It was a crazy idea at the time and it’s even wilder to think it’s almost complete.
As Canada prepared to celebrate its 125th birthday, back in 1992, the celebration committee came up with the audacious idea to connect the country east-to-west and north-to-south by land (both trail and back road) and water routes. The goal was to complete the Trans Canada Trail, now known as The Great Trail, for the country’s next big B-day, number 150, in 2017. Here we are and the lofty goal is, considering the scope and bureaucracy involved, miraculously 90 per cent complete. About 75 gaps, covering 2,400 kilometres in the 24,000 kilometre trail, remain and many will be connected by the trail’s grand opening on August 26.
“That doesn’t mean the trail is complete,” says Christina Kozakiewicz, a spokesperson for the The Great Trail. “We’re always going to be working on it, taking more sections off road, adding more spur trails and improving the user experience.”
Since 2012, $75 million was spent racing towards the 2017 goal. That includes plenty of new sections of trail, signage to ease navigation and more in the works. Here are some of the highlights worth checking out, coast-to-coast-to-coast:
Nunavut Territorial Govt
Nunavut: The Itijjagiaq Trail
Meaning “over the land” in Inuktitut, this route is one of the oldest parts of the trail. The Inuit have used it for generations to travel the 120 kilometres between the towns of Kimmirut and Iqaluit on Baffin Island. The Great Trail adopted it, adding signage to the wilderness trek.
Nova Scotia: Bras d’Or Lakes
One of the last pieces of the trail in the Maritimes is the 350-kilometre water route around this string of lakes on Cape Breton Island. Work continues on 14 access points, navigation signage and picnic shelters.
Quebec: Baie St. Paul Boardwalk
Small in length, but big in importance—when complete, this 1.1-kilometre boardwalk will wander through a salt marsh on the edge of the St. Lawrence Lowlands in Quebec’s Charlevoix region. The marsh is important bird habitat and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ontario: Path of the Paddle
Following traditional First Nation trading routes, about 500 kilometres of this 900-kilometre water portion in northwestern Ontario remains under construction. Work continues on access points, signage and portages. When it’s complete, it will be one of the longest chunks of the trail.
Alberta: High Rockies Trail
Maybe the most exciting new section of the route. The High Rockies Trail links single-track hiking and biking paths in Banff National Park to more single-track in the Elk Valley of southeastern British Columbia. The 80-kilometre trail is Alberta’s longest mountain-bike-friendly trail.
British Columbia: Isadore Canyon Trail
The third and final 11 kilometres of this section near Cranbrook is under construction, converting abandoned rail lines into gravel trail. When complete, the 40-kilometre route will complete the easy cycling and hiking path through the sunny Rocky Mountain Trench.
Great Trail Factoids
• 80 per cent of Canadians live within 30 minutes of the trail.
• Navigating The Great Trail would require hundreds of maps, but just one app. The iOS compatible The Great Trail—Explore Canada app includes maps of the entire route, other planning tools and a GPS-powered tracker.
• Dana Meise was the first person to travel solo to all three Canadian oceans. The nine-year mission followed The Great Trail, including bushwhacking the unfinished sections. thegreathike.com
• The most gaps are in Alberta: 27 holes covering 1,137 kilometres. That’s partially because the trail’s partner in that province wants all of the land portions to be off-road and also because the route runs north-south as well as east-west.