OTD: Trans-Canada Highway officially opens

On today’s date in 1962, the nearly 8,000-kilometre Trans-Canada Highway, then the longest national highway in the world, officially opened to traffic.

B.C. Premier W.A.C. Bennett cut a ribbon near Revelstoke in a ceremony marking the completion of the 150-kilometre Rogers Pass Highway through the Canadian Rockies. Rogers Pass, a 1,330-metre-high mountain pass about 60 kilometres northeast of Revelstoke, was the final link of the highway spanning the country from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria, B.C.

“There has been a lot of talk about who should get the credit. We are not interested in credit for anything other than we want the people of B.C. and of Canada to enjoy the highway through this God-given scenery,” said Phil Gaglardi, provincial highway minister, in front of a crowd of thousands of people.

Revelstoke declared that day – July 30, 1962 – a holiday so residents could attend the highway’s opening, which saw about 5,000 vehicles drive through Revelstoke to Rogers Pass.

“It’s yours to enjoy—you paid for it; you take the credit for it.”

The 7,821-kilometre Trans-Canada Highway spans from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria, B.C.

The Rogers Pass Highway was built under the Trans-Canada Highway Agreement on a cost-sharing arrangement with the federal government, according to “Frontier to Freeway,” a paper published by British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Highways in 2001.

“This 147-kilometre section of highway cost $50 million in all and opened up some of the most beautiful and spectacular mountain country on the continent,” reads the paper.

“Apart from the tourism aspect, the new route cut about 160 kilometres and seven hours of travelling time off of the old Big Bend loop. When the new highway was opened on July 30, 1962, traffic counts immediately increased tenfold. Traffic counts have continued to increase since that time.”

About a month later, on Sept. 4, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker visited Rogers Pass for the highway’s second official opening.

By November, it’s believed 500,000 people travelled through Rogers Pass on the new highway, which was 12 years in the making.

Despite the opening ceremonies, there were more than 3,000 kilometres of unpaved highway still awaiting completion.

A chrome postcard issued in 1963 depicts the Rogers Pass dedication site, where the Trans-Canada Highway was officially opened on July 30, 1962. (Photo by MJR Postcards)

CONNECTING THE NATION

By the early 1900s, calls to build a road stretching from coast to coast were increasing within the young country of Canada.

Nearly four decades later, in 1949, the Trans-Canada Highway Act provided millions of dollars in cost-shared funding for provincial governments, and in July 1962, the 7,821-kilometre Trans-Canada Highway was formally opened at Rogers Pass.

Still standing among the longest national highways in the world, it travels through all 10 Canadian provinces separating the country’s west and east coasts.

TRANS-CANADA HIGHWAY MEDAL

In the 1970s, the Franklin Mint issued a serial numbered 44-millimetre bronze medal commemorating the Trans-Canada Highway.

The medal’s obverse shows a map of Canada featuring the newly completed highway with “Trans-Canada Highway” at the top and the year-date in a maple leaf at the bottom.

Surrounded by Canadian flags on the reverse, the medal is inscribed in English and French: “The Trans-Canada Highway is the longest road in the world, covering a distance of 5,000 miles from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Construction costs exceeded one billion dollars.”

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