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La Reata was first settled by Harry White, an American of Scottish origin, in the very year that the CPR opened. Today, its horses, cattle and impressive acreage stand in the care of another adventurous new arrival, a German by the name of George Gaber, who came over in 1996 to live out his lifelong cowboy fantasies. ‘It’s simple,’ he says, with a grin as brilliant as the glittering Saskatchewan River that runs alongside La Reata. ‘I was just born to do this.’

Railways play little part in the La Reata story of today. But its first chapter, as George appreciates, began with the lines that run through the distant prairies above and below. ‘I guess if the railway hadn’t been here then, I wouldn’t be here now.’

I gaze at George’s Dutch and German holiday cowboys trotting slowly home from a day on the range, awed once more by the CPR’s all-encompassing legacy. Distant and out of sight it might be, but the greatest wonder of the railway age is most definitely not out of mind. How splendid to be back on board, to reel in the mighty balance of the prairies, then all the lakes and forests, another three days and half a huge nation still left to rattle steadily through. Every railway on Earth is a triumph of human ingenuity and determination, but none, in hard-won scale and significance, are more truly heroic than the miles of wood and iron that connect Canada’s distant shores.

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The article ‘The wonders of Canada by rail’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.

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