To Try and Cross Canada

by MaxPower

I recently had the pleasure of driving across Canada, well not all of Canada, but at least half, from the Rockies, through the Prairies, onto the Canadian shield and then finally descending into the so-called ‘Golden Horseshoe’ where a large percentage of Canadians make their homes.

While driving the vast distance a couple things came to my mind – both good and bad. First of all, while any person has an idea of how big the planet is most do not actually have a chance to run, hike, cycle or drive across more than a small fraction of it. Most fly and believe me that is in some aspects a very good thing. Without air travel the world would be much more insular and xenophobic. The very ability to get on a plane and then 12 hours later, feeling like you have just been hit by a truck, get off the plane and be on the other side of the planet has always held an almost magical significance for me.

However, with flying came the underestimation of distances. In some countries this is more pronounced, Canadians, Russians and Australians have a very good idea how vast their country is, even the Americans who are usually ignorant of such things know that it would take a long long time to load up the Winnebago, strap the kids in the back and then drive from Seattle to Florida. Those who inhabit the British Isles however, lack this knowledge like most Europeans – with their small distances and centrally located countries. They greatly underestimate distances, I had a British co-worker who was in Montreal on business for a couple of days tell me that he was driving past Thunder Bay to the ‘Lake of the Woods’ area for the weekend. To prove his point he held up a small map of Canada and said what will it take 5 or 6 hours? To which I replied, probably about 24 hours if you drive non-stop. He blanched as pretty much everything is 24 hours from London by air and you can drive from one tip of the UK to the other in roughly 12 hours.

I have had the pleasure to travel extensively throughout North America; however, this has mainly been by air. Oh sure the one driving vacation from Alberta to San Diego and back via Colorado was an eye-opener regarding distance, but it seems like you need a refresher every once and a while. And this enthusiasm for another driving vacation served me well on my drive from Edmonton to Toronto.

Wonderful scenery was had, leaving Edmonton we traveled through gently rolling wooded hills which morphed slowly into giant and seemingly everlasting fields of wheat as we traversed Saskatchewan. Entering Manitoba we were treated to the start of the ‘lake country’ where forests of coniferous and deciduous trees grow around many thousand small lakes. After that was the Canadian Shield, an area dreaded by trans-Canada travelers, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed it. The large hills, many lakes, rock outcroppings and cute touristy cottage towns were a nice change from the flatness of the Prairies. After all of the natural beauty was experienced, and numbness set in (rocks and trees are only SO interesting after all) the highlights of the long hours on the road were the small towns so prevalent on the Trans-Canada Highway. Tiny towns who all take it upon themselves to have small slogans such as “The nicest town beside a Dam in the World” or “Welcome to Dryden, Home of the Prongers” (Chris and Sean, two NHL hockey players) or “Everything you would ever need”. Outlandish to be sure but oh so interesting, I half wished we stopped and got a picture of some of the very cute (and sometimes hilarious) Welcome To: signs. But that would have added innumerable hours to an already exceedingly long trip.

One of the nicest feelings was that at any of these small towns (excluding a couple in Manitoba, where there is a large percentage of Francophones) you could pile out of the car, enter the nearest general store and have a conversation about how good Tim Hortons coffee is or any other banal Canadiana conversation. It boggles the mind to think that after 36 hours of driving we were really only half way across Canada.

It isn’t all sugar that’s for sure, while the Trans-Canada highway through Alberta (rich and prosperous), Saskatchewan (sparsely populated with fantastic roads) was in great condition and divided the entire way, as soon as you cross into Manitoba everything starts heading down hill. The road starts losing its divided nature, down to one lane each way, then as you enter Northern Ontario – it gets skinnier, you lose the hard shoulders and then finally out in the middle of no-where Ontario you actually have to drive about 20 KM on gravel roads – I kid you not. The Trans-Canada Highway, the only road linking this country has gravel sections – what is this 1954? Granted they were doing construction on that part of the road so the gravel was a temporary measure but, gravel – come ON.

I would recommend anyone from anywhere on the planet who ever has the chance to do the Trans-Canada journey by car or train (bus too if that’s your thing) you’ll be amazed at the geographical regions through which you pass, marvel at the natural beauty, laugh and smile at the small towns, chat with the gas jockeys who insist on filling up your car (no self serve in small town Canada that’s for sure) and thoroughly enjoy the experience. On my recent trip my wife and I were treated to deer, raccoons, porcupines, black bear cubs, bald eagles, hawks and as soon as you enter Ontario swarms of O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) cars.

  • To Try and Cross Canada
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on September 1st, 2003

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