Drive the Trans-Canada Highway?
My friends thought I was crazy. Of course I had already earned that title many times over for one reason or another. But what I was going to attempt was really bringing on several advanced attacks of the vapors and no end of worried lectures. I was going to take three months and drive the Trans-Canada Highway. Not quite alone; my four footed pussycat co-pilot Mouchie was going with me. He had an excellent record for bossing me around the house. Why should I not put that talent to work on the road?
Even worse, I was going to forgo the luxury of hotels or motels, but rather spend my nights in campgrounds or national parks in an RV. Oh, the horrors! I was to be drawn and quartered at every stop by persons of less than reputable behavior. Or maybe I’d be attacked by some wild animal in the midst of the Canadian mountains.
None of that happened. Armed with my computer, my cell phone and safely sheltered in my home on wheels, I had the adventure of a lifetime. I think Mouchie, once he got used to the idea, actually enjoyed himself. I had fewer places to hide when he wanted to assert his opinion on something. He also claimed the wide dashboard on the passenger side as his official lookout station when we weren’t moving.
The Beginning is a Good Place to Start
Mile zero of the Trans-Canada Highway is actually in Victoria on Vancouver Island. It sits at the intersection of Douglas Street and Dallas Road just a few feet from the waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait. Since I do live on the island, it was easy for me to start at the very beginning. The BC Ferries system that services Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia is considered part of the highway system. It almost qualifies as a mini cruise. If you’re lucky you’ll see orcas dance in the waves or eagles soar above the rocky, tree lined shores along the ferry route.
Each province gives its own flavor to the Trans-Canada Highway experience. In British Columbia, the highway passes through downtown Vancouver and then snakes through the Rocky Mountains, giving easy access to Banff and Jasper, just inside the Alberta border. The highway actually goes through Banff National Park, famous for its scenic beauty and for those roadside photo opportunities of wandering wildlife. Big horned sheep are notorious for munching along the side of the road and then lazily inching their way onto the black top.
Alberta is more mountains for a while, but the terrain changes gradually until you are on a high plain. Just west of Calgary it levels off and traffic picks up. If you happen to end up anywhere near Calgary during the morning or evening commute hours, this part of the Trans-Canada Highway comes to a complete stop. At this point it becomes a main street through the center of town.
Prairies, Pronghorns and a Wild, Wet Stretch
After Calgary, the road follows the prairies, seemingly forever. Farms, small towns, acres of wheat, hay and sunflowers frame both sides of the highway. Pronghorn antelope graze along the highway, ever alert and ready to spring away at top speed. Alberta’s section of the Trans-Canada was long and straight and blessed with potholes. To give credit, there were endless construction and road crews out moving, paving and striping new blacktop.
The two lane ribbon of road continued into Saskatchewan, past the giant moose that dominates the center divide in the prairie town of Moose Jaw and skirting around Regina. At last the Trans-Canada crossed the border into Manitoba. This was still mostly prairie, but the landscape was changing slightly. There were gentle rolls and turns in the pavement and more trees lined the shoulders. We were coming into lake country. We were also headed into one of the worst thunderstorms I have ever been through.
We rode out the storm in a campground in Portage la Prairie, just west of Winnipeg, which was my intended rest stop. But the storm was getting a bit too crazy. I parked for the night, plugged in the RV and stayed put. Mouchie was not pleased. He spent the night sitting on top of me and pretending I was his personal pin cushion with every boom of thunder and flash of lightning.
Lakes, Parks and We’re Halfway There
Crossing the border into Ontario brought me to the part of the Trans-Canada that skirts the northern part of the great lakes. The highway becomes Route 17 in Ontario until it meets up with Highway 11 just west of Thunder Bay. We had already stopped at a few smaller lakes, but that lakeside town brought the first glimpse of Lake Superior. That vast inland sea was our constant companion until we left her shores to follow the North Channel of Lake Huron.
We passed through the mining region of the province and into Sudbury. It is here that you must leave the Trans-Canada and head south if your destination is Toronto. We continued east and into the Algonquin Provincial Park. I was able to spend a few nights here, but Mouchie was confined to the RV within park limits. He usually took me for a walk when we were stopped for the night. Mouchie may have worn the harness but he was still the boss. His royal self was not pleased.
Just west of Ottawa the Trans-Canada changes its identity again. Now designated Route 417, we followed it to Canada’s capital, Ottawa. After weeks of driving mostly in rural areas, coming up to a big city and its associated traffic can be a surprise. We did manage to avoid the commute hours so it wasn’t all that bad. I took a brief detour to take a walk around Parliament Hill then continued east.
Parles vous Francais?
It is fairly obvious when you cross the border into the province of Quebec. Not only do the highway numbers change but the traffic signage is definitely French. The Trans-Canada becomes the “Autoroute Mtropolitaine” (Metropolitan Boulevard) and it leads straight into the heart of Montreal. This is not a good thing to do on a weekday during commute hours. Even though it is an elevated highway, the traffic is bumper to bumper and it takes time and plenty of patience to get anywhere. There are also highways branching off in all directions, requiring multiple lane changes. Not fun if you don’t know exactly where you are and your understanding of French is somewhat limited.
Once past Montreal, the ride on Route 20 was fast and smooth. The St. Lawrence River was now north of the Trans-Canada. I would have to camp near Levis and take a passenger only ferry to the Old City of Quebec. It is difficult enough for cars to get around the cobblestone streets let alone my boxy six wheeled wonder. Approaching the Chateau Frontenac and the 400 year old city skyline from the waters of the St. Lawrence River was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, I had to explain to his highness that no cats were allowed.
The Final Leg
Of all the stretches of road that make up the Trans-Canada Highway the section through the province of New Brunswick was the easiest to drive. The ride was smooth, the road well marked and the lack of advertising billboards meant you actually got to look at the rolling hills and groves of trees as you passed by. Route 2 was four lanes of pure driving pleasure.
Each province has a Visitor’s Information and Welcome Centre just inside its borders and I visited each one as I drove across the country. The one at New Brunswick’s western border was modern, convenient and had an extensive collection of travel guides and pamphlets for visitors. A manned service desk had someone to make reservations for hotels, motels and campgrounds. It was here that I realized that Mouchie and I had almost driven across the entire length of Canada.
Mouchie and I took a much needed break in Woodstock, New Brunswick before our final push to the Atlantic. Quite by accident I found a campground that was designed around the cartoon character Yogi Bear. I later learned that Jellystone Park at Kozy Acres was part of an RV park chain found throughout the United States and in a few Canadian provinces. It was the perfect spot to unwind for a couple of nights. Best of all Mouchie was most welcome.
At the Nova Scotia border, the Trans-Canada changes numbers again, becoming Route 104. Part of Highway 104, the Cobequid Pass is a toll road, the only one on the Trans-Canada. As I reached Truro I left Highway 104 and headed southwest on Highway 102 en-route to Halifax. It was not until I had had traveled a bit that I realized I had left the Trans-Canada. My destination was Halifax, so I had little choice but to continue on. Later that day I found a beach front campground and put my toes in the Atlantic.
Until Next Time
Though I did make it all the way across Canada to stand at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Peggy’s Cove, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t drive the entire Trans-Canada Highway. I did contemplate doubling back and driving to Sydney on Nova Scotia’s north east coast. From there I could catch the ferry to Channel Port Aux Basque in Newfoundland. Just as in British Columbia, part of the Trans-Canada in the east is on the water. From there I could follow the highway across the island to St. Johns. But time was not in my favor. I guess I’ll just have to do it again some other time, right Mouchie?
Note: Jellystone Park at Kozy Acres is part of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone ParkTM Camp-Resorts
Note #2: In some parts of Canada, the Trans-Canada has multiple route options. This is just the route I used.