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The All-Red-Route Turns Green

In 1911 Thomas Wilby, a 45 year old journalist engaged in the writing of travel articles, convinced the Office of Public Roads in Washington, D.C. to send him on a road trip from New York to San Diego and back.  This adventure resulted in his publishing On the Trail to Sunset.  Not only would Wilby make considerable money from the publication of his book but he was a welcome and well paid speaker at several gatherings. When in Montreal finishing On the Trail to Sunset, Wilby couldn’t resist approaching Ransom E. Olds, owner of the REO Motor Company of Canada and eventually persuaded him to provide a car, driver and expenses for Canada’s first cross country road trip. Olds selected his best mechanic, a 23 year old American by the name of Jack Haney to be the driver. The young Haney was a troubleshooter who rode the rails from town to town repairing REO vehicles. There was no better candidate, or so it seemed.

When Wilby found that his companion was an American he was aghast. He had developed quite the distain for Americans from his time in the States and found Haney to be like all the others, “Haney is like those whom I had seen in the States—sturdy, independent, self-contained fellows, with the sense of relationship to their fellow-men hopelessly confused by their own free interpretation of democracy and equality.”  In their first meeting the egotistical Wilby insisted on referring to Haney as his chauffeur and that he was to be referred to as ‘Sir’ feeling that Haney was common and crude.  From that moment on Haney would refer to his egotistical companion as the ‘Captain’.

It’s a wonder that they actually headed out on the road trip but on August 27, 1912 Haney backed the REO into the Atlantic. The pompous Wilby pulled out a flask and filled it with Atlantic Ocean water to be poured into the Pacific upon their arrival. After a short self serving speech, Wilby climbed into the rear seat and instructed his ‘chauffer’ to head west.  Keep in mind that there were no roadways as we know it but primarily muddy wagon tracks to travel on. In fact there were only 16 Kilometres of paved road in the entire country.

From the beginning Wilby would do nothing but sit on his rear seat perch refusing to lend a hand if the car was in need of repairs or extrication from the deepening mud. Within a week of their departure Haney made an entry in his journal. “I am heartily sick of my companion and will be mighty glad when this trip is over. He is too damn selfish.” They ferried across the Great Lakes and struggled over the corduroy roads and deep muddy tracks to make it from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie. This part of the road trip was challenging and made all the more difficult as Haney was essentially left to his own devices.  His next journal entry expressed his frustration. “One poor devil does all the work—that’s me. The work is going to be hard after leaving Toronto, and not having a MAN with me. I don’t know how I’ll make out.”

Haney struggled through the Canadian countryside by ferrying across lakes to circumvent the impassable. By the time they reached Sault Ste. Marie it was clear that the success of the expedition was threatened because of ‘road’ conditions. It was decided to load the REO onto a train and travel the remaining distance to Winnipeg by rail. All in all they covered about 1,500 Kilometres by barge, ferry or rail.

They managed to make their way to the foothills of the Rockies where they once again relied upon the railway to lift them over to the western slopes. They briefly entered Washington State before completing their journey to the Pacific Ocean in 52 days. This is where it gets a little confusing because we have photographic evidence of Wilby pouring a flask of Atlantic Ocean water in Port Alberni, Victoria and Vancouver. Odd when we saw only one bottle being filled in Halifax.

A Motor Car Tour Through Canada was published in 1914 and established the All-Red Trans-Canada Route. In the book’s 290 pages Jack Haney was never mentioned by name and the ‘chauffeur’ was only referred to 4 times. It is noted that many of the photos have Haney’s image fogged enough to be unrecognizable while most existing photos of Haney show him seated behind the wheel wearing a dour expression.  Wilby’s book had little to do with the reality of the adventure and was more of a meander through his snobbish mind. Had he described the truth it may have sped up the construction of the Trans Canada Highway which was finally opened in 1962 and completed in 1971.

Almost a century after Wilby’s road trip the ‘All-Red-Route’ was ‘Greened’.  A company called Sun Country Highway has promoted the use of electric vehicles by establishing a cross Canada network of charging systems. The first we encountered was in the parking lot of the Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island. On further investigation we found that Vancouver Island is the first region to become entirely EV (Electric Vehicle) friendly and has the most powerful level two station network in the world.  This was accomplished by Sun Country partnering with various hotels, restaurants and other businesses and has resulted in a cross Canada charging network.



To promote the public access network of charging stations, founder Kent Rathwell and VP Christopher Misch set out on a cross Canada road trip in an all electric Tesla Roadster. Starting in Saint John’s Newfoundland they made their way in the dead of winter to Victoria. We are happy to report that neither Kent nor Chris wanted to be referred to as ‘chauffer’ or ‘sir’ and as the Tesla had only 2 seats neither could hurl directions from the back seat.

10,000 Kilometres later the emissions free Tesla arrived in Victoria proving the capabilities of electric cars and turning the once ‘All-Red-Route’ to ‘Green’.  “The future is up to the average Canadian,” Rathwell said. “You can choose to jump on board something which makes environmental and economic sense or not.” As a sign of the times, 2012 vehicle surveys listed Toyota as leading all brands with 10 individual category winners, five of which were hybrids.

From cranks and oil to electrical plugs, isn’t the future wonderful? 

Editor's Note: The Nanaimo Daily News has reported that 12 new electrical charging stations are rolling out across Nanaimo bringing the number of charging stations in this area to 17!