First published in 2011. Welcome to our blog at Canada Rail Vacations Inc. With this being our first ever blog entry, let me tell you a little bit about us, where we came from and where we are going. I have invited some world renowned travel writers to help contribute to this blog and I hope you’ll enjoy their words as much as I do.

Our company started as Gaia Travel Services in 1995, but the ideas for it arose much earlier. After years of personal travel, I was finishing my university program in tourism in Calgary. You may laugh at the idea of a BA in Tourism but I decided to turn a travel junkie’s passion into real life. At that point in time, I had visited about 30 countries worldwide. I was previously an athlete and competed internationally since age 15. This was what awoke my interest in travel. Everywhere I went people asked me about Canada. Words that came to mind were “Rocky Mountains, trains, Niagara Falls, Banff National Park, nature”. People were even starting to talk about that “new Rocky Mountaineer train with the glass dome.” The list went on and on. People always asked me about where to go in Canada and what to see. I was a traveller and I knew our country, so I was always planning tours for people. Thus, that became my profession. In the pre-internet days this sometimes took months of writing letters back and forth.

Today, if someone asked me what I did for a living, I’d still say I’m a tour guide, for that is how I got started. I would create my own packages and take guests on an unforgettable holiday. By 1998, we were packaging over 20 multi-day tours per year and already had a clientele base of over 1000 people. Guests wanted to come back and we started to branch out to other parts of Canada including Yukon, BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. In the off-season, I would guide tours and drive bus transport for other companies, anything from snowmobile tours to polar-bear watching. By 2011, I personally had guided upwards of 10,000 guests.

As a tour guide, I took it as my job to know a lot about every bit of Canadiana I could. It was at that point I was getting more into Canadian rail history. I had read Pierre Berton’s “The National Dream” on the idea behind uniting our country with a coast to coast Canadian railway. Then I read the sequel, “The Last Spike” on completing the railroad. I was hooked. Whether my guests wanted to or not, they were listening to me go on about the Canadian Pacific Railway. I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Armstrong, founder of Rocky Mountaineer, in 1997 who further inspired me to promote tours including rail travel. I also went to a book reading of Pierre Berton’s and got a signed copy of his book.

Out of these dreams and ideas Canada Rail Vacations emerged. Our operations are Canada wide and we sell both of our major rail companies in Canada – VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer.

What sets us apart from the competition is that we don’t resell pre-existing packages, we package them ourselves. That means we book each hotel individually to meet our guest’s preferences. Of course this is more labour intensive, but in the end we are able to get the customer a better price with more attention to detail. At last count, we have had over 30 guests who have come back on at least four different tours. I still guide the occasional group trip. It gets me out of the office and into nature. It also gets me closer to the customer to find out what they really thought of the package and how we can make them better.

I invite you to read our upcoming blog submissions, to “like” us on Facebook and follow us as a company on Twitter (@canadarailca) or Instagram (@canadarailca) or following my own personal Twitter (@martflan) as I travel throughout Canada and show off the love I have for my country.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read our blog. I hope you enjoy some of our future entries by me, our staff and other contributing writers.

Martin Flanagan
General Manager

Canada Rail Vacations Inc