Travels with a Wheelchair – Canada

The husband and I are big fans of travelling and on the bucket list was a trip across by Canada by train.  So after checking with the company as to access, we booked a trip on the famous Rocky Mountaineer and then planned the rest of the trip around the train.

We flew to Vancouver with the wheelchair in the overhead bin and took a taxi to our hotel, the Marriott Vancouver.  We decided not to hire a car in Vancouver because we stayed close to the downtown and the buses and city transport system is pretty good, and all accessible.

The hotels we stayed in Canada were surpisingly not as accessible as those in America.  The room in Vancouver was the same size as a regular room and there was nothing about it that marked it as accessible apart from a wheelchair height spy hole in the door and one grab rail in the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hotel.  There was also a lip to get into the bathroom so within minutes the husband had tripped and narrowly missed his head on the loo.  If you need a shower stool to sit in the bath/shower combo, you need to ask ahead.

Getting around town, which is fairly flat, was easy on buses, we made it out to Grouse Mountain easily enough via the ferry across the bay and the bus up to the mountain, where the cable cars were accessible too.  The top of Grouse Mountain is as you would imagine, uneven and bumpy, (and we didn’t have the Front Wheel at this time) so I did a fair amount of tipping the chair back and pushing but we managed and if you had a motorised chair or a Front Wheel you would manage just fine.

A trip round Granville Island was also easy via bus.  A few cobbles here and there but it was easy.  We did notice that some shops were not accessible, narrow doors or small steps with no ramps, but these were in the minority.

The Rocky Mountaineer was a short taxi ride from downtown Vancouver and the check in areas were all flat, wide open spaces.  With a grand piano and a welcome drink at 7am!  Nice.

To access the train you can request a scissor lift or a ramp, but Mr WheelChicHome decided to climb the train stairs, there was a handrail, and he used the crutches on board.  The chair was stored by the crew and we didn’t use it.  It’s possible to use a narrow chair on board I would think, but would struggle with the toilet facilities if you couldn’t get out of the chair fully, the toilets are tiny.  One of them was deemed ‘disabled’ and you couldn’t get a chair in, but it was larger and with plenty of handrails.

We were in the Gold Class, which is the double decker coach with a glass domed roof.  To access the upper floor it was via a small spiral staircase or a lift.  The lift was located in the kitchen so he had to walk through the carriage, into the kitchen where the chefs had to make way for him and then the lift had to be operated by a member of staff.  This was easy for him to get up and down but a pain to have to keep asking to go to the loo, which was downstairs.

dsc00405Onboard service was excellent, the bar opened at 9.30am (win!) and the commentary was really informative.  No wifi on board but that’s deliberate.  You’re there to look at view, not to your iPad.  As we were in the Gold Class, the meals were downstairs, so up and down in the lift.  Meals, drinks, snacks all included and the food was fantastic.

The staff couldn’t do more for us.  At the halfway point in Kamloops, passengers are transferred to local hotels for the night, and instead of us taking the bus with the other passengers, they had booked us an accessible taxi with a ramp, which was excellent.

The Kamloops Hotel 540 was basic but very good, the bathroom was a proper wet room and lots of grab rails, so very useable.

Next morning, the taxi picked us up to take us back to the train for the second day of travels.

At the end of the train ride we finished in Banff, where we stayed for five days.  We hired a car in Banff so we could drive around the area and see the lakes and mountains around.  Access around Banff for a wheelchair is easy, most shops (not all) accessible and the town is flat and good lowered kerbs.

The Royal Canadian Lodge where we stayed in didn’t have ‘disabled’ rooms. (I mean really?!) but the superior rooms had a separate bath and shower cubicle, which for us is ok.  No grab rails at all but hanging on to the shower rail was an option for us.  It was a step up to get into the cubicle so if you’re unable to do that, this hotel won’t work for you.  We also had confusion about the shower seat we’d requested but it was resolved on the second day, and to be fair to the hotel following their embarrassment and my Trip Advisor review, they sorted out the situation by buying some more shower stools.

dsc00413We spent a few days driving round the local area near Banff, we saw the Canada day parade with our new Mountie friends (these poor guys couldn’t go a few steps without people requesting photos!).  It’s a lovely little town, very accessible and friendly.  The National Park is within easy drive and we saw bears wandering along the road.

One day we drove down to Canmore to take a helicopter ride.  Some of the restaurants in Canmore were inaccessible and for lunch he had to climb a few stairs, but for the toilet had to go down a huge flight of stairs with the help of a friendly stranger.  Otherwise, the waitress shrugged, he could use the public bathroom up the road.  Erm… no…

We took the Royal Canadian tour from Canmore and the staff at Alpine Helicopters couldn’t have been more helpful.  Usually you run into the chopper as the rotors are running, but for us they switched engines off, and the staff helped get him in, (they took a photo of us standing by the door before we got in!) and they stored the wheelchair, then they switched engines on.  They were so helpful.

Another day trip from Banff was up to the Athabasca Glacier with Brewster tours.  They have these incredible all terrain vehicles, a couple of which have a wheelchair lift, but silly us didn’t pre-book so we went on a ‘normal’ vehicle and he climbed up and they stored the wheelchair at the back.  So, recommendation is to pre-book!  Without the Front Wheel he struggled a little at the top of the Glacier but we got around ok.  The snow was a little slushy and that made it hard going but we managed ok and the staff were helpful.  What a lovely place and the fresh water from the glacier was the best I’ve ever tasted!

Next we drove to Lake Louise which was my close to the top of my bucket list for 20+ years.  We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which was also top of my list.  It was perfect and whilst the room was snug, they had put all the support needed for the bathroom including supports over the bath and a shower cubicle with a stool.  The staff couldn’t have been more helpful.

The views across Lake Louise are the most photographed in Canada but it didn’t disappoint.  It’s stunning.  Beautiful.  I had tears in my eyes to think I finally made it here after so many years.

One day we took the canoe across the Lake and the staff were amazing.  They put the canoe around the side of the pontoon and had two people holding while he got out the chair, sat on the floor and bum shuffled across to the seat.  It was pretty easy.

Around Lake Louise are lots of mountains and trekking trails.  Of course that’s something we don’t do so we probably did miss some wonderful views but I was happy by the lakeside, watching the world go by in the prettiest place in the world.

We took the cable car up to the top the Ski Resort there and the staff were excellent, stopping the ride to allow him on the ski lift seat, and they put the wheelchair in it’s own cable car behind us!  At the top of the mountain we saw bears in the wild, which I was so excited to see.  What a privilege to see such beautiful creatures in their own environment.

Next stop on our trip was Calgary, we drove from Lake Louise and stayed at the Marriott in the centre of the city.  This Marriott had a large disabled bathroom and the door to the room was auto opening which was really helpful.  Still a bath/tub combo but this time, no shower seat so that was interesting.

Calgary is a reasonably flat city and easy to get around in the chair.  We took the ride to the top of the tower with the glass floor which was very easy to get around from the top you can see right across the city and beyond.

We spent the next day or two watching the famous Calgary Stampede, the Rodeos and the big musical shows.  Getting to/from the Stampede was easy on the Metro system despite the crowds and the wheelchair seating was a great view.  A very steep ramp to get to the wheelchair seating  – so if you’re in a manual chair, on your own, it would be a struggle.  The husband went off to the loo on his own at one point and he came back up the ramp with the help of a passer-by.  Wheelchair seats are fully in the sun so take a lot of sunscreen and a hat and lots of water!

Canada is a beautiful country, but it’s not as accessible as you might think.  Shops and hotels need to be better.  Having said that, people are friendly and will help out, in fact they’ll ask what help you need if you’re in a chair rather than assuming you need help. Definitely go and visit!

Have you visited Canada? I’d love to hear your stories!

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