Canadian Pacific Rail’s 23rd annual Holiday Train will be hosted virtually again this year due to the ongoing restrictions on public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cross-country program, which typically runs for three weeks during the holiday season, includes two trains decorated with thousands of LED Christmas lights. The festively decorated locomotives travel from Montreal to Vancouver, and through to the U.S. railway network, with their colourful lights cascading off the surrounding landscape.
The trains make a variety of stops for impromptu holiday concerts across their cross-country route, including annual pit stops in southern Alberta every December. The initiative also raises money for food banks along the route.
“We will be hosting our virtual concert in lieu of the regular holiday train program for the second consecutive year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Salem Woodrow, the media relations and community affairs manager at CP Rail.
She said the program will be replaced by a free virtual concert again this year in the hopes of bringing the same joy into people’s homes.
It’s the same format as last year when Canadian musician Serena Ryder headlined a show that would-be attendees could enjoy from the comfort of their own sofas.
The virtual line-up includes performances from headliners Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page and The Strumbellas, along with bands The Trews, Odds, and solo artists Sierra Noble, Tanika Charles, Aysanabee, and Keb’ Mo’.
The virtual show will be streamed on Facebook, YouTube, and CP Rail's website Saturday, Dec. 18 at 6 p.m.
Woodrow said last year’s iteration of CP Rail's Holiday Train was a “fabulous success,” and she hopes to see that continue.
She added CP Rail was happy to receive buy-in from a similar star-studded line-up of musicians again this year, but acknowledged she hopes to bring back the full program in 2022.
“We are disappointed that we need to run our virtual concert again this year and we are very eager to bring the holiday train back to our communities in Canada and the United States to spread holiday cheer in  and for many years to come,” she said.
Woodrow added even though the train itself will not chug across Canada this month, CP Rail is honoured to continue the usual charitable efforts associated with the Holiday Train, which include bringing awareness of food insecurity across the nation in hopes of raising funds for community food banks.
“We are very honoured to continue our support of food banks during such a critical time of the year,” she said.
CP Rail encourages those participating in the virtual Holiday Train concert this year to still donate to their local food banks, according to Woodrow, or alternatively, donate to Food Banks Canada in support of the national effort.
“We have seen throughout the pandemic that COVID-19 has really created many challenges for communities across our network and has only increased the need for local food banks and food shelves,” Woodrow said. “This year’s modified program will continue to draw the attention for food security issues, with the donations going to all food banks that would ordinarily receive them as well.”
She said CP Rail will donate $1.24 million this year to 198 food banks, including those in communities that would ordinarily host a Holiday Train event.