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Memories of truly Canadian roadtrips

Readers share personal stories and childhood tales of travelling along the Trans-Canada and QEW.

Published July 27, 2012
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Two-wheeled reunion tour was trip of a lifetime at 68

This past winter, we received an invitation to my wife’s high school reunion, to be held in late June, in Vancouver. We were definitely going, but how? My wife suggested riding our motorcycle! This was something we had always talked about doing.

So, on June 11, we left Toronto heading west through the northern states to Seattle, then north to Vancouver. After a wonderful reunion, the return trip to Toronto would be on the Trans-Canada Highway, at a more leisurely pace.

With much anticipation, we started east on Hwy. 1. The spectacular Coast Range mountains, then the Rockies of Alberta with their snow-capped jagged peaks, the deep forested valleys and the raging mountain rivers and waterfalls were indescribable.

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Leaving the mountains behind, we rode across the beautiful patchwork quilt of the Prairies, so flat that you could see a train on the horizon many kilometres away. Too soon, we were riding into Ontario on the two-lane curving, undulating roads of the north and enjoying the beauty of the rock formations of the Canadian Shield, seeing the immensity of Lake Superior and the darkness of the dense forested regions. Only from the seat of a motorcycle could we have used all our senses to experience this journey so fully.

On July 7, we arrived home in Toronto. We are now left with the memories of a motorcycle trip of a lifetime on Canada’s most beautiful highway. We are so happy to have finally done this adventure at age 68!

Keith and Karen Jones, Toronto

Route 66 and Trans-Canada: don’t annoy the butterflies

It was in the early 1960s when my husband drove my sister, me and our son to California. We went down the historic Route 66, then up to Canada and back to Toronto on the newly opened, “couldn’t be built” Trans-Canada Highway.

On the way west, we saw many interesting places, such as the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. On our drive up the west coast, we visited wineries and saw geysers. At Monterey, there was a sign: “Don’t annoy the butterflies.” (Me: “How can you?” My husband: “By making faces at them.”)

We stopped in San Francisco, rode the tram uphill and, in Oakland, ate the best hotdog ever!

Back in Canada, we started driving on the longest highway in the world. There was a car with a small trailer in front of us with a sign on the back: “Alaska or bust!” The next day, we saw the trailer in the ditch and we wondered.

And then the Rockies — the most awesome scenery in the world: snow, rocks, ice, forests and turquoise lakes. We admired the badlands with the hoodoos, Lake Louise, made a side trip to the Columbia Ice Fields and took snapshots (long lost) of the monument at Rogers Pass.

Then the vast, treeless Prairies, the grain elevators and hills of potash. And then back to green Ontario and home.

Mary Drotleff, Toronto

Moose meets Geo Metro somewhere near Kenora

It was a beautiful end to a sunny day in northern Ontario. I’d made good time on my drive east from Vancouver. Being a night owl, I probably should have started earlier than I did, so I wasn’t remotely tired when the sun was setting. The gas tank was full and my morale was high, so I decided to press on to see how much farther I could go before turning in.

I knew moose were in the area and they were a hazard; a friend had told a harrowing tale of how he had to be cut out of a small car in Newfoundland after a moose decimated it when it fell on the car. But I’d never seen a moose, and I’d always wanted to. I decided I would continue at a cautious pace so I’d be able to stop well before a moose stopped me.

I didn’t think it was mating season and I knew I would not be imposing to anything, let alone a moose, in my puny but very efficient Geo Metro. If you don’t know what kind of car that is, think of a Mini with a less-powerful engine and none of the sexy image.

The Trans-Canada at that stage (somewhere between Kenora and Thunder Bay) gets very hilly, so I had gotten into a pattern of bombing it down the hill and then going slowly up the other side.

I had a good rhythm going — so good, in fact, that I’d almost forgotten about the animal that resembles an SUV on stilts and loves to come out at night. In fact, when I first saw something moving near a bridge at the bottom of a hill, I thought it was a horse. I braked hard all the same, but I was fairly close to the bridge and horse by the time I brought the car to a stop.

When I got closer, I saw it was a moose. I was a bit let down, it wasn’t even the size of a Clydesdale! I threw on the high beams as the moose wasn’t paying too much attention to me and I thought maybe the light would bother it enough to relinquish the bridge. I realized why the moose was so nonchalant — its mom was just off the road to the right of the bridge.

When the lights got brighter, she decided she’d come out for a look. First her head raised up and, in seconds, she rose like a mountain in front of me. “Now that,” I told myself, “is a moose!” If you’ve never seen a moose before, try to see one at extremely close range at the height of about three feet in a car the size of a shoebox. You won’t forget it.

She looked at me and snorted. Moose and baby then slowly moved off the road and let me go by. I was sorry to see them go, but slightly relieved. I figured that was a sign to pull over, so, after a few more pleasantly uneventful hills, that’s exactly what I did.

Cameron McDonald, Toronto

Gassing up at QEW station led to ultimate man cave

I was returning from the Formula One race at Watkins Glen in the mid- to late 1960s and was driving on the QEW just west of St. Catharines. In those days, there was a service station at the side of the highway that you could enter and exit much like a normal station in town.

I looked ahead and almost smoked the brakes off my Chevelle SS when I spotted a GT40 gassing up. We pulled alongside and drooled (it was the first time I had seen one on the street). The driver was also returning from the Glen.

Turned out he was connected in some way with George Eaton’s race team. He invited me to drop by their shop when I was in TO. The shop (actually a big garage) was off an alley near Avenue R. behind a magnificent house. Talk about entering the ultimate Man Cave. GT 40s, a 427 Cobra and a couple of open-wheel bad boys, including a very serious Can-Am car. Outstanding experience. All thanks to the QEW.

Dave Mathers, St. Thomas, Ont.

Postcards spark memories of my Northern ‘vacation’

I was beside myself with excitement one summer when my father said we were going on a little vacation.

Our family, as I understood it, didn’t go on vacation; we went up to the cottage instead.

We hopped in the metallic green K-car and started driving north.

After heading up Hwy. 69 through Sudbury and onto Hwy. 17, I remember our first major stop was Sault Ste. Marie.

I still have a postcard of the Soo Locks that, according to the postcard, contain four canals that carry more water freight tonnage than the Suez and Panama combined.

I have informative postcards from all our major stops — they were the only things I could afford to buy.

Our next point of interest was Batchawana Bay, north on 17. We did not, as my postcard suggests, hunt for moose, bear, or small game, or fish for salmon, perch, bass, northerns, walleyes or speckled or lake trout, but we did share a wonderful view of Lake Superior and such views continued all along that scenic highway to Wawa.

Wawa, a word that means “wild goose” in the Ojibway language, is where we ate tuna sandwiches and drank chocolate milk beside the goose statue, which, the back of that postcard reveals, is a large steel statue 28 feet high with a wing span of 19 feet. Fortunately I have that postcard because my own picture of the famed landmark decapitated the goose!

The White River stop was quickly executed so that I could pick up a postcard celebrating the town as the Coldest Spot in Canada (at 72 degrees below zero).

We then veered off the Trans-Canada highway onto Hwy. 631. This long stretch of highway, with only lonely Hornpayne to break up the tedium, was a deep source of concern for my mother, who was convinced that we were going to run out of gas and presumably have to become loggers to survive.

We managed to make our way back to the civilization of Hearst on the Trans-Canada just in time for nightfall. The motel, as I remember it, had velvet pictures of horses and guitars on the walls.

Brief visits through Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls and Cochrane followed and, although we didn’t actually drive to Timmins, I still have a postcard of Pamour Porcupine Mines Ltd. that reveals Timmins mined gold, nickel, silver, zinc, copper, tin, lead and cadmium.

Temagami, land of Deep Water, 101 kilometres north of North Bay, was our last postcard stop before North Bay.

There, Mom talked about the Dionne quintuplets of Callander, the five babies that amazed her generation.

We then returned to the cottage. My evidence of the trip: a collection of postcards and some great memories of driving in the car along the Trans-Canada Highway with just my mom and dad.

(It was only recently that I found out this “vacation” was actually my dad’s way of checking on the drivers who worked for him. He was shuttle manager at the Hudson’s Bay Company and had an inkling that the routes took less time than what drivers were claiming and clocking. So, he decided to take the drive himself. Sure enough, it was shorter! After this trip, he had concrete evidence to take back to the company.)

Karen L. Weber, Waterdown, Ont.

QEW lights blacked out during Second World War

During construction of the Niagara portion of the Queen Elizabeth Way, I remember trucks laden with crushed stone rumbling along peninsula streets from a quarry in Thorold en route to St. Catharines. A chain drive was visible from under the trucks that bore the name Cope & Son, Hamilton.

A grassy median, lined with double-armed light standards, separated the initial lanes of the highway. The highway was not illuminated for long. They were blacked out when the Second World War began and, as far as I know, remained off until widening of the lanes was undertaken.

Wilf Slater, Toronto

Stoney Creek traffic circle an annual hurdle for Dad

Each summer when I was young, my family used to vacation near Kincardine at my grandfather’s cottage.

Unfortunately it involved a long drive with mom, dad and three children, complete with luggage, in a 1951 Hillman Mnnx.

Needless to say, it was not a quick trip. As I remember it, the most hair-raising part of the trip for my father involved the famous Stoney Creek traffic circle. People going from the Falls toward Hamilton or Toronto, and vice versa, all had to go around that massive roundabout.

It was unbelievable! Heaven help you if you had to make a lane change or if you missed your turn or if you were driving a slower vehicle, like my dad was. Accidents and delays were quite common.

My father, driving his Hillman, which was about as powerful as a tricycle, dreaded it like the plague. Trucks, buses and faster cars circled endlessly looking for their turnoff and we putted along in the melee.

Once we got past it, we would stop on the Beach Strip. I’m sure it was for my father to take a deep breath and have a coffee. His holiday didn’t really begin until then.

John W. Bald, Beamsville

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