Agawa Canyon Train Tour – If Only We Could Have Flown!

The months of August and September, for us, were busy. A Memorial Ceremony, a renewal of wedding vows, a BBQ to celebrate 50 years of marriage, a family wedding, double birthday celebration, hair, manicure and other appointments and getting ready for a trip to Sault Ste. Marie for the Agawa Canyon Train Tour. All of which made our summer exciting and yet fleeting. The last event, of course, was our mini-holiday which allowed us to get away for a few days and yet, somehow, was so tiring, it took us at least another four days to recover. Not my idea of a relaxing holiday.

(As an aside – all pictures taken on this trip will be found on Page Title “Agawa Canyon Train Tour”)

We began our trip by rising early Sunday morning and hitting the road by 8:00 am. I had packed a couple of chicken sandwiches for lunch (which we’ve done in the past) along with a cooler of drinks and a few healthy (yes, I said ‘healthy’) snacks for what was going to be at least an 8 hour drive north. The drive north to Parry Sound was the usual hustle and bustle of driving around Toronto towards Barrie with its collage of small, medium and large commercial and industrial buildings, roadways and road works. I should have enjoyed them at the time. Once we reached Parry Sound, we found a Tim Horton’s and a small take-away restaurant where we stopped for lunch. We unpacked our chicken sandwiches, ordered french fries and a couple of drinks and ate lunch in a quiet, unobtrusive spot inside which would also give Nat time to stretch his legs before getting ready for the next leg of the trip.

With Parry Sound behind us, the scenery became quite apparent – rocks, trees, rocks, trees, more rocks, more trees, with maybe (just maybe) a small farm noticeable in the distance. We were driving through parts of the Canadian Shield and I offered to relieve Nat from his driving boredom, but he seemed to be doing just fine. So I sat back and listened to an audiobook on my iPad. At this point I became very thankful I had loaded a couple of books for just such an occasion. At least this was relieving my brain from thoughts of jumping out of the car and walking home. The boredom was now setting in, and setting in good.

As we approached Bruce Mines, we stopped for a leg stretching and with our usual aplomb began discussions and disagreements about the GPS. Nat gets a bit impatient, as do I, and we don’t always understand all of the details and icons on the GPS screen. The GPS was not recognizing some of the northern roads and Nat was getting a bit worrisome,  but as we finally approached Sault Ste. Marie his relief began to show. It also helped that I was holding a physical map of Ontario to prove to him that things were good.

We arrived at our hotel – the Quattro Hotel & Conference Centre – around 5:30 pm, tired and bored. We unpacked our things and headed down the road to the Swiss Chalet for soup and salad, as our hunger had abated and we only wanted something to fill the void for the night. Once our meal was done, we headed back to the hotel and jumped into bed by 8:30 PM. We were in for another early rise to catch the train and hopefully have a great day!

Still a bit tired, Nat and I were dressed and down for our free breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, cereal, etc.) with what seemed to be everyone else on the same tour. Getting to the Train Station was easy enough, but discovering we were in the third of over twenty cars, there was a bit of a walk down the tracks before we could board and get settled in our seats. We left the station at 8:00 am and the tour soon began with announcements (dining car, smoking and a small history lesson of Algoma Steel) but once we were well on our way to Agawa Canyon National Park, we were flooded with geographical and historical lessons on how this portion of Canada was formed and how the Agawa Canyon Train Tour began. Above the seats in strategic points hung television sets where passengers could watch as videos displayed what was being narrated. After each little lesson, the screens would display the railway tracks as seen by the Engineers. I will admit, that part was neat to see, and everyone could anticipate what was about to pass by our windows. Speaking of windows, each one had been spruced and polished so any picture taking from such windows would be crystal clear – a nice and intuitive gesture.

Within the initial hours of the train ride, each passenger was enthralled as we passed by interior crystal blue lakes hidden by an entourage of rocks and trees, rattled over an ancient wooden trestle bridge (eventually replaced by steel) and through narrow rock and tree passageways where overgrown bushes would sweep the sides of each rail car. Finally arriving at the Canyon after four hours of rickety rail riding all passengers disembarked as we stretched our backs and legs once our feet touched the ground. We were soon surrounded by greenery and natural beauty only Northern Canada could show off. Along with an ancient rail car standing at the end of a small wooden walkway, a cute cottage-style building disguising the washrooms, there were park benches located in and out of sun shiny spots, under trees and along a small flowing river lined with more foliage and rock formations.

As it was now noon hour, Nat and I were hungry, so we took the time to head back to the dining car, have a bite to eat inside (rather than order a boxed lunch for an outdoor picnic), and we would then disembark ourselves for some touring. We were a little surprised once it was announced that in order to see anything special you would have to take a 20 or 45 minute walk to that particular area. Nat was willing to walk to one of the higher points – Beaver Falls -for some scenic shots (the larger one, Bridal Falls, was too far afield for either one of us),  while I stayed put walking around the park taking pictures of what I felt was a representation of the area. We soon met up in time for the train to be boarded for the journey home.

The trip home was totally exhausting and boring. At first you’re still a little lively, but as time soon passes, the seats became uncomfortable for Nat’s back, and with no pillows neither one of us could really put our heads back and have a small snooze. Some other passengers had somehow arranged their heads and bodies in contortions to achieve a wee snooze, but it was apparent they were going to regret it later. At least, for now, they were relieving their boredom. At one point, I slipped off my runners and put my feet on the seat facing me (Nat and I had managed to grab a 4-seat grouping) as Nat tried his best to get comfy himself. The four hour trip home soon took its toll as Nat was now standing in our little vestibule area trying to stretch his back for relief. We were both now feeling as if we had been onboard for several days and this trip was never going to end.

Finally, arriving back at the Station around 5:30 pm, Nat and i took a quick peak in the Station’s tiny little gift shop now filled with practically every passenger looking at T-Shirts and knick knacks. I was looking for a lapel or stick pin for my collection, but alas none were to be found. As we pushed our ways towards the exit, I ended up purchasing a small coin-sized “Agawa Canyon/Agawa Train” souvenir and we took a deep breath as we walked outdoors. With no thoughts about supper, we walked to WalMart right across from the Station, grabbed a small salad, some ham slices and, along, with a treat or two, this would be more than sufficient to see us through the evening. We were both too tired to even think about a heavy meal, and these small items would do the trick as we could sit and eat in peace and comfort in the hotel room. After our little meal we settled in to watch the news and knowing we could now sleep in with a free day to ourselves on Tuesday before the drive home.

Tuesday morning arrived and after breakfast, we drove back to WalMart which was part of  The Station Mall to have a walk-about before deciding what to do the rest of the day. Neither of us were keen to go the the Casino (noisy and expensive) nor the Bush Plane Museum (a bit nerdy for even me) nor any of the other sites we were given tickets to as part of our “package tour”. While walking around the Mall, which was really nice, by the way, with even a huge TanJay/Alia store, the two of us decided to just stay put in our hotel room and rest up for that long, lonesome drive home. We would, however, take the time out for a really nice meal at a recommended restaurant – North 82 Steak & Grill House. The meal was wonderful – my steak and Nat’s steak & seafood dish – the service very good and after a good night’s sleep, we were all packed and ready to hit the road again. The two of us were now both very anxious to get home.

We had both decided to drive home through the United States – heading directly south through the State of Michigan and then east to Ontario and home. We followed the GPS instructions implicitly but as we were arriving further towards home, we were directed to take some pretty back roads and going through small villages and waterfront resorts we’d not seen before. The GPS was taking us the “shortest” way rather than the “fastest” way home, which we found out were two different things. Being on the road for over 7 hours now, bored and really, really tired, we would have preferred to go the “fastest” way home – taking us along the QEW with higher mileage. We were now driving the “shortest” way home but with lower mileage and a lot of stop lights and signs, etc. Despite the fact this was the “shortest” route, it would take us 9-1/2 hours to complete!

The Agawa Canyon Train tour was one of those trips neither one of us had taken. My parents had done so with a couple of my siblings, while I was living and working in Alberta, and I truly realize how fortunate I was for not taking this particular trip at that time – nearly 40 years ago when the drive would have been even longer and the train trip even more so when young children are involved. One sister claims no memory of this trip and I understand why now! I’m sure I’ll forget it myself one day. Nat and I don’t regret taking this tour but we both agree we’ll never do it again. We can, however, brag that we’ve seen a part of Northern Ontario that I’m sure many Canadians have not. Well, maybe that’s not exactly a bragging bit!!

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