What We Learned on a Cross-Canada Road Trip

An epic trek from Calgary to the east coast served up a number of "firsts" for this adventurous couple.

Growing up in the Yukon during the 1960s and ’70s was an isolating experience. Physical mail was limited, black-and-white television was restricted to four hours per day, long-distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive and consumer goods, such as magazines, only showed up in Whitehorse well after they were available in other major cities throughout Canada.

Due to hindered transportation, logistics and not having a 24-hour news cycle, there were fewer resources for me to form a balanced view on the rest of Canada, other than what I was taught in elementary school. For reasons that I, as a young student, didn’t probe, these seemed to centre on the East Coast. I was taught sea shanties, told about the spectacular tides of the Bay of Fundy, read stories of Ontarians raking and burning leaves in the fall (a bizarre concept in the Yukon), and heard of faraway places with exotic names such as Charlottetown or the Plains of Abraham, which somehow were important to our country.

A cross-country trip provided a brand new perspective on the beauty of the East Coast - Singing sands beachPhoto: Mark Lane
P.E.I.’s gorgeous coastline.

A lifetime later, having acquired an education, raised a family and worked and played primarily in western Canada, my wife, Chris, and I decided to embark on a cross-country quest to see the Canada of my youthful imagination. Walking or biking were too slow for such a trip, and flying was too fast, so we packed our car with camping gear and headed out from our home in Calgary, determined to visit each province east of Alberta along the way. Despite being plagued by rain, broken tent poles, holed sleeping pads and mosquitoes, we completed the quest and returned to Alberta after having spent more than 30 days away from home. Safe to say we were ready to be stationary for a while.

Once is not enough

Undaunted by the travails of that month-long trip, we repeated the route several years later. This time, however, we had a new list of destinations and a plan for our children to join us in the Maritimes. We also brought new cameras, determined to capture images of puffins and icebergs, two of the many sights we had missed earlier.

During our two separate trips across our immense country, we compared the changes in geology, vegetation, wildlife, history and culture in each place we visited. I’m sure many passersby were curious about these crazy tourists who stopped to take pictures of metamorphic and igneous rocks delineating parking lots and roadsides curbs, oak trees, beached jellyfish and boring, old (by Canadian standards) buildings, all of which are a rare sight in western Canada.

A cross-country trip provided a brand new perspective on the beauty of the East Coast - Singing sands beachPhoto: Mark Lane
Mark and Chris on Singing Sands beach in P.E.I.

We toured Province House in Charlottetown, strolled the soggy Plains of Abraham, walked the ocean bottom in the Bay of Fundy, sang sea shanties, folk-danced, ate our fill of lobster and crab, drove the Confederation Bridge and, as a delightful bonus, encountered fireflies for the first time.

We discovered that, although large cities and industrial areas may be the meat and potatoes of the stew we call our country, its rural communities, expansive landscapes, and diverse wildlife surely provide the spice.

A cross-country trip provided a brand new perspective on the beauty of the East Coast - Lobster traps in NewfoundlandPhoto: Mark Lane
Lobster traps in Newfoundland.

Oh, yes, we did fulfill our quest to photograph puffins, the aptly nicknamed “clowns of the sea,” with their awkward flight and rich colours, as well as icebergs in all their blue-green glory.

Years later, I can still remember the response of a local in Quebec when we told him we were from Alberta. “Holy God,” he said, “you’re a long way from home!”

You don’t know the half of it, sir, you don’t know the half of it!

Next, discover 10 essential experiences on the east coast of Canada.

Originally Published in Our Canada