Canadian Coasters complete cross-country drive celebrating country’s 150th birthday

Canada just turned 150. And the Canadian Coasters classic car club commemorated the sesquicentennial the old-fashioned way—by driving. After thousands of miles, more than two months on the road, dozens of nights camping, and numerous stops at museums and car events along the way, participants of the club’s 50th anniversary tour dipped the front wheels of their cars into the Atlantic Ocean last the weekend, and celebrated.

The trip, which began in Victoria, B.C., on June 28 and ended in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Sept. 1, wasn’t just an expedition but a tribute to the original pioneering motorists. Fifty years ago, approximately 100 vehicles made the same trip, taking the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and then driving to Montreal for the country’s 100th anniversary.

The late 1960s brought a coming-together across Canada, and the umbilical cord of the Trans-Canada highway created a new way for Canadians to get out and experience this vast and craggy land. Sure, you could fly between the major city, but you’d be missing out. A road trip, a Canadian road-trip, was the only way to go.

For the first Canadian Coasters, the time was ripe to unite the various pockets of vintage car enthusiasts from across the huge country. While most of those 1967 nomads stopped in Montreal, home of the Centennial celebration, six cars made the full trip to the edge of Newfoundland and completed their trip with a ceremonial wheel dip.

One such machine was a plucky 1914 Model T that belonged to the Sauder family. Nosing a little too far into the Atlantic, it promptly stalled. There was a bit of wrangling about who was going to wade out and crank the thing up again. Eventually, it was young Bill Sauder who braved the waist-high frigid waters, and the Model T putt-putted its way back onto dry land.

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Bill Sauder at the wheel of the family’s 1914 Ford Victoria after dipping the car’s wheels in the Atlantic Ocean at the conclusion of the original Canadian Coasters trip in 1967. Photo courtesy of Bill Sauder

 Undeterred by the experience, both Bill and his brother Jim joined the 50th anniversary run. Bill, perhaps wary of any crank-starting malarkey, drove a ‘55 Chevy. Jim piloted a 1931 Model A; he reported that it was a little slow on the hills, but willing.

The Sauder brothers are two in a cast that once again ran into the hundreds. Thanks to the effort of organizer Fraser Fields, the Canadian Coasters enjoyed the hospitality of dozens of car clubs along the way, skipping the cities to make time for the small towns. More than 7,000 individual camping nights were booked, including local fairgrounds and community center parking lots. The Coasters needed the space. While some travellers dropped out at some point, others joined the tour after it started. So it was sometimes difficult to find room for the full flotilla, which included everything from a couple of vintage buses and early coachbuilt ambulances to hot rods, restored English panel vans, and an old police wagon.

Wherever they go, the Coasters are an instant car show. Many classic car clubs—some dating back as far as the original tour—hosted the Coasters for Canada Day-themed celebrations. In B.C., it was the Mini Club. In Manitoba, the Manitoba Pontiac Association. On the East Coast, the Studebaker Drivers.

The Coasters tour was a celebration of the variety and depth of the Canadian classic car hobby. More than that, it touched on what makes the automobile so important in this vast country. Many families drove to Montreal in 1967, and they discovered a thousand patchwork communities as they went, everything from hardy prairie folk to outdoorsy mountaineers to the joyous fiddle-playing residents of Atlantic Canada. By stopping in small towns and shaking hands everywhere they went, the Coasters experienced true Canada, not just tourist hotspots.

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Canadian Coaster organizer Fraser Fields and his wife, Dorothy, were joined by grandson Lucas, who celebrated his 13th birthday during the trip. Photo courtesy Fraser Fields

And one more bright point. Organizer Fraser Fields and his wife Dorothy were joined by grandson Lucas, who celebrated his 13th birthday somewhere in the prairies. Lucas’ friend Payton Cross also joined his grandparents in their Fargo truck. Young people of all ages were scattered among the Coasters, ranging from kids with Hot Wheels stuffed in their pockets to those old enough to share duties behind the wheel. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and also ensured that the tradition will be passed down.

Canada’s Bicentennial celebration is in 2067, when it’s expected that autonomous cars will rule the road and even more Canadians will reside in urban areas. You can also expect that once again, the next generation of Canadian Coasters will take up the challenge of the open road. Sure, it’s the old slow way to travel. But sometimes the old ways are best.

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