Imagine for a moment being a settler on your first trek out to Western Canada via the mighty Canadian Pacific Railway.
From the woodlands of the Canadian Shield, travelling west the landscape transforms into a wide-open expanse of untouched golden Prairies filled with boundless potential.
Now imagine it with a live band, close friends and some locally-made beer. Or how about wine and cheese?
That cross between stepping back in time and an afternoon or evening out with family and friends is what you get when climbing aboard one of Aspen Crossing’s dozen-plus train tours.
Fourteen miles of track laid about an hour southeast of Calgary take you on a Prairie adventure like you’ve never experienced before, complete with heritage railway cars that transport you back through Canada’s rail history and provide a modern entertainment experience on your journey.
Rochelle Watt with Aspen Crossing came to Alberta from British Columbia four years ago and remembers the feeling she had seeing the diverse landscape.
“I couldn’t get over the wide expanse of the landscape; how the sky and the land just seemed to merge,” she said, adding the train tours capture that feeling in a two-and-a-half to three hour, 28-mile, round-trip ride.
“You’re reflecting upon the settlers that arrived by train for their 160 acres to start a new life. Basically, it seems like it’s almost untouched, just as they would have seen it for the first time.”
Each of the eight cars in the train have their own history, from the dining car to the caboose – which comes complete with an accessible cupola where riders can have a bird’s-eye view of the passing landscape – and riders are encouraged to explore the cars while on their journey.
Part of that history is in the fields, where riders will traverse land owned by fifth and sixth generation farming families. The area’s ties to agriculture are embedded in the soil; an area Watt said still continues to produce and export food worldwide.
Watt said the trek takes passengers from the Aspen Crossing compound (where there’s plenty of free parking) and their replica 1900’s train station, past the lush Aspen Crossing campground and northeast through the coulee near Arrowwood, and then back across to the hamlet of Herronton.
There’s something for everyone on the selection of tours – whether that’s the Ales on Rails trip that features local brews, the Champagne brunch, or the Circus train that has fun for the whole family. The folks at Aspen Crossing also have the flexibility to host your special group or event, from birthdays to corporate outings – even weddings – making it a memorable occasion for everyone.
History is always enjoyed more with live musical entertainment, and what’s a railway excursion without a high-stakes train robbery. Hold on to your wallets! But don’t fret, all robberies are by donation with the funds going to various local charities.
Watt said they want passengers to forget about where they’re headed and just immerse themselves in the trip back to Alberta’s roots.
“It’s not about the destination. It’s about embracing the journey. It’s about mixing and mingling with fellow passengers, it’s about taking that step back in time, it’s about experiencing something that’s not typical, it’s not everywhere you go,” she said.
“It’s just about having a great time.”
If you’d like to travel back in time for a Prairie railway adventure, visit the Aspen Crossing website.