Jasper Climax

VIA Train in Jasper

I’m having a hard time conceiving how someone can ride the Canadian from west to east. Each day brings something new to your window, regardless of direction, but the run from Edmonton into Vancouver is very much a climax. The scenery in the wilderness of northern Ontario, or the tablelands of Manitoba and Saskatchewan may be grand, but the mountains of Jasper and BC are simply spectacular.

And the smartest thing I did on this journey was to book two days off the train in Jasper. This took a little doing, since I had to find not one, but two sets of tickets on the right days in order to maintain the two-thirds off special price that I’d arranged. But it was worth it. As much as the grandeur of travelling by VIA Rail had made Erin a believer in such things (she’d been sceptical before we got on board), the two days in Jasper were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jasper reminds me a little of Niagara Falls, Ontario. There are two streets in the town that are obviously catering to the tourists. But the similarities are swept aside. Jasper works in a way that Niagara Falls does not. Erin and I were discussing this, and I think it comes down to Niagara Falls’ overreach. As spectacular as the falls and the gorge are, the city has tried too hard to bring in other tourist destinations, which gives it the feel of something crass and temporary (I mean, like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum? Come on!).

Jasper, on the other hand, is surrounded by mountains, and anchored by them. There isn’t a single natural attraction to the town, there are dozens. In the two days we spent in Jasper, we walked to the top of a foothill (a humbling experience, given how much effort we had to put into it, and how much higher the surrounding peaks were), took a cable car to a summit, spent time relaxing in hot springs, driven along truly spectacular vistas, and visited a retreating glacier. We’ve seen elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and two black bears. There were things we left undone in our two days in Jasper. Lots of things. We’ll be coming back.

And that alone seems to give Jasper a permanence that Niagara Falls does not have. There is a need for long-term workers, and schools to teach their children, and stores to serve them groceries, and houses that aren’t bread ‘n’ breakfasts. There’s also the railroad, which provides another economic outlet should the tourists (inconceivably) decide to stay away. In this respect, Jasper is much more like Stratford than Niagara Falls. It is a town that makes much of its reasons to exist, but doesn’t overdo it. There is none of the sense of desperation that Niagara Falls sometimes feels like it has.

More photos of our arrival in Jasper and our trip up Whistler Mountain can be found here.

I should mention that, in Jasper, we stayed at the Astoria Hotel. Yeah, kind of an overly pretentious name for the accommodations, but other than that, there were no complaints. Look, what do you want in a hotel in Jasper? I’ll tell you: you want a room that’s (a) clean, (b) comfortable and maybe (c) has a good view. It doesn’t need a pool or any other amenities (well, except maybe wifi) because all of the amenities are outside the door.

And the Astoria provided us with all three (including wifi) for a very reasonable rate. Yes, the decor looked like it dated from 1994, and they still offered keys (actual keys!) rather than card entry, but it gave us exactly what we wanted, and it was located within walking distance of the train station. I really can’t offer any higher recommendations than that to any hotel around.

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