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The Trans-Canada Highway is the world’s largest continuous stretch of roadway, reaching from St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the East to Victoria, British Columbia, in the West. Canada’s glorious mother road is nicknamed “Canada’s Main Street,” and like its American sister, Route 66, it contains plenty of relics of its past along its length. The highway stretches for more than 3,000 miles across the country, cutting through the coastal regions of the Atlantic Provinces, then traipses along the Canadian Shield in the country’s interior, traverses the Canadian Rockies, finally ending at the Pacific Coast in British Columbia.
Your Trans-Canada odyssey begins in Canada’s second easternmost province, Newfoundland, in Canada’s oldest city, St. Johns. Named in honor of St. John the Baptist, the city is a beautiful example of an old and culturally-rich port city. Take a stroll down Water Street, Canada’s oldest street, and absorb some of the charming architecture.
Head west from St. Johns until you reach the neighboring villages of Placentia and Argentia. Placentia is just south of the highway and sits along the rocky shores of scenic Placentia Bay. Today it’s a small fishing village, but some fifty-odd years ago, Placentia hosted a summit meeting with worldwide implications. In August 1941, Winston Churchill met with President Franklin Roosevelt, who pledged America’s support for Britain in the war against the Germans. The town is home to several memorials commemorating the historic event, as well as other historical places of interest. If you’re a fan of a little moody atmosphere, you’ll feel right at home in Argentia. The town is Canada’s foggiest place, spending more than 200 days each year blanketed in the stuff.
Stay the western course and the highway either cuts through or closely passes several stunning provincial or national parks. Terra Nova National Park, just before the town of Glovertown, should be your first stop. The park is a magical mixture of bogs and fjords, offering examples of Newfoundland’s natural beauty. Next, continue down Highway 1 to the Sir Richard Squires Memorial Provincial Park, where some of the country’s finest salmon fishing is located. Down the road is Gros Morne National Park, which is no slouch in the natural beauty department, either. For those fond of magnificent fjords filled with chilly waters, this is the spot for you. All three parks offer a large plate of outdoor pursuits, from wildlife photography and hiking, to sea kayaking.
Soon after, Highway 1 becomes Highway 105 as it loops southeast and into Cape Breton Island, another distinctly unique Canadian community. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell summered here and spent many of his last years here. Today, the island is home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, which commemorates the inventor’s life and work. From Channel-Port-aux-Basques, you can hop a ferry to Nova Scotia, where you’ll arrive at the port city of Sydney.
Highway 1 then becomes Highway 104 at the inspired city of Halifax. The highway then dips southwest as it visits the small fishing villages of St. George's Bay, Havre Boucher, Tracadie, Antigonish, and Truro. Amherst is your last stop in Nova Scotia. At the border you can continue to head west where Highway 104 turns into Highway 4 across New Brunswick. However, a pleasant detour can be found north along Highway 16 towards the stunning Confederation Bridge.
An integral part of the Trans-Canada Highway, this 8-mile bridge is the longest bridge over ice-covered waters in the world. Officially opened in 1997, this historic landmark carries two lanes of traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and takes approximately 10 minutes to cross. The Confederation Bridge is equipped with a state-of-the-art traffic management system, including full video coverage. Traffic, weather and roadway conditions are continuously monitored, and motorists receive real-time traffic information through electronic message signs.
This modern marvel will bring you to shores of Prince Edward Island and put you back on old Highway 1. In order to really enjoy all PEI has to offer, hop off the Trans-Canada and take some of the smaller routes that trace the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. PEI contains two charming provincial state parks, Wood Islands Provincial Park and Pinette Provincial Park. Expect the highway to take many leisurely turns along flat coastline as it passes through several small fishing villages.
Back along the main route, which left off at the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, catch up with the Trans-Canada route along Highway 2. This leads travelers across the province by crossing through the town of Fredericton and following the New Brunswick’s western border with Maine. Along the way the town of Petitcodiac features the unique Delia’s Dollhouse, a museum housing more than 4,000 dolls from around the world. Fundy National Park is just down the road; thousands of acres of Canadian wildlife set amid the backdrop of giant fjords and the Bay of Fundy.
Before leaving New Brunswick, be sure to stop at the town of Saint-Jacques to gaze at some of your RVs predecessors at the Antique Automobile Museum. Dream on as you tour this showcase of classic and colorful autos. Best of all, the museum is strategically located at the entrance to the Les Jardins de la Republique Provincial Park, giving you the opportunity to make a day of both storied car culture and nature in terrific abundance.
Highway 2 becomes Highway 185 and eventually I-20, with the later paralleling the eastern shores of the St. Lawrence River. From here you’re on your way to Quebec City, the only walled-in city in North America. This historic city sits high above the St. Lawrence River, embracing both French and British colonial heritage.
Continue down along I-20 and you’ll soon find yourself in Montreal, arguably Canada’s most enchanting and cosmopolitan city. The city is the cultural capital of eastern Canada, with both English and French antecedents. There are dozens of museums and cultural centers to choose from. Enjoy a few hours of walking and absorbing the history at Old Montreal, a waterfront area with impressive examples of 17th and 18th century architecture.
West of Montreal, the Trans-Canada Highway divides into two routes. The southern route follows Highway 401 to Toronto and eventually ends in Windsor, straight across Lake St. Clair from Detroit, Michigan. The northern route, however, is a bit more enticing as it runs into Ottawa City and a cluster of several quaint towns, some of the most charming in all of Ontario. This route follows Highway 17 as it crosses through Ontario. The towns of Perth, Smith Falls, Carleton Place, and Almonte are rich in Canada’s early history. The old mills you’ll find here were the heart and soul of this neck of the woods some two hundred years ago.
The highway then starts creeping back north into the Midlands of Central Ontario and with it, several historical sites to see. A stop at Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons is recommended, presenting a stunning representation of a 1639 French Jesuit mission. The spot signifies the place where a small colony of French Jesuits fended off constant threats from the surrounding Algonquin Indians. Take a trip down the road 150 years or so to the town of Penetanguishene, which boasts several memorials and fantastic reconstructions of homes, workshops, officer’s quarters, and vessels from the War of 1812. Touring this area is like taking a trip through a history book.
The town of Sault Ste. Marie is possibly the area’s most charming village. Few places in Canada offer the delights of city life so close to accessible deep woods adventure of the Canadian outdoors. The series of locks, designed to ease the dip in sea level between Lake Huron and Lake Superior is nothing short of an engineering marvel.
Batchawana Park Provincial Park is not only a beautiful spot, but it also marks the exact midpoint of the Trans-Canada Highway. There’s only 2,438 km’s to go till the end of the line.
There’s a one-of-a-kind attraction at White River for young and old. Legend has it that a wild black bear cub found its way onto a train carrying troops headed to the European battlefields before World War I. The bear eventually wound up at the London Zoo, where one day, writer A.A. Milne visited with his son who was smitten with the bear cub named Winnie (after the city of Winnipeg). Milne went home to write stories about the bear to entertain his son and Winnie-the-Pooh was born. Today, White River is known as "The Birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh." A large Pooh statue sits at the rail station where the adventure began and each year a weeklong festival commemorates the town's most famous (and furry) native.
From White River head northwest towards the city of Thunder Bay, one of Canada’s finest northern cities. Situated along the northern shores of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay welcomes visitors year-round. Take your chances on a charted fishing trip or enjoy one of the city’s many cultural escapes including the symphony, art museums, and zoo.
The highway soon leads you to the town of Kenora and the fabled Lake of the Woods. And if you have any questions as to what fish is the most popular in these parts, just take a look at the 30-foot muskie that greets you on the way into town. That’s right, muskie fishing (and other kinds of fishing) abound in this outdoor paradise. The lake offers more than 1,700 square miles and more than 14,000 islands for angling adventures.
It won’t be long before crossing the provincial border into Manitoba, where the Trans-Canada Highway turns back into Highway 1. The southeastern section of the province is highlighted by the Mennonite culture that found its way here during the 19th Century. The towns of Steinbach and St. Anne hold several replicas and other attractions that help explain and showcase this colorful heritage.
Just west of Winnipeg, the Trans-Canada Highway splits once again. The main route still runs due west, parallel to the U.S. border. However, one route known as the Yellowhead Highway, heads north into northern Canada.
Visitors come across a natural wonder in central Manitoba that they may not expect in this region. The Spruce Woods Provincial Heritage Park delivers miles of sand dunes and desert-like environment to explore. If you sign up for a historical tour you can learn about how ancient man roamed this area in search of a common quarry –– the woolly mammoth.
In western Manitoba, students of World War II history brush up on some of Canada’s contributions to stopping the Axis powers. Make a stop at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in the town of Brandon. During the war, this site was used to train several thousand British and Canadian men to become wartime pilots. Today, the museum houses thousands of artifacts and includes fighter planes once used for training.
On your way out of Manitoba, consider making stops at two worthwhile roadside attractions. The first is the Souris Swinging Bridge in the town of Souris. The suspension bridge spans nearly 600 feet as it gently rocks its way over the Souris River. Continuing along your drive you’ll arrive at the town of Elkhorn, where you’ll find the Antique Automobile Museum and its impressive collection of some of North America’s most classic autos.
The terrain makes a transition into rolling plains similar to the landscape of America’s upper middle west, as you make your way west in Saskatchewan. And from now on there’s no more worrying about finding the Trans-Canada Highway. From here to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, it is known far and wide as simply Highway 1. Yorkton, Saskatchewan’s third largest city, was founded by a group from the Ontario’s York Company. The city is knee-deep in historical sites, vintage buildings and ethinically diverse attractions. Be prepared to step into an authentic German dining room, a Swedish bedroom or an English parlour. Don’t miss seeing the painted dome at St. Mary’s Ukranian Catholic Church, considered the finest piece of religious artwork in North America. The annual Yorkton Exhibition offers a variety of agricultural events and plenty of fun at the fair. Other attractions include Godfrey Dean Art Galleries, Painted Hand Casino, and high tea at Zebra X-ing, plus great local shopping. The city’s Short Video and Film Festival is the longest running on the continent. Year-round, every Thursday is “Farmers Market Day” in Yorkton. Bring your clubs, because this thriving city offers three challenging, 18-hole golf courses. Among them is Deer Park Municipal Course, the top traditional venue in the region before its recent million-dollar upgrade. Other pursuits to consider might include the Ravine Ecological Preserve and York Lake Regional Park. Duck Mountain Provincial Park features great sport fishing, scuba diving and most types of water-based recreation. Nearby Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park has sandy beaches and even sand dunes. While they are still standing, you might also catch the rapidly disappearing sight of country grain elevators that for many decades were prominent features of Canada’s prairies.
Southwest of Yorkton, the provincial capital city of Regina merits a stop to visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum. Okay, you can call them “Mounties.” Even to this day, this facility continues to serve as boot camp for Canada’s famed Mounties and has been the organization’s headquarters since the late 1800s. The museum is home to stunning displays recounting the Mounties’ rich history.
Aerial enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to 15 Wing in the town of Moose Jaw, the country’s largest training facility for international military pilots as well as Canada’s air defenses. More significantly, 15 Wing joins NATO this year, becoming one of that organization’s training facilities. Moose Jaw also offers Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, a habitat containing herds of buffalo that have roamed the rolling landscape since 1975. It’s a fascinating relic of ancient times, long before the advent of guns and horses, when hunters used the natural prairie coulees - small ravines lower than the surrounding area - to corral buffalo into a “pound”, where hunters could slay them with spears and lances.
West of Moose Jaw lie the enchanting lands of Alberta, known for its open ranges and grasslands. The first stop in this province should be the Dinosaur Provincial Park, encompassing 35 square miles and the remains of dozens of different species of dinosaur. A museum houses the more impressive finds. Fun and informative guided walks and tours are also available.
Before hitting the Canadian Rockies you’ll pass through Calgary, Western Canada’s most impressive city. If you’re visiting in July, you really should attend the annual Calgary Stampede, a 10-day wild west show that’s billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s the province’s biggest event. During the winter months, stop by the Olympic Nordic Centre, an impressive winter sports facility that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.
From Calgary you’ll enter the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The resort town of Banff welcomes visitors in both summer and winter. Banff National Park is one of Canada’s largest parks and hosts an impressive array of wildlife. The namesake town is a charming resort community loaded with quaint shops and fantastic restaurants.
At the western edge of Alberta lies another Canadian natural wonder, Jasper National Park, which straddles the continental divide. One of the park’s most impressive features is a highlight for RVers. The Icefields Parkway is a breathtaking, 143-mile stretch of road that offers a spectacular mountaintop drive.
From there you’ll head west and onto the last leg of the Trans-Canada Highway, British Columbia. At the town of Hell’s Gate you can have an exhilarating experience on the Hell’s Gate Airtram. The 25-person gondola descends nearly 500 feet into the river gorge where passengers get up close to the raging Fraser River before the tram stops at the far side of the river. Once there, be sure to check out the array of gardens and the “fishway”, a man-made device intended to help the native salmon spawn up the river.
If you’re traveling through this region in mid-August, stop by the town of Abbottsford for the International Air Show. The largest annual air show spectacle in North America draws more than 300,000 visitors who thrill to the stunning aerial maneuvers and flying exhibitions.
West of Abbottsford, lies Vancouver; the jewel of Western Canada. The city is rich in cultural opportunities, from museums and symphonies to Chinatown, and provides miles of walking along picturesque waterfronts. Be sure to hop aboard the Grouse Mountain Skyride, where, once you reach the summit, you can enjoy the restaurant and views during summer, or head down the ski slopes during the winter months.
From Vancouver, skip to Vancouver Island, the very last leg of land on your journey. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon at Cobble Hill and sample the wares at the local wineries.
The magical city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a fitting end to your Trans-Canada journey. The city is an architectural wonderland, great for taking walking tours and all set against the backdrop of the Juan de Fuca Strait that meets Washington’s Puget Sound. After coming all this way, you simply can’t miss Beacon Hill Park, which indicates your journey’s end with mile marker “0.” Of course, if you’re not satisfied, turn around and head east. You’re sure to find something you missed back along the 3,000-mile route!