By NICOLINA LEONE
On July 31st, 1954, freelance photographer Rosemary Gilliat and her three girlfriends, Anna Brown, Audrey James and Helen Salkeld, left Ottawa in a Plymouth station wagon.
Bound for Vancouver, British Columbia, they travelled through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, and returned to Ottawa on September 6.
The trip was quite a feet at the time, as the Trans-Canada highway was not yet complete. Rosemary described the roads near Cochrane, Ontario as “dirt and rutted and huge bumps which could easily break a spring.” At the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan “the average road turned into a downright bad road, dried mud, stones lying on the road, dips & holes.”
Somehow, the Plymouth suffered only a few cracks from flying rocks and remained intact until the women returned to Ottawa, when it was replaced.
The girls did not have a means to preserve food, so part of their daily routine included picking up groceries and finding drinking water while getting gas for the car. They were not stereotypical women, or even conventional tourists, for their era. Despite possible amenities available along the way, such as motels and public camping grounds, the women preferred to have lunch and camp in wooded and secluded areas off the beaten path. As Rosemary put it, “one wonders at all the days of the year one spends in bed—when it is so perfect camping—every morning and every evening being a revelation.” They were seeking an authentic wilderness experience and were not discouraged by insects, rain or possible encounters with wildlife.
This Sunday will mark 61 years since the trip ended on Sept. 6, 1954. Rosemary kept a diary, logging the date and place she was in each night. You can visit this blog post for more details on their trip, but here’s a quick list on how their trip breaks down by the numbers:
1: Plymouth station wagon
38: days of travelling
61: years ago
12,000: kilometres travelled
The packing list – this was not a luxury vacation…
1: hunting knife
1: Coleman cooking stove and container for gas
1: frying pan
1: of each: knife, fork, spoon, mug (per person)
1: of each: ground sheet, air mattress, sleeping bag, blanket (per person)
2: water containers
And some other things: candles, matches, tent poles, jeans or slacks, windbreaker, Mac raincoat, shoes, sandals
On July 31, 2015, Library and Archives Canada launched Road trip—summer of ’54 on Facebook, featuring a selection of Rosemary Gilliat’s photos and diary excerpts. Visit Facebook daily to see where she and her friends travelled and who they met along their journey. At the end of each week, these photographs will be added to Flickr.