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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  A Motor Tour Through Canada


The New York Times
April 5, 1914

From Ocean to Ocean in Fifty-two Days.

A Motor Tour Through Canada.
By Thomas W. Wilby.  Illustrated.  New York; John Lane Company.  $1.50.

With the rubber feet of his car washed by the waves of the Atlantic at Halifax, Mr. Wilby filled a flask with its water and fifty-two days later, with his speedometer registering 4,200 miles and the rubber feet laved by the Pacific, he emptied the flask into the western ocean at Vancouver as a libation to the transcontinental automobile road which he hopes to see joining the two northern shores.  His trip, made a year ago last Summer, was the first automobile journey across Canada from ocean to ocean.  The volume which describes it is a record to stir the enthusiasm of any adventurous automobilist.  But one does not need to own a car to enjoy his racy account of the explorings, adventures, and experiences which filled his fifty-two days of travel.

Despite the determination with which he started, Mr. Wilby was not able to negotiate quite the entire distance in his car.  Men who knew the country had told him that if he wanted to motor across Canada he would have to suspend his car to a balloon which would jerk it up into the safety of the air every day or so.  But finally he and the machine conquered nearly the whole of the transcontinental distance.  But New Ontario, to the north of Lake Superior, proved impassable—a wilderness of virgin forest, swamps, and bridgeless rivers.  So he crossed Lake Superior by boat.  He writes:

New Ontario cuts the world of Canada in two.  It divides the comparatively quiescent East from the vibrant, virile West as a surgeon's knife cleaves limb from limb, hampering national existence.  For hundreds of miles along the lake and for hundreds of miles to the east and west of it, civilization has left a No-Man's Land from Superior to Hudson Bay.  It remains almost as precisely as the French found it in the days of Louis XIV.

The dream of a national highway across Canada from Atlantic to Pacific permeates Mr. Wilby's book and was constantly with him as he crossed prairies, steered through valleys and crept through mountain passes.  Sometimes he found the citizens respondent to the idea and sometimes, as at Port Arthur, they were much more interested in roads running north and south to connect with highways in the United States.  And he concludes that they wanted these roads to attract American capital and American farmers.

Through all this western region the book reflects the energy, virility, enthusiasm and local spirit that are making Canada hum like a beehive.  The pages set one's nerves thrilling in admiration and understanding.  There is a succession of vivacious pictures of Canadian life and people in city, town, hamlet, and farmers' homes that are full of interest.  And there is a full account of more kinds of bad roads than any motorist ever before found in a single continuous journey.  Crossing the Rockies there were perilous moments and plenty of breath-taking incidents.  Sometimes the car hung on the outer edge of a narrow road, with a dizzy precipice below, while teams passed on the inner.  Once, motoring over such a road at night, the acetylene lamps gave out and one of the party lay down on the outer mudguard and held an oil lamp where it would light the road.  And then they crept for ten miles in the dark over a rocky road that wound around sharp curves and edged a precipice.

Mr. Wilby is always entertaining, because he was always interested; and he has, moreover, a whimsical slant in his mind's eye, and he likes to turn a neat phrase.  An "overworked street" in one city and in another "the painful air of a town teething" are more vivid than pages of words.  He has plenty of imagination, too, as his description of a grain elevator at Port Arthur will bear witness:

This huge building rose nobly and grandly out of a chaotic litter of piles and planks, rails and footbridges, dirty wharves and a confusion of water basins, when it was at least worthy of a setting of landscape gardens by Kent or Le Notre.  It was a skyscraper, a Francois Premier Chateau, and a Bastille rolled into one.  It had nobility, tragedy, destiny stamped all over it.  It dwarfed men to pygmies, it soared with Babylonian majesty.  It breathed of force and power, and it challenged the hills and the capes whose fit companion it was.
* * * The West sent to the Treasure House its golden grain, and its jaws yawned and swallowed trainloads.

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