By on July 1, 2012

Currently, two of TTAC’s regular writers are lumberjacks dirty communists Canadians: myself and Derek Kreindler. Today we celebrate our country’s one hundred and forty fifth year of being a sort of chillier, politer version of Australia.

I love Canada. It’s really… big. It’s big. Sure we discovered insulin and invented the pacemaker and created that game that’s a bit like hockey except there’s some baskets and a big orange thingy that you bounce around (can’t remember the name, tip of the tongue), but really, all true sons and daughters of the North are proud of one thing above all else: Canada’s the biggest country in the world. Apart from Russia, of course.

We do things big up here. We’ve got great big hairy bears; sprawling, desolate arctic wastes; vast, unchartable offices filled with incompetent bureaucrats; and huge tall trees – even your own Mitt Romney has remarked, “I love Canada, they got tons of trees up there.” Indeed we do: we’ve also got the longest highway in the entire world.

(Except for Russia, or course. And the Australians – but they cheated, the bloody convicts).

As I write these words, I am standing at the beginning (or the end) of the Trans-Canada Highway: mile zero at the foot of Douglas street where it joins Dallas road in a t-junction. Below, the Pacific laps gently at the cliffside shoreline; behaviour that befits its name, the peaceful ocean.

Eight thousand kilometres away lies the road’s terminus (or its beginning), the capital of Newfoundland, St. John’s. Let me just say that again: eight thousand kilometers. Seven time zones. All ten provinces.

If I was to jump in my car and drive day and night at an average constant speed of 100km/h – the nominal national speed limit – it would take me three and a half days without an hour’s sleep. And I’d still be in the same damn country!

Not that you’d notice. Roll into Newfoundland in a car with BC plates on it, and everyone will assume that you’re there to sell marijuana. Pull into Victoria in a car with Newfoundland tags and… well nothing much, I suppose. Someone will try to sell you marijuana and then not understand your weird accent, duuuuude.

It’s a glorious highway, crossing the majestic Rockies, the billiard-smooth and monotonously boring prairies, the lake-studded Canadian Shield, alongside the Great Lakes, through the national capital of Ottawa and then down through the close-clustered maritime provinces with their brightly coloured fishing villages and clusters of close-harmony coal miners.

This year, the Trans-Canada celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, meaning that you’ve been able to drive clear across this vast nation since the very first MGB hit the road. The road officially opened in September, amidst the towering peaks of the Rogers Pass in my home Province of BC. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker joined representatives from each of the ten provinces in declaring the road open for travel, which was a bit cheeky, considering that a full third of it remained gravel and dirt.

It took twenty full years to complete the Trans-Canada properly; it was fully paved by 1970 at a total pricetag of over a billion dollars, or approximately the cost of running our publicly funded medical system for 2.5 hours.

Mind you, the road was still bloody dangerous: dozens would die over the years as the result of icy weather, animal collisions, or just plain falling asleep at the wheel when driving through Saskatchewan, the rectangular-est province. Slow, incremental improvements have improved safety, but the responsibility for upgrades rests not with the federal government, but with each cash-strapped individual province.

More than a road, it’s a mountain. Any number of charitable causes have been supported by people attempting to cycle, run, walk or propel a wheelchair along its endless length. Perhaps the best-known journey is one that was never completed.

Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer at the age of nineteen. It would take his life in a New Westminister hospital bed at twenty-two. After diagnosis, amputation, and chemotherapy, he came up with the idea of running across the country to raise money for cancer research: his “Marathon of Hope”. A stubborn, hitching gait got him from St John’s to Thunder Bay, a distance of 5300 kilometres. He would have had four provinces and the Rockies still to conquer.

Today, Terry is a national hero, his legacy a lasting one. The road itself is just as important, an umbilicus that connects us all as we huddle against the 49th parallel for warmth.

Most of us will never drive the whole thing. It’s too daunting and onerous a task, compared with the relative ease of developing deep-vein thrombosis while entering the fifth hour of being parked on the tarmac in one of the fine aircraft operated by our national airline. The Rockies may be majestic, but the prairies will have you reaching for the fast-forward button, and then there’s the long drive back, unlike the Australians with their circular route.

Still, there at my feet is mile zero. The first step on a journey that would take me through the land that my immigrant parents chose for me. I’d see things, meet my fellow countrymen, explain to them that I wasn’t holding with an apologetic shrug.

Someday, I’ll make that trip. Not today though, there’s a Rita McNeil special on, eh?

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62 Comments on “Fifty Years of the Trans-Canada Highway...”


  • avatar
    djn

    I had no idea that Canadians invented Curling.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Norway is the worlds biggest country, if you flatten it out!

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Nicely done! Happy Birthday, eh!

    I wanna do the highway at least once. Never enough time, sigh.

  • avatar
    Creature of the Wheel

    Was PM Diefenbaker wearing a construction worker costume and standing on heavy equipment underneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner while giving that speech? No? Nice try Canada. We’re still winning the Moments of Gleeful Hubris Cold War down here. USA! USA! USA!

  • avatar
    potatobreath

    I remember one year someone put a toque on Terry’s head over at SFU Burnaby campus during snow season. Seemed rather thoughtful. Have a picture of it somewhere.

  • avatar
    Szyznyk

    Driving north-south through Georgia is boring enough. I never want to tackle Texas or Alberta-Saskatchewan.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Thanks foor the article Bredan, and Happy Canada Day to the rest of my fellow Canadians.

    A friend of mine actually holds a Coast to Coast record from Halifax to Vancouver, about 6000km, in 59 hours and 51 minutes riding a Honda ST1100.

    (Also, are you sure about the time zones? I count 6, not 7.)

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I’ve driven the entire length multiple times, though never in a single trip. Starting from near the middle I’ve gone west one year and east the next.

    Even broken up like that it is indeed a mind-numbing distance to drive, especially in winter conditions. I’ve done about 3/4s of it on a motorcycle and I have to say I respect anyone who tries such a distance on a bicycle or in a wheelchair.

  • avatar
    Mike_H

    Happy Canada Day!

    I have ridden segments of the Highway on the way from Wisconsin to Alaska, and later across the top of Lake Superior. My bucket list includes a ride to Newfoundland.

    Long? Yes. Desolate in places? Yes. Beautiful? Absolutely yes.

    Now if you’d kindly increase the speed limit to 115 kph, that’d be much appreciated.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Brendan, you’re justly proud of a wonderful country. I often envy what seems like a bit more genial populace than we have here in the states. I do have one question, though. Do most Americans who come up for a visit carry their pet in a box strapped to the roof of their car?

    • 0 avatar
      bg

      No, but they stop to sup when they get a taste for pup.

      http://newsbusters.org/blogs/scott-whitlock/2012/04/18/nbc-highlighted-romneys-dog-roof-only-abc-notes-obama-tried-dog-kid

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Obama tried dog as a kid in Indonesia which, as unpleasant it is to many of us, is part of Indonesia’s culture. Romney did the dog on the roof thing as a fully grown adult. Fortunately, dogs surfing the roof of cars in a cage is not part of the American culture.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    By seeing those pictures, it seems like Canuckistan is an awesome country too. Just like Awstraya.

  • avatar
    vww12

    The politicians may have “inaugurated” the road in 1962.

    Actually, the road was completed in December 2009. That’s when they finally opened the Happy Valley-Goosebay road link to Blanc Sablon in Labrador, thereby leaving only a legitimate ferry ride, the 37 Km Blanc Sablon-Terry Barbe ferry between continental Labrador and insular Newfoundland.

    Prior to that, you had to take a lengthy, multi-stop cabotage ferry between Happy Valley-Goosebay or environs and Terry Barbe; i.e., there was no road. The road was incomplete.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Awwww…C’mon, now…DO IT! Do the whole drive – in that 50-year-old MGB!

    A wonderful article, Brendan, especially on a nice Sunday morning.

    I’ll have a Molson Golden for you! One of these days I’d like to visit Canada. I won’t drive that road – well – maybe part of it, but I’d rather take the Canadian cross-country. I confess I do like passenger trains better than cars.

  • avatar
    sudden1

    Brendan, Happy Canada Day!
    I will always remember it was only Canada- Canadians- that had the guts to rescue some of our hostages out of Iran during the crisis. It came at great national risk and personal peril. Your country demonstrated that not only are we allies, but friends. No jokes about Canada coming from me- ever. Oh, and I love Montreal…

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      “Oh, and I love Montreal…”

      Careful, you may be opening a totally different can of worms here. Let’s just say that Quebec (and its dwellers) is not much loved in places west of ON/MB border. :-)

  • avatar
    galloping_gael

    Happy Canada Day!
    Wonderful article, but check your math. A billion would run health care for about two days
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/31/us-health-idUSTRE64U3XO20100531

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Out on the trans-canada highway
    There was a girl, hitchhiking with her dog
    Fireflies buzzin’ round her head Like candles in the fog.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    Hard to believe that Canada, as a sovereignty, is older than countries like China, Italy, Germany, Egypt.

    Happy Canada Day!

    • 0 avatar

      North America in general is older than it’s assumed. Galileo was once offered a cathedra at Harvard.

    • 0 avatar
      Lobo

      Canada has only had its sovereignty since 1982.

      • 0 avatar

        Fully formal and legal, perhaps, but functionally you could argue. We were semi-independent in 1867, arguably independent in World War I (when we made our own decisions about how to participate in the war), and fully functionally independent with the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931. All that happened in 1982 was that we ceased being governed by the British North America Act and started being governed by the Constitution Act, 1982. At that point the Queen of the United Kingdom became, additionally, the Queen of Canada (a fully separate role) and Britain no longer had any role, even under duress, in our governance.

        The only time since World War I that the UK involved itself in our governance was to ensure that the Constitution Act, 1982 was the will of Canadians. The UK really did an excellent job of leaving governance of Canada to Canadians. (The King-Byng affair – see Wikipedia if you care – was arguably an exception but since the governor general wasn’t acting at the request of the UK government, but rather how he felt was in the best interests of Canada in his role as governor general, I don’t count it.)

    • 0 avatar
      kkt

      China and Egypt as civilizations are thousands of years old. I don’t think it really matters that they had some interesting times along the way.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    I wonder if it will be another 50 years before it’s 4-laned coast to coast. A lot of people don’t realize that there is not even 1 Interstate grade freeway running the length of our country. Here in BC most of the TCH is 2 lane blacktop with the occasional passing lane. It was adequate in 1962, but way over capacity today. It’s a rare week when there is not at least one lengthy closure in the Roger’s Pass due to an avalanche, mudslide or serious crash.
    God only knows what it would cost to upgrade through our mountainous terrain, but it sure needs it. Happy Canada day to all the canucks on here.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Not only that, but the only road that crosses the Manitoba-Ontario border and doesn’t dead-end on the other side, is the Trans-Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      I must write and say that U.S. Interstate 94 runs from Boston to Seattle, approximately 2400 miles across our great “Under Road Construction” nation! Its not perfect, but it’ll do.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        And I-40 from Wilmington NC to Barstow CA. Yeah it stops just short of the Pacific so maybe doesn’t count but it’s still an epic drive and one I made unwillingly post 9/11. Well not all of it but most of it.

        I was in Vegas for a conference on 9/11. With no flights and no idea when there might be, 3 coworkers and I rented the last car in Vegas (a Camry) and drove it home to Raleigh, NC. We drove straight through, picking up I-40 in Kingman, AZ, switching drivers every 6-8 hours, and it took us just over 36 hours at an averge speed of 70.1 mph according to my handheld GPS.

        The Texas panhandle and Oklahoma were brutal. Flat, boring. But the worst was Tennessee. When we crossed into TN we thought woohoo, only one more state to go! But I-40 runs through TN FOREVER. We thought we’d never get through that state.

        I enjoy a good road trip but that was ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Adding 2 more lanes will not make it impregnable to landslides or avalanches. It is as unfortunate as it is inevitable.
      Having said that, I do not recall any avalanche-prone zones on that new short-cut from Kamloops westward.

  • avatar

    At least you have the highway, while Russians don’t really. The “Federalka” turns into pits just as soon as Putin’s Kalina passes the kilometer marker.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    In ’76 1 cycled (that’s bicycled) Trans Canada 1 from Victoria BC to Ontario. Other than metro areas, it often reminded me of a very nice rural highway. Wonderful rest areas. Unbelievable landscapes.

  • avatar
    Joss

    anti thrombosis is called Westjet.

    we’d all have a big ring-road like oz if canada lost 1812.

    I’m planning to cycle my Batavus heavy dutch bike up the rockies – no sweat.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Canada is a beautiful country and every trip I have made there was a great one. Happy Canada Day!

  • avatar
    jeremy1001

    I never actually thought about it, but i have lived my entire life not more than 10km away from the Trans Canada. Autoroute 20 just outside of Montreal, and now the Yellowhead in Edmonton. I have driven almost it’s entire length 4 times and on a 5th attempt, I had to ditch my crippled Golf in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.

  • avatar
    AJ

    That wold be a neat drive.

  • avatar
    kkt

    Thanks for the pictures, and happy Canada Day!

    I did most of the mainland BC Trans-Canada Highway on the way from Yellowknife to Seattle in June. The Fraser Canyon is magnificent.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Happy Canada Day Eh! to my fellow Canuckistas. I think I’ll take my Acadian out for a spin. Here’s how long the Trans-Canada is. A visitor from Vietnam landed in Toronto and got on a bus to Vancouver. Once under way for a few hours he got up and asked the driver how much longer it would take to get to Vancouver. Upon hearing it would take 3.5 days he leapt from the speeding bus to his death.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    And if you get caught doing 130kph, they take your car/bike away. That’s essentially the speed limit in Idaho. Someone once described Parliamentary government as a serial dictatorship. So you get stuff like that. And once in place, it never goes away. Really, 100kph in Alberta? Goodness gracious.

    • 0 avatar
      tiredoldmechanic

      Actually the deal is if you are caught doing 40 km/h or more over the limit your car is impounded for a week, at least here in BC. There is also a hefty fine plus towing and storage charges. I think Alberta has just implemented something similar. Out of province visitors get no slack either, which is something to remember if you are ever passing through.
      Staying under 140 isn’t that tough in BC because it’s narrow, winding and mountainous. In Alberta, not so easy.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Especially hard when most locals fly by at 130-140 on their home run from Banff to Cowtown.
        There is an unfortunate shift to stricter policing of speed (read cash collection) at the cost of real safety issues. Heck, I still remember when folks would be stopped for riding with tinted front windows or fart cans.

    • 0 avatar
      kkt

      Hm. I didn’t see any traffic enforcement at all in Alberta and the Northwest Territories for the 8 days we were there. Speed seemed to be driver’s discretion — how far away can you tell a fallen tree from a bison, and can you stop in that distance? I mostly settled for 115, but I was being passed more than I passed others.

      • 0 avatar
        tiredoldmechanic

        There isn’t much enforcement most of the time, true. But if you do get caught it’s gonna hurt. Long weekends in particular are heavy enforcement times.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Happy Canada Day. How bout this one: Leave Vancouver heading East and drive the Trans-Canadian Highway, then drop down to the US and drive I-90 west and then head back to Vancouver. That would be a big loop, eh? Next you’ll be boggling US minds with facts about the MacKenzie River.

  • avatar
    Charliej

    Down here in Mexico, Canada Day and the Fourth of July will both be celebrated on July second. No alcohol this weekend as it is election day. Canadians and Americans will be partying tomorrow night at the lakeside. Since moving here I have made a number of Canadian friends. Canadians seem, as a group, to be very nice people. I know all of our neighbors are. No rednecks. Happy Canada Day.

  • avatar

    Excellent article and I’ve had the opportunity to drive the TCH from Victoria to Toronto on a few occasions. One day I’ll finish the trip to Newfoundland.
    The vastness of this country reminds me of a trip my then girlfriend (now wife)did when shuttling vehicles from Southern Ontario to Alberta. We drove and drove and on the second day she asked where we are and I’ll never forget that look on her face when I said still in Ontario (near Kenora IIRC). This was her first cross country trip and she had no idea that the country ,let alone Ontario,was so vast. She was crabby the rest of the day and refuses to do another trip like that.
    Happy Canada Day.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    Driven it twice. Once starting from San Jose, CA and the other from Tampa, FL. That S-10 then went to Fairbanks, AK to Honolulu before I brought it back to Seattle.

    • 0 avatar
      LALoser

      Sorry, hit “send” by mistake…”mis-keyed?”LOL! I love Canada, the drives were filled with meeting the nicest people and beautiful surrounds. The world can learn from Canada. BTW: If I could live at Kluane Lake I would…stunning beauty.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Happy Canada Day!

  • avatar
    donatolla

    10 bucks says the MGB has wiring issues before hitting the Rockies.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Happy Canada Day! I made a family vacation road trip from New York and am in Toronto right now. Hope to catch some fireworks.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Somehow Manitoba and Sask do not feel that boring to me – it is all a matter of the right mindset, ample music collection and – good weather.

    Northern Ontario to that matter is much worse, especially the part between Thunder Bay and Kenora – there really is nothing there, no radio stations, no cell phone connection, nothing. Just you and the open road. The limit is 90 kmh(!) and is vigorously enforced, since local police force have nothing better to do and those tiny municipalities with Scandinavian names need cash.
    So crossing the border and speeding up to 120 is a true relief.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    Happy Canada Day from Downunder. It might be true that you have the biggest-ish country, your mooses (meese?) are bigger than our roos and you have the longest east/west (west/east?) highway but I insist that ours is more boring and flatter. AND we have the added consequence of drifting off to sleep in that you will probably wander over to the right (wrong) side of the road and be cleaned up by a 53 metre long road train.
    I loved my visits to Canada, there is no country where an Aussie feels more at home.

  • avatar
    solracer

    I have lots of fun trying to get people to guess which country my suit was made in. Who knew that Canada had a clothing industry?


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