Coast to Coast on Canada’s Great Trail

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 01, 2019
A woman in a red jacket walking up a fallen tree trunk.
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.
A view of the Newfoundland ocean roiling.
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.

enRouteWhat inspired you to take on this assignment?

Alana PatersonFor 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 ShahI’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 seals on a rock over some water.
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 single fox on a hill in the fog.
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.

ERWhat was the most awe-inspiring moment during your assignment?

APThe 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.

FSAt 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 bunch of green ground covering plants on an uneven surface.
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 stormy-looking sea with some rocky outcroppings in the foreground.
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).

ERWhat 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?

APThe 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?

FSIt 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.

A First Nations dwelling with beautiful red and black figures painted on the front symmetrically.
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.
A house in the foreground with white siding and a river and a town off in the distance.
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.

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

APPhotographs 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.

FSFor 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.

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