ST. JOHN’S, NF.—I’m at the eastern start of the Trans-Canada Highway, preparing for an 8,000-kilometre drive west along the highway to the other end in Victoria, B.C., which also thinks of itself as the start of the road.
In Victoria, there’s a large sign in a park beside the road down by the Pacific that declares itself “Mile Zero.” There’s no such sign here. There is a sports complex downtown called the Mile One Centre, but it’s not technically on the Highway.
No – the TCH begins in Atlantic Canada at the dump.
“The TCH technically begins on the Outer Ring Road at the Logy Bay Road overpass,” says Emily Timmins, the communications manager for Newfoundland’s Department of Transportation and Works. That’s here, about five kilometres from downtown. If you drive in from the west, as I did this week, then the road just keeps going without anything to suggest you’re no longer on the TCH until you pass the Robin Hood Bay Regional Waste Management Facility and, after a kilometre or so, come to a stop at Quidi Vidi Lake.
It was not an auspicious end to the 4,000 kilometres I’d just driven from Toronto, which you can see compressed into just a couple of minutes here, so I drove over to the Mile One Centre for a photo. Tom Petty was playing that night and parking was an issue; security tried to shoo me from putting the car right beside the sign, but a gentle chat and a little persuasion won the day. Here I am in the photo, clean and scrubbed, ready for this 10-week adventure.
I’ll be telling stories here every day as I drive west. This is not just the 50th anniversary of the Trans-Canada Highway opening officially in 1962, on the day I was born, but also the 100th anniversary of the first road trip through Canada from ocean to ocean.
There were several pioneering drives across the country before it became simple, and I’ll also be retracing their routes and telling their stories:
- The Thomas Wilby drive of 1912, in which a snooty English journalist was chauffeured across the country, wrote a book that never once named his driver, and which I’ve retold in this week’s Maclean’s;
- The Perry Doolittle drive of 1925, in which the founder of the Canadian Automobile Association swapped the wheels of his Model-T Ford to drive along railway tracks where there were no roads;
- The Alex Macfarlane drive of 1946, the first time anybody was able to drive across the country on all-Canadian roads. That trip earned Macfarlane the Todd Medal, created in 1912 by the future mayor of Victoria to award to the first person to drive across Canada, all four wheels on the road.
I’m carrying the Todd Medal with me on this road trip, as I’m also carrying a horseshoe from Wilby’s journey and a 1925 CAA radiator badge. I’ll be more comfortable than all those pioneers, of course: General Motors is providing me a 2012 Chevy Camaro convertible for this drive and the CAA is ready to rescue me should I get into any trouble. That may happen shortly, when I dip the wheels of the Camaro into the ocean here to begin the journey – I’m hoping the wharf won’t be too slippery, and this Trans-Canada Trek doesn’t end in the water before it’s even begun…