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Young travellers plan Canada 150 meet-ups on Via Rail

A westbound Via train heads west after leaving Union Station in Toronto on April 22, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Young Canadian travellers are meeting online before taking to the rails together in July for Canada's 150th birthday. A handful of Facebook groups have popped up for those with special Via Rail passes to discuss travel plans and organize meet-ups.

The $150 Via Rail pass marking Canada's 150th birthday allows people 12 to 25 (and students 26 and over with an International Student Identity card) unlimited travel in the month of July. The promotion made headlines in March, when people had difficulty buying the passes due to problems with Via Rail's booking system, but, in total, 4,000 passes were sold.

The largest Facebook group related to the pass is the public Via Rail Youth Travel. It has attracted 541 members since it was created on March 30.

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Twenty-four-year-old Kay Zheng, who studies commerce at the University of Toronto, wanted a way for people she knew to plan their trips together when she launched the group.

Soon after starting the group, Zheng learned another individual, Jonah Haber, had started one of his own. She asked if he wanted to merge the two groups. "So we did and the next day it pretty much blew up," she says.

Zheng will be travelling from Toronto to western Canada with her pass. She plans to meet up with with people from the group in Winnipeg and then continue west for some camping in Jasper and the Calgary Stampede.

"I planned my trip based on a lot of these people's itineraries," Zheng says. "I also posted threads about which way I was going so more people could join the route."

Posts to the group range from discussions of routes and tourist attractions, to an advertisement from a hand-poke tattoo artist who plans to ink travellers between stops for $30 to $60 a tattoo.

A definitive hashtag has yet to be coined, with group members contemplating more old-school systems for identifying each other. Vancouver student Tim Solntsev suggested travellers tie a yellow handkerchief to their backpack straps.

"There's going to be a lot of tourists mixed together with us and I just wanted to think of something that's visible and easily accessible to everyone," Solntsev says.

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Montreal accountant and aspiring clothing designer Carlos-Alberto Rios-Flores has designed a baseball cap he hopes will become the way young travellers find each other on the rails.

"My plan is not to make money from this. It's to make people happy and share an experience," Flores says.

The black cap from Flores's street-wear company, Tats Apparel, features a compass rose on the front. Flores plans to head west to Vancouver and then visit Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

Other groups include Via Rail 150 East Heading West and #Club1867 VIA Rail Canada150 Youth Pass Travellers.

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