On July 31, 1954, freelance photographer Rosemary Gilliat and her girlfriends, Anna Brown, Audrey James and Helen Salkeld, packed up Helen’s Plymouth station wagon and started an adventure of a lifetime—a road trip on the Trans-Canada Highway across Canada. A not inconsiderable journey of 7,700 miles.
During not much more than a month they managed to cross five provinces and four states, making their way through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, and returning to Ottawa on September 6.
Until the mid-twentieth century, the only way to travel and really ‘see’ Canada was by train. Following the Second World War, thousands of new immigrants from across the globe immigrated to Canada. This increase in population was coupled by a huge growth in the automobile industry. During the post-war years, and with Parliament passing the Trans-Canada Highway Act in 1949, construction had begun to link Canada’s major cities with paved roads.
By the summer of 1954, work on the Trans-Canada Highway going west from Ottawa had started, but many stretches were still under construction, and in some areas work had not even begun. Rosemary described the road conditions near Cochrane, Ontario as “dirt and rutted and huge bumps which could easily break a spring.” At the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan “the average road turned into a downright bad road, dried mud, stones lying on the road, dips & holes.” Further west, just past Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia, the conditions became even more treacherous. Rosemary wrote:
“We soon came to bits of road under construction—engineers have been working at it already for two years. They have to blast out the side of the mountain—most of it above the C.P. Railway. We marvelled once more at the building of the railway through this impossible territory. The road was often just a rocky lane with towering rock walls above and jumbled masses of blasted rock below—other places were mud, with streams & pools of water on the road & one got the feeling that the whole lot might easily slip into the canyon hundreds of feet below.”
Day One – July 31. Left to right- Helen Salkeld, Audrey James, Anna Brown and Rosemary Gilliat getting ready to leave Ottawa, Ontario, for their Trans-Canada Highway trip
Helen Salkeld getting her-hair cut by Anna Brown
Day 20 – August 19. Making dinner in the rain, near Yale, British Columbia
Audrey James in a tent possibly near Temagami, Ontario, July 31 1954
Supper by deserted gold mine buildings possibly near Geraldton, Ontario
Anna Brown getting dressed at campsite vicinity of Quappelle valley, Saskatchewan.
Anna Brown half asleep in a tent, Moonbeam, Ontario
Anna Brown getting out of a lake in Northern Ontario
Downtown street in Hearst Ontario
Audrey James, Anna Brown and Helen Salkeld erecting tents – Moonbeam Ontario
Supper beside English River, Ontario
Who likes washing dishes anyway, Kenora, Ontario
Highway 1 sign on the Trans Canada Highway in Manitoba
Group of Hutterite girls, Christina Gross second from the right, Headingly Manitoba
Helen Salkeld holding a bottle of wine, La Prairie Manitoba
Makeshift bath in Prairies – Audrey James
Cowboys in Brandon Manitoba
Anna Brown, Audrey James, Helen Salkeld and two cowboys, Brandon, Manitoba
Audrey James, walking on a bridge in southern Saskatchewan
Stewart Valley, Saskatchewan, August 8 1954
Main Street in a small town in the Prairies, Saskatchewan
Helen Salkeld with a saddle, Eston Saskatchewan
Billy Thompson’s daughter
Audrey James and Anna Brown by Oldman River, Alberta
Anna Bown and ferry operator Mr Weekes on Lancer Ferry South Saskatchewan.
Boy named Chester with two Scotch Collies, Eston Saskatchewan.
Audrey James and Helen Salkeld on a mountain, Kananaski, Alberta
Village store, Fraser Canyon, British Columbia
Trans-Canada Highway between Golden and Revelstonk, British Columbia
Main Street, Banff, Alberta
Helen Salkeld and Audrey James near Cache Creek, British Columbia.
Anna Brown and Helen Salkeld loading camping gear into a car, British Columbia
Pipe band playing on ferry near Bowen Island, British Columbia
Rain – Fraser Canyon
Anna Brown reading a trail sign possibly in Garibaldi Park, British Columbia
Helen Salkeld at the family farm Lucknow Ontario
Town with stores
Helen Salkeld at the family farm
Street performers, Lethbridge Fair, Alberta
Anna Brown and rosemary Gilliat erecting a tent
Audrey James and Marg Thompson with a dog in the back of a truck, Winton Alberta
Carter construction man standing in doorway of shack
Helen Salkeld registering at the entrance of a forest reserve, Kananaskis, Alberta
Helen Salkeld eating in her ten near Fraser River, British Columbia
View of the Lions Gate Bridge, Vancouver, British Columbia
Ferry at Bowen Island
Historic sites signs put up by the Montana Government, USA
Group of People on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway British Columbia
All photos courtesy of Rosemary Gilliat. Library and Archives Canada