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.”
All photos courtesy of Rosemary Gilliat. Library and Archives Canada
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