When Kal Barteski boarded her train at Toronto’s Union Station, she was met with a familiar scene. She had taken the same route, bound for Vancouver, nearly 30 years prior and was shocked by the accuracy of her childhood memories. In fact, she felt almost certain that she had climbed onto the exact same train.
The cars looked untouched. The rooms had held onto their pale-teal interiors and metal switches. The beds folded down in the very rhythm she remembered, and when she looked at the berths in each cabin, she could perfectly picture the way she and her kid brother had squished into the top bunk all those years ago — it had been their secret hideaway. But what struck her most was the distinct way the train moved. The sound of its parts clanking and swaying mirrored that of her recollections. As she walked from car to car, it was as though she were 10 years old again, like it had all happened yesterday.
When she had taken the journey the first time around, Kal traveled with her family: her mother, father, and brother. They chose to venture across the country to attend Expo 86 and to visit a few family members in the Vancouver area. Although they had certainly expected the trip to be an adventure, Kal had no idea how much it would impact her later on. After all, it’s part of the reason she booked the route again, a handful of decades later.
As the train continued its course along the tracks winding from east to west, Kal found that her detailed account of the country’s landscape was also in pristine condition. The scenery was just how she had recorded it in her youth; it seemed to be almost frozen in time. From the Boreal forest to the grasslands to the Rockies, each region contributed to a melody that she had learned as a child — it was only now that the song resurfaced in her mind. She welcomed it gladly.
This time around, however, she was accompanied not by family but by strangers — a group of four creatives who had gathered together to capture the beauty of Canada’s landscape and the magic that the rail line offers. So, while everything felt and looked the same on the outside, Kal encountered a difference in the way she experienced the journey internally, as an adult. She discovered a sense of community among fellow train-goers, as well as a general sense of peace and contentment within the trip itself.
While a mechanical difficulty, which caused the engine to disconnect from the train cars, was the highlight of her venture in ’86, this journey offered Kal a different type of thrill. The most profound moment was not tied to the unknowns of train travel but to the knowns, the expected. She knew the setting, the route, and the landscape, and traversing it in this way a second time reminded her of how amazing her homeland truly is. She felt connected to every bump, every bend, every weather pattern, and every point in the day as she moved along the track, as each of them helped her remember why she does what she does.
As an artist who advocates for wildlife conservation, Kal holds a deep love for her country, but she’s come to realize that the train journey she took as a kid was what planted a lot of those seeds and inspired her to focus her life’s work on protecting nature. So, while moving through the route reconnected her to her past, it also reconnected her to her path — why she continues to fight for these otherworldly landscapes and the animals who inhabit them.
With that in mind, Kal can’t help but view the rail line that spans from Toronto to Vancouver with warmth. And after this second trip, she says that she holds an even greater feeling toward it.
“As a 10-year-old, this journey was a gift,” she said. “Somewhere along the line, it became part of my being. To be able to come back and see that beauty that I had tucked away inside of me was an even greater gift.”
So, while Kal is now back home in Winnipeg, painting polar bears on anything she can get her hands on, she looks forward to the next time she’ll board The Canadian — in fact, next time, she says she might even bring her own family along.