Do you dream of trains? Do you long for the days of travel aboard a chugging locomotive? While train travel may have given (mostly) way to planes and cars in Canada, there are still a few bastions of this oh-so-civilized form of travel kicking around. One such example sits just outside Winnipeg, at Inkster Junction, where the Prairie Dog Central Railway awaits. These vintage train cars will take you on a scenic prairie journey to the town of Grosse Isle for an afternoon of adventure, food and entertainment.
And while your kids will surely love this, on the afternoon of our visit there were couples a plenty heading out for a (romantic?) afternoon ride, and most certainly groups of multi-generational families combining kids and parents of the regular, grand and great-grand sort.
When you arrive, you'll wait with your fellow travellers on the train platform to board. Browse the gift shop for train themed toys and crafts, and pick up a few snacks too. Then take a peek inside the old fashioned train station. (Pro tip: if there's a line for the bathroom in the station (isn't there always?), there are extra ones in the warehouse building directly behind the station that no one seemed to know about despite the sign telling everyone so directly above the bathroom door.)
Once you hop on board, take a moment to read the plaque on your train car, outlining its particular history. For example, our car was built in 1908 for the Keeweenaw Central Railway in Michigan and was later sold to Winnipeg Hydro.
The ride from Inkster Junction to Grosse Isle takes about 50-60 minutes in each direction, but you don't have to worry about getting bored. Each weekend, a different theme entertains passengers (especially the kids) during the ride. In our case, performance artist Chris without the Hat (who was actually wearing a hat the entire time) drew caricatures of every child on the train. To say these two were enamoured with this would be an understatement.
Next stop is Grosse Isle, a charming little village where you'll spend about 1.5 hours. Bring some cash for lunch. You can pick up smokies, freezies, cold drinks, chips, popcorn, ice cream and the best part, a whole assortment of homemade goodies like Saskatoon berry pies, red velvet cupcakes, peanut butter squares and Nanaimo bars. Explore the historic houses, the natural history museum and a collection of old school cars on display.
For the kids, there's a playground, a small petting zoo area and a barrel train for them to ride. The highlight of the stop is a performance from Chris without the Hat (still wearing his hat, incidentally) who does some juggling, fire eating and joke cracking for the crowd.
Then, before you know it, it's time to get back on board for the trip home. The entire experience takes about 3.5-4 hours and service runs on weekends throughout the summer. Get your tickets on their website and be sure to book early as many dates fill up fast. There are some discounts available for families, so keep an eye on the site for those.