The Great Trail of Canada / Trans-Canada Trail
Start: Railway Coastal Museum, St. Johns, Newfoundland
End: Victoria, British Columbia: Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest
Distance: 14,000 mi / 23,000 km
Time: 2 years+
Surface: Wide Variety of Roads and Mountain Paths
Work on The Great Trail of Canada (formerly known at the Trans-Canada Trail TCT) was begun in 1992 on the 125th anniversary of Canada’s founding and passes through more than 1,000 communities, providing a link for more than 34 million people. Eighty percent of Canada’s population live less than 30 minutes from the TCT. The aim was to have one vast, unbroken 23,000-km chain stretching across the nation and passing through every province and territory by July 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday. When it was completed, the TCT linked the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans and now owns the coveted title of the world’s longest recreational trail, with its ‘Mile Zero’ in St John’s, Newfoundland and its western terminus in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
An ambitious project like this, built to encompass such a vast swathe of the North American continent, was always going to be more than just a single trail. It has two primary segments: the main section which runs through the towns and cities of heavily populated southern Canada and ending at its western terminus in Victoria, and a northern ‘spur’ which heads out from Alberta, passing through Edmonton and British Columbia and paralleling the Alaska Highway for about 1,000 km as it makes its way through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. There is also an alternative water route here, using the Mackenzie River out of Great Slave Lake which will take you all the way to the Arctic Ocean and the town of Tuktoyaktuk, where the average winter temperature is minus 26 degrees Celsius. Or you can walk there too, along the banks of the Mackenzie River. Hardcore TCT-ers call it ‘Walking the Tuk’. It is a Grand Adventure in itself.
In the east, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are transforming hundreds of kilometers of disused rail lines into TCT trails, with Prince Edward Island’s contribution being their very own Confederation Trail which spans the entire length of this crescent-shaped island. In Quebec two alternative trails connect Quebec City to Montreal running either side of the St Lawrence Valley. Ontario will have around 4,000 km of the trail including a spur to Niagara, while 1,200 km of the trail will pass through southern Manitoba including a spur to Lake Winnipeg. The trail enters southern Saskatchewan and passes through its southern prairies through lovely Grasslands National Park and Duck Mountain Provincial Park before entering Alberta at Onion Lake. From there it follows Iron Horse Trail to Edmonton where the northern spur as mentioned heads up through the Yukon while the southern route passes through the Rocky Mountains and into British Columbia.
The Great Trail is a testament to just what a well co-ordinated and dedicated grass roots volunteer program can achieve when effectively combined with business groups and local and provincial government authorities. More than 125,000 Canadians contributed – either by donations or actual trail building – to its construction. In excess of 400 trail sections are currently being managed and owned by various trail groups, conservation bodies and government agencies, with the bulk of it the result of the linking up of a veritable multitude of existing trails, such as the Kettle Valley Trail in British Columbia and the Galloping Goose Regional Trail on Vancouver Island.
In May 2008, 39-year old Prince George forest technician Dana Meise set out from Cape Spear in Newfoundland and walked more than 16,000 km of the then heavily segmented trail, ending in Clover Point, Victoria, in December 2013. Along the way he learned how to fish for lobster, how to sail, found love in Thunder Bay, was beaten senseless by a hailstorm on an open prairie in Saskatchewan, woke up with a bear sniffing at his feet, and one day walked side by side with the wife of the Canadian prime minister. Meise became the first person to walk the British Columbia portion of the trail in its entirety from east to west. If you stay on any trail anywhere long enough, you’re bound to accumulate some stories.
The Great Trail of Canada is a multi-use trail shared by hikers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, snow-mobiles, canoeists, kayakers and horseback riders, with regularly spaced shelters that provide both water and protection from the elements. The landscapes you can experience on it are as varied and idiosyncratic as Canada itself. Whether it’s the ‘7-km gravelly wilderness of the abandoned Musquodoboit railway in Nova Scotia, or the Maukinak ‘Path of the Paddle’ water trail in northwestern Ontario that takes you along the northern shoreline of Saganaga Lake past 2.7-billion-year-old Precambrian cliffs and the 2-billion-year-old micro-fossils of Gunflint Lake. Whatever it is you are looking for, whatever you want to forget, or find, or whatever the challenge – the TCT will give you what you’re looking for.