Trans Canada Trail—History, Benefits and Challenges—InquiryPublished on 27 September 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, before I begin my remarks, I’d like to congratulate Senator Watt on leading the charge on what I believe to be a very important special committee. I look forward to having an opportunity to participate.
You will note in my remarks in relation to the Trans Canada Trail, I do make reference to some work that the honourable senator has done in the Arctic that is important from the point of view of trails in Canada.
Honourable senators, I am pleased to join the debate in relation to Senator Tardif’s inquiry on the history, the benefits and the challenges that the Trans Canada Trail faces as it approaches its twenty-fifth anniversary. I would like to thank Senator Tardif for launching this inquiry and Senator Petitclerc for her important contribution to the debate.
As we heard from Senator Tardif and Senator Petitclerc, the Trans Canada Trail is also sometimes referred to as the Great Trail. I am not sure why they are changing the name. I like the Trans Canada Trail. I do note that in a lot of the media attention these days the term “the Great Trail,” is used maybe to mimic the Great Wall in China.
The Great Trail was the vision of two Canadians, Pierre Camu from Quebec and Bill Pratt from Alberta.
They envisaged the creation of a cross-country trail that would link together, not only our Canadian communities, but Canadians themselves. In 1992, when Canada was celebrating its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary, the Trans Canada Trail was officially born.
I had originally hoped to deliver these comments before the summer. At that time, I would have mentioned that 432 individual trails are now part of the network. At that time, before the summer of this year, that was 91 per cent of the proposed routes for the trail.
The goal was to finish the last 9 per cent this year as we celebrate both our country’s sesquicentennial as well as the trail’s twenty-fifth anniversary.
Honourable senators, I am pleased to be able to report that this goal has been met and that the great trail is now 100 per cent connected.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Day: On August 26, this milestone was celebrated in every province and territory with almost 200 events taking place across the country. The national event was held right here in Ottawa featuring some words from our Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston. Though not complete, the trail is fully connected and spans 24,000 kilometres from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans, travelling truly from sea to sea to sea. It crosses through every province and territory and connects Canadians in over 15,000 communities. Truly, this is a great national project, and the hope is that the thousands, if not millions, of Canadians and visitors will continue to ensure the preservation and exploration of these trails in the years and generations to come.
Senator Tardif spoke about the dreams for the trail, as well as some of the challenges it faces. As she described, one of the unique features of the trail is also the source of one of its greatest challenges — its Achilles heel, as she described it.
That is that each section of the trail in each province or territory is different. They are used differently, they are funded differently, and they are maintained differently. Senator Tardif told us of the problems that have resulted, including, most tragically, terrible accidents on parts of the trail where it was diverted onto a highway. She spoke of the growing voices calling for national standards for building safety and access along the trail. Senator Petitclerc expressed her support for improving safety on the trail, and I add my voice as well.
I’m encouraged that the organizers acknowledge that the trail will never be truly finished but, rather, is ever evolving and, most importantly, constantly being improved.
This is something that is acknowledged on their website: that it is not car-free and that there are roadway routes that must be shared with motorized vehicles. The website for the Trans Canada Trail indicates that:
The majority of roadway routes are on secondary or rural roads that have significantly less traffic than major highways. In some areas, roadways are the preferred route of The Great Trail; in others they are interim links until greenway or waterway can be developed.
I am hopeful that we will see not only more improvements to the existing trail but also opportunities for all of us to participate in shaping what the trail should be for the future.
I would be very pleased to see the trail adopt a policy of having trails that are for non-motorized use only. That would be a safety-oriented policy and one that I would certainly support. I am encouraged by the federal government’s commitment in its Budget 2017 to invest $30 million over the next five years to help “complete, enhance and maintain the Trans Canada Trail, in partnership with the provinces and individual Canadians” who share the vision for the Trans Canada Trail.
The importance of collaboration is a key feature of the trail as we highlight and honour the different ways these trails are connected and the people who helped create them, because, of course, our country was forged by trails. One of the most striking aspects of the Trans Canada Trail, and why it is so aptly linked to the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of our country, is that these new trails will not only connect us to each other, but will also reconnect us to our past.
Trails trace our history. They are the cartography of our nation, from the first trails created by the First Nations, the Metis and the Inuit, to those built and followed by the early settlers as they crossed and recrossed the land and waterways we now call Canada.
Last October, our colleague Senator Watt organized a presentation here in the Senate by Dr. Claudio Aporta of Dalhousie University. He had worked with Inuit hunters and elders to map traditional and present routes of the Inuit, and last October, he and Senator Watt shared those maps with the Senate and with the public generally. The mapping of these routes is vital work that helps us to understand the important history of our North. These trails show us how the Inuit accessed sources of food and fuel and where connections were forged between communities, and they contribute to our understanding of the Inuit’s extensive knowledge of our adjoining oceans and sea ice.
A portion of the Trans Canada Trail indeed overlaps with some of these traditional Inuit routes: The Itijjagiaq Trail, whose name means “over the land” in Inuktitut, covers both land and water in Nunavut. From Iqaluit to Kimmirut, this 177-kilometre stretch is typically a hiking trail in the summer and a dog sled or snowmobile trail in the winter. The Itijjagiaq Trail was officially included as part of the Trans Canada Trail last November, making the Nunavut section fully connected.
Nunavut was the sixth province or territory to reach 100 per cent connection status, after Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, Saskatchewan and my own province of New Brunswick, which recently celebrated 100 per cent connection as well, stretching over 900 kilometres and connecting New Brunswick to Quebec, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia. That is the trail in New Brunswick.
In New Brunswick, we already had plenty of reason to be proud of the magnificent linear park known as the Fundy Trail. This spectacular 2,559-hectare park is not only now a section of the Trans Canada Trail, but it is part of two UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites: Stonehammer Global Geopark and the Fundy Biosphere Reserve. It features scenic outlooks and footpaths as well as beaches and a suspension footbridge. There is something for everyone, whether you want to hike, bike, kayak or drive an automobile.
The Bay of Fundy is one of New Brunswick’s finest natural attractions, and the Fundy Trail offers us the opportunity to observe its unique beauty while ensuring the connection of the escarpment’s delicate ecosystem.
I would encourage all honourable senators to visit this beautiful place, the Fundy Trail in southern New Brunswick, whenever you have the opportunity.
As I was preparing my remarks for this inquiry, I found myself reflecting on the similarities between the Trans Canada Trail and the issues that were raised in the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce’s work during our work on the national trade corridor. We heard some interesting testimony about the challenges of creating such a corridor. I suspect that the challenges of the Trans Canada Trail were not unlike the larger trade corridor challenges. In spite of this, each endeavour will greatly assist in bringing our communities and our country closer together.
The collaborative achievement of the Trans Canada Trail is encouraging for the future prospects of the creation of a national trade corridor.
The need to manage something in a national scope, while also considering provincial, territorial and indigenous concerns, is not something new for us. Projects of such complexity require vision, determination and compromise.
The undertaking of the Trans Canada Trail was first announced 25 years ago and, just this year, was finally, entirely and fully connected, but there is still more work to be done. The ongoing dedication to carry out such undertakings highlights the strength of our leadership and each success is worth celebrating in its own right.
The trail is an important symbol for Canada, one that connects our past to our present and provides that path to the future. It reminds us that, though our country is vast, there are connections that tie us together.
I encourage all honourable senators to find a portion of the Trans Canada Trail at or near your community and take some time to explore it.
Congratulations to the Trans Canada Trail!
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Claudette Tardif: Would the senator accept a question?
Senator Day: Yes.
Senator Tardif: I thank my colleague for contributing so eloquently to this inquiry and for enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the Trans Canada Trail that is in every province in the country. I am also very encouraged by the progress and financial investment that has been made to add more links to connect the different sections of the trail.
When I started researching the Trans Canada Trail, I noticed that there was great collaboration between the provinces, but I also noticed that there were many challenges. You alluded to those. I’m thinking of the trails of inconsistent quality and some of the trails that go along major highways, which could jeopardize the safety of the users. I’m also thinking of the fact that motorized recreational vehicles can be driven on these routes that people usually use for walking, running, biking, and so on.
Do you believe that the federal government has a role to play in doing more to ensure the safety of those using the trail?
Senator Day: First, allow me to thank the senator for initiating this inquiry. It was a pleasure to study the Trans Canada Trail.
I believe that the federal government has a role to play, especially a financial one since, as I said in my speech, it is allocating roughly $30 million over five years to help the provinces and territories.
However, although the federal government attended meetings with the provinces to establish common standards, developing the rules requires the provinces and territories to agree. As you said in your speech, this is where problems can arise. I hope that the situation will continue to improve, but let’s not forget that it is much better now than it was five years ago.