Friday, December 31, 2021

Lessons from 10,000 km (of 27,000 km) on the Trans Canada Trail

Are you looking to go from desk to quest?  Spending the winter and Covid months planning that venture across Canada? Perhaps looking to drive and explore cross country?  Or maybe you are in the process of dusting off those plans to be a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago? Perhaps you are setting out to trek the Appalachian Trail, PCT, Bruce Trail or East Coast Trail?  Or you are simply preparing to set the modern world aside and strike out on your own and explore the world?  If so this is for you!

After hiking 10,000 km across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail in the past few years as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and as members on an RCGS Expedition we have learned a few things along the way about backpacking, exploring, getting out there and changing adventure dreams into reality.

Much of what we have learned is not meant to show you how we fulfilled our goals (especially since we still have 17,000 km more to go) but is advice to get you into the outdoors, enjoying the trail ways in your communities and experiencing the world’s natural the way YOU MOST DREAM OF!  There is no denying that these lessons are not earth shattering revelations, or unique to our own experience on a long distance trek.  Indeed most of what we have learned has in fact been a process of re-learning what is essential, and distilling common sense from practical experiences (and a lot of mistakes along the way).  

Before everything else we want to express our gratitude and thanks to organizations like the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Explorer’s Club, and Eh Canada Travel for being staunch advocates of diversity in the outdoors, accessibility to nature, and inclusion in travel and exploration – from our backyards to the boreal!  As well as for reiterating unreservedly that Nature is for everyone regardless of body shape, orientation, race, religion, beliefs, situation or background.  

For those interested in our #Hike4Birds, daily blogs detailing our walk or pictures please check out our:


(1)    Hike Your Own Hike and know ‘Why’ you are doing it

There are a lot of reasons to go out for a walk in nature and most people head outside everyday without having to justify it at all.  However if you are setting out for a long distance trek, journey or expedition you are going to want to really know why you are doing it. 

That doesn’t mean you have to do it for a cause but it does mean that you want to find the exact reasons that you have for heading out there. When you know them then you are going to want to hold onto those reasons, believe in them, and keep them close because they will get you through the days of self doubt, the painful miles on the trail, the obstacles en route, and help you stand up to the disappointments and the critiques along the way. 

Knowing why will also help you when you are told to give up, are given the opportunity to stop, and even when you begin to give yourself reasons to quit.  At one point you will likely begin to fantasize about comfort, showers, and a cozy bed.   At times like these you need to make sure that you remember your reason to keep going that will drive you onward.  Trek with purpose and YOUR REASONS AND MOTIVATION can take you from planning through to your goal!

(2)    It is all about Making the Decision

Any sports fan will tell you that games are won and lost in the mind of players well before the game begins.  Any large undertaking is like that.   The simple truth of long distance ventures – whether in a wheelchair, cycling, walking, hiking, running, paddling, etc is that they have less to do with physical than the mental.  We have seen hulking muscle-bound athletes quit a long distance hike, just as we have seen youth rock a Camino.  Did you know that a blind individual trekked the entire Appalachian Trail?  Did you know that people in wheelchairs have completed their pilgrimages to Santiago and Rome?  Did you know that an 11 year old has ventured on foot across America? This tells us that expeditions, treks, and ventures have less to do with the physical and logistical than they have to do with the mental!

Most explorers are not physical phenomenon, they are not Olympian or Paralympian athletes, and it isn’t a matter what their skin colour is, what their body shape is like, what their orientation is, who they worship, who they love, or what their age is!  Most explorers are explorers because they MADE THE CHOICE to go out there and do it!  Venturing (however you chose to) the length of a waterway or long distance trail, across a state, province, country or continent is not a mythic or epic undertaking they are the result of a choice.  These are not undertakings reserved for a select few, they are the result of realizing anything is possible if you make the choice.  Read Cheryl Stayed’s Wild for perhaps the best example of how much making a decision matters.

While being in shape and training are undoubtedly important, and there are barriers on every trek, the fact is that making the choice and making it your choice based on something you are passionate about is essential in going from desk to quest!   

(3)    Know yourself, and be comfortable with being on your own

This one is huge!  Before setting out you need to know yourself, know your strengths, be honest about your weaknesses, and be comfortable on being on your own. As an former teacher and librarian there is no denying that I prefer order and organization and an afternoon at a desk to sweating outdoors, trekking in the rain and being endlessly dirty.  I had to really come to terms with all this and acknowledge that over the course of 4-6 years and 27,000 km that I would spend most of the time being sweaty, muddy, uncomfortable and living without much order while at the same time trying to keep cameras and other sensitive gear running in a huge range of adverse conditions.  If I hadn’t done that I couldn’t have overcome myself to get out there.  

Perhaps even more than this, even if you are not solo trekking, you spend a lot of time with only your own thoughts.  So you need to be comfortable with yourself, your thoughts, and memories.  In our daily lives we all carry stuff inside with us that we are able to push aside and ignore.  On the trail, with so much less to do, and often after tough days, a lot of unexpected memories, pains, and anxieties can come to the surface.  Sorting yourself out and navigating these things is simultaneously the hardest and best part of trekking.

“…these mountains you are carrying you were only meant to cross…” 

This all requires you to be brutally honest with yourself before setting out.  Part of knowing yourself and being ‘comfortable in your own skin’ is knowing what you can and can’t do.  We have encountered a lot of obstacles in our trek so far, and just as often as we decide to go for it, there are times that we have realized that what is in front of us is not responsible, possible, or practical to take on. 

No trek or venture is going to be without challenges or discomfort, and much of it will make you push beyond the “pain free, stress free, effort free” attitude that is in much of society.  After all venturing out isn’t always pretty, you’ll be uncomfortable, you might get hurt, you will have moments when you are tired and scared, and you will be changed en route.  However for all of those things the adventure is worth it and if you push yourself you will be greatly rewarded.

(4)    Learn your Route, Know your Equipment, and Be Prepared

Before setting out make sure to take care of the basics first!  Let friends and family know what you are doing – they are going to be a great source of encouragement and support that will get you through the tough moments out there.  Also it is essential that people you trust know where you are going to be and are supposed to be.   Set up social media pages to share your trek and inversely you’ll also get messages of support and encouragement as you go (people are pretty amazing that way!).  Remember that no one can do huge ventures alone – you will come to rely on strangers, trail angels, and local residents – so why not start by relying of those you know, trust and love first?

The next part of being prepared is to know the trail, know the route, be aware of the amenities as much as possible, and know where to find, filter, buy, and get water.  In the end water, food, and information are the key to everything!  Beyond this, there will come a point – especially if like us you trek unsupported – that you will have almost no energy to spare for daily logistics and need to rely on your advance planning, notes and research to get through the day.  Knowing the details of your undertaking in advance is essential for your success, safety, and sanity! 

Research and know your equipment – be willing to pay for good equipment, but also remember that you don’t need everything the store is willing to sell you and you don’t need the ‘best equipment’. Your gear should be as light as possible, versatile and durable but it does not have to be expensive!  On the flip side of things make sure to get good gear because it does have to hold up – so don’t just look for the cheapest you can find either!  Everyone has a gear recommendation, but in the end USE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!  Once you have your equipment then LEARN HOW TO USE IT AND FIX IT - all before you head out!   

We have met people who have just started their long distance treks and cross country hikes carrying tents still in the store box or who have never used their camp stove.  Similarly we have met cyclists who don’t know how to repair their tires, gears, and bikes on the trail. Each of these is a recipe for frustration and trouble!  Once you have got all of that in hand, the final piece of advice is to never be afraid to responsibly dispose of a piece of gear that you aren’t using, that isn’t working right or can be replaced with something better.  Don’t carry useless gear even if you have paid good money for it.

The lesson being, before heading out and like a well trained Scout or a Guide, BE PREPARED!

(5)    Be Prepared, but be willing to Listen, Learn and Adapt

In my previous life I taught American history at a University and spent my evenings watching documentaries on individuals such as Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld.  Though I have moved away from classrooms much of their advice has followed: “you don’t know everything no matter how well you plan”, “expect the unexpected”, and “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

When we set out on the Trans Canada Trail – the world’s longest recreational pathway - we read, researched and prepared.  Yet despite thousands of pages of notes, putting the route onto maps (both physical and digital), building itineraries, mapping out alternative routes and resources, and Google walking the country we didn’t actually know much about what it would be like “on the ground” and in the moment. The learning really begins once you are out there. 

For example, since beginning our 27,000 km trek we have found sections of the trail not completed, despite being mapped as finished. We have encountered sections that lead directly into the Atlantic Ocean, into the middle of flooded quarries, and into chest deep marshes!  We have been warned by landowners that the TCT is closed in their area, found electrical wires and snares set across the trail to stop hikers, had our gear searched and purposefully broken by police officers, and been hit by ATVs.  In addition unexpected conditions have led us to being rerouted more than 50 km around land disputes and road construction.  In the last three years on the trail we have also had to deal with freak snow storms, hail, hurricanes, tornado warnings, historic droughts, strong winds, prairie mud, and a global pandemic (to name a few obstacles).  

While each of these things was a challenge it is equally true that in each of these cases things ultimately worked out.  We either met someone local who helped us, or we had to figure out a new route on the go and we were able to keep going.  In the end, regardless of advance itineraries and plans, ultimately yo will eat when possible, sleep where you can, and keep on moving on. 

The message being, there will ALWAYS BE AN UNEXPECTED OBSTACLE and you can’t plan or prepare for everything, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to ADAPT your plans and shift your route!  This is a real challenge in the age of pre-planned holidays and fixed itineraries!  People are now often horrified at the notion of changing their plans – but getting out there means DEALING WITH THE UNEXPECTED and adapting.  For us we have found that while advance research is essential it is equally true that no amount of online planning is better than local knowledge and experience.  LISTEN to residents, heed their advice and shift your plans accordingly.  You’ll learn something new everyday and save yourself a ton of frustration by listening.   

(6)    Reconnect to the World, and the amazing people in it!

When my trekking partner sold her house in 2018 to fund hiking across Canada it was with the intention of getting others to look up from their phones and reconnecting to nature through Citizen Science and Birding.   When giving free talks to classrooms, nature groups, scout troops and business leaders as well as in our blog we talk a lot about the benefits of Disconnecting to Reconnect. 

In a world of Google maps, iPods, and social media disconnecting seems impossible.  The internet, mp3 players, and electronics mean that today anyone can trek across a province, state or country and never look up or stop listening to their favourite TV show or soundtrack.  The digital world is wonderful at isolating us in our own bubbles where everything is comfortable and where we only listen, watch and read what we choose.  Discomfort need not intrude upon our manufactured lives.   In the process however you stand to miss out on a great deal.  Venturing out is the chance to stumble across those areas you never knew existed, to explore them, and take those amazing memories with you!  It is the opportunity to experience life!

The lesson being, if you are headed outdoors then take the time to RECONNECT to Nature and those you will meet along the way.  The world will always have agendas and crisis as well as updates to distract you from what is essential.  Use your trek to pull away from the superficial and reconnect to what is essential – namely the outdoors, natural beauty, and the great diversity of people in our communities that you will meet!  More than learning how amazing the world is you’ll be surprised to discover that most people in the world want you to succeed and want to be part of an adventure too!  

*** For those adventurous at heart, especially youth and young adults, there are lots of organizations like the terrific Royal Canadian Geographical Society who have members with a wealth of experience, vast global connections and most importantly have amazing programs supporting diversity in the outdoors, mentorship and exploration.  For those who want are looking for a place to begin, get advice and support exploration check them out! ***

(7)    Stop focusing on Distance, Time, and other’s Expectations

One of the hardest parts of the modern world is the proliferation of clocks, calendars, and Google Estimates for distances and times.  We have built a world in which things are fit into time slots, scheduled months in advance, and in which we know exactly how many steps it takes between destinations.  We have fixed our lives into routines governed second by second amid reminders for meetings and obligations delivered in emails on our phones.  This is a framework that becomes a real challenge on long distance treks and expeditions because we are inclined to make plans to be in certain places or finish our venture on a specific day.  As a result we have not only determined what all of our experiences will be each day, and are living at the end of our trek before even setting out but we have built a framework that we will judge ourselves with.  

While planning is important,  unless you are striving to break a record then don’t make the entire focus of your trek about maintaining a set schedule, when you will be finished, about having to get to a certain place by a specific date, or judging your progress by the expectations of others.  

“…Out there's a land that time don't command…”
                                                Lord Huron “Ends of the Earth”

The fact is that the best laid plans often crumble the moment they meet the realities of the trail.  After all things happen in the world!  Amid a wonderful warm summer in June 2018 we set off along the beautiful East Coast Trail (the eastern most section of the Trans Canada Trail) only to walk straight into a freak snow storm and howling winds on the Atlantic coastline. As a result, instead of trekking 35 km as we had planned, we hiked 15 km before hunkering down and trying to warm up with our soaking wet gear.  By the end of our first day of a 27,000km trek we were ‘behind schedule.’  It was immediately clear that our plan to venture across the nation had a few glitches in it from day one at that point – not the least of which was the expectation that we would, at minimum, cover 35 km a day.  We spent the next two days worried about being “behind” only to have to come to terms with the fact that no schedule was going to hold up over the course of an estimated 700-1200 days on the trail.  

Adding to this challenge has been the judgment of online critics for being “epic failures” because we are “being behind schedule” often comparing a long distance trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic to the “clockwork efficiency” of their own cruise ship vacations, pre-packaged tours to Europe, and weekend camping trips. The lesson being : if you are going to get out there and reconnect then make sure to get away from schedules, agendas, and life as determined by a digital clock and online world. In the end, you will enjoy your trek more when you let go of hard and fixed deadlines and worry less about what others think of your expedition.  I’d personally have less grey hair and have slept better in the first two years if I had learned this lesson earlier.  

(8)    Seize the Moment, and take time to Enjoy

Carpe Diem!  Seize the day! Enjoy the moment!

It might sound like a just a quirky quote from high school but there is a great deal of value in coming to realize this message.  If you have chosen to get out there following your own dream then make sure you aren’t in such a rush that you miss out on the natural beauty that you will encounter everyday or miss the immense kindness and support which will be offered along the way!  While setting out on a venture or long distance trail is an adventure of a lifetime, never forget that each moment is itself a once in a lifetime experience.  So take the time each day to take in the natural beauty around you, the changes in scenery and seasons, the potential for terrific bird and wildlife sightings, and the amazing people you are able to meet with, chat with, stay with and who are encouraging you!

Once again get away from the pre-planned itineraries and advance schedules! Don’t worry about taking break off the trail to rest and recuperate (this is not lost time!) instead see it as being given the opportunity to explore a new region or have a great conversation with local residents!

Don’t get hung up on the challenges or tough moments, it’s a waste of energy and only means you are missing out on the wonders of the present. 

Don’t constantly focus on the destination – that distant goal will arrive sooner than you think!

The lesson being ENJOY THE MOMENT, have patience, and realize that one way or another ‘step by step’ you will get there.   As a result, you’ll also remember more about the unplanned and unexpected moments of beauty that you took the time for en route. Enjoy the journey, have experiences, explore the world, don’t take yourself so seriously and seize the moment!  Remember, you won’t get out of life alive so enjoy the journey as much as you can.

(9)    Be Courteous, be Kind, but also be Safe

Turn on the news or go online and you’ll get vivid and constant descriptions about the supposed dangers of the world.  Even in our daily lives we seem to only notice the one individual in the store or our neighborhood who will go out of their way to be grumpy and who continually complain.  In the process we tend to forget the fact that each community and town across the country has a ton more people who are struggling to be trail angels, acting as amazing volunteers and who are helping others to succeed!

I am not claiming that the world is a utopia.  En route we have had challenges including people who have demanded to search us, landowners who have threatened us, been harassed by Anti-Vaxxers, and had our gear purposefully broken by a city police officer.  Frustrating things do happen.  Yet while this all sounds bad it is worth noting that each of these situations are also the exception to how we have been treated for more than 365 days on the trail.  Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been more than amazing to us!  The truth is that we could not have gotten so far without huge amounts of unexpected and selfless support that we have received!

The message being, while people are far more helpful and kind that we often recognize, you also need to use COMMON SENSE and TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS to BE SAFE out there.  The second part of this lesson being, always, regardless of the circumstances or situation SPEAK LESS, LISTEN MORE, BE HUMBLE, BE KIND, AND BE COURTEOUS in all situations.  Whether you are being aided by a trail angel, given a place to stay by a helpful stranger, or watching authorities break your gear - being rude or irresponsible will only every make things worse. Trust that things will work out and that you will be able to continue on regardless of the moment.  In the end you will be amazed at the extent of kindness and the amount of support that is actually in our communities and the world.  Help will come your way from the most unexpected of places – be respectful enough to attract it and be humble enough to accept it.  

(10)    Plan for “What’s Next?”

The final piece of advice we would offer - after reminding you to stay in the moment – is to tell you to plan for what comes next once you have reached your goal, your destination, or that final trail-head.

Each time either of us have completed something huge we quickly go from celebrating the moment to being depressed.  This has happened when we finished Ontario’s amazing Bruce Trail (2016), concluded Newfoundland’s epic East Coast Trail (2018), crossed a provincial or national boundary, and perhaps hardest of all … after getting our compostella in Santiago after trekking the Camino Frances (2016), Via Podiensis (2017), Caminho Portuguese (2019), and Camino Fisterra (2019).  

Post-trek depression hits everyone differently, but the reality is that you have put so much effort into a single endeavour that when you are done you end up crashing emotionally and mentally.  The days very quickly transition from planning, to hiking and navigating to being back behind a desk at work or at home alone.  You feel simultaneously amazed, empty, hollow, and wishing you could get back out there.  The truth is that even for months after leaving your adventure you are still on the trail in your head.  Questions abound, you search for meaning, you reflect on memories, you review your journals, notes, maps, blogs, and go through pictures. You laugh, you smile, you spend time thinking of everyone you met along the way, you are amazed at all you have accomplished, and at times you cry uncontrollably.  

While there is no real answer to post-trekking depression - it mostly just takes time to get through - the best approach that we have taken is to have a plan for what comes next – writing a book, a photo exhibition, organizing another trek - then dive into it with everything you’ve got!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

10,000 km of the Trans Canada Trail - Reading Your Way Across Canada!

10,000km from Cape Spear Newfoundland to the Saskatchewan-Alberta Border 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to trek across Canada or the world's longest recreational footpath - the 27,000 km long Trans Canada Trail / Great Trail ?  Curious to know what it is like to drop everything, sell your house, donate everything you own, and quit your job to go from desk to quest?  

As of 2021 we have now ventured 10,000 km on the TCT from Cape Spear Newfoundland to the Saskatchewan-Alberta Border with just a little more than 3500 km left to go before we get to the Pacific Coast and another 4,000+ km to venture before we get to the Arctic Ocean! 

So if you are curious what a particular section of the TCT looks like?  Is like to trek or cycle along, or what it would be like to walk from coast to coast to coast then these blogs are for you!

We have received a number of emails from people who have just started to follow along or who have been asking where to find our blogs from 2018, 2019, 2020 and now 2021 during our first few years on The Trans Canada Trail / Great Trail.   

As such, we are posting links to our blog entries by section and province.  

Feel free to share this post, any of the links, any blog entry and to enjoy the thousands of pictures that have been posted over the years!  It is privilege to be able to venture, learn and share Canada with Canadians.   

If you are a teacher or member of a nature group and have an interest in us giving a free talk on our trek across Canada, Citizen Science, and Birding to your classroom or organization please feel free to contact us at :

For anyone interested our website is: Come Walk With Us ( where you can sign up for the daily blog when we set back out heading west to the Pacific and later north to the Arctic!

Thank you to everyone for following along and we hope you enjoy our fourth year when we set out in 2022!

Decisions and Preparations for Hiking The Great Trail / Trans Canada Trail

East Coast Trail (first 300+ km of The Great Trail in Newfoundland)

Newfoundland, beginning The Great Trail in 2019 (Cape Spear to Channel-Port aux Basques)


Cape Breton, 2019 (North Sydney Ferry terminal to Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia, 2019 (Cape Breton to Halifax to PEI Ferry)

Prince Edward Island, 2019 (Ferry terminal to Confederation Bridge)

New Brunswick, 2019 (PEI's Confederation Bridge to the NB-Quebec border)


Into Quebec, 2019 (Edmunston NB to Riviere Du Loup QC)

Continuing Quebec 2021 (Ville de Baie-Saint-Paul to Montreal)

Ontario, 2020 (Quebec-Ontario border to Ontario-Manitoba border)

Eastern Manitoba, 2020 (Falcon Beach, MB to Winnipeg, MB)

Western Manitoba 2021 (Winnipeg, MB to Saskatchewan border)

Saskatchewan 2021 (Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to Saskatchewan-Alberta border)

A huge thanks to everyone across Canada who has followed, liked, read along, and supported this trek from coast to coast to coast.  As of 2021 we have now trekked 10,000 km from Cape Spear Newfoundland to the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, given over 100 free presentations to school classrooms, nature groups, hiking clubs and interested associations, posted more than 700 blogs and thousands of images from our time on the trail and been covered in media across the world in 5 languages!  Thank you for supporting diversity in the outdoors, accessibility to nature and for helping us encourage youth to connect with nature through Citizen Science and Birding!  

Friday, December 24, 2021

A “Spur” Decision : Exploring Montreal’s Canal-de-Lachine

I went to bed last night, in a thick duvet in a near soundproof room in downtown Montreal believing that the trekking year had come to an end.  Despite the delays brought on by the second and third waves of Covid in 19 leading to 3 rounds of quarantine, we had successfully trekked more than 3000km across the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the majority of Quebec!  Arriving into Montreal we reached another milestone – having now also completed 10,000 km of trekking in Canada over more than 365 days on the Trans Canada Trail while also giving over 100 presentations to groups across the nation!  It was time to rest…. or so I had hoped.  

Sean however is not one to rest, not one who was looking forward to stopping for the season, and definitely one who lives with the frustrations rather than the celebrations of the moment – and so was awake at 6 am….ready to hike.  His lone concession was a willingness to have a breakfast of chocolate crepes before heading out.  

He had been awake most of the night, frustrated by our reception at the TCT the day before and not wanting to end on such a note had spent the evening and morning striving to find ways to keep going.  Certainly the weather was still warm enough to trek.  According to our drafted plans it would take us just 5 short days to venture to Mont Tremblant northward up the beautiful P’tit train du Nord.  The route and amenities along it was such that we would not need to carry our camping gear (now picked up from the post office) nor carry extra food.  It could be undertaken, but to be honest I also felt that we were done.  Besides in 7 days I was due to return to work.  If we kept hiking I would literally walk off the trail and return to a computer with no downtime between this hiking year, work and our return to the train in 2022.  

As a result, following a spirited ‘debate’, fuelled by French chocolate and strong cappuccino, ‘we’ reached a different decision.  Rather than continuing on trekking the 200 km of the TCT around Montreal to Monte-Temblant simply to satisfy the urge to keep going we would stick to our original plan and head back to Ontario tomorrow.  The concession being that we would return to the Trans Canada Trail and hike a spur of the trail today.

This is how, with our extra day off in Montreal we did not relax, we did not simply take in the history, or culture as planned.  Instead we hiked.  Thankfully while Sean is stubborn and driven, he is not unreasonable.  Of the number of possible routes in Montreal that the TCT follows he chose the one spur that would take us toward French food and one of my favorite places in the city – Le Marche Atwater, or the Atwater Market.

Following breakfast we returned to our hotel room picking up the cell phone, the Garmin tracker and camera and set out to wander through downtown Montreal and the trail.  As now seems traditional for us we were drawn to the old quarter of Montreal, where the weight of history in this beautiful city was most evident.  In Montreal, much like Europe, it seems that every corner in this city, holds a piece of history, notes some essential part of national culture, or memorializes a great achievement undertaken by Canadians.   Some of the most unique places can even be found down the narrow alleys where Victorian lanterns still hang and snatches of days past still stand out.

As we walked at random around Old Montreal I was captivated by the stray corners of history that we found.  Unassuming plaques on the sides of buildings, statues to people long past, and inscriptions that tell a story – if you take the time on the busy city streets to stop and learn.

Similarly wandering we found amazing local art and unique statues sitting in corners of streets and alleyways.  Each making me wish that we had the time to explore more or the ability to learn more about them.

When setting out this morning we had the hope of being able to visit the iconic Notre Dame Basilica, Unfortunately the Basilica, much like Province House in PEI, and Parliament in Ottawa was under construction with much of its beautiful façade covered.    After years of hiking around Europe and Canada I have come to believe that this generation will never get to see these buildings owing to their constant and necessary renovations.  Instead our view of these great monuments will be one as seen through scaffolding and Tevek tarp.  Given the situation throughout Old Montreal with so much construction, so much scaffolding, and so many Covid closures we did not spend much time here. 

Instead we continued on revisiting the Historic Old Port and walking along the shoreline.   

En route we took the opportunity to learn about a large grey building we had seen a number of times on our visits to Montreal but knew nothing about.  As it turns out, this imposing corner building with its distinctive architecture and clock tower is known as the Commissioner’s Building.  According to what we learned, it stands as a prime example of a Second Empire style of building and starting in 1876 served as the corporate headquarters of the Harbour Commission which from 1830 onward managed the Port of Montreal.  Commission was charged with developing the regional quays, sheds, and infrastructure of the port supporting industrial growth and the region’s development.  Much like the railways across Canada ports are one of those essential parts of many of our cities whose essential and historical role in developing the nation many don’t explore.    

Continuing on we passed the massive grain silos built in 1905 at Quai de la Pointe du Moulin a Vent and the Redpath silos on the skyline that we had briefly seen yesterday. As we left the cobblestone walkways of the Old Port district we returned to the Trans Canada Trail trekking down a spur which would take us west. 

As we have discovered in many of Canada’s larger cities the Trans Canada Trail is not a straight line or a single route.  In Montreal the TCT has a number of side trails beyond the main pathway which follows the shoreline east before turning north.  Here there are paths which go from downtown Montreal north to Laval, a 22 km section in the community of Mascouche / Lac-Samson, the 25 km Senterier Mirable in Saint-Augustin, and a 12 km walkway along the historical Canal-de-Lachine.

Having crossed part of it yesterday when we arrived into Montreal, we rejoined Park’s Canada’s Historic Lachine Canal and followed the walkways which paralleled both sides of it.  The Lachine Canal, which along with the industry and maritime traffic that has passed through this waterway reflect over three centuries of European history in the region.  As far back as 1670, soon after French settlers arrived, Rev. Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon proposed the digging of a canal as a solution to navigating the nearby rapids blocking the St. Lawrence River from the Great Lakes.  At his urging the French Colonial Government began attempting to bypass the treacherous Lachine Rapids, in 1689.  For a number of reasons however it wasn't until 130 years later that a group of businessman, led by the Scottish immigrant John Redpath (of Redpath Sugar) were successful in their efforts. The result was a navigable waterway which connects the Old Port of Montreal to Lake Saint-Louis, running through the boroughs of Lachine, Lasalle, and Sud-Ouest. 

The opening of this canal in 1825 created a route for heading to the Great Lakes and by 1851 it would be the first link in a chain of canals – Montreal to Kingston around regional rapids, Welland Canal around Niagara Falls, and the Sault Ste,. Marie Canal joining Lakes Huron and Superior - that was a 2100km industrial and commercial supply chain stretching from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Lake Superior and the heart of North America. With the construction of these networks marine traffic dramatically increased, manufacturers established themselves along the canal, and Montreal quickly became the nation's first industrial center. As maritime traffic increased shops opened alongside the canal facilitating the processing, sale, and transport of products ranging from grain, wood, lumber, coal, and petroleum.  So essential was the canal that it would be enlarged in 1848 and then again in 1884 making Montreal into and its canal one the most vital parts in the Canada’s development rivalled in North America by only New York City for the volume of trade.

Between 1850 and 1950 the Lachine canal was the centre of some of the largest industrial sectors in Canada.  Known throughout the nineteenth century as the ‘Smoky Valley’ it would be the location that nearly 800 companies would manufacture and do business and where thousands of Canadians would be employed. In response to the rapid industrial growth the city of Montreal would also experience a huge amount of development and growth.  During this period the population of the region would rise from 58,000 to over a million transforming the city into a centre filled with working class burrows and neighbourhoods dominated by the chimneys of the manufacturing district. By the early twentieth century fifteen thousand ships per year ventured through the canal system being navigated by Canaler vessels designed to maneuver the Great Lakes and regional lock systems.  Throughout the decades these ships would grow in size and payload capability as the canals were expanded.  These vessels were not designed for ocean conditions yet despite this many of them would be used as convoy vessels during both World Wars. 

The launch of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 led to the closing of the canal in 1970 to shipping and industry and given to Parks Canada in 1978 who embarked upon an ambitious revitalization program to preserve the Canal’s history, and allow for the development of the region. The Lachine Canal Historical Site was subsequently been reopened for recreational vessels in 2002 allowing them to cross the 14 metre change in elevation between the port of Montreal and Lachine.  In addition to the restoration of the waterway, there are a number of cycling trails and walkways, including the Trans Canada Trail, which trace alongside the banks of the canal system.  The TCT section and spur is approximately 12 km each way, meaning that today back on the national pathway we would ultimately walk between 25 and 30 km including Old Montreal, the Old Port and along the canal on our final day in Quebec.

The urban pathway we followed today runs the length of the canal and is clearly well used by residents and cyclists.  According to Michael Haynes, author of a number of TCT guidebooks, these trails were once noted as one of the most beautiful urban multipurpose paths in the world.  The Lachine pathways are actually composed of a number of trails on both sides of the canal waterway, including a paved surface which is part of the Route Verte for cyclists and a crushed gravel walkway. In addition there are benches along the route as well as a huge number of information panels along the way detailing the history of the region and the transformation of the canal from being a centre of shipping and Montreal’s industrial heart, to a recreational corridor and Park’s Canada Historical site.

Along much of this former industrialized district including the Old Port and Lachine Canal here in Montreal, which like Vancouver and Toronto have been developed transforming former factories into a popular district filled with green spaces, parks, upscale condos, houses, restaurants, museums and businesses.  The result being that much of today’s trek was along a pathway edged by modernized glass condo buildings and futuristic office buildings.  Our route took us past the Peel Basin, under local bridges, and through parks filled with tables complete with inlaid chess boards. 

Given our later departure this morning and wandering around the historic districts in downtown Montreal we arrived at Le Marche Atwater around noon.  Located only a few steps off the Canal de Lachine and the Trans Canada Trail, Marche Atwater is both one of our favourite places to visit in Montreal.  The popular market is housed in an absolutely beautiful Art-Deco brick building designed by Ludger Lemieux and is topped by a clock tower.  

Around the site and along the canal are grass parks with benches and picnic tables which are ideal for brief breaks or picnics! The Atwater Market was named after a nearby avenue which in turn was named after Edwin Atwater, a nineteenth century businessman and city councillor. Inside the Market is a essentially a long hallway filled with shops and stalls selling a plethora of fresh produce, cheeses, meats, oils, mustard, chocolates and (best of all) pastries !   

While here we picked up a few edibles for my parents and grandmother to be sent for the holidays, but our primary goal was my favourite place – the Boulangerie Première Moisson ! 

After snacking on chocolates and croissants we continued west past packing and cardboard factories as well as more condos and houses developed from repurposed historical brickworks and industrial buildings.   As the afternoon passed we sat on one of the benches along the trail, enjoyed a warm coffee and another chocolatine from Boulangerie Première Moisson. We soon arrived at Pont Gauron and decided that it was time to turn back and return to Montreal’s downtown.  While ultimately our day was neither long nor eventful, it was nonetheless both a very beautiful and peaceful way to end the year!  Today there had been no real goal (beyond pastries) in setting out and no planned destination.  It had just been us enjoying a quiet walk on the Trans Canada Trail. 

In the evening we were fortunate to be able to once again meet up with Daniel Baylis for dinner to thank him, to celebrate the publication of his newest book – Wild Birds and to chat about the past three years on the trail. We also, admittedly, vented a little about our frustrations and missed opportunities.   In response and in his usual polite and patient manner Daniel again offered us sage advice.  A global traveler himself, he reminded us to enjoy the moment, be honest in our blogs and posts, and to strive to find the lesson in every experience.  Above all however he also told us that even while trekking to promote something we passionately believe in that we had to remember to still hike our own hike.  As always Daniel is grounding, insightful and inspiring.  We would leave dinner feeling better about the past year and returned to our room to pack for the train ride back to Ontario.  In the morning we will leave Quebec 525 km short of our goal of completing the province but having ventured far further in 2021 than we believed possible following all the delays and 45 days of quarantine in the spring.

More than a month ago, in early October we made a decision.  With Edmonton Alberta, only 300 km away but out of reach due to rising Covid numbers and the provincial state of Emergency, we planned to come back to Quebec to complete as much of the 1000km in the province as we were able to before winter arrived.  Despite our exhaustion – which at that point was bone deep – our plan required that we not only keep trekking, and that everything went perfectly, but that we would also have an improbable run of great weather.  While there have been a few unexpected bumps on the road here, and while the weather as of Nov. 10th is 14 degrees and feels more like late summer than early winter giving us the chance to continue – after pushing to trek 620 km in 22 days we know now we are both exhausted. I suspect we could push another 250 km to Mont-Tremblant or Grand Remous in the next 4 or 5 days.   However the pace we have set in Quebec has already been hard and fast, the distance covered huge for the time we have spent on the trail, our gear is done for, and the weight loss for the year on both of us has become dramatic.  It is time to stop for 2021.  

Besides what’s the rush?  Above all Quebec has reminded us of something essential in this trek.  Between the wondrous landscapes, tremendous food, amazing history and culture, and the kindness of its people, Quebec has shown us that even though we have goals in front of us on the Pacific and Arctic coasts there is no need to rush to get there.  It is the journey not the destination.  Whether on the trail or off, trekking along pathways, walking highways or dealing with the obstacles en route the last three years have already flown by.  Why try to make things go faster than they already are?  

2018 - East Coast Trail
2019 - Newfoundland (Mile Zero Marker)
2019 - Nova Scotia
2019 - Prince Edward Island
2019 - New Brunswick
2019 - Quebec
2020 - Ontario
2020 / 2021 - Manitoba
2021 - Saskatchewan 
2021 - Entering Alberta

We had a Plan and a schedule, but (let’s be honest) no one can maintain a set schedule when there are fresh pastries, kind people, amazing landscapes, and great trails along the route.  Besides who wants to race through all the amazing things Canada has to offer?  The truth is that a month ago we had a schedule, but the wonder and awe of Canada “got in the way”.

In 2019 we concluded our trek in Riviere du Loup on Nov. 8-9th and now having covered 10,000 km exploring Canada I have a sense of symmetry - which I like and which provides a sense of accomplishment for our third year on the Trans Canada Trail.  On the East-West corridor of the Trans Canada Trail this leaves approx 600 km in Quebec (Charlevoix Section, as well as Montreal to Ottawa) and approximately 3000 km between Alberta and Southern British Columbia for 2022 to complete in order to arrive at the Pacific Coast by this time next year!  While a long winter break now takes off the trail I know that in a blink of an eye we’ll soon be back.

Thank you once again to everyone who helped us along the way so far!