We've already got the Trans-Canada highway, railway and pipeline—and if everything goes as planned, our country will soon add the Trans Canada Trail to the list.
The Trans Canada Trail is a grand vision: a system of interconnected trails stretching across Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Arctic coasts. The project is slated for completion in 2017—Canada's 150th anniversary—with a total length of over 23 000 kilometres linking over 1000 communities across the country.
To facilitate this project, the Trans Canada Trail organization was created in 1992 by two individuals, Bill Pratt and Dr Pierre Camu. The organization is non-profit and a registered charity and does not own or operate any trails itself; rather it provides funding to the individual communities who handle the actual creation, connection and maintenance of their constituent trails. Funding has come from over 125 000 individual donors as well as from major corporations, foundations and all levels of government. To date, over 73 percent (some 16 800 kilometres) of the trail has been completed.
“We are working fast and furiously to make this happen,” Gay Decker, director of communications for Trans Canada Trail, says. Calling from the organization's head office in Montréal, Decker is wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the project, noting its multiple benefits: the trail promotes health and fitness as well as environmental conservation, economic growth and preservation of Canada's heritage.
“As 2017 approaches we hope that more people will pay attention to us and realize that the Trans Canada Trail would be emblematic of our country. It's a perfect fit for how we view ourselves as a country: it's all about our past, it's all about trailblazing; it's about bravery and collaboration.”
The Trans Canada Trail isn't just a typical hiking trail. Fundamentally multi-use, it encompasses wilderness trails as well as rural roads and paved urban trails. Edmontonians are familiar with our extensive river valley trail system, and indeed the 30-kilometre Edmonton River Valley Trail forms part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Walking isn't the only activity through which you can enjoy the Trans Canada Trail; many parts cater to cyclists and horseback riders, while a few other segments are water routes accessible only by canoe or kayak—most notably the Mackenzie River Trail, a 1659-kilometre wilderness water route running along the Mackenzie River from Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories up to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.
Decker, a self-described “ardent Canadian and outdoor enthusiast,” notes that while four out of five Canadians live within 30 minutes of the Trail, many aren't even aware of this. “Before I moved up here I lived right next to the Trans Canada Trail and I hiked that trail every single day for 10 years, in Newfoundland at mile zero,” she says. “It's actually something people are using in their own backyards. A lot of people don't realize they are actually using the trail when they're on it every day.”
To help the public find the part of the trail in their neighbourhood, the Trans Canada Trail has a website with an interactive map showing all routes, both existing and proposed. Printable maps and GPS coordinates can be downloaded, and soon users will be able to build custom maps based on their specific location.
The site also contains information about various featured trails and recent developments, such as the reopening of the Kinsol Trestle bridge on Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley trail. The bridge runs high above the Koksilah River and connects the village of Shawnigan Lake with the District of North Cowichan. Originally completed in 1920, the Kinsol Trestle fell into disrepair after the last train crossed it in 1979, until local groups began advocating for its preservation in the late '90s. This ultimately led to its restoration and inclusion in the Trans Canada Trail system.
Closer to home, the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park provides 7.7 kilometres of the Trans Canada Trail along the north shoreline of the Bow River between Calgary and Cochrane. The Park's land was contributed in 2006 by a long-time ranching family, providing an important connection of the Trans Canada Trail between two communities with deep roots in Alberta's ranching history and culture.
“A lot of our trails run through historic places,” Decker says. “If you look at reusing the rail beds, well, that's really the story of connecting Canadians through the train and transportation. We're really revitalizing not just the trail but the story, the Canadian story. Yes, we're connecting Canadians, but we're connecting Canadians to our past as well.
“It's about who we are as a country, who we are as a people and where we've come from and really where we're going,” she continues. “It leaves a legacy for future generations that we believe in collaboration, that we believe in our country and that we believe in having a healthy nation.”
More info at tctrail.ca