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The Ocean line is frequently regarded as a cost-effective way to travel between Nova Scotia and Quebec. However, for those in the know, it is a nod to the opulent train travel of yesteryear.

Traveling while lying comfortably in bed isn’t easy in theory, but it’s one of my favorite ways to see the world. Who doesn’t want to be able to put their feet up and sip a glass of wine while driving to their next destination?

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I was converted to train travel for life the moment I realized I could experience everything I loved about business-class flights for a fraction of the price – and travel more sustainably in the process. The VIA Rail Montreal to Halifax train (the Ocean line) is North America’s oldest continuously operating passenger train, having transported passengers between Halifax and Montreal for more than a century.

While the Ocean isn’t as luxurious as the Orient Express or Rocky Mountaineer, It’s almost a metaphor for Nova Scotia: rough but homey. In comparison to flying, the overnight route is often regarded as a more cost-effective way to travel the 1,300km between Nova Scotia and Quebec; however, for those in the know, booking one of the relatively inexpensive luxury sleeper cabins (a sleeper cabin is only about C$700) offers a nod to the luxurious train travel of yesteryear.

The onboard chefs prepare dishes inspired by the local Acadian culture, while attendants rush from cabin to cabin, making sure everyone is comfortable and has enough refreshments to last the 24-hour journey. For the most part, the lack of reliable WiFi or cellular service allows you to focus on the endless Canadian landscape. There’s even a full-sized shower on board for sleeper-cabin passengers, which is usually only available on multi-thousand-dollar business-class flights.

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When I checked into my cabin on a recent trip across Atlantic Canada, I was struck by how cozy it all was. Private cabin passengers board the train first, giving me time to settle into the spacious sleeper before the train began to move. I smiled as I climbed the two steps into my room: my solo traveller suite was only about twice the size of a standard airplane business-class pod, but the massive window spanning the length of the cabin, combined with a sliding, lockable door, made me feel like I was traversing Canada from the comfort and security of a hotel room.

The Ocean, which opened on 3 July 1904 by the Intercolonial Railway of Canada (IRC), was originally intended to serve as a summer-only supplement to the now-defunct Maritime Express railway service. Nonetheless, as immigration from the United Kingdom and Northern Europe increased, it became clear that the route between Atlantic Canada and Quebec would be critical for passengers seeking a quick and modern connection to the Canadian Pacific Railway and Grand Trunk Railway lines further west.

Soon, the Ocean was running through the winter (and the rest of the year), making it the most convenient mode of transportation for eastern Canadians visiting Alberta and British Columbia during the winter. Incredibly, Since its inception, the passenger line has maintained regular service, surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic and serving as a vital transport during World Wars One and Two, transporting vital services and equipment from central Canada to the Port of Halifax.

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The train still travels along the original IRC route today, passing through two time zones and three provinces. In fact, not much has changed since the train’s inception a century ago, with the modern journey retaining much of the original comfort and charm – from the cabin attendant service to the regionally focused dining car menu.

After boarding the train in Halifax, I was captivated by the ever-changing landscape outside my window for the first few hours of the journey. I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but the sights and sounds of the Halifax waterfront and Atlantic Ocean coastline never get old to me: the subtle taste of sea salt in the air; the way the sun cuts through the perpetual overcast; and the slow-bobbing ferries and tugboats. As we left central Nova Scotia and crossed the provincial line into New Brunswick, the oceanfront landscape gave way to rows upon rows of Balsam fir, yellow birch, and red maple trees.

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I eventually became eager to venture beyond my cabin. So I went to the Ocean line’s dining car, which is reserved for sleeper cabin passengers and has four different services scheduled for the trip – two for lunch and two for dinner. The semi-private dining car helped us imagine the history of this century-old train route. With white-linen tablecloths and deep-red, cloth-backed dining chairs contrasted against the oversized windows and built-in table lamps, old-world luxury remained. It was a significant improvement over the pre-packaged takeout window I had encountered as an economy passenger on previous trips.

The multi-course dinner menu was inspired by Acadian ties to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, with each dish rooted in traditional Maritime fare and designed to look like something you’d find on a typical Nova Scotian supper table. I ordered pan-fried haddock with boiled potatoes, minted peas and sweet pepper cream sauce, and clam chowder with crusty bread, all paired with Canadian red and white wine by the glass or bottle.

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The sun set as we drove through the dense New Brunswick forest during dinner, making it easier to unwind and prepare for bed because I no longer had access to the oil painting-worthy Canadian landscape. When I returned to my room after the meal, the couch I had left behind had been transformed into a twin-sized bed complete with fresh sheets, two pillows, and a plush hotel-quality blanket, thanks to the sleeper cabin attendants using the dinner service time to turn down each cabin.

Each sleeper has access to a full-sized shower at the end of the hall and is provided with an amenity bag containing soap, shampoo, and a standard hotel-style towel. The water pressure and shower temperature pleasantly surprised me; the hot and steamy stream of water was exactly what I needed before changing into my pyjamas and falling asleep to the steady chugging of the train.

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