In February a few members of the Passion Passport team traveled to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, with some of the nation’s leading creative influencers. The goal: to explore the culture, community, and connection fostered by Canada’s rail company, VIA rail, in celebration of their 40th anniversary.
Here, we take you behind-the-scenes for a look at how the experience looked, felt, and came together.
“Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return.” — E. M. Forster
Bags packed and tickets in hand, our team boarded a train bound for Canada’s capital, prepared for a ride through the Canadian countryside that would be full of views of rolling landscapes and perhaps even a snowflake or two. And while the journey was peaceful, it also acted as an important opportunity for discovery and introspection.
Vivid scenery flashed by my window, the sights of small towns and cities interspersed with the Canadian wilderness giving me ample time to reflect upon the lives of the people who lived within the communities we were passing through — and, in turn, upon my own life.
As we chugged toward the bright lights of Ottawa, I was increasingly grateful that the train offered a greater opportunity to connect with our fellow riders and engage in conversations with other passengers — a practice I’d mostly avoided on planes and buses. I’d gotten so accustomed to chatting with my seatmate that I was almost a little sad when the vehicle came to a halt in Ottawa’s main station. We’d arrived in a place where we would see history and culture collide, a place with a storied past and a bright future.
We learned that the region was originally the homeland of Algonquin tribes, but that the area was settled in 1613 by Samuel de Champlain and a host of traders, explorers, and missionaries. A majestic city sprung from the rich natural resources of the Ottawa Valley, which is today a thriving economic center with easy access to Canada’s stunning wild expanses and vibrant cultural centers. It was the perfect location from which to explore the connections between culture and community spurred by the railroad.
We hopscotched around the capital city, visiting a host of Canadian museums that helped us understand the expansive history of this place — from exhibits at the Canadian Science and Technology museum that outlined the nation’s impressive advancements in tech to the #ArtinCanada initiative at the National Gallery, which promotes inclusivity and works of art by aboriginal Canadians, it was a first-hand glimpse at how the country’s communities are intricately and proudly linked.
At the Science and Technology Museum, we learned about the origin of Canada’s railway and the importance of steam in early triple expansion engines, though in 1928 that technology evolved to include diesel engines. In the early and mid 1900s, the trains transported more than just the wheat crops that had boosted nearby Winnipeg to economic success. Families and individuals who immigrated to Canada utilized the rail system to explore the country and decide where to put down roots and create communities. In this sense, the train was not just a vehicle of transportation, but one to a better life.
I was impressed by the antiquity encapsulated in these cultural institutions, by the pride instilled in them, and by the artistry they display.
As we rounded out our trip with an Instagram meetup at ByWard market with a host of local creatives and photographers, I got a clearer sense of how diverse and special Canadians’ sense of identity truly is. Though each identified Ottawa as their home, their backgrounds encapsulated a variety of cultures. This mirrored our understanding of the dynamics of Canadian cities today — that these metropoles are increasingly embracing visitors and residents from a host of different cultures, using the rail system once again to create and foster tight-knit and diverse communities.
In one conversation with Montreal-native Anne McIsaac (@yellowillow), she agreed that her home city is becoming more and more multicultural, and that she loves this evolution. For many Canadians, taking the train is an exciting way to traverse their home country and explore the ever-changing and diverse cities that make Canada such a rich and welcoming place. Participant and Ottawa-native Taku Kumabe (@smaku) added that the experience made him rediscover his city in a way he never had before, which led to a greater appreciation of the nation’s multicultural aspects.
Like Taku, our journey to Ottawa introduced me to a side of Canada I’d never truly discovered, the trip offering a crash course in Canadian culture and an opportunity to explore what the region had to offer, geographically, artistically and culturally. And I know there’s more on the horizon with VIA Rail’s extensive network of routes — cities across the northern nation await. And, as Anne puts it, “there’s no better way [than the train] to move between one point and another — it’s like a hyphen between cities.”
So, Canada, we’ll leave you with a comma, not a period. We look forward to visiting you again soon.