There’s no such thing as “The” Canadian Journey – not just one, and not just yet.
In fact, there have been many iconic Canadian journeys – by explorers, voyageurs, pioneers, heroes. Journeys both triumphant and tragic – Mackenzie’s overland trek to the Pacific comes to mind, as does the lost Franklin expedition. Just as legendary are the original First Nations routes – overland and by water – upon which all subsequent Canadian journeys have relied.
Combining elements of both triumph and tragedy was the transcontinental railway, which pegged out a smooth track across this vast country. It was a transformative achievement for Canada, but one that was won at great personal cost to the engineers and workers, particularly the Chinese immigrants who completed the final, most difficult stretches through the Rockies. The arduous route to the Last Spike is reflected in the Trans Canada Trail, a great deal of which runs on former railway lines.
In this special Canada Day feature devoted to the Trans Canada Trail (TCT), you will discover how the TCT unites these historic exploits into one truly Canadian journey. You’ll read how the TCT retraces such varied journeys as the iconic western Canadian traditions represented at the Calgary Stampede, the original route of Jacques Cartier as he sailed up the Saint Lawrence to establish New France, and the secretive paths of the Underground Railroad that led to an important terminus in southwestern Ontario.
The TCT also pays its respects to the founders of the nation’s original Chinese community in Victoria, B.C., the Ukrainian pioneers who crossed the continent to settle the Prairies, and the turn-of-the-century gold-rush stampeders who quite literally put Yukon Territory on the map.
In all corners of Canada, when people travel on the Trans Canada Trail, they walk in the diverse footsteps of our nation builders.
For the co-founder of the TCT, Dr. Pierre Camu, one of the most interesting Canadian heritage routes runs on the river to which the fur trader Alexander Mackenzie gave his name. “The Mackenzie is not a deep river,” said Dr. Camu in a conversation earlier this month, “but it is very long – and has the largest drainage basin in Canada. It allows for quite a nice, long, slow journey. You could start at Fort McMurray and go by canoe, on the Trans Canada Trail water route, all the way up the Mackenzie, over the Arctic Circle, and straight on to the Beaufort Sea. It would be a very interesting canoe trip over many days, or weeks.”
For Dr. Camu, slow is the name of the game. “The majority of Canadians travel the country by plane, train and car – and you can’t re-discover the country at very high speed. But with the Trail, you can walk, or cycle, at human speed.”
In their younger days, Dr. and Mrs. Camu used to cycle frequently on the Trans Canada Trail, particularly in Brockville, Ontario, the Gatineau Hills in Quebec, and in urban Ottawa. “People skate for long distances on the Rideau Canal in the winter,” he recalls, “and in the summer, on Sunday mornings, when the Driveway along the canal is closed to car traffic, many cyclists, rollerbladers and strollers make use of the Trail.”
“On the Trail,” he continues, “the air is fresh; the surroundings are beautiful; you can listen to the birds; and you can make a connection with the natural environment, which you lose when you spend all your time in the middle of a city – as 75 per cent of Canadians do. It is good to get out – and the Trail gives you that opportunity.”
The Trail allows people to visit small hamlets on the outskirts of more populated areas, which otherwise we would never have a chance to see. “These are what I call les petites patries – maybe two or three villages together, or three or four wards within a large city – with a particular culture, having been predominantly settled by one or several ethnic groups,” says Camu. “There are thousands of these petites patries in this country, and the Trail allows people to rediscover them.”
It’s precisely what the Trail’s co-founders had in mind, back in 1992, when they conceived of the grand idea of a national Trail. Cut to 22 years later, and the Trans Canada Trail is 75 per cent complete, and on track for full connection by Canada’s 150th birthday, in 2017.
“When it is completed,” says Dr. Camu, “I’ll feel very, very pleased – it’s an accomplishment that I’ll not only enjoy myself, but recommend to so many other people. We should use it – and use it fully.”
After all, the TCT reflects the ultimate Canadian Journey, a gift for every Canadian for generations to come.
As of Canada Day, 2014, the Trans Canada Trail is 75.3 per cent connected from coast to coast to coast, thanks to the TCT’s many supporters, including: all of our donors; our partners at all levels of government; our tireless volunteers; our National Champions; our Patrons; our provincial and territorial partners; almost 400 trail groups across the country; and generous in-kind contributions from Esri Canada, Bell Canada, Shaw Communications and The Globe and Mail. On that note, a special thank you to The Globe for supporting our fourth annual special publication, this Canada Day.
Here are just a few special places and ways that the Trail connects with Canada’s history and heritage.
STAMPEDING THE TRAIL
Calgary’s Cenovus Legacy Trail connects the city’s western heritage with the whole country
CANORA WELCOMES THE TRANS CANADA TRAIL
In rural Saskatchewan, Canada’s Ukrainian farming roots shine
IN ONTARIO, A HISTORIC PATHWAY TO EMANCIPATION
The Underground Railroad and the Chatham-Kent TCT