Many people have driven across Canada, including several who did it long before Edward McCourt set out for his journey from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C. But nobody has ever chronicled their trip in such a beautiful fashion as McCourt did in The Road Across Canada.
Full disclosure: this book was published in 1965, so it’s more than 50 years old and has been out of print for decades. But there’s still plenty of copies floating around. I found an ex-library copy for about $5 on AbeBooks.com.
McCourt made the trek with his wife in 1962, the same year the Trans-Canada Highway was officially opened, although it was far from being completed at that point. The book is broken down into chapters on each Canadian province that McCourt drove through. Along the way, he masterfully intertwines relevant tales of Canadian history to the regions he is passing through. Canadian history can be a bit dull, but McCourt finds a way to make the tales interesting and engaging. Having driven many of the same routes over the years, I am quite familiar with the towns and cities he visits. He paints each stop wonderfully and with great accuracy, which isn’t always flattering.
I found many of his comments about the state of the accommodations along the way to be particularly entertaining. He raves about the luxury of all the new roadside motels, even in the smaller towns. He talks about how he can stop at almost any spot along the Trans Canada and find a nice motel. Even in the smallest of town he is treated with all of the luxuries of home. I’ve seen a lot of these old motels that were built in the era. While time hasn’t been good to them, they are hard to imagine as ever being “luxurious.”
While McCourt enjoys those motels, he also wrote that he was nostalgic for the more primitive accommodations from the past. Whenever I go on road trips through rural Canada, I always try to keep an eye out for the hotels, gas bars and service stations from the early years of highway travel. But those vintage motels with faded curtains, neon signs and crumbling parking lots were the modern accommodations when McCourt did his tour. It’s hard to imagine what would have been considered vintage during his cross-Canada journey.
If you’ve ever dreamed about driving across the great country of Canada, or you are nostalgic for a the early years of long-distance motoring in the Great White North, The Road Across Canada is a must read, if you can get your hands on a copy.