917: Canada’s Road by Mark Richardson

by Gerard


917.104: Richardson, Mark. Canada’s Road: A Journey on the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John’s to Victoria. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn, 2013. 158 pp. ISBN 978-1-4597-0979-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 910: Geography and travel
  • 917: Geography of and travel in North America
  • 917.1: Geography of and travel in Canada
  • 917.104: Travel in Canada

This seemed like such a promising idea for a book. A man, armed with a history of Canadian road-building and several previous accounts of trans-Canadian road trips and whose birthdate is the exact date of the Trans-Canada Highway’s grand opening, embarks on an epic journey across Canada to experience all the road has to offer. But, Mark Richardson’s recounting of his 57-day, 7600-kilometer trip across Canada on the 50th anniversary of the road in Canada’s Road falls flat in so many ways it hard to muster up any affection for the journey. Lucky for us as well, it’s mercifully short.

The quest started out as a joint venture between him, the CAA (like the AAA, only Canadian), and General Motors to show off both a new Camaro and roadside exploration in a blog. While many blogs have been successfully converted into books, this is not one of them. Each day (or couple of days) has a standard three-part entry. The “Then” sections detail bits and pieces from either the road’s past or past journeys across Canada. The “Now” sections are incidents and experiences he has on the trip. And the “Something Different” sections talk about places and people off the beaten path. This constant repetition get rather wearisome after 15 or 20 days of reporting. The book is simply a cut-and-paste job from the Internet (literally). There are needless references to other blog posts, Twitter contests, and whole URLs stuck in the middle of the text.

To be fair, there’s a good deal of history tucked in this slim book. We get stuff about Canadian politics and many of the previous famous road trips across Canada. The most notable is of course the first one, undertaken by Canadian “adventurer” Thomas Wilby and his American mechanic Jack Haney in 1912 in a classic REO. I would rather have read that one instead. In his A Motor Tour Through Canada, Wilby never once addresses his mechanic companion by name and never stoops to help when the car breaks down or gets stuck. For 53 days, Wilby and Haney hated each other. A volume juxtaposing Wilby’s words with Haney’s journal would have been ripe with tension and interesting moments.

There are many ways that this book could have been better organized to make for a more fluid and dynamic story. For one, it desparately needed maps of any kind. A word for travel writers out there: if you’re writing about any driving or trekking or exploration, include a map. It makes it easier for people to visualize where you are in the world. Especially if you start discussing alternate routes and differences between one highway and another. The Trans-Canada Highway has several offshoots and splitting points, but the author and the publisher just assume we can keep track of everything ourselves. In short, this is a wasted opportunity, but there’s a few stories and travel tips in here that may interest some folks out there.