Actual distance driven: 6,821 km
NOW: (MADOC) I’ve driven on Hwy. 7 between Ottawa and Peterborough many times, but never thought to stop at the sign that invites drivers to pause at the Lester B. Pearson Peace Park. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
“We only have maybe a couple a day,” says Jim Burns, who looks after the place. “We might get no one for a few days, then half-a-dozen. But last year, we had Lester B. Pearson’s grandson and great-granddaughter. They stopped in, and that was nice.”
The park is named after the former Canadian Prime Minister – and the man who ensured the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway in the mid-1960s, as I mentioned here when searching for his lost memorial – to honour Pearson receiving the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. The park is, after all, dedicated to peace.
The land was bought as an investment in the early ’50s by lawyer Roy Cadwell and his artist wife Priscilla, but they kept it and added to it; now it’s 17 acres in the woods eight kilometres east of Madoc, right on the Trans-Canada. It includes a 1.5 kilometre nature trail and a picnic area in the centre that shares space beside a symbolic burial ground for Canada’s 100,000 war dead, and a Japanese pagoda.
At one time in the ’70s, it was home to an organization called the “Institute of Applied Metaphysics”, and its members claimed that UFOs visited there, but Jim, a neighbour of the park, acknowledges that he’s never actually seen a UFO himself.
“Roy was involved in hospitals in London during the war and he’d seen some of its horrors, so he really wanted a legacy of peace,” recalls Jim. “He died in 2002, his wife the year before. The place was becoming rundown, but we’ve been fixing it up – they left some funds for it to be kept open for the general public, for anyone who wants to visit.”
Jim is the administrator of the charitable organization that looks after its maintenance. “We do ask for donations but we don’t get much,” he says ruefully. “I think last year we got six dollars.”
It’s a gentle place and a welcome find. Its stated intent is “to provide solace for the busy and the tired,” and for 20 minutes for me on the drive across Canada, it succeeded. Maybe next time I visit, I’ll remember to leave a donation.
THEN: Ask anybody in Ontario which highway is the Trans-Canada and chances are they’ll tell you it’s the 401, the wide, restricted-access road that links Windsor to Quebec via Toronto and Kingston.
It’s not though. The 401 (also known as the McDonald-Cartier Freeway, after the statesmen of Ontario and Quebec) was constructed in the 1950s and ’60s, but it was never to be part of the road across Canada. Like Halifax and Saint John in the Maritimes, Toronto was not on “the shortest practicable route” to link the two coasts, so its road did not qualify.
The most direct route is the old highway that runs alongside the Ottawa River, Hwy. 17 up to North Bay, and it’s the way that the original “pathfinder” drivers took, heading toward Sault Ste.-Marie.
The TCH also follows Hwy. 7 from Ottawa west to Peterborough, then heads north through Orillia to join the other route at Sudbury. In the ’50s, Ontario’s politicians knew that the vast majority of its population lived in the southern portion of the province and would be completely ignored by the Trans-Canada on Hwy. 17; in fact, a sizeable percentage of Canada’s entire population has always lived in Southern Ontario. For them to be literally sidelined by the Trans-Canada would make the highway into a redundant oddity, hence the second route here that at least leads to the south.
I’ve come this way because I live in Cobourg, just south of Peterborough and the TCH, and now I’m home for Canada Day. I’ll be heading out again on Wednesday from Ottawa to follow the road north – come join me next week to keep sharing the journey.
SOMETHING DIFFERENT … (OTTAWA) In the good old days, anybody could just drive up onto Parliament Hill. But not any more. Security is tight. Friendly, but tight.
Fortunately, a friend arranged a pass for us to drive the Camaro onto the Hill for some photographs of it beside the Eternal Flame, and underneath the Peace Tower. Mounties checked on us every minute or so to make sure we weren’t sticking around for long, and I’m sure those were only the cops we could see.
Finally, after I’d taken enough pictures of historic Canadiana, I jumped into the car and backed it up to drive off in front of the Centre Block’s main door. “Not that way!” called the nearest Mountie. “This is one way.”
I turned the wheel the opposite direction and told the cop that he’d helped me avoid a very exotic ticket. “No,” he said, “I wouldn’t have given you a ticket – not for a fellow Chev owner,” and then told me all about the ’53 Chevy he kept back home.
I was going to ask what he’d have done if I’d been driving a Mustang, but thought I’d better not push it…