You may not have heard of it – but you will. The Trans Canada Trail (TCT) was born during Canada’s 125th anniversary celebrations, jointly funded by both federal and provincial governments, to be supported by local communities. By 2017 – in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the Trail’s 25th – it is hoped that the proposed 22,500 kilometres will be completely linked. The driving of the Last Spike, as it were.
When this is realized, the TCT will connect Atlantic to Pacific and to the Arctic Oceans, tying together more than 1,000 communities and 34 million Canadians and it will be the longest trail in the world.
Let’s hope that all Canadians will explore as much of this Trail as possible. It delivers an inspiring sense of place, providing us with the same sense of adventure that led to its founding and development. It also provides us with a means of getting outdoors, keeping fit and having fun!
Each kilometre is unfolding with its own unique attributes – from stunning views of natural landscapes to historical treasures to heritage sites that reflect our pioneering past.
Nunavut’s portion of the TCT, originally the Itijjagiaq Trail, is found within Katannilik Territorial Park. It embraces the beauty and vastness of the Arctic landscape, and displays how the glaciers gouged and shaped the land. You can imagine what Canada was like centuries ago. Originally an inland hunting area for indigenous people, the Kuujuaq valley served as a key travel route for congregations of Inuit meeting up in the summer months. A hiking trail exists where dog teams once provided the only source of transportation over the high uplands. Today, snowmobilers do in eight hours what used to take teams five days to accomplish. This 120 km stretch of Trail is found between Kimmirut and the capital, Iqaluit.
Yukon’s portion of the Trail joins the Northwest Territories to British Columbia. With more than 14 Trail components from the Dempster and Klondike Highways to the Dawson Overland Trail, which runs from Takhini to Braeburn, the Yukon Trails’ claim to fame includes following old Gold Rush stagecoach routes and cycling and hiking trails that provide a true wilderness experience, despite some sections running parallel to major highways.
Author, naturalist and avid outdoorsman Jamie Bastedo has just written the Official Guide to the Northwest Territories’ Trans Canada Trail (Fitzhenry and Whiteside). He says “This is an awesome, multi-layered journey of discovery.” The trail here includes a waterway – the mighty Mackenzie River. Jamie and his family often paddle to find “magic” in its quietest moments or marvel at a sunset over Great Slave Lake. Cycling down the straight 35 km stretch of Trail between Providence and Bechokò will also deliver more than a sore behind. There are signs of our progress everywhere but, most of all, signs of our failure to protect this land. Imagine the ghosts of miners, long-gone trappers and proud native peoples. “If anyone explores even a small part of what we have done along this Trail their lives will be immeasurably richer,” says Bastedo. The Trail is fully connected with a 2,240 km waterway and a 628 km land route.
As you enter British Columbia at Watson Lake, you come upon a section of Trail made up of over 32 separate trails. The core of B.C.’s TCT is further south along the abandoned Kettle Valley Rail Line and the Columbia & Western Rail Lines (a total of over 600 km of former rails-to-trails). From the rainforests of Vancouver Island to the arid desert regions of the interior, B.C.’s trails cover a wide range of habitat before crossing into Alberta at Elk Pass. Families might enjoy hitting the warm beaches on Skaha and Okanagan Lake or, above the Okanagan Valley. The Myra Canyon Trestles (a series of 18, all of them recently restored) are a hiker’s and cyclist’s highlight with spectacular views.
Alberta is home to 36 related trails, the most popular being the new, environmentally-friendly Banff Legacy Trail which provides a safe recreational route from Canmore to Lake Louise. It offers hikers, in-line skaters and cyclists a paved, non-motorized means of taking in some of the most iconic scenery in the country. It also functions as a commuter route, tourist attraction and training path. It is associated with the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site and is expected to be a huge draw for locals, tourists and adventurers. South of Blackfalds, the new Blindman River pedestrian bridge on the historic Calgary and Edmonton Trail, provides a link between Red Deer and Lacombe. A concrete and steel footbridge connects walkers and cyclists to northerly sections of the TCT.
The Red Deer Crossing – evolving from Wolf Trail into a crude roadway in 1873 – played a role in stagecoach routes and the history of the area, while, not far from here, the Canadian militia built Fort Normandeau, key in the time of the Riel/North-west Rebellion.
Saskatchewan offers far more than sweeping crop vistas and big open skies. The SkyTrail Bridge in Outlook – a recently-converted rail bridge and an engineering feat – is now Canada’s largest pedestrian bridge, measuring 48 metres high and 1 km wide, looking out across the South Saskatchewan River and the largest embankment dam. A mecca for hikers and cyclists, regulars watch for a returning nest of owls and their young just below the walkway. A portion of the Trail takes you to man-made Lake Diefenbaker with its 800 km of shoreline, where you can make your way towards the 64-metre high Gardiner Dam at the Lake’s north end. There it meets the South Saskatchewan River, the largest embankment dam of its kind in Canada. The Qu’Appelle River Dam is found just 40 km southeast and well worth the trip. The lush Qu’Appelle Valley is brimming with picturesque topography, rolling grasslands and open sloughs as it heads east towards the distant Katepwa Trail. Its flora and fauna, alone, flies in the face of any preconception you might’ve had about what you‘d expect to find in Saskatchewan.
collection of 18 trails come together to form more than 1,200 km of the
TCT. Winnipeg resident Janice Lukes has triplet sons, so getting
involved with Trail development in her neighbourhood was a smart move
for her. “My guys LOVE my job because they get to explore non-stop!” she
says. As a parent, she loves how Trail activities stimulate every
single sense, and each adventure is chock full of interesting sights and
activities. There are guaranteed animal sightings, tons of bugs and
birds, the occasional buffalo and the chance to go fishing. What’s not
to love? From the rural bathroom (“it’s where the bears go,” say the
kids) to the ‘fear factor’ of crossing boardwalks and bridges over
water, it’s an ideal family activity. Favourite parts of the TCT include
4.6 km that run through the Fort Whyte Alive nature preserve in
Winnipeg for a taste of wild Manitoba and the 1.5 km portion of the TCT
known as Kildonan Park. This has a playground blended in a parkland
setting, complete with a Witch’s Hut, a duck pond, swings and spray
trails mix urban, rural and remote locations. There is adventure
crossing the Alexandria Bridge, which takes you over the locks on the
Rideau Canal leading to Gatineau. Directly above, you’ll see the
Parliament Buildings and opt for a visit to the National War Museum or a
picnic alongside the Ottawa River Pathway. More hardy types might
tackle the Thunder Bay portion of the TCT which includes the Kaybeyun
Trail and the chance to scale the Sleeping Giant of Sleeping Giant
Provincial Park fame. Enjoy trailside rock climbing near the Current
River bluffs, take a bracing dip into Lake Superior or explore nearby
Fort William Historical Park. Of special interest is the ‘floating
trail’ along Lake Vernon’s Hunters Bay. The usual level train beds used
along the Trail weren’t possible here, so this 137-metre section of the
Trail – part of the 53 km TCT that runs through Huntsville – floats.
This makes it ideal for swimming, fishing or for tying off your boat to
start the Trail from there. Naturally, swimming and boating areas abound
providing an interesting detour from normal Trail activities.
45 km of the TCT passes through Gatineau Park and is a natural for
hikers and mountain bikers, offering both paved and rough sections
leading to the Tea Room at the Mackenzie King Estate – the 1920s home of
our 10th Prime Minister. Cave aficionados might enjoy exploring Lusk
Cave at Lac Phillippe or take along your bathing suits for a swim at
Meech Lake. For a more urban twist, hop the ferry from Lévis to Quebec
City and take in the view of Old Quebec and the Château Frontenac. The
more rugged Trail hound might prefer to cycle or hike the Petit Témis
Trail – part of both the TCT and the Route Verte, which makes use of a
134 km section of abandoned railroad line, once a route for aboriginal
peoples and early settlers between the Maritime Provinces and the Saint
Lawrence Valley. It rises some 400 metres from Riviére-du-Loup and
Saint-Honoré-de-Témiscouata before levelling off and continuing on to
Brunswick’s 13 combined trails offer both city and rural elements of
the TCT. Leaving Québec’s Petit Témis Trail, cross the border into
Edmundston, which is a popular cycling trail for families – complete
with water fountains and outhouses along the way for those necessary
kid-stops. A nearby campground is found at de la République Provincial
Park along the shores of the Madawaska River while the nearby Antique
Auto Museum and New Brunswick Botanical Gardens make for wonderful photo
ops. Hug the cliff tops above the world’s highest ocean tides and visit
The Fundy Trail. This coastal wilderness area is not only a breeding
habitat for Right Whales but it’s also one of the best places in the
world for viewing marine and wildlife in a breathtaking setting. The
portion of the TCT that traverses the Saint John River Valley provides
insights into rural New Brunswick as it travels through Grafton and
Woodstock, allowing for a short trek or a long cycle along rail bed and
highway’s edge, while the Saint John River offers a stimulating backdrop
to your journey. From the Grand Falls walking bridge to nearby
Hartland, home of the longest covered bridge in the world, there’s lots
to see and more to do for a most memorable holiday.
are 18 trail associations forming Nova Scotia’s TCT – from Cape Breton
Island to the mainland. Shaped like a T, it runs across the north end of
the province over to North Sydney while a branch at the halfway point
runs northwest along the Northumberland Strait through
and another branch connects central Nova Scotia to Halifax along the
Shubenacadie River system. The Inverness Shean Trail in Cape Breton runs
for 22 km – part of a 96 km trail that runs to the south and along the
island’s coast with head-spinning views of St. George’s Bay. You’ll see
pilot whales, swooping eagles and the fishing boats that ply the Strait
of Canso. Running west from Pictou to Oxford are 117 km of TCT that
follow the rail line which, in its time around 1890, served tiny fishing
villages and the rural communities of northern Nova Scotia. Rich in
local history – from famous battles to the expulsion of the Acadians –
this area is also home to memorable attractions like the century-old
Train Station Inn where you can choose a spacious room in the original
train station or bunk in an actual caboose.
Prince Edward Island
smallest province was the first to complete its Trans Canada Trail from
one end of the province to the other. Originally the Confederation
Trail, this former rail bed – and most popular section – runs 11 km from
the town of Morell to St. Peter’s, east of Charlottetown. It skirts the
southern edge of St. Peter’s Bay, crossing three bridges where the
mouths of rivers meet the 2 km wide bay, rich in birdlife. Watch fishing
boats as they harvest PEI’s famous blue mussels. Local expert Doug
Murray is an avid photographer who raves about the area, photographing
bald eagles, kingfishers and great blue herons amidst the wildflowers
and seascapes. Another of his favourite routes connects Breadalbane to
Fredericton along 7 km of the TCT because it depicts PEI’s rich farmland
in its myriad shades of green, and is never too far from the north
shore beaches of Cavendish. The red soil is unforgettable and the fact
that communities are found every few kilometers or so, PEI’s portion of
the Trail has much to offer the vacationer or avid hiker alike.
Newfoundland & Labrador
often have a different name for everything, and the TCT is no
exception. Referring to their TCT as the T’Railway (T’Railway Provincial
Park), it does help define the importance of the province’s railway,
which was essential to opening up Newfoundland’s interior from 1882 to
the early 1900s, ending in 1988. And, just like the railways, the
T’Railway still connects people. With a mandate to preserve the railbeds
for future use and to promote multi-use trail development, the
T’Railway runs from St. John’s to Port-aux-Basques – a total of 883 km –
linking urban, rural and wilderness areas. Strolling along the
T’Railway in Conception Bay South, you may see an iceberg or a whale.
Popular with horseback riders as well as hikers, cyclists and those on
all-terrain vehicles, ocean vistas are met with wildlife-rich wetlands,
forests, flowers and dramatic topography. Manuels River Linear Park is
known for its exceptionally picturesque 7 km of trails which link to the
T’Railway. The Park trails are popular with joggers and hikers taking
advantage of the sights. A family campfire makes for a special treat
here on Thursday evenings in July and August.
Eric Thom is a Toronto-based writer and father of three.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2011.