“The Ocean Limited”. Photo: J. D. Kelly, ca. 1915. Courtesy of Musée McCord.
The Ocean Limited, operated by Via Rail between Montreal and Halifax, is currently the oldest continuously operating named passenger train in North America. Together with The Canadian and Via’s corridor trains, the Ocean provides a transcontinental service.
Inaugurated by the Intercolonial Railway Company (founded in 1872 and one of Canada’s first crown corporations), the Ocean Limited was created to supplement the Maritime Express as a summer-only “limited stop” service beginning on July 3, 1904. In Halifax, it connected with the Dominion Atlantic Railway’s luxury train, the Flying Bluenose. During the immigration boom of the early 1900s, the Ocean Limited and other passenger trains on its route saw increased use as they provided key winter-time connections for both the Grand Trunk Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway in moving sponsored immigrants to lands in the Canadian West.
In 1918, the IRC was merged into the Canadian National Railway (CNR) and the Ocean Limited continued its operation much as before. During both the First and Second World Wars, the Ocean Limited provided important service to the port of Halifax, bringing troops and equipment for transportation to Europe.
By 1966, the Ocean Limited had been renamed to the Ocean/Océan, while maintaining the same schedule and train numbers. In 1976, CN placed operation of all its passenger services under a new division using the marketing slogan “Via”. In April 1978 this division was created as a separate crown corporation named Via Rail Canada, taking with it all CN passenger trains and equipment. The new national passenger rail service did not begin to change train names and operations until 1979, following the October 1978 assumption of all CPR passenger trains and equipment.