile trip from Toronto, ON to Vancouver, BC.

    For that price, you get all the luxury of the 19th century train with the convenience of the 20th in your own private room for the 6 day journey.

    But you're right about the aura. You just can't recreate that on today's regular passenger trains, but perhaps seeing everyone in modern dress has something to do with it. :(

    Nice to see you Anne.

    Anita mae.

  9. LOL Elaine, or should I say, :(
    and fishy smells just linger on and on...

    I've yet to take the Via Rail Rocky Mountaineer, but from all reports it's a breath-taking trip. The tunnels through the mountains, under snowsheds, over canyon gorges on a rickety wooden bridge. Okay, so they're not rickety, but they look like toothpicks from afar.

    Thanks so much for describing your experience. I don't think I'll every forget it, either. Ha!

    Anita Mae.

  10. I've only been on trains in Europe. They're pretty prosaic now. None of the glamour that used to ba associated with them. Although I've always wanted to ride the Orient Express. Seems like that one line would have to be romantic. Pretty please?!

  11. Awh, DebH, trust me when I say that Guppy would love the rocking of the train a lot better than the ear poppin' of the flight. Except it would be a very long journey for you unless you get a roomette or bedroom. Otherwise, there wouldn't be anywhere for him to run around and then he'd be more a terror than a cute kid.

    An email? Yay! Thanks. I appreciate you so much, DebH, whether it works or not. And for the rest of you folks, DebH is my graphic technical advisor in case you're wondering what the email's all about. :)

    Anita Mae.

  12. The Orient Express? Really, Lisa? Because of Agatha Christie's book or some other reason?

    With my heritage in the Scottish highlands (or maybe the lowlands, I really don't know), but I've always wanted to ride the Royal Scotsman. Now that seems romantic and luxurious to boot.

    BTW, if anyone is interested in the world's most luxurious trains like the ones we've been talking about this site links to all of them.

    Anita Mae.

  13. I'm sure there's rail travel that would live up to our dreams--if we could afford it!

    I really enjoyed this Anita Mae.

  14. Thanks, Deb. And now I've changed it. :D

    I did some more digging and found a video that shows the roomettes or berths much as they would've had back in the 19th century.

    The video is last of a 4 part series and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all of them because they show the different train interiors as you cross Canada as well as the Canadian landscape.

    Anita Mae.

  15. I love train travel :) Never been on a train overnight, however. I used to take the train to/from college. It's so relaxing to sit back, enjoy the view, read, or people watch.

    Lunch of the train was fun. As a single passenger, I was placed with other singles. The conversations were always lively. I thought it was interesting that Amtrak served soup as the first course, no matter what. And it did slosh a bit.

    I loved the post, Anita, just like I love your story. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Alas, I've only been on short touristy type train trips. Although those can be pretty nice because they like to provide a more vintage experience--coal-fired and whatnot.

    Was thinking about taking the train across the state to NYC. Just have never done it.

  17. Oh, Anita, you know I love this post. I was so upset that I had to go all day without commenting. It was hard!

    The train is my favorite way to travel. No one is in a hurry. That three days it takes to get somewhere is part of my vacation. I love it.

    I've heard the VIA Rail is amazing. I'm not sure if this is true, but I heard it stops at night so you don't miss any scenery. Someday I'd like to take that train, for sure.

    The train you mentioned thgat would get you from Minot to NY is THE most expensive train. Especially for a sleeper car, which is the only way to go. I've been on that one three times, coming and going, and luckily have not had to pay for it. :-)

    My favorite train is the Coast Starlight, from Seattle to LA. It's a breathtaking ride and it is so relaxing. I love it!

    Now remember, it's overnight, so when we go on our Inkie RWA trip, it's sleeper car time! I can't wait!

  18. You're welcome, Susie, and thank you.

    As I was reading your comment I was thinking back to the intro/extro-vert day. You don't sound like an introvert if you look forward to meals with strangers. That's the one thing I really drag my feet about... eating in front of other people. I'm fine at home, but take me out in public and I drip soup on my bodice. Or drop a smidgeon of lettuce with salad dressing on my pants. Or allow my sleeve to dip in something while reaching for the condiments. *sigh

    I would've loved to have known you in college. :)

    Anita Mae.

  19. DebH, I've gone from Virginia to Chicago, and I know that part of the trip would be lovely for you. The train goes along the Shenandoah (sp?) And Potomac Rivers, and at one point they meet. It is so beautiful. Also. You go through Cumberland Gap and the Wisconsin Dells. Oh, my! I hope I get to go on that one again.

  20. Lisa! I've always wanted to go on the Orient Express, too. They actually have an American Orient Express. They changed their name and I can't remember what it is now. But it is tres decadent and tres expensive! I would have to win some kind of huge prize (the lottery I never buy tickets for?) to go on that train.

  21. Anita, one more thing ... When you book the sleeper car, all food is included in the cost.

  22. Barb, as soon as I read about you wanting to take a train across the state the first thing I thought about was in the fall when the leaves are turning. That's when I want someone else to drive and leave me hands-free for my camera.

    You're blessed to have so many short-haul trains around. Because we're so spread out, only the one passenger train - the Canadian as mentioned in the post - travels through my province of Saskatchewan. If you don't know how big Sask is, think of it this way... it takes 8 solid hours of driving to get from Manitoba to the east to Alberta to the west. And we only have one train that goes through 3 times a week.

    The cruncher comes when you want to catch that train because the closest depot to us is 2 hrs to the north.

    But I'm not complaining, because like I said in the post, back in the '80s no one wanted to keep the passenger trains running at all so it's a miracle we have what we do.

    One of these days Barb, I'll join you on that 'cross-the-state train ride to NYC. :)

    Anita Mae.

  23. You're right, Suzie. Glad you pointed it out.

    But back in 1888, the food was extra for all passengers.

    BTW, our train trip next year from Vancouver ? to Anaheim... is it an overnighter? We're getting one of those roomettes right? Are meals included? I want the details so I can dream about them. :D

    Anita Mae.

  24. Yes, Anita, food is included in our fare. And yes it's an over-nighter. Yes we're getting roomettes. You will go from Vancouver to Seattle and have to stay overnight b/c the schedules don't match up. I can get on in Mount Vernon and stay overnight, too, or you could get off in Mount Vernon, I can pick you up, and we could drive to the airport and pick up our other Inkies or...we have lots of plans to make. :-) I will probably buy my ticket in August to get the best price. :-)

  25. Another option, Suzie, is to ask my daughter in Vancouver to drive me to wherever you are. :D

    Like I said, I'm getting excited already. And you'd better let the rest of us know when you're getting your ticket, okay?

  26. I've taken two train trips, from Arizona to New Jersey and once to N. Carolina. The first trip was fantastic, the dining car was very nice, cloth napkins and flowers on the table. The food was good, too. It was so nice seeing the country. The Louisanna historical society came aboard and gave a tour of the countryside as we past through. The second trip was not so nice. Amtrak was on the brink of shutting down. On one leg of the journey, they were having a problem with sewage and AC (the smell was bad). The last leg of the trip, there was no dining car, just a snack car (for 18 hours). But I still love train travel! It's so relaxing and the rooms are nice!

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  28. Anita, I did do okay eating with strangers. Maybe it was because there were things to talk about (the scenery), or maybe they were just really friendly people, or maybe I was fine because it was a temporary situation. I'd clam up when I had to share a seat with a stranger on the journey, however.

    I'm such a klutz. I remember not eating all of my soup in the dining car because I thought I'd slosh it!


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