An Extraordinary Road Trip Across Canada in 1954

Helen Salkeld, Audrey James, Anna Brown and the photographer Rosemary Gilliat took a 7,700 mile trip of a life time across Canada...

Helen Salkeld and Audrey James near Cache Creek, British Columbia.

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.

A journey nowadays, if not taken for granted, would be so much easier. The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) blog describes the difficulties of taking this trip in 1954:

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

Rosemary Gilliat

Audrey James in a tent possibly near Temagami, Ontario, July 31 1954

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Supper by deserted gold mine buildings possibly near Geraldton, Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip Canada 1954

Anna Brown getting dressed at campsite vicinity of Quappelle valley, Saskatchewan.

Rosemary Gilliat road trip Canada 1954

Anna Brown half asleep in a tent, Moonbeam, Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Anna Brown getting out of a lake in Northern Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Downtown street in Hearst Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Audrey James, Anna Brown and Helen Salkeld erecting tents – Moonbeam Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Supper beside English River, Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Who likes washing dishes anyway, Kenora, Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Highway 1 sign on the Trans Canada Highway in Manitoba

Rosemary Gilliat road trip

Group of Hutterite girls, Christina Gross second from the right, Headingly Manitoba

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld holding a bottle of wine, La Prairie Manitoba

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Makeshift bath in Prairies – Audrey James

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Cowboys in Brandon Manitoba

Anna Brown, Audrey James, Helen Salkeld and two cowboys, Brandon, Manitoba

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Audrey James, walking on a bridge in southern Saskatchewan

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Stewart Valley, Saskatchewan, August 8 1954

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Main Street in a small town in the Prairies, Saskatchewan

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld with a saddle, Eston Saskatchewan

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Billy Thompson’s daughter

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Audrey James and Anna Brown by Oldman River, Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Anna Bown and ferry operator Mr Weekes on Lancer Ferry South Saskatchewan.

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Boy named Chester with two Scotch Collies, Eston Saskatchewan.

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Audrey James and Helen Salkeld on a mountain, Kananaski, Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Village store, Fraser Canyon, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Trans-Canada Highway between Golden and Revelstonk, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Main Street, Banff, Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld and Audrey James near Cache Creek, British Columbia.

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Anna Brown and Helen Salkeld loading camping gear into a car, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Pipe band playing on ferry near Bowen Island, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Rain – Fraser Canyon

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Anna Brown reading a trail sign possibly in Garibaldi Park, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld at the family farm Lucknow Ontario

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Town with stores

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld at the family farm

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Street performers, Lethbridge Fair, Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Anna Brown and rosemary Gilliat erecting a tent

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Audrey James and Marg Thompson with a dog in the back of a truck, Winton Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Carter construction man standing in doorway of shack

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld registering at the entrance of a forest reserve, Kananaskis, Alberta

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Helen Salkeld eating in her ten near Fraser River, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

View of the Lions Gate Bridge, Vancouver, British Columbia

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Ferry at Bowen Island

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Historic sites signs put up by the Montana Government, USA

Rosemary Gilliat Canada road trip

Group of People on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway British Columbia

All photos courtesy of Rosemary Gilliat. Library and Archives Canada