Shell vintage road maps a lifesaver for Canada 5000 route

By Dave S. Clark

For my Canada 5000 adventure, I will be strictly following various routes of the original Shell 4000, which means attempting to follow a route that was mapped out 50-plus years ago. That presents a number of challenges and one of the biggest is trying to decipher what the new names of many of the roads and highways are now.

The original allies were run in the 1960s, which was a transitional period for Canada’s highway system. The Trans Canada Highway was officially opened in 1962, but all that really meant was that there was a road from St. John’s to Victoria. The highway was mostly paved, but in many stretches, it was still gravel and hardly a highway by modern standards. Many of the roads that have now become the Trans Canada were still being built and sometimes, along different routes from the original roads. In the 1961 rally, a section of the route in Ontario actually followed what would soon become the Trans Canada, but at that point was still under construction! 

In the 40 to 50 years since the rally was run, those highways have changed direction here and there, but more drastically, they have been renumbered almost everywhere. In Manitoba, Highway 16, also currently known as the Yellowhead Highway, was known as Highway 4. Throughout Quebec, the highway numbering system has been completely revamped in the 1970s. Route 1 is now Route 112. Route 34 is now Route 161. Everything changed.


So navigating based on these obsolete directions is nearly impossible. Thankfully, there are some tools to help. In a couple of provinces, some amazing people with a lot of time on their hands have created Wikipedia pages that list all of the former highway numbers and their new numbers. That was a lifesaver and I would not have been able to accurately map the route without it. But for other provinces, my only hope was to find period-correct vintage road maps and use them to cross reference with new maps.

In the 1960s, it was common for oil companies to publish maps that they would sell in their service stations. Since Shell was the title sponsor, naturally, I needed to find Shell-issued maps. But where do you find decades old obsolete road maps? Enter eBay.

The maps were conveniently broken up into Alberta-BC, Manitoba-Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. I was able to find four of the five on eBay, with the fifth from Adanac Antiques in Winnipeg. As you can tell by the covers, all of the maps are from the same set, which each feature a fossil from found in the area of Canada the map covers. This particular set was published between 1970 and 1972, so was a bit newer than I would have liked, but I wanted a matching set. There was another map adorned with Aboriginal art on each cover, which I really liked. Unfortunately, finding one from each province was impossible.

While determining the route I will take across the country, these vintage road maps have become invaluable. They make a pretty damn cool souvenir too.

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