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The New National Dream

Pierre Camu, 73, of Ottawa, had no problem deciding what to buy his two youngest grandchildren last Christmas. The gifts were personal and affordable; for each he donated $36 towards building a new national dream known as the Trans Canada Trail. In return, both grandchildren will have their names permanently inscribed in a pavilion located somewhere along the trail because each $36 donation builds one metre of trail.

Earlier, Camu donated a total of $252 for his other seven grandchildren. And so together, Camu’s nine grandchildren, who live in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, will have their names attached to nine metres of a 15,000-kilometre trail that will wind its way through every province and territory in Canada.

By the time the Trans Canada Trail is officially opened on July 1, 2000, many thousands of people will have their names associated with the project. Camu, one of its pioneers, expects that in three years the trail will be the longest of its kind in the world, stretching from the Beaufort Sea to the U.S. border and from Vancouver Island to the east coast of Newfoundland.

The project, which is being managed by a non-profit organization called the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, is seen by many as one of the most ambitious endeavors in modern Canadian history. The foundation has raised more than $2 million since its public launch in 1994, and today has close to 60,000 donors and supporters across the country.

Camu says the trail will accommodate five core activities, namely hiking, cycling, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling where possible. Estimates are that the trail will take 750 days to hike, 500 days to ride on horseback and 300 days to cycle. This spring organizers hope to establish an important link when they declare open the Trans Canada Trail’s first interprovincial gateway at St-Jacques, N.B. A huge sign on the gate will welcome trail users into each province.

As of January, approximately 800 kilometres of trail were in place, including Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria; the trail from Kildonan Park in Winnipeg to The Forks–the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers; Caledon Trailway in Caledon, Ont.; the Guysborough Trail in Guysborough, N.S.; Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island and the Newfoundland Trailway.

When the first Trans Canada Trail pavilion opened last year in Caledon East, northwest of Toronto, donors could search out their names among the 4,000 etched into acrylic panels. Opening ceremonies included an outdoor breakfast, hay wagon rides and a visit from a pilot who called himself the Red Baron. Using a WW I replica of Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s aircraft, the pilot performed a low fly-past before he was chased off by two antique Royal Flying Corps machines.

Enthusiasts compare the Trans Canada Trail with the Canadian Pacific Railway or Trans-Canada Highway. It took a national dream to get the trail started and Camu, along with 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics organizer Bill Pratt, is credited with having played a significant role.

Camu, who has served as president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and Canadian Geographic, is convinced rural serenity, wilderness and nature’s chorus will contrast with urban bustle and noise. In 1992, Camu was a consultant for the Canada 125 Corporation, a national organization formed to celebrate Canada’s 125th year in Confederation. While he was in charge of programs, Pratt was administrator. “At the end it seemed to us everything was fading away. But one idea gained grassroots support.”

Camu and Pratt received $500,000 from the federal government to get the project started. The idea to focus on five main outdoor uses for the trail was adopted, and Pratt–the project’s first executive director–used his experience as a Calgary businessman to push its appeal. Organizers say the trail will mean different things to different people, but they say it will–among other things–help preserve and protect the environment, promote physical fitness, provide safe areas for recreational activity and educate people by bringing them closer to nature.

Executive director John Bellini says: “Canadians want it and Canada needs it.” Bellini’s office space in Montreal was donated by Canada Trust, and corporate sponsors include Canada Trust, Chrysler Canada, sports television networks TSN and its French language counterpart RDS, Canadian Airlines International and Maclean’s and Canadian Geographic magazines.

The idea of many Canadians working together to fulfil a common vision–one they feel will result in a physical symbol of Canadian unity–appeals to supporters.

In Gander, Nfld., Terry Morrison, the executive director of the Newfoundland Trailway Council, says work is well under way on several sections of the former Canadian National railbed in the province. He says the railway closed down in 1988 and since then the Trailway Council has been developing a multi-purpose trail. When he was interviewed last January, Morrison was hopeful that a significant portion of the trail would be completed in time for this year’s 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage of discovery. He says the trail will eventually cover 900 kilometres between St. John’s in the east and Port aux Basques in the west. He believes it will benefit the province in a number of ways and looks forward to it becoming an important part of the Trans Canada Trail. “It’s a unique opportunity for us to preserve and protect a valuable part of our heritage, while at the same time encouraging a healthier lifestyle in terms of the recreational choices available to people. There is also tremendous potential for new business opportunities, particularly once it’s tied into the national network.”

In Halifax, Nova Scotia representative Jack Carruthers was pleased to hear that Minister of Sport and Recreation Jay Abbass bought a metre of trail and then challenged other members of the Legislative Assembly to buy in as well. Carruthers says more than half the trail in Nova Scotia is complete. It begins at North Sydney, passes Baddeck and deserted historic settlements of Cape Breton Island’s Scottish crofters, crosses Canso Causeway and follows abandoned railways through Nova Scotia to New Brunswick.

Carruthers says a good trail boosts business and makes users bright and bushy. On the other hand in Guysborough it drew attention to unemployment when approximately 70 people applied for a six-month contract position to co-ordinate the building of the trail through there.

Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail will be lengthened from 225 to 350 kilometres. The route is an abandoned Canadian National Railways line between Elmira and Tignish owned by the province. Between Kensington and Charlottetown the trail will divert to Borden so travellers can connect with the new bridge to the mainland. However, there is no bicycle path on the long bridge road that crosses the Northumberland Strait to Cape Tormentine, N.B. “That was an unfortunate arrangement when the bridge was built. We hope vans will take cyclists and bicycles across,” says trail representative Robert Boyer.

In New Brunswick, segments from Cape Tormentine to Shediac, then inland to Moncton, down to Saint John and north to Fredericton will be linked to Grand Falls, Edmundston and St-Jacques. Safety is a vital consideration and the New Brunswick Trails Council suggests a volunteer trail safety patrol it developed with the RCMP may serve as a model for other areas of the country.

“The most important thing,” says Richard Senecal, secretary of Conseil québécois du sentier transcanadien, “is for trail officials to work with people in the regions who will decide the route.” Le Petit Temis trail stretches for approximately 130 kilometres from Rivière-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence River to Dégilis in eastern Quebec. Trails leading to Quebec City and Montreal may be established on both sides of the St. Lawrence because, says Senecal, the “more developed south side is better for cycling and the wilder north better for hiking.”

Further west the Trans Canada Trail passes through the well-established trails in Gatineau Park, north of Hull. Senecal says middle regions of the province will be linked east and west to complete the long trail through the province. He concludes: “In Quebec there are different understandings when you mention Trans Canada Trail. We don’t intend to state some political message on Canadian unity. We believe Quebecers are satisfied with the concept and want to contribute.”

An Ontario trail should make its outdoors accessible as never before. Trail representative Bill Bowick of Nepean says acquiring abandoned railway corridors is a challenge when it comes to linking trails in the south. Problems further north are different. “For instance fire safety is a greater issue in the north,” he says. “And though snowmobilers cross lakes hikers go around them.”

He says outdoor groups in North Bay and Sudbury and a rails-to-trails coalition in the southeast are examples of the grassroots commitment the Trans Canada Trail needs. These volunteers work alongside regional planners, tourism officials and trail builders. It’s believed that this kind of consultation should provide not only a trail but access to stores, toilets, bed and breakfast and other services. A well-used trail is expected to encourage bicycle repair and food shops, camping and tourism.

Bowick, an engineer, took a week off work to meet trail associates in Ontario. He covered the 1,500 kilometres between Ottawa and Thunder Bay before having to return home.

Naturalists, equestrians, cyclists, scouts, girl guides and members of trail associations make up volunteers within the Manitoba Recreational Trail Association. “We are building local trails at local levels,” stresses Fred Whitehouse of Winnipeg. He says the South Whiteshell Trail Association is constructing a multi-purpose trail in the provincial park area. He points out that Oregon Trail users have to book a year in advance. “I think the trail is an idea whose time has come–it should become part of Canada’s tourism infrastructure.”

Norm Van Tassel, president of the Manitoba branch of the Korea War Veterans Association of Canada, expects the association will raise a Korean war memorial on the trail. He noted 34 of the 516 Canadians killed in the Korean War were from Manitoba. They served mainly in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the Royal Canadian Regiment. Van Tassel expects the memorial to be unveiled when the association convenes in Winnipeg in September 1998. A member of St. James Branch in Winnipeg, he adds: “Here is an opportunity for Legion branches near the trail to buy space for suitable reminders to young people of what veterans achieved.”

In Saskatchewan, a provincial parks and recreation association has formed a trail council. “Our council recognized the role communities have to play in getting the project off the ground,” says trail representative Garry Michael in Regina.

Saskatchewan routes may take in Duck Mountain, Douglas and Cypress Hills provincial parks as well as Regina. In Meota, north of Battleford, a story on the trail in the newspaper sparked interest. “After that article my phone started ringing off the hook,” recalls local chairman Bob Collier. “History groups, recreation associations, bed and breakfast owners and local businesses joined in.”

The trail will arrive in Alberta through the Cypress Hills before heading for Medicine Hat, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Drumheller and Calgary. In the foothills of the Rockies it will split west and north. Trail representative Betty Anne Graves hopes the trail will be used appropriately. “That’s to say, everything from horses to snowmobiles won’t be manageable near cities and mountains alike. It’s really recreational, not a wilderness trail.”

The northern route will take travellers past Red Deer and Edmonton and through Fort McMurray on the Athabasca River, Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca and Fort Smith on the 60th parallel. Adventurous travellers can then take the Yukon Territory route to the Arctic or rest in the Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife.

Don Jekue, publisher of the Slave River Journal in Fort Smith, believes northern people are keen to get their parts of the trail completed over historic water and overland paths. Northbound travellers will go by the Canol Road pipeline route to Norman Wells. This WW II attempt to take oil to Alaska for the war effort leaves a legacy for hikers.

Yukon trail representative Ross McLachlan says communities and land administrators will determine a route along Dawson Trail, Chilkoo Trail and First Nations trading ways. He says Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake are committed to the project. The trail will re-enter the Northwest Territories along the Dempster Highway from Dawson City. It will reach Inuvik and end at Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea.

In Yellowknife, Northwest Territories trail representative Jim Connor believes the northern route can offer hiking, canoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling and skiing. “But it’s challenging up here,” warns the Yellowknife airport desk ticket officer. “I don’t know if we’ll succeed in having it all ready for 2000, but we’ll try.”

British Columbia trail representative Bill Archibald of Maple Ridge says things came together when the trail foundation adopted the Kettle Valley railway grade from Grand Forks in the West Kootenays to Brookmere, near Hope. The provincial government had taken years to acquire all of the abandoned railway grade and organizers say it will form the backbone of the Trans Canada Trail in the province. The trail will run from Calgary across the Kootenay River to rustic Invermere, sweeping across southern British Columbia town by town westward to Vancouver and by ferry to Vancouver Island.

Archibald says British Columbia trail donors contributed $30,000 of the $460,000 needed to reconstruct the historic Selkirk Trestle in Victoria. The trestle once carried rail traffic from upper Vancouver Island into downtown Victoria. Today it gives hikers a breathtaking view and opens to a 70-kilometre trail to Nanaimo. Trails BC president John Appleby states: “This (trestle) project is probably the best use of donor funds because we participated with three levels of government and a corporate donor.”

A Vancouver Island trail group wants to locate the trail’s western terminus pavilion near Juan de Fuca Strait. On the other hand Archibald awaits the day people can look inland from the Pacific and say: “If I keep walking on that trail I could go right across Canada, one foot in front of the other, to Newfoundland.”

Financial contributions to the Trans Canada Trail are tax deductible. For more information, contact:

Trans Canada Trail Foundation, 6104 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC H4A 1Y3, Tel: 1-800-465-3636, Fax: 1-514-485-4541


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