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How to Take an Epic Train Trip Through Eastern Canada

By Colleen Kinder

Apr 16, 2020

From the May/June 2020 issue

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Take the Via Rail Ocean train through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to sample eastern Canada’s sights.

Photo by Michael George

Take the Via Rail Ocean train through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to sample eastern Canada’s sights.

Everything you need to know, including when to book your tickets, when to go, and what to do along the way.

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Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

The Ocean train is one of the best ways to explore the provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island—that make up the Canadian Maritime. It’s even better when you turn it into a week-long trip, hopping off The Ocean to savor the sights and flavors between Montreal and Halifax on foot and by car. Here’s what you need to know before you go. 

How and When to Book Your Trip

Take the Via Rail Ocean train from Montreal to Halifax (or vice versa), a 22-hour journey called “The Maritime Way.” The Ocean travels three times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday), and tickets for the summer season often sell out, so book early. 

Ticket prices vary greatly depending on whether you want to bed down in a sleeper car (which includes three dining-car meals per day) or choose to ride in economy class. If you’re taking an extended journey, consider getting a Canada Pass, which in different versions can give you either a set number of one-way tickets (6 or 10) in a specific timeframe, or an unlimited number of one-way tickets for the same period.

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The question of where to hop on and off The Ocean midroute is really a question of where you want to road-trip, as the small towns along the tracks aren’t big attractions unto themselves. If you’re aiming to explore the scenic Gaspé Peninsula, then Rivière-du-Loup or Rimouski will set you up nicely. If you want to drive the Acadian Peninsula coastal route, either the Bathurst or Miramichi stop would be ideal.

For those keen on seeing the Bay of Fundy, Moncton makes a good base, situating you fairly nearby Fundy National Park and the Hopewell Rocks as well as the toll bridge to Prince Edward Island. If your aim is to explore Cape Breton, consider getting off in Truro rather than staying on all the way to Halifax, the train’s terminus. Tickets from US$132, viarail.ca

Spend the night at Le Mount Stephen Hotel (left), a mansion that once belonged to the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and visit Cafe Aunja (right) for tea with a Persian twist.

Montreal, Quebec

 

Cafe Aunja

An Iranian café and teahouse, this is an idyllic lunch spot for any travelers looking to rest their feet. Perk up with a Persian Fog (a concoction of black tea, saffron syrup, and steamed milk sprinkled with crushed pistachios) while you enjoy the café’s denlike lounge, where the walls are decorated with Persian tiles and the bulletin board showcases upcoming events in Montreal’s Middle Eastern community. The koukou sandwiches—herb-laced frittata served on crispy Iranian bread—are standouts. 1448 Sherbrooke St. W.

Le Mount Stephen Hotel

Located in a mansion that once belonged to Lord George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, this sleek boutique hotel situates you in Montreal’s handsome Golden Square Mile district. Bar George, the British-inspired bistro in the hotel, is a popular brunch joint with an opulent, Old-World vibe. From US$288. 1440 Drummond St.

Moncton/Alma/St. Andrews, New Brunswick

 

Les Brumes du Coude

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A beloved bistro with an ever-changing menu, Les Brumes du Coude is Moncton’s culinary star, voted one of the top 100 restaurants in Canada. Chef Michel Savoie is a native of the Acadian Peninsula, so regional Acadian flourishes accent his European fare. The restaurant is located in a stylish cultural center that was once a public school. For dinner, expect locally sourced dishes such as snail fricassee on house-made brioche or Fundy scallop carpaccio. Brunch brings decadent dishes such as lobster eggs Benedict. Making reservations well in advance is a must. 140 Rue Botsford St.

Fundy National Park

Book one of five yurts in Canada’s breathtaking Fundy National Park, where you can watch the fog roll in and blanket New Brunswick’s famously dramatic shores. One pet-friendly yurt is available. 877-RESERVE

The sticky buns at Kelly’s Bakery (left) are a must. If you plan on visiting Ministers Island (right), be sure to plan in advance as the historical site is only accessible at low tide.

Kelly’s Bake Shop

At this fragrant bakery, the legendary sticky buns are sold hot from the oven. Located in the tiny town of Alma, just across the river from Fundy National Park, this beloved (and often packed) shop is the perfect place to stop for a sweet snack while on a coastal road trip. 8587 Main St.

Ministers Island

The former summer estate of Canadian railway baron Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, Ministers Island is a one-of-a-kind historical treasure, accessible only at low tide. Be sure to check the island’s tide schedule before attempting to drive across the damp sandbar! Also bear in mind that Van Horne’s decadent estate is only open for tours between May and October. An extensive trail network around the woodsy island makes this a great place to mosey as you relish panoramas of the Passamaquoddy Bay. 

The Algonquin Resort

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A historic seaside hotel in St. Andrews that opened its doors in 1889, the Algonquin Resort is an elegant base for exploring the coastal reaches of southern New Brunswick. Many of the comfortable, spacious rooms have views of both the town and nearby Passamaquoddy Bay. From US$151. 184 Adolphus St.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

 

The Bicycle Thief

This cozy Italian bistro situated on the Halifax Harbour is, of course, all about the seafood, but with an Italian bent (lobster linguine, for example). The cioppino, an Italian seafood stew, won’t disappoint, and neither will any dish featuring scallops. 1475 Lower Water St.

Pete’s Frootique and Fine Foods

A hugely popular local grocery and fine goods emporium, Pete’s is a delight to explore. Peruse Canadian and Maritime delicacies such as Montreal smoked meat and Digby scallops—and find the perfect souvenir to take home. 1515 Dresden Row

HaliMac Axe Throwing

If you want a little more action while exploring Halifax’s craft-brewing scene, pop into the brightly lit bar, where the thud of axes striking the wall blends with the clink of glasses. Travelers can grab a lager from Quidi Vidi Brewing Company or a red ale from Hill Top Hops, and watch the action. For those who want to dive in, a friendly staff member will walk you through the basics of axe throwing—once you sign a waiver. 1920 Brunswick St.

>>Next: What an Epic Canadian Train Trip Can Teach You About Kindness

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