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Father of the Trans-Canada Highway's cross-Canada excursion remembered

Last Updated Jul 17, 2017 at 2:40 pm PDT

HALIFAX – Perry Doolittle had a vision of connecting Canadians from coast to coast when he backed the tires of his Ford Model T into the Atlantic Ocean at the outset of a cross-country excursion almost a century ago.

Doolittle — known as the father of the Trans-Canada Highway — was a tireless advocate for the construction of a national roadway during a time when automobiles were not commonplace.

“People were leery of this thing that moved without a horse attached to it,” said Doolittle’s great-granddaughter Ruth Young. “But I believe he felt that this was a wave of the future.”

Young and two other great-grandchildren of Doolittle were in Halifax on Monday to accept a leadership award on his behalf from the Canadian Council of Independent Labs.

Doolittle — a physician and inventor who founded the Canadian Automobile Association in 1920 — travelled across Canada in a Tin Lizzie to promote his ambitious goal, leaving from Halifax on Sept. 8, 1925.

A black-and-white video played at the award ceremony showed Doolittle rolling the back tires of his vehicle into the Atlantic Ocean, something he repeats in the Pacific Ocean when he arrived in Vancouver 39 days later.

White lettering on the back of the vehicle reads: “Celebrating the 21st birthday of the Canadian Ford Car by crossing Canada by all Canadian route, under its own power all the way.”

The roughly 8,000-kilometre excursion was mostly over dirt roads, and in some areas the vehicle had to be driven on train tracks because there were no roads.

Young recalled being a young girl and seeing a photo of her great-grandfather in his vehicle on a railway trolley.

“We’d been told he made this epic journey across Canada in a car, but here he is in the Model T on top of a train, so it was something that didn’t really make sense,” she said.

“But then I found out there were no roads. So at that point, I thought, ‘This man didn’t take no for an answer.’ He was making this trip through all kinds of conditions and he went to great extents to see his goal fulfilled.”

Young said Doolittle’s vision was to bring Canadians closer together.

“He had a goal to promote the common good. That’s why he did it,” said Young, who is from Pennsylvania. “He knew this was the future and he wanted to see that it was done safely.”

Doolittle, who died in 1933 at the age of 72, did not live long enough to see his vision realized.

The now-vital Trans-Canada Highway was approved by Parliament in 1949, and construction began a year later.

It was officially opened by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1962, although much of it was still gravel at the time.

The highway — which stretches from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria, B.C. — was completed to standard in 1971 and came with a $1-billion price tag.