The Great Trail


There are enough things that divide us these days; it’s time to talk about something that pulls us together. Which the Great Trail does, big time.

On August 26 2017,  as part of Canada’s 150 birthday celebrations, communities and volunteers across Canada marked the connection of 90 per cent of the trail that stretches across 22,000 kilometres, starting in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and ending in Victoria.

Banff. Source:

Or, if you’re from BC, the other way around. Along the way, 8,000 signs trace a pathway that connects 15,000 Canadian communities, including North and West Vancouver.

In fact, the Great Trail is all over the North Shore. The West Van trail meanders around the British Properties, and then extends to Horseshoe Bay where it takes the ferry to Nanaimo, for a total 42.79k.

The North Van trail takes the sea bus from Vancouver, and then marches up Mosquito Creek to Cleveland Dam, connecting up with the West Van Trail via the Capilano-Pacific trail on the other side of the dam, for total of 12.19k.

Volunteers working on constructing the trail. Source:

55 North Shore kilometres in total, or if you like, 0.0025 of the entire trail. Our little path of greatness.

Like some of you, no doubt, I live close to a couple of trail access points. (Four out of five Canadians live within 30 minutes of the Great Trail, according to the website.) Theoretically, I could walk five minutes from my place on a sunny morning just like this, enter the Great Trail at Capilano Regional Park, and walk all the way to St. John’s.

Theoretically. I may need to stock up on trail mix along the way.

In reality, the Great Trail is a trail mix all its own, 75 per cent land, 25 per cent water, a combination of new and historic trails. Nearly 500 local volunteer groups have been busily connecting 432 sections since 1992 and they still have 1800 kilometres to go. So I might have to pound the occasional Hound or taxi on the way to Newfoundland.


But, hey, life is a journey, and the trail takes across Canada’s life journey, from First Nations peoples’ trail routes, followed by the routes of the coureurs de bois, the railway, then the Trans-Canada Highway.

Connections through space and time.

You can stand on the highest point in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country and take in the view from 2185 metres.

In more than one way, this wondrous, epic project is as meaningful as the roots/routes it is built on. Made up of thousands of capillaries, it’s our main artery, our lifestream. It connects the North Shore (for example) to the rest of Canada in the most intimate way.

Quebec forest trail. Source:

Wherever we are – the Yukon’s Dempster Highway, Manitoba’s Red River Trail, Durham Region Trans Canada Trail in southern Ontario, la Traversée de Charlevoix in Quebec, or along the path of the Newfie Bullet on the way to St. John’s – we’re on the same path.

So the basic connections have been made. Next comes the long, slow task of improving and fine tuning.

NovaScotia. Source:

Of course, there are problems. There are trail veterans who are not impressed, mainly because nearly 50 per cent of the land-based portion of the trail is roadway. One cyclist who lost his wife to a traffic accident on the road in Prince Edward Island calls the trail “dangerous hoax”. “It’s not a greenway; it’s a roadway,” writes Ed Aunger in a story headlined The Great Trail Fail in Alberta Views magazine.

After reading Aunger’s well-informed and poignant article, you’d be charitable to call the trail “a work in progress”. But that’s pretty much what it is. The devil is in the details – a number of  communities, for example, have resisted putting any resources into a project for people who are just passing through – but that’s hardly seeing beyond your nose, never mind over the horizon.

The trail in winter. Source:

It’s important to remember this trail is bigger than all of us, yet it’s also a nearby walk in the park on a crisp fall day, a place where nature maintains a tenuous hold, often through an urban wasteland. Just as there are a rude gaps and dangerous patches, so there is serendipity and serenity.

The big idea began in 1992, but The Great Trail was really born on August 26, 25 years later. With any luck, the connection will run deeper 25 years from now. We just have to stay on the path.

Paul Sullivan is an award winning journalist and communications strategist in Vancouver , British Columbia.

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