A COUNTRY FOR THE CROSSING © David Watts 26 August 2003
To travel across Canada at least once has become a goal of many Canadians—
To make it in a van before the kids leave home, to give a son or daughter a rail or air pass as a graduation present, to visit the sites we see on TV and learn about in social studies—
This is Canadians’ pilgrimage to Mecca, to Jerusalem, to Benares, Rome and Canterbury, expressed in the words of a Prime Minister of a century ago and made into a song,
“My country is my cathedral…” For anyone to make that crossing consciously is to seek our Northwest Passage.
The first cross country trek was relatively recent—only two hundred ten years ago:
“Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, 19 July 1793.”
Ninety-three years after he wrote that, anyone with the money for a rail ticket or the savy to hop a freight could make it in five days on the C.P.R.
Another eighty years later, one could drive or hitchhike on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Today we can do it by horse or bicycle, walking or wheelchair on the Trans-Canada Trail.
As the Railway brought our country together politically, travelling the Highway and Trail has become a social connector.
The anecdotes we share en route and after in hostels, campgrounds and motels have become our Canterbury Tales.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s penning of the originals 700 years ago marked a milestone in the development of the English language.
Our sharing of our cross-country stories via chat rooms and talkback lines, face to face and in forums such as “Our Canada,” is a marker in the development of our culture.
But this is not simply for one or two languages, or even for the culture of one country. Canadian culture is essentially regional culture, in our folklore as much as our fine arts.
The genie of this exchange is that it is grassroots. No individual, institution or ideology is dominant. The outports, islands, and backcountry are as important as the downtown.
This is true of all cultures and all countries. It is becoming especially apparent in Canada. The backpack and the internet are the new crossroads on our cross country journey.
Where our sojourns overlap and the lines of our journeys cross, our Canadian passages are evidence of a planetary pilgrimage: crossing a country, and connecting a world.