On the third day of the train journey from Toronto to Vancouver, just as you enter mountain country, there’s a bend in the tracks that seems particularly designed for adventure photographers. Here’s why: if you stay toward the center of the train and head up to the observation car, you’ll witness two profound scenes. First, there’s the shot of the front of the train making its sharp turn, the frontline of the Rockies standing guard as the locomotive starts its journey into the majestic range. Then, if you turn around, you’ll catch the back half of the train following along the tracks, winding gracefully around the opaque waters of a quiet glacial lake.
It’s an astounding moment, but one that arrives without warning. There are no Instagram how-to guides telling you where to stand and when to snap. You won’t find it on any “X Best Photography Spots in the Canadian Rockies” listicles. To catch it, you simply have to get lucky, to wander up to the right observation car at the right time…
Unless, of course, you’ve spent so much time on this train that its every bend, bridge, and tunnel is etched into your memory, like a commuter’s rote recollection of their route from home to work. Then, you’d truly know the best spots to shoot. You’d have casually mastered the art of documenting this journey, not through photography courses or online tips and tricks, but through curiosity, through years and years of watching these lands pass by out the window of the dining cart.
For Claude Robidoux, this was the path of inspiration.
As a concierge in Via Rail’s new Prestige Class, Claude has a front-row seat to the mountains and prairies of western Canada. Since he took a job with the line back in 2001, he’s been making the journey between Vancouver and Winnipeg (his position doesn’t require that he work on the eastern portion of the trip) twice each month. When he started, he was simply looking for a change in lifestyle, and the position certainly delivered in that regard. But with his lifelong passion for photography, Claude soon discovered that his new office offered some of the best views in the world.
The greatest photographers are those who are familiar with their subjects. Instead of simply snapping a few pics as they pass through, they embed themselves in an environment and get to know it before ever thinking about pressing the shutter. In that light, Claude is truly a master of his craft, or at least his slice of it. Nobody knows this route as well as the man who’s studied it through his viewfinder for 17 years.
He knows that some of the best spots along the route lie around Kamloops Lake and the Thompson River Canyon, an area dense with tunnels and tight turns, where you can capture endless dynamic shots of the train twisting and turning through the hills. He knows that those seeking exterior landscape shots should try not to blink during the stretch of rail that follows the Rockies of Jasper National Park, and should take the train during the summer to see the Canadian prairies awash with yellow canola flowers in full bloom. He knows that there’s nothing quite like the deep-blue winter sky in the mountains on a calm day following a snowstorm.
In an age when everyone’s creative portfolio is displayed online, when all of our best work is filtered, finessed, and filed away for the world to see, it was astounding to learn that a photographer as accomplished and masterful as Claude seemingly had no digital footprint — no website, no VSCO, no Instagram. If you look at his page today, you’ll discover a feed as brilliantly colorful and curated as some of the most popular influencers. The only difference is the low follower count and the fact that it ends when you scroll to October of this year — because that’s when we convinced him to create one. For Claude, photography is special because it gives you the power to capture a moment in time and transform it into a beautiful image to be enjoyed by countless others eternally. We hoped that by providing him with this platform, he’d be able to spread these moments to a wider audience.
But there’s still something undeniably refreshing about a creator as isolated as Claude. The internet has expanded the world and our access to it, sure, but sometimes this global network paradoxically makes everything feel smaller. The same hotspots get photographed and shared, inspiring a new age of creators to go visit those exact locations, to experience those same moments that have been collected and reposted again and again online. When we constantly see the same images, even from slightly different angles, it can make it seem like there’s nothing else out there left to discover. Meeting someone like Claude reminds you of the immensity of this planet, that even when you’re taking the same trip over and over, you can consistently find new, magical spots — that despite the ubiquity of social media, there are still more voices out there, waiting to be heard.
When we asked Claude if he has a favorite photograph that he’s taken, one that he thinks embodies the Via Rail journey, he said that his favorite is one that he hasn’t yet captured. On his last journey to Vancouver, they were headed west along the Athabasca River in Jasper National Park; the train was about to take a sharp curve before entering a tunnel when the engineers spotted a bear up ahead. Scared of the approaching train and having nowhere to go, the bear decided to jump into the river. Thus, when Claude looked out the window, he saw the entire train along the curve just before entering the tunnel, with the bear standing in the middle of the river and the mountains standing above it all.
It was perfect, but at that very moment, Claude was on duty and wasn’t able to retrieve his camera.
Maybe someday he’ll have the opportunity to capture a similar image and share it with his newfound followers. But for now, the photograph still lives on, if only in his mind’s eye.