A Trail of Broken Dreams.
Winnipeg, MB - Sunday, August 31, 2014

We are a country of high hopes and great plans and big dreams. And, since 1992, we have shared an inspiring “New National Dream,” the construction of a Trans Canada Trail – a linear park, a cross-country greenway, an active-transportation corridor – that will join Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

This Trail, to be completed by July 1, 2017, after a 25-year effort, will be a magnificent centrepiece for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

It will connect diverse communities, foster healthy lifestyles, preserve green space, stimulate economic growth and expand tourist opportunities. It will encourage active transportation and promote safe travel. It will create a national legacy and establish an international showcase. It will be an iconic symbol of our country, its beauty and its energy and its vision.

My wife, Elizabeth Sovis, believed passionately in this great Canadian dream. She loved her country and longed to explore it. Safely. On a bicycle. She refused to ride on motorised roadways. It was too dangerous. She was scared of cars and trucks. She insisted that we cycle on designated greenways. She thought that the Trans Canada Trail would be ideal.

Every summer, for almost a decade, we took cycling holidays, carefully planning and plotting our routes in order to avoid roads and highways. We enjoyed many exhilarating experiences and shared many enthralling adventures. But as we travelled the Trans Canada Trail, we became increasingly alarmed and dismayed. We were frequently encountering impassable trail routes; we were constantly detouring onto dangerous roadways.

Patriotic pride blinded us to the obvious conclusion. The Trans Canada Trail was still primitive and undeveloped and inaccessible. The boastful claims were untrue; the published information was unreliable; the printed guidebooks were uninformed.

In 2008, we tried to travel on Alberta’s longest completed-segment of Trans Canada Trail, the 177-km Iron Horse Trail, stretching from Waskatentau to Heinsburg. We managed only 17 grueling kilometres before giving up in disgust. The surface was composed of soft sand, loose gravel and heavy ballast. We couldn’t pedal in it; we couldn’t walk on it. We saw no other cyclists or hikers. The Trail was used only by motorised all-terrain vehicles. We were forced to detour onto a nearby rural road.

A few days later, Elizabeth declared: “When I take my retirement, I’m going to work to get the Trans Canada Trail completed. Really completed. So that it’s usable and safe.” And she began recruiting her friends, telling them her plans, soliciting their support.

In 2010, we began a Manitoba cycling trip by riding on the Trans Canada Trail from Winnipeg to Lockport. As we pedaled northward alongside the Red River Floodway, the Trail came to an abrupt and unexpected end, forcing us to push our bikes through thick brush, down a steep slope and onto a busy road with no shoulders. Later that afternoon, when we finally reached our accommodation, Elizabeth angrily announced: “That’s it. I’m not doing this ride anymore. I’m going home.” I had to cancel our reservations. Our Manitoba holiday was ruined.

In 2012, on the first day of our planned Prince Edward Island vacation, we cycled on the Trans Canada Trail from the Confederation Bridge to Hunter River. As we approached our overnight destination, carefully following the provincial Trail guide, we discovered – much to our horror – that the recommended route, the only possible route, was a two-lane highway with no rideable shoulders. Ten minutes later, Elizabeth was struck and killed by a full-size van. The impact threw her body 50 metres.

I have taken up her cause. I am honouring her life and her vision. I am cycling the Trans Canada Trail from Victoria, British Columbia, to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, a total of 12,500 km, in five stages. I hope to increase awareness and raise funds in support of a Trail that is usable and accessible and safe.

This year’s trip, the second leg, has taken me from Edmonton to Winnipeg. It has been a thoroughly disheartening, discouraging and disillusioning experience. I can no longer deny the obvious evidence; I must now recognise the painful reality. There is no Trans Canada Trail. The Emperor has no clothes.

There is no cross-country greenway designed for walking and cycling. There is no national spine trail connecting regions and communities. There is no coast-to-coast pathway promoting tourism and active transportation.

No. Not at all. Maybe never. Our so-called Trans Canada Trail is largely a patchwork of motorised roadways: urban streets moving city traffic; rural roads transporting heavy trucks; village lanes carrying local pickups; abandoned rail lines shouldering all-terrain vehicles; country tracks bearing farm machines. Our Trail is a cruel hoax. It is dangerous and unsafe for hikers and cyclists.

Many committed Canadians have donated their money, devoted their time and dedicated their energy to building this Trail. They haven’t succeeded. Volunteers did not build our transcontinental railway; they did not build our Trans-Canada Highway; and they cannot build our Trans Canada Trail. This is a national project, not a local matter. It requires government direction and planning and legislation and financing.

Today, I am calling on the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, to adopt a new national strategy for building and maintaining the Trans Canada Trail.

We need a truly safe and accessible Trail – a linear park, a cross-country greenway, an active-transportation corridor – that will join Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

We need to restore our hopes, renew our plans and realise our dreams.

CBC and CTV interviewers at the Manitoba Legislature, Winnipeg. Photo by Ron Jeffery.