By Angélique Grace (Vancouver)
In 1991, Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station became a designated heritage railway station and in 2010, the Canadian government announced a 5.1 million plan to restore the building. Five years later after the proposed plan, I stood inside the station perplexed about just how well this so-called restoration plan was carried out.
The building itself was smaller in comparison to Waterfront Station, but never the less beautiful from an architectural point of view. In fact, there was a distinct resemblance between the two stations.
Maybe it wasn’t so much that little effort went into the restoration process, but perhaps certain areas of the station were prioritized more than others. Much of the open spaces were quite well-maintained. Unfortunately, I just can’t say the same for the restroom facilities. In behalf of everyone, let me just say that: No one ever wants to encounter UFOs in the restrooms. And by UFOs, I mean – unidentified floating objects. Sorry for the gruesome details but it is what it is. I mean, it’s an easy fix: if you can’t restore it, at least keep it clean. As the sage words of Bob the Builder goes, “Can we fix it?” “Yes, we can!” I just don’t know how good Bob the Builder is with a plunger, but come to think of it there’s also Fix-It Felix.
Contemporaries and modern technologies aside, Pacific Central’s rustic ambiance is still evident despite the restoration efforts. Except for a few fixtures and other modern day technologies, it seems that everything else is as it would have been back in the day. I can’t say if the station clock and wooden benches are original furnishings, but they do add a sense of authenticity to the historic train station. With that said, I think I may have a new found love for old train stations – but not quite the same way I love airports. You may not realize it but a train station, similar to an airport, presents itself as turning point. It’s a place where you have to make a concrete decision to where you want to go and commit to it. You decide your destination, and how you get there is completely up to you. It’s a place of potential and possibilities. My destination? Seattle. How I was going to get there? By a thru-bus.
The decision not to take the car was very last minute due to an unprecedented car trouble. I booked my tickets online on the Amtrak website the night before I was supposed to leave for Seattle, and because it was so short notice, all the Amtrak Cascades trips for that day were sold out. There are two scheduled trips via train that leave for Seattle each day: one in the morning and one later in the evening. Otherwise, there are five scheduled trips via thru-buses. Travel tip: If you plan to take the train to Seattle, book your tickets at least few days ahead. I booked my trip so that I could make the most out of the experience. The plan was to take the bus to Seattle, then take the train going back to Vancouver. The total cost was $83 USD plus applicable taxes. It was roughly $42 USD each way – give or take a few bucks. The thru-bus to Seattle was to depart from Pacific Central station the following day. Pacific Central Station is the western terminus here in Vancouver for both Amtrak’s Cascades Line (Vancouver–Eugene) and VIA Rail’s Canadian Line (Vancouver–Toronto). It is also the bus depot for Pacific Coach Lines and Greyhound Bus Lines.
People started boarding the bus at 08:45, fifteen minutes prior to the intended departure. At 09:00, the driver closed the bus doors and started the engine. We were shortly on our way. The thru-bus service from Vancouver to Seattle, operated by Cantrail Coach Lines, was a 3.5-hour bus trip to Seattle plus the 20-minutes spent clearing through customs at the border. We made two other stops prior to reaching Pacific Highway Crossing: the Sandman Hotel in Richmond, and the Pacific Inn in Surrey – the pink à la Grand Budapest Hotel by Highway 99. As I expected, there weren’t very many people on the bus. Maybe ten, at most. I really should’ve done a proper head count. There were enough rows of seats that we could’ve each had of our own if we wanted to. What was even better was that we breezed right past customs because there were so few of us. Most of the passengers didn’t mind the 3.5-hour long route – some had a chance to catch up on sleep and many talked most of their way through to Seattle. Since I wasn’t really in the mood for small talk due to both excitement and lack of sleep, I hid behind a copy of John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. It had been a relaxing three hours and I was more than happy with my decision not to bring the car. After a few pages turned, we reached King Street Station in Downtown Seattle. It was hardly a station at all.
We reached Seattle at around 13:45 in the afternoon. We were dropped off right in front of the stations with several taxis waiting a just few meters away. Out of curiosity, I decided to have a look around the station before jumping onto a cab. I had plenty of time to explore around the city before my 16:00 check-in at the hotel. As soon as I walked through the big oak entrance doors, it was as if I had been greeted, “Welcome to King Street Station in all of its magnificence!” Like I said, it was hardly a station at all – more of a romanesque ballroom with beautifully intricate interiors where people just happened to wait for their train or bus. One thing is for sure, it was no Pacific Central – it almost made Pacific Central look ghetto. How do you even begin to describe this? The ceiling itself was a masterpiece on its own – the walls were meticulously detailed and a crisp, clean white.
It was a jaw-dropper of a train station. It robbed you of all possible words. For a flâneur, it was an ideal place to just sit and practice the art of people-watching even though there weren’t a lot of people at the time. I supposed it must’ve been an odd time of the day. However lucky for me, because it meant that I could take photos of the station without disruption. After taking photos around the station, I took a seat on one of the wooden benches. I think I must’ve spent a solid half an hour watching people go about their separate ways. Some to the trains, some out the door and onto a bus. It was then that I noticed this lovely couple getting their photos taken. At least, I assumed they were a couple. They were dressed to the 1940s – and reminded me of Noah and Allie from Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. She had the classic black eyeliner, red lipstick, and an A-line skirt. He had that boyish hand-in-his pocket stance. I thought, how charming.
The station was a beautifully restored historic building on 2nd Avenue and South Jackson Street in Pioneer Square – about a 10-15 minute walk to my hotel. It was built in 1906, designed by the architectural firm that later designed Grand Central in New York. Best shot of the station would be from the second floor balcony, up the stairs beside the rest rooms. I’m just not too sure if you could casually walk up to the second floor or if you would have to sneak up there. Anyway, after spending a bit of time at the station, I hopped on one of the yellow cab taxis waiting at the front. Next stop: Seattle Public Library Central Branch on 4th Avenue between Spring Street and Madison Street.