The all red route: trans Canada HighwayJun 3, 2013 ● Build Strong Cities, Roads and Rails ● Kadie Ward
While the Canadian Pacific Rail was the first “iron highway” to connect Canada from coast to coast, we should talk about The trans Canada Highway, Canada’s second transportation platform that connected our nation.
The trans Canada Highway stretches 7,714 kilometres, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia, making it the longest highway on earth. It is estimated that it took 20 million working days to build.
As journalist Walter Stewart said, it was the world’s only national roadway with “two beginnings and no end. You start from mile zero on Water Street in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, drive 7,714 kms and finish up in Beacon Hill in downtown Victoria, where the sign reads- guess what? – Mile O.”
The trans Canada Highway has a long and sorted history that you can read about here. Advocacy for the highway began in 1912 when a group of 50 automobile enthusiasts gathered outside of Alberni on the west coast of Vancouver to unveil the first signpost “Canada Highway Mile 0”. Advocates wanting to prevent the construction of the highway promptly took the sign down. The automobile enthusiasts reposted the sign a second time, this time chaining a bulldog to it. This small band of enthusiasts were full of audacity, advocating at the time when there was less than 50,000 licensed automobiles in all of Canada. Many promotional stunts funded by the REO Motor Car Company increased public support for the highway, and the political battle and national vision unfolded.
Daniel Francis in A Road for Canada writes that investment in the Trans-Canada was recognition of the vital importance roads played in national economic development. Writing in 1967, transportation historian Edwin Guillet noted, “what the waterways were in the century before Confederation, what the railways were in most of the century that followed, roads are today – the arteries which feed Canada’s industry and Commerce.”
The completion of the trans Canada Highway brought with it a “renewed sense of national unity,” said Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Many political barriers had to be overcome to construct the highway: roads fall under provincial jurisdiction so the federal project created much tension between the federal and provincial governments.
When the highway officially opened it was twice as long as the Great Wall of China, passed through six times zones, and cut through wilderness, prairie and mountains. As with the rail lines, the route was strategically placed close to the United States boarder to give easy access for importing and exporting, and attract tourists.
Today, the trans Canada Highway makes up 30% of the country’s larger national highway system – a 24,459 km road system that includes primary and secondary highways linking major populations and boarder crossings. This extensive network of paved highways is just 3% of Canada’s total roads, but carries ¼ vehicle traffic in the country. As pointed out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Urban Land Institute, and many more the vital “all red route” and its subsidiary roads and urban transit systems are in need of repair and sustainable development to keep Canadians and our economy moving.