This Week in History


One Highway from Sea to Sea

For the week of Monday, July 23, 2017

On July 30, 1962, the Trans-Canada Highway opened at Rogers Pass in British Columbia (B.C.). Upon completion, it was the longest national highway in the world, with ferry crossings and 7,821 km of highway connecting Victoria, B.C., to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

A Howitzer crew firing into the mountainside to induce an avalanche at Rogers Pass. Forecasters and the Canadian Armed Forces work together to control when and where avalanches occur to prevent accidents on the highway
© Parks Canada

The Trans-Canada Highway Act was passed in 1949 with the intention to link every province with paved roads by the late 1960s. Due to the challenging nature of Canada’s landscape, however, paving did not finish until 1971. In Ontario, between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie, vast tracks of muskeg – a mixture of water and partly dead vegetation – forced workers to build 25 bridges and bring in thousands of tons of blast rock to fill the moss-covered bogs.

Construction at Rogers Pass was demanding for engineers, just as it was when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1880s, since heavy annual snowfall causes frequent avalanches. Highway workers built static defences, such as diversion dams, cone-shaped hills, and snow sheds to slow and alter the paths of avalanches. The largest single avalanche control program in North America, crews regularly close the road and induce small slides to prevent larger, potentially dangerous avalanches. They then quickly clear the snow and reopen the road to traffic.

Snow sheds in Rogers Pass, 1960. First used to protect the railway, these tunnel-like structures allow avalanches to safely pass over roadways
© Parks Canada, 1960 - N_10_102_08_02_02

Since its completion, the Trans-Canada Highway has gained significance beyond its engineering achievements. In 1980, Terry Fox used the highway when he attempted to run across the country to raise money and awareness for cancer research. His Marathon of Hope began in St. John’s and ended 143 days later in Thunder Bay, Ontario, after his cancer returned. In 1981, a portion of the highway between Nipigon and Thunder Bay was named the Terry Fox Courage Highway, with a monument honouring his memory just outside of Thunder Bay.

The building of the Trans-Canada Highway is a designated national historic event, Rogers Pass is a national historic site, and Terry Fox is a national historic person. To learn about other Canadian engineering accomplishments read Canada Joins the Space Age. To learn more about Terry Fox see The Beginning of the Marathon of Hope in the This Week in History archive.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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