Trans Canada Highway

ROUTE 66 and the TC Highway do the two compare? Their identities are as different as our two countries. DOES THE BLUE CONNECT?

Notably the Trans-Canada is a working highway and often the most important road link for the communities. In some provinces— New Brunswick, Quebec and across the Prairies — it’s a four-lane divided highway as swift and efficient as any American interstate.

Route 66, however, is no longer an official highway in the U.S. and was removed from the books in 1985. America’s Mother Road is much older than Canada’s, although we had the idea first.

It was in 1912 that 500 motorists gathered in Alberni, on Vancouver Island, and called for the creation of a highway to link Canada, by road and not just rail. There were only 50,000 cars in the country at the time but that number was growing exponentially and those drivers could see the future. They wanted a national highway to help forge a national identity — to link the west to the east, from ocean to ocean. A medal was even announced, to be awarded to the first person to drive from Atlantic to Pacific.

They expected it would all happen before the end of the decade but it took another 30 years for the medal to be presented, and 20 more after that for the Trans-Canada Highway to be opened.

Public agitation for a national road began as early as 1910, but more than half a century elapsed before it was completed. The 7821 km Trans-Canada Hwy was formally opened at ROGERS PASS on 30 July 1962. Canadians could now drive, using ferry services on both coasts, from St John’s, Nfld, to Victoria, BC, but more than 3000 km were still unpaved. Work started in the summer of 1950 with an infusion of $150 million of federal funds (half the estimated cost) provided for in the Trans-Canada Highway Act (1949). Cost-sharing plans, revised twice, increased the federal contribution to $825 million. Standards called for pavement widths of 6.7 m and 7.3 m; ample shoulder width, bridge clearances and sight distances; low gradients and curvature; elimination of railway grade crossings wherever possible; and a maximum load-bearing capacity of 9.1 t per axle. Construction was supervised by the provinces. The target date for completion was Dec 1956, but the job was more difficult and more expensive than anticipated. For example, the route between Golden and Revelstoke, BC, passes through Rogers Pass, where snowfall reaches 15.2 m per year and presents tremendous avalanche hazards. Snowsheds, earth mounds and other devices for avalanche control had to be provided. In Québec, the tunnel under the St Lawrence R at Boucherville Islands, which is part of the entranceway to Montréal, was a difficult project costing approximately $75 million and covering little more than 1 km of the highway. Finished in 1970, the highway had cost over $1 billion. It is the longest national highway in the world.

There were two major reasons for this: the two world wars delayed any large national construction projects, and the Canadian government gave most of the responsibility to the provinces. Although the feds were willing to pay half the costs, the individual provinces were expected to pay the other half and there was much argument about which routes to take.The province of Newfoundland, which wasn’t even part of Canada when the highway was first imagined, signed on but did very little until 1964. Joey Smallwood accepted a desperate offer from the feds to cover 90 per cent of the costs if the road could be completed. Smallwood took the money and completed the drive by ’65.

It was all different south of the border. The first car crossed America in 1903, though its two drivers often resorted to fields and dry river beds in the west. The first military convoy crossed the country entirely by road in 1919, led by Lt.-Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As with Canada and the provinces, all roads were the responsibility of the individual states and they often just ended at the state line. In 1925, however, a U.S. department was created to plan a system of federal highways and one of the most important was the road linking Chicago and St. Louis to Los AngelesThat road was Route 66. It was begun in 1926, completed the following year, and was the first to be fully paved, in 1938. Although the eight states it ran through had a say in what route was taken, the feds paid the entire bill and so it didn’t take long to materialize.

There were other highways, of course, but it was Route 66 that caught the public’s imagination. It was the road west for immigrants to California and emigrants from the Dust Bowl. It was the Mother Road, which gave birth to motels and diners for long-distance drivers. And it was America’s Main Street, with tall-finned sedans pausing for full-service fill-ups from friendly cap-toting gas attendants.

The Trans-Canada also caught the public’s imagination, but not in the same way. There are no famous songs about the highway, and few souvenirs of it to be found along the way.The difference is that our Trans-Canada is still alive and well and often maligned, but it threads across the south of the country regardless. It links more than just commerce, and provides a physical connection between every province.It stretches almost twice as far as Route 66, which now exists only as a series of roads that used to be the main highway.

Even then, it was only temporary. Back in 1919, when that military convoy crossed the country, its lieutenant-colonel envisioned a better system. Three years after he became president in 1951, Eisenhower signed into law the creation of the massive U.S. Interstate Highway System, which eventually made Route 66 redundant.

There’s no danger of the Trans-Canada becoming redundant. We need it too much, and besides, it’s already following the best route. That’s the Canadian way, and it’s also the best way.