Mention of rail travel in the days of steam engines often evokes images of breathtaking views and luxurious carriages complete with gas lamps, elegant meals, cigars and a glass of brandy. Not much is heard, though, about the brave men who explored new territory, surveyed seemingly impassable routes through the Rocky Mountains and occasionally blew themselves up with dynamite.
The Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway connected a country. Some provinces only joined Confederation because of the promise of a rail system that ran from Atlantic to Pacific Coast. CP eventually grew to be a massive conglomerate, building and owning such iconic Canadian hotels as the Chateau Lake Louise and the Banff Springs Hotel (to name just two).
I’m not really a railway buff, but I am interested in history and never tire of looking at vistas of British Columbia. So, when Rhonda says she has tickets to see ‘Rocky Mountain Express’ at the Imax in Victoria I jump at the chance of a day trip.
Rocky Mountain Express at the Victoria Imax
“You’re going all the way to Victoria to watch a 45 minute show?” asks my husband in a disbelieving tone.
“Yeah, it’s a good excuse to go somewhere on a gorgeous day,” I reply.
I think one of the reasons he has trouble understanding, is the cost of the ferry. It costs us each $71 roundtrip (including the cost of the car). He’s also not as wacky and spontaneous as I am – after 38 years together, he merely rolls his eyes at most of my decisions.
Based on a 1pm show time and a 2+ hour ferry/car journey to get there, we decide to catch the 10am ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria). I pick up Rhonda and Jill at Rhonda’s house in Tsawwassen and off we head to the ferry. Our reservation requires that we check-in at least 30-minutes prior to sailing. We are happy to see that we are sailing on the ‘Coastal Celebration’, the newest in the BC Ferries fleet.
Jill and Rhonda on the ferry
Our timing all day is spot on. This is a miracle as we have the unexpected occurrence of a “man overboard” drill enroute – something I’ve never experienced before. Maybe regulations are tightening up, due to recent events on the oceans? Thankfully we have a bit of a buffer as this adds 10 – 15 minutes to our journey.
The half-hour drive from Swartz Bay into Victoria is uneventful, as my lead foot isn’t too heavy today -allowing me to stick to the speed limit – thereby eluding the sneaky radar trap on the highway. One cop is sitting in a chair on the overpass (so you can barely see him), radioing to cops in cruisers who sweep in, lights flashing, and ticket unsuspecting speeders. Anyone speeding on Highway 17, to and from the ferry, should be aware…this is a favourite place for the police to add to their coffers.
The show is great. It’s only 45 minutes long but gives a perspective on what it was like to build a railway across thousands of miles of brutally rugged, unexplored wilderness. There is remarkable videography and, due to the sheer size of the IMAX screen, we often feel sucked into the action, sweeping through canyons and soaring over valleys. (Interesting fact: the IMAX screen is six storeys high and 70 ft wide).
Royal BC Museum
Anyone traveling to Victoria, BC, in the summer of 2012, should make an effort to go see the film. Make a day of it and explore the Royal BC Museum while you’re there. I am not a great fan of museums, but I have to say that this is one of the best I’ve visited – particularly if you are interested in the history of the province. The displays are lifelike – with stuffed wild animals, First Nations villages and more – and you can actually wander through an replica of the HMS Discovery. This ship brought Captain George Vancouver to Vancouver Island in 1778, when he planted the English flag to claim the land for England. He must have been a tiny guy…my 6 ft 4in husband wouldn’t have been able to stand upright on the voyage.
It’s also worth – perhaps blowing your budget – spending a night in the elegant Fairmont Empress Hotel. This is one of the original CP built hotels. Located on the Inner Harbour it is right in the centre of the action, close to the Parliament Buildings, the museum and tons of great restaurants. Guests will find themselves transported back to the Edwardian era (the hotel opened in 1908). Be aware, some of the rooms have original claw foot tubs. Watch out for the ghosts that roam the hallways. (Interesting fact: In the summer months, The Empress serves afternoon tea to more than 800 guests a day, more than most hotels in London, England.)
Fairmont Empress Hotel
After a late lunch by the water we head back to the car to catch the 5pm ferry home for the night. All in all, a satisfactory day trip.