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Carefree highway

Father-and-son duo celebrate the Trans-Canada's 50th birthday

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An automobile journalist with a penchant for adventure is driving across the country via the Trans-Canada Highway to celebrate the national roadway's 50th anniversary.

Mark Richardson, who was born in England but moved with his family to Canada at age 18, was born on the same day the famed highway was officially opened to travellers at Rogers Pass in British Columbia.

"The Trans-Canada is a Canadian icon, like the Mounties or the Rockies," said Richardson on a recent stop in Winnipeg. "It's 50 years old this year and opened at the Rogers Pass on July 30, 1962 -- which is the same day and year I was born. We're the exact same age and people tell me I was born to drive this highway. And to write about it and tell its stories."

He dipped the tires of a bright yellow 2012 Chevrolet Camaro convertible in the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland earlier this month. At the completion of his journey he will wet those same tires in the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, culminating a journey that will ultimately span the nation. In total, including a few zig-zags along the route and the trip back home to Cobourg, Ont., Richardson expects to travel more than 30,000 kilometres in the spiffy new Camaro loaned to him by General Motors of Canada.

Richardson is writing a daily blog about the journey and history of the highway, which is sponsored by the CAA and published by Maclean's magazine. Once the driving is complete and he is home again, he will write a book about the highway and the adventure. The CAA is sponsoring Richardson on his drive.

According to Richardson, the book will not only outline how the highway came to be, it will also tell the stories of the various iconic coast-to-coast roadtrips that were made prior to its construction. These trips actually helped encourage its creation. Storied trips across the country in the infancy of motoring include the 1912 journey from Halifax to Victoria by Thomas Wilby and his driver Jack Haney, during which the two grew to loathe each other; the 1925 roadtrip by Perry Doolittle, who founded the CAA, in which he changed the wheels of his car to train wheels so that he could drive on railway tracks in the many places where there were still no roads; and the 1946 trek from Louisbourg, N.S., to Victoria, which was the first drive across our nation travelled exclusively on Canadian roads.

Joining Richardson for his epic journey is his 12-year-old son Tristan. "I brought Tristan with me to show him Canada and to spend some time with him during his summer vacation," said Richardson. "We've taken other roadtrips together, in cars, vans and on my Harley-Davidson, just as I've done with his 15-year-old brother Andrew, and this seemed like a good excuse for another."

The father-and-son duo aren't in a tremendous hurry to cross the country and have been stopping along the way to take in the sights and meet fellow Canadians who live and work along the highway. "It will take us about 10 weeks to drive the 10 provinces, and then there was another week required to drive to St. John's in the first place and another week to drive home to Cobourg from Victoria," said Richardson, who offered a must-see list of our nation.

"You must see Newfoundland, because it's so entirely different from the rest of Canada. You must see the Rockies, but equally as important, you must see the prairies to appreciate the scale and grandeur of this country; you must see Quebec, to understand that we include a proud, French-speaking culture; and you must see Ottawa, to recognize the national unity that we need and deserve."

Richardson, who recently retired as editor of the Toronto Star's Wheels section, is no stranger to motoring adventures. "I've driven (actually ridden) to every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada, and since I crossed into Nunavut on a snowmobile last year, to every territory. I've also driven in other parts of the world, but North America's the best. I lived off my motorcycle for a year in the late 1980s before deciding to become a journalist. In 2004, I rode my old dirt bike on the Zen road from Minneapolis to San Francisco, as research for my book Zen and Now ( Two years ago, I rode with my older son Andrew for two weeks on my motorcycle to Washington DC to meet the president."

According to Richardson, the new Camaro has turned out to be a terrific travelling companion and he and Tristan have endeavoured to leave the top down as often as possible. "It is honestly a much better car than I expected. I'm borrowing it from General Motors in Oshawa for this trip, and it's got a few stone chips on it now, but drives smoothly and powerfully. It's the six cylinder, not the eight, because I have to pay for my own gas, but I have the six-speed manual which makes it more fun to drive."

To follow Mark Richardson's epic journey, check him out on the web at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2012 F7

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