Coast to Coast on Canada’s Great Trail

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Two photographers capture both sides of the cross‑country trail.

The Great Trail is the world’s longest recreational route, spanning more than 24,500 kilometres and linking 15,000 Canadian communities. We sent two photographers – Alana Paterson in British Columbia and Farihah Shah in Newfoundland – to capture opposite ends of the trail that unites the country.

July 1, 2019
A woman in a red jacket walking up a fallen tree trunk along the Sea to Sky Trail in British Columbia
West: The Sea to Sky Trail winds around Garibaldi Provincial Park, a hiker’s paradise. But with a network that includes cycling, paddling and skiing routes, there’s more than one way to explore The Great Trail.
The cliffs along Newfoundland’s eastern shore
West: The Sea to Sky Trail winds around Garibaldi Provincial Park, a hiker’s paradise. But with a network that includes cycling, paddling and skiing routes, there’s more than one way to explore The Great Trail.
East: The Silver Mine Head Path snakes along the cliffs of Newfoundland’s eastern shore. Nearby, thousands of small silver‑coloured fish wash up on Middle Cove Beach every summer – a phenomenon known as the capelin roll.

enRoute What inspired you to take on this assignment?

Alana Paterson For me, it was a chance to tell the story of where I’m from. I live in Squamish, B.C., and I grew up on Vancouver Island. This assignment was right in my backyard.

Farihah Shah I’m originally from Alberta, and I’ve been living in Ontario for the last 15 years. I had never been out to the East Coast. I’ve always wanted to go there, so when the opportunity to travel to Newfoundland came up, I was pretty stoked.

A group of sea lions gathered on the rocks by the waters of Sunshine Coast in British Columbia
West: Sea lions soak up some rays on the White Islets, part of the aptly named Sunshine Coast leg of the Salish Sea Marine Trail.
A red fox standing guard on Signal Hill in St. John’s
West: Sea lions soak up some rays on the White Islets, part of the aptly named Sunshine Coast leg of the Salish Sea Marine Trail.
East: A red fox scouts Signal Hill, the site of St. John’s harbour defences from the 17th century until the end of World War II.

ER What was the most awe‑inspiring moment during your assignment?

AP The Kinsol Trestle, an old wooden train bridge that was restored for tourism purposes, is a feat of engineering. It’s absolutely massive. I had never seen it before, even though I grew up exploring the area, so that kind of knocked my socks off.

FS At the end of a really cloudy day, a burst of sunlight beamed through the clouds. It completely changed the mood of the place and made everything look even more majestic. I really appreciated small moments like that.

A sun soaked western sword fern on the lush green Sea to Sky Trail in British Columbia
West: A western sword fern finds sunlight on the Sea to Sky Trail, which winds up from the Squamish waterfront to the snow‑capped Coast Mountains.
A dense fog settled over the jagged cliffs of Peggy’s Leg in Newfoundland
West: A western sword fern finds sunlight on the Sea to Sky Trail, which winds up from the Squamish waterfront to the snow‑capped Coast Mountains.
East: The horizon is often lost to fog on the Newfoundland coast — although nothing but ocean and the occasional iceberg lie beyond the jagged cliffs of Peggy’s Leg (until France anyway).

ER What was it like to stand on opposite sides of the country knowing you were both on the Great Trail taking pictures at the same time?

AP The mind boggles at how big Canada is. Farihah and I were farther apart than if we’d been on opposite sides of Europe, and yet we were on the same path. That’s pretty wild. And who knows how many other people along the Trail took a photo at the same time as us?

FS It was certainly a moment to take in how extensive the Trail is. There was so much variety in the weather along different parts of the route in Newfoundland that I wondered what conditions Alana was dealing with. It was comforting to know she was shooting at the same time as me, despite the distance. It reminded me of what locals kept saying about the Trail: It’s more than just a hike – it’s about building a community around shared experiences.

The tribal painted front doors of boat rental service, Kaatza Adventures on Cowichan Lake
West: Kaatza Adventures, a boat rental service on Cowichan Lake, shares the canoe traditions of the Ts’uubaa‑asatx First Nation, who have lived on the lakeshore for a millennium.
Water facing dwellings line the river of Quidi Vidi in Newfoundland
West: Kaatza Adventures, a boat rental service on Cowichan Lake, shares the canoe traditions of the Ts’uubaa‑asatx First Nation, who have lived on the lakeshore for a millennium.
East: Just minutes from downtown St. John’s, Quidi Vidi is one of the oldest fishing communities in North America. It’s also home to the province’s largest craft brewery, which shares the historic village’s name.

ER Was there anything about the experience that the images didn’t capture?

AP Photographs can communicate a lot, but they don’t let you smell the way the air changes when you walk down into a river valley, the way it suddenly smells of earth and moisture. Or when you’re deep in the woods and everything is bathed in a green light. It’s almost incommunicable. It’s a green you have to see with your own eyes.

FS For me, it was the people. Everybody was so friendly. You really have to experience the space as a whole, and that includes the people, the culture, the food. I want these photos to encourage people to chase that holistic experience.