Articles > Train Hopping Canada's West

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[quote]articles > Train Hopping Canada’s West
Train Hopping Canada’s West
by Rodney Graham for Street Sheet Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Prince Rupert BC - The train hopping was easier than expected - and at times much harder too. Alone here - just as I had started in Winnipeg June 4th of this year. But I don’t feel lonely because I’ve met many interesting people. Actually, this place is so new I’m the only one here. Even the owners are elsewhere tonight. The comfort of this brand new hostel, The Black Rooster Roadhouse, is a sharp contrast to some of the experiences of the adventure I experienced.

If you come to Prince Rupert I recommend the place, a fully renovated former two story apartment block. Nice owners, Bozena and Stan Sliwa, formerly from Poland, they have a small restaurant and the food is great. It’s only $20.00 per night. Colour TV and kitchen facilities and showers with lots of hot water. Luxury.

But after several days of cold beer, soft pillows, color TV, and boring yuppies who travel by ferry and cruise ship I’m itching for the rails again. CN is busy here - a brand new container port is in the works (a billion dollar venture). Just east of town is the gigantic grain facility where grain trains are emptied for shipment of their cargo to Asia and elsewhere. VIA rail runs a brisk business all summer bringing in loads of yuppies and their yapping poodles.

It sure is a nice little city though. Grand Trunk Railroad founded the city as its westernmost terminal over a hundred years ago. It’s populated by friendly Vietnamese, Chinese, Native Indians, and whites. Haida and Tsimshian Indians have called this paradise home for centuries.

Although it’s often wet, it is often just drizzle - a wet misty rain. Interestingly, Prince Rupert is known as one of the rainiest places in Canada - but not now. Actually the weather has been great here. Sometimes the sky descends to meet the earth with a supernatural mist that hovers in small blotches then they vanish like ghosts of the past in search of a permanent home. When it’s sunny it’s a paradise. Just about anywhere you go you can see beautiful panoramas. Rupert is built on the sides of hillsides similar to St John’s Newfoundland.

Beautiful multi coloured perennials are everywhere and you can look up and see bald eagles soaring high above the city. Canada Day here saw Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others serving out their ethnic foods downtown in front of a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Local folk musicians played and I took pictures of kids climbing the tall statue of a pioneer who holds a ship’s wheel while pointing to the horizon.

Canada! I had felt like I was home. But when I hear the whistle blow at night south east of town I feel a yearning for a different kind of home - one that runs on rails. It’s a warm feeling - like you get when you take a good long gulp of Southern Comfort. It’s a friendly feeling, one I’ve become familiar with now. My next trip will be down the Fraser River by BC Rail (now owned by CN) to Vancouver, a city I won’t be staying long in. Grew up there. Bad childhood memories. I mistakenly named a recent article ‘Hopping the Fraser Canyon’ - even though it was a hop from Jasper to Van - a route that actually follows the Thompson River but does run along the Fraser south of Hope BC. The only reason to go there is to search for the wanderers.

A Tribute to the Wanderers
I am merely an interloper into a world that belongs to others. During my four month journey I hope to interview the wanderers where I find them. That is my real aim. Whether to publish it in book for or otherwise I don’t know. I am always very happy when I run into them. Wherever I am in Canada my eye is always searching for young people with dark clothing and dirty fingernails. I met Speedy in Winnipeg just before I departed. She is heading east to experience life on the east coast for a change and wants to travel for a year before settling down again. Some of them head east for the summer and west for winter where the climate in Canada is milder in winter. Pirate is different. I met him in Winnipeg in May too. He prefers to head west in summer although he lives in Ontario in the winter. A damned good banjo player he makes a good wage on the streets of our cities. Ryan, from Winnipeg was heading east I gave him my tent since I have bought a bivy sack which was quite useful against the rain of Saskatchewan. John, another good banjo player, I think was heading east - another guy with years of experience and stories to tell. Unfortunately, I left the notes I made interviewing these folks in Winnipeg in May so I don’t have all the names with me now. They are all very interesting individuals who stick together when they meet and are part of Canada’s most interesting culture. They are a part of the history and culture of our nation - an interesting and real part of it just as the hobos were. Many of them busk on the street or panhandle, and many others obtain work from temporary labour agencies and then move on again.

To them this is a lifestyle and they are experienced and well travelled. I have agonized over writing anything at all about train hopping since bringing attention to it is not serving them with any special help. But the authorities know about train hoppers anyway. The young people who frequent the cars of our Canadian train companies are experienced and very unlikely to get injured. I really believe that. To them it is part of their lives and they should be allowed to continue without intervention.


I caught out on a westbound grainer around 12:30 A.M. and arrived in beautiful Prince Rupert B.C. on the coast earlier than I had expected, around 1:30 P.M.

Upon arriving in Prince Rupert (or just east I should say) at the grain facility I was amazed at how big it was. Had some trouble trying to avoid workers and first headed east to what I thought was the highway but turned northwest and through some of the thickest thorny jungle I’d ever seen. Finally made it to the Ridley Island access road just north west of the facility and hitched a ride into town with a guy who worked at the grain facility. I told him I had been camping and bird watching. He told me the grain facility was operating at only 30% capacity but CN is building a brand new container port costing a billion dollars. In Prince Rupert it was sprinkling rain. I ditched my pack in a 45 gallon garbage container and proceeded into town. A nice employee of the busy bingo hall on 2nd Ave told me about the Black Rooster Roadhouse so I got my pack and went there.

What I find the most exiting is actually waiting for the train when you know it’s coming, seeing the headlights and then as the engines pass with their deep throaty rumble, your adrenalin surges and you make your move. What an experience! Every time I head down the rails I admire the wanderers and train hoppers of North America more - it takes a lot of patience, courage, and endurance. But what I admire about them the most is the freedom they have found - the hardships and discomfort are well worth the sheer individual freedom you find.

There’s nothing like it. But the journey’s not over. I am headed east in search of the wanderers in their summer stomping grounds.[/quote]