Stretching 4800 miles (7680km) across the second largest country in the world, the Trans-Canada Highway links the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, from St. John's, Newfoundland, in the east to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the west. Along the route are picturesque fishing towns, flat plains stretching as far as the eye can see, huge silent forests, the shores of lakes so large they are like inland seas, and the white-capped summits of the Rocky Mountains.
From a grassy knoll overlooking the colourful fishing boats of the attractive port of St. John's in Newfoundland, an unassuming road winds west away from the coast and into the rugged interior of the island province. This is the beginning of the great Trans-Canada Highway, a road that roams approximately 4800 miles across the southern part of Canada, linking the Atlantic Coast in the east with the Pacific Coast in the west. From the hilly coastal regions of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it arrows across the great prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to the towering Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. It is the longest national highway in the world.
The first main road in Canada was the King's Way which was completed in 1737, and covered the 200 miles (320km) between Quebec and Montreal, a journey that is now included in the Trans-Canada.
It was not until 1949 that the Canadian government passed the act for a road that ran from coast to cost, linking the major cities, and in 1950 work began on a project that was to cost $CAN 1,4 billion.
THE ATLANTIC PROVINCES
The stretch of water separating Newfoundland from Nova Scotia is called the Cabot Strait, commemorating John Cabot. Buffeted by the Atlantic rollers, it is often choked with loose ice during the winter months. Despite this, the ferry between Channel-Port aux Basques and Sydney on Cape Brenton Island in Nova Scotia is open all year, linking the Newfoundland section of the Trans-Canada with the mainland.
Sydney is Nova Scotia's largest industrial city, becoming a major steel centre in the early 1900s.. From Sydney, Highway 105 meanders south, through St. Ann's and on across the bridge that spans the Straint of Canso, a narrow strip of sea that separates Cape Breton Island from the rest of Nova Scotia. Seasonal European fishermen took advantage of the rich fishing grounds around the coasts of Nova Scotia from 1500.
Once across the bridge, the Trans-Canada becomes Highway 104, heading west towards New Glasgow. After New Glasgow, the road heads south-west past Salmon River, noted for its tidal bores.
Continuing west the road winds and curves through hilly country watered by lakes and rivers shimmering bright blue among the trees.
After Fredericton the capital of New Brunswick and a lively town with a blossoming art scene, the Trans-Canada heads north along the Canada-US border through the drier, flatter and more fertile lands farmed in the 1870s by settlers from France. French is still spoken in these border lands.
QUÈBEC: CANADA'S LARGEST PROVINCE
(The first attempts by the French to settle along the St. Lawrence River were not successful, and it was not until 1608 that Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain. ) Modern Quebec is a city where the old has been carefully preserved among the new.
After Quebec City, Highway 20 leads the way south-west to Montreal, where it passes under St. Lawrence River via a tunnel. Montreal is unquestionably French, and buildings such as the city hall in Place Jacques Cartier are modelled very much on Parisian architecture. Old Montreal itself comprises cobbled streets and squares lined with elegant 19th-century buildings, with cafés that spill out onto the pavements in the summer, giving the city its Continental atmosphere. After an afternoon absorbing the lively atmosphere of Old Montreal, you can take an evening cruise up the mighty St. Lawrence seaway to watch the sun set over the broad waters.
ONTARIO: PROVINCE OF LAKES AND WATERWAYS
Leaving Montreal behind, the Trans-Canada follows the Ottawa River before cutting south and then west towards Ottawa in the province of Ontario. This is Canada's capital city.
Next the route crosses Ottawa. Ottawa is essentially English, a city based on finance.
After Ottawa, the Trans Canada offers a choice of routes. The older route , now Highway 7, travels west towards Peterborough and Toronto, Canada's largest city. /Toronto is an Indian word meaning meeting place, and in many ways it is the centre of English Canada. As in Montreal, the harbour area has been developed as a recreational area.
The new route Highway 17, follows the Ottawa River north-west towards North Bay and Cochran. Ontario is often called the lade province, and both the northern and southern Trans-Canada routes pass hundreds of silent silver lakes, fringed with trees.
THE PRAIRIE PROVINCES: MANITOBA
The Trans-Canada becomes Highway 1, which continues to Kamloops in British Columbia. The road crosses the Lake of the Woods, and slices through the south-east corner of the Whiteshell Provincial Park, a region of beautiful jewel-like lakes and wooded slopes that is a popular recreational area for the residents of Winnipeg and nearby towns.
The road cuts straight across the vast prairies, which stretch in all directions, an endless blanket of uniformly coloured fields.
After Sioux Valley, through which the Assiniboine River flows, Highway 1 turns north-west towards Elkhorn, where the Manitoba Automobile Museum is situated. Crossing the border into Saskatchewan, the traveller is presented with yet more prairie, once roamed by buffalo and the nomadic Indian tribes who hunted them.
MOUNTAINS AND THE PACIFIC - BRITISH COLUMBIA
Highway 1 moves north-west, eventually taking you through the centre of Calgary. An influx of settlers occurred after 1883 when the Canadian Pacific Railway was copleted, and Calgary grew up as a trading centre for surrounding farms and ranches. Once the outskirts of Calgary have been left behind, Highway 1 begins to climb towards the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and some of Canada's most spectacular scenery. Adjoining Banff is Yoho National Park. Tourists can enjoy a region of cascading water, silent valleys and glittering lakes.
The road continues to descend, passing Revelstoke with its impressive dam and Kamloops, before turning to run directly south to Hope. After Hope the road runs west towards the Pacific coast and Vancouver. Vancouver is an expanding city that has developed around one of the world's finest natural deepwater harbours. There are still two Indian Reservations in Vancouver, belonging to the Musqueam and Capilano.
But the Trans Canada ends not in Vancouver but in Victoria, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It is necessary to make another ferry journey and drive the last few miles to Beacon Hill Park, where the mighty highway ends.
. The Canadian AAA provide motoring information for those wishing to travel the Trans-Canada Highway. The road is in excellent condition, but is single-laned in parts. Snow-ploughs keep the road clear in winter, but there can still be problems, especially in the Rockies.
. At 60 miles per hour, the Trans-Canada takes about 80 hours of driving. Since there are sections where there are no buildings (including fuel stations) for many miles any journey should be planned carefully
. For a detailed account the National Geographic book Travelling the Trans-Canada: From Newfoundland to British Columbia by William Howarth is very informative