The Construction of the Trans-Canada Highway


Built between 1949 and 1970, the 7,821 kilometres long Trans-Canada Highway was a complex and expensive undertaking, which resulted in numerous major engineering achievements. It boosted the country’s economy by strengthening the road construction industry, improving the transportation of Canadian manufactured goods, increasing inter-provincial trade and enhancing the ability of Canadians to travel. It also had a direct impact on the economy of communities along its route which became better connected both regionally and nationally. By linking the country physically from the East to the West, the Trans-Canada Highway has enduring symbolic value for Canadians.

The construction of this two-lane highway, undivided except near major cities, required a great deal of negotiation between the provinces and the federal government as disputes arose over funding, construction standards, and even the route the highway was to follow. In addition, without the daring, originality, imagination and meticulous knowledge of its engineers, the Trans-Canada would never have been completed. While the construction of a usable and safe highway to the same standards across the country was the greatest accomplishment of the engineering firms involved, the construction of remarkable engineering structures to accommodate Canada’s diverse geography also proved immensely challenging.

From an economic standpoint, the construction of the Trans-Canada was a success. It resulted in an increased demand for metal structures, concrete, bitumen, construction materials, gravel and sand, as well as a boom in the bridge and road construction industry. In addition, it provided various sectors of the economy with improved road access to Canadian, as well as foreign markets. Furthermore, by improving Canadians’ mobility, the Trans-Canada also helped to increase interregional travel and encouraged Canadians to explore their own country. In local terms, the Trans-Canada had an impact on the destiny of regions along its route. Depending on the region it served, “Canada’s new Main Street” could enrich, impoverish, or increase the drawing power of an individual community or affect a region’s position within the country.

The Trans-Canada also had a significant symbolic value for Canadians, similar to that of the transcontinental railway. By conquering Canada’s vast expanse, it ensured the triumph of automobile culture and made a lasting impression on the Canadian imagination. For many Canadians, this highway became the road of freedom and adventure. For John Diefenbaker (Canada’s Prime Minister from 1957-1963), the Trans-Canada was a milestone which increased Canadian’s sense of oneness and instilled a renewed sense of national unity.

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Title of the Image:  Heavy equipment used during the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway
Source of the Image:  Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4359686

Image Titled:  Heavy equipment used during the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Copyright:  Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 4359686

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