Photographer shoots Trans Canada Trail

When photographer John de Visser began his trek to document the beauty and scope of the Trans Canada Trail, it meant veering off the well-beaten path.

“I drove pretty close to 75,000 kilometres over a year — three times to the East Coast, once to Newfoundland, twice to the West Coast and once up the Northwest Territories,” he says. “And I flew up to the Yukon.”

He stretched his travels out to capture the dramatic seasonal changes of the Canadian landscape. Stretching more than 16,000 kilometres, the Trans Canada Trail holds thre record as the world’s longest shared-use recreation trail, traversing all our provinces and territories.

Book on the Trail
A released book of photographs and essays by several notable Canadians marks its inauguration. The book, Trans Canada Trail, the 16,000 Kilometre Dream, is the official book of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation.

The coffee table format features beautiful landscape photographs by John de Visser. In his 45-year career as a freelance photographer, he has travelled all over Canada. But for this project, he had to get in his car at his home in Coburg, Ontario and drive off the beaten tracko reach many parts of the trail.

He stretched the travel over four seasons, for more photo variety. De Visser’s photographic essay starts where the trail starts, on the East Coast of Newfoundland and finishes in the Northwest Territories. At that far northern section, the trail is 580 kilometres on solid ground and 5,000 kilometres by water.

Railbeds now trailways
It’s not unusual for sections of the trail to go over water. This country is noted not only for its vast distances, but also great expanses of seas, lakes and riverways. So the ferry crossings from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia are also considered part of the trek.

A third of the trail uses abandoned railway beds. In Newfoundland, for example, the old Newfie Bullet railway line, which meandered through the interior of the province, has been converted to the Trans Canada Trail. This part of the trail does allow snowmobiling.

Next page: Don’t assume

Don’t assume
De Visser says he took a chance and drove his car on the railbed to get to some of the remote Newfoundland sections of the trail. He damaged his emergency brake and his tires. He says parts of the trail are tough hiking, and other parts an easy stroll. He advises any hikers not to make assumptions about the trail. He gives an example.

“In southern British Columbia, the trail is visible because it’s on an old railway bed. But it hasn’t been used as a trail for any length of time. So it’s not really usable, until they get at it and hack away at the weeds and undergrowth that’s grown up. If you plan to go, make sure you know what to expect when you go and don’t go to a place that isn’t complete yet. Do the research ahead of time,” he advises.
Two of his photos from the British Columbia section show the trail in winter, near Fernie in the Elk River Valley. There’s a beautiful grey light, with snow on the evergreens and hockey players on a creek in one shot and a lone cross country skier in the other.

Trail unites people
In some regions, the Trans Canada trail incorporates existing hiking trails, such as the ones in southern Ontario maintained by provincial conservation authorities. These parts of the national trail are well groomed. In spite of some growing pains, Visser sees great potential for the Trans Canada Trail.

“I think Canada, because of its vastness and small population, tends to be divided into areas, and people don’t tend to go beyond their areas. People from B.C. really know nothing about the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. And people from the Maritime Provinces tend to know very little about Saskatchewan or Alberta. I hope that the trail, like the Trans Canada highway and the national railway, unite the place and get people more aware of how other people in the same country live.”

Focus on landscape
His photographs focus on the great variety of landscape across Canada, the zones of grassland, parkland and boreal forest. There are shots where the trail passes through areas with large urban populations and others from areas of complete wilderness.

Uplifting essays
Besides de Visser’s photographs, there are uplifting essays from Canadians such as:

  • artist Ken Danby
  • jazz composer and pianist, Oscar Peterson
  • historian Michael Bliss
      Bliss makes the point that the Canadian experience is all about journeys-from the historic treks of the early explorers on waterways to the building of railways and highways for travel in modern Canada. The potential for the Trans Canada Trail, he says, is that it can be “a place of journeys short and long, a place of solitude and companionship, peace and adventure, reflection and action, a place where you get to know your comrades, your country, and yourself.”
        For anyone actually intending to walk or cycle the trail, this book is not a detailed, practical guide. But it is inspiration for interesting Canadian travel, with many views of the country’s remarkable geography.

        Next page: Trail trivia

        More trail trivia:

        • The Trans Canada Trail began as a commemoration of Canada’s 125th anniversary.
        • Fund raising took off in 1995 and the trail was officially launched in August 2000.
        • At 16,000 kilometres, it will be the world’s longest recreation trail.
        • By comparison, Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail is 5,300 kilometres long, winding down the eastern side of the country, from top to bottom.
        • In the United States, the Appalachian Walking Trail runs 3,500 kilometres, from Georgia to the Canadian border in Maine.    
        • The Australian hiking trail was established in 1988 for the country’s bicentennial.
        • The Appalachian Trail was built in a decade, beginning in 1925.

        Trans Canada Trail, the 16,000 Kilometre Dream, photographs by John de Visser, Text by Gerry L’Orange, is published by The Boston Mills Press. $49.95. Proceeds for the Trans Canada Trail.