The Agawa Canyon Tour Train draws tourists from around the world to see the fall colors of Northern Ontario
If, like many Northerners, you spend time outdoors, you probably enjoy seeing the fall colors arrive at this time of year.
From the Quebec border near Mattawa to the Manitoba border near Lake of the Woods, the forests are ablaze with spectacular color. And the Algoma District, the Sault Ste. Marie is right in the middle of all this spectacle (yes, it’s a word!).
But like many Northerners – and Lindsey Ambeault of Sault Ste. Marie is one of them – you might as well take these fall colors for granted because you just grew up surrounded by spectacular maples, poplars, birches and elms.
“Absolutely. I think it wasn’t until I started working for the tour train that I realized how lucky we are to have that,” Ambeault said. “And we take it for granted. We sit in our backyards and the colors are all around us. But we have people who travel all over the world just to see these colors that are right next to us.”
Ambeault is the operating agent for the legendary Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which runs north of Sault Ste. Marie every day from August through October to show off the fall colors in the Algoma District. The railway line is owned by CN but was formerly the Algoma Central Railway. She said she had to thank her mother for her appreciation of the wilderness that the train tour offers. Ambeault said her mother had worked on the railroad for more than 30 years. She herself started at Deutsche Bahn six years ago.
Today she laughs about how her attitude towards nature has changed.
“Absolutely, yes. Everything about it, the train, the wilderness, the colors, I took it for granted. As a kid, I found it boring.”
Ambeault said while the falls’ colors are amazing to behold, the other big draw is the four-hour train ride to the canyon itself, through the wilderness in a beautiful part of Northern Ontario that offers postcard-like scenery through the large train windows every few minutes. No wonder Canada’s famous Group of Seven once documented this part of the country with their artwork.
Ambeault said she was lucky to be able to ride the passenger train at least once a week. In addition to her job requirements, Ambeault says her favorite thing is seeing the different types of maple trees gradually change from green to yellow to orange to red. She said that this type of landscape is what people love the most and despite the many marketing campaigns, it’s what people are talking about.
“A lot of this is honestly word of mouth. People from other countries come because they don’t have the luxury of having maple trees that take on their color. So for them it’s a really amazing thing. They literally come for the train to see the maples. You travel all the way here. Some from China, South Korea, Germany, Scotland, Finland, whatever. They just came here to see the maples,” she said.
Ambeault said the one thing they have in common is that everyone tells her they love the countryside.
“They just love it, everyone. I mean the only not great comment is that they wish they had more time when they get to Agawa Canyon Park, ok which isn’t really a negative thing. People just want more time,” she said.
The train did not run in the first year of the pandemic and only ran half a tour in the second year of 2021.
“This year has been a great year, especially for COVID people who just want to do things and are extra lucky that they can do it.”
Ambeault said from her observations that about two-thirds of the visitors are from Canada and the United States. The rest are visitors from other countries in the world.
Once the train arrives at the actual Canyon site, there is a park where passengers can hop off the train and spend 90 minutes enjoying the scenery. This includes some local hiking trails as well as a 300-step excursion to a high-altitude viewpoint.
She added that most of the 900-seat daily train journeys are sold out, but last-minute tickets are usually sold every morning. The Agawa Canyon Tour Train departs from a newly constructed station at 99 Huron Street in Sault Ste. Marie’s historic canal district, adjacent to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. Make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before the 8:00 AM departure time. Free parking is available. The nearby Soo Waterfront is the perfect place to explore the city before and after your trip.
If you’re wondering when is the best time to get out and see the trees, you can visit Ontario Parks’ website, which has a fall color guide that tells you where and when to go.
Tickets for the tour train can be purchased online.
If you miss the train or can’t book tickets, don’t worry, you can still take a fall color tour through most parts of Northern Ontario.
Len Gillis is a reporter at Sudbury.com. Bold is made possible through our Community Leaders Program.