Hop aboard Ontario’s Agawa Canyon Train to the Inspired Land
There’s something so incredibly nostalgic about train travel. I don’t mean the rocket-speed subways that take people to work. I’m talking the steam trains complete with conductor and caboose whistling on the steel, and even wood tracks. I remember like it was yesterday waiting for this old-fashioned train up on Ashigan Lake (now known as Bass Lake) in Sudbury Ontario where passengers wishing to hop aboard would wave it down with a giant flag. Not the safest mind you as there were no barriers and you were literally beside the tracks, but nevertheless the memory keeps this form of travel upon my psyche. And with this brief moment revisiting my childhood, you i’m sure will fully understand why I jumped at the opportunity to experience the Agawa Canyon train tour in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario.
Imagine being at a cross road. You are not sure what you want. You have little ambition and you are not convincing yourself what direction to go. Many older folk know this feeling for which the handy cliche “mid-life crisis” was created. This is what Lawren Harris faced back in 1918. He didn’t have a clear path. His life was in a mini shambles and needed to become untangled. He was battling tragedy with his brother passing away in the war and his close friend dying in a canoeing accident in Algonquin. With all this sadness it is no wonder the man’s mental instability forced him to be discharged from the army. Definitely nothing short of a rough patch. So as many do, or at least should, to combat this traumatic time in his life, Lawren sought refuge from the darkness within a rugged, untouched land 183 km North of the Soo. He found Agawa Canyon.
Now you are probably wondering who the heck Lawren Harris was. And don’t worry, his story is important background information to understand the importance and significance of Agawa Canyon to Canada’s artistic history and heritage.
You see, Mr. Harris was one of the much loved world famous artists that made up the Group of Seven – landscape painters whose path to creative notoriety we follow today on the vintage Agawa Canyon Train. We come face to face with the inspired land that brought their brushes to canvas one masterpiece at a time.
Fans of these artists have made the trek up to Sault Ste. Marie for years to catch the train and soak up the inspiration bestowed upon these men. Connoisseurs researching the artistic brilliance flock to the region seeking ideas and quite possibly a natural muse. And after experiencing it myself, I can definitely understand.
About the Agwa Canyon Train
Since 1952, the Agawa Canyon Train has brought over three million visitors to the beautiful canyon’s wilderness. A full service track whose sister train takes passengers as far as Hearst Ontario, the Agawa Canyon railway has definitely positioned itself as an integral attraction within Ontario’s iconic landmarks all must experience.
Arriving in Sault Ste. Marie ready to embark on my journey, I definitely could understand Lawren’s choice in towns for is sought-after serenity. A town mainly populated with retirees, honouring their neighbours and maintaining their mining industry, Sault Ste. Marie definitely is poised as a content Northern Ontario haven chosen by Earth as the entrance to this luscious landscape.
Once in town, head to the station located right in main city centre. The train departs promptly every day at 8 am! Make sure you purchase your tickets in advance to ensure you have a reserved spot. Seats are not assigned, however, the good views are definitely on the right side, warranting an early arrival to place at the front of the boarding line. Windows are tinted for those strong days of sunshine, but don’t worry, they do not impede your ability to take jaw-dropping photographs.
Upon departure, the train provides educational commentary throughout the 185 km trip north of the city to the heart of the unspoiled wilderness. Learn of many landmarks and significant historic spots leading up to the park that shaped this section of the Canadian Shield to what it has become today. As you listen, sip a coffee, get comfortable and brush off your lens, relax and take in the morning vibes around you.
Hungry? The train’s fully equipped dining facilities have got you covered. I was seriously impressed with the dining car. I was beyond the unbearable hangry stage with as much tolerance as crying child. I needed a coffee and some sort of grub to keep me sane for the duration of the trip. For breakfast, in order to keep order in the train, each car is called separately for breakfast. And I don’t mean pastries, baguettes, or Special K with powdered milk. I’m talking hot cooked dishes fit for even the fussiest of appetites. The menu is quite impressive with such choices as fluffy buttermilk pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, eggs and sausage, and breakfast quesedilla; in other words, the perfect recipe to combat hangriness….
The entrees arrived with fresh brewed coffee, juice, and all the condiments you could need. Meals were top-notch considering they were made in a mobile kitchen! I can honestly say that I went from hangry to happy in just little over and hour.
While enjoying your meal, peer outside at the incredible views around you. The impervious landscape that withstood the threat of urbanization surrounds the tracks with trees, wetlands, lakes, and untouched terrain fit for a number of wildlife habitats.
Agawa Canyon Provincial Park
Around noon the train arrives at the highlight of the trip – Agawa Canyon Provincial Park! A favourite for campers, hikers, and those loving a good picnic, the Agawa Canyon brings the beauty of the Canadian Shield right before your eyes. The tour allows for a 90-minute stop here where you can hike to some or all of 5 different waterfalls, climb 350 stairs to an observatory cliff to see birds eye views of the park, or for a leisurely picnic surrounded by all the magic a natural environment brings.
Pro-Tip: Make sure you bring bugs spray no matter what time of year you visit! Tea tree oil is also a great natural alternative. Black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes just love people and are quite plentiful in these grounds.
As you are visiting the park over lunch hour, the dining car offers bagged lunches for $15 to take outside and enjoy. These lunches include a sandwich (choose from many varieties), fruit, cheese, vegetables with dip, bottled water, and a yummy moist chocolate brownie. It truly was an incredible experience picnicking right beside an easel-marked spot where the Group of Seven captured a scenic moment on canvas.
Bridal Veil Falls
One of the waterfalls that is easily accessible after enjoying a meal are the bridal veil falls. To get to them, follow the marked signs for a hike of about 15 mins. They are some of the largest falls within the park and do prove to be some of the most gorgeous scenery within the Canadian Shield. After grabbing a selfie or two in front of the falls, why not sign the guestbook detailing how far you travelled to witness this untouched beauty.
On the way back, enjoy the views of the region while listening to the commentary. The dining car remains open should you be hungry and for those who declined a picnic lunch experience. Grab anything from a burger to a grilled sandwich and enjoy it at your seat or in the car.
The Agawa Canyon train arrives promptly back in Sault Ste. Marie around 5:30 pm. As you disembark, stop in to the station gift shop for a memento of your journey as well as to see some of the vintage train cars that used to transport passengers across the region.
The Group of Seven Trail
As the majority of the paintings these great artists created were inspired by this land, it is only right to acknowledge the unique locations. Sault Ste. Marie embraced this fame by marking the exact spots with signs reading “Moments in Algoma.” The markings to search for within the Agawa Canyon are small replica artist’s chairs coupled with easels covered with assorted notes and images of the paintings created in that spot.
When hiking to Bridal Veil Falls, do seek it out. While soaking up the solace, Lawren Harris painted in this spot the beautiful waterfalls before you in 1918.
If you are super keen to learn more about these painters and their legacy, and even further, learn how to paint like them, local artists are available for hire on the journey back to give you some tips and materials to recreate the masterpiece.
I want to go! Tell me the Logistics
So I have inspired you to take this amazing and cultural train ride have you? I am thrilled as it is such a Canadian staple that travellers should add to their ever growing bucket list. here are the important details:
- As mentioned previously, order your tickets in advance, especially on long weekends and in the fall. The autumn trains are the busiest and most popular as guests want to see the fall foliage transformation in the region which is nothing short of spectacular
- Tickets are $90 per person in the summer, and double this price in the fall!
- The Agawa Canyon Train Station is across from the Quality Inn and Suites hotel right in the city centre of Sault Ste. Marie
- Arrive at least 1/2 hour early (7:30 am) to ensure you are at the front of the line for your train car. The best seats are on the right side of the train as most landscapes, lakes, and landmarks are on this side.
- Washroom facilities are in each car.
- The Dining Car has amazing breakfast dishes and offer a bagged lunch for picnics or hot options for inside the train.
- The excursion is a full day so prepare to be back at the station on our around 6 pm.
- The Agawa Canyon Train sells multi-day packages that include accommodations. If you are staying a few days, do check with them on the deals on offer.
- Inquire on the art lesson should you be interested and book well in advance.
What to Bring:
- Tickets – that goes without saying 😉
- Jacket for the air conditioned cars
- A pillow just in case you want to rest on the way back after hiking up all those steps
- snacks and bottled water
- hat for the sunny weather
- bug spray – the pesky things swarm all around you as the park is surrounded by wetlands
- comfortable shoes – especially important if you are hiking in the park.
Check out our shop for any of the items you may need!
The Agawa Canyon Train Your experience was one I will never forget. It was peaceful, historic, interesting, and amongst some of the most incredible landscapes Ontario has to offer. As we explore our beautiful home this summer and uncover experiences and significant aspects of the province, heading up to Northern Ontario and hopping aboard the train was a true blessing. And once underway, all the memories of flagging down the locomotives of my Ashigan Lake antics all came back to me. Train trips really are incredible. Head up to Northern Ontario and check it out. It really is time to treat yourself.
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