At 10.15 we arrive at The Pas, the first major stop for train 693. The engineers up front change, the train is refuelled and the water tanks are filled up. A couple of people get off, including the only other sleeper passenger, and a few get on into coach.
I walk the length of the train (which doesn't take long) and talk with the station worker who is filling our water tanks. He's having a quiet day it seems, normally there are lots of chatty visitors stepping off the train and asking him questions about the train. He recalls when it was seventeen cars long. Even in the high tourist season, it seems it's never made up of more than three coaches and four sleepers.
The original station building is still used, although since it handles substantially fewer passengers for fewer trains than it once did, it's a rather shabby shadow of it's former self. To the southern end of the station, parked on a side track opposite our train, are three blue and yellow VIA coaches. These are old cars, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway and subsequently used by VIA all over Canada. I'd never seen one before, though, and I have to ask what they are. I look back into my timetable and discover that they must form the twice weekly connecting train to Pukatawagan. A VIA employee (who will remain nameless) advised me against considering taking this train, which used to run as far as the town of Lynn Lake. I ask why.
"Dangerous train or dangerous place?"
"Dangerous train. There have been stabbings, and there are always fights on that train. And they don't like whites."
I had imagined that my train was the closest I would get to a working Canadian train that was princiapally used by those whose communities it passed through. But watching (the mostly native) people loading luggage and goods onto the freight car of the Pukatawagan train for it's departure later that day, I couldn't help feeling distant once more. Our train was, in comparison, luxurious, and didn't make me feel any less of an outsider. Our train slipped out of the station, and the ancient blue cars of the Pukatawagan train slipped out of view. I was lost in thought as The Pas left us behind.