MAP OF THE CLARK FAMILY ROAD TRIP ACROSS CANADA AND THE USA
JULY 1953 - EAST TO WEST LOCATIONS
PEI: Linkletter PEI; NEW BRUNSWICK: Chatham, Bathurst, Dalhousie, Campbellton; QUEBEC: Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, Montreal;
ONTARIO: Cornwall, Brockville, Kingston, Belleville, Toronto; MICHIGAN: Port Huron, Flint, Bay City, Straits of Mackinac;
MINNESOTA: Aitkin, Detroit Lakes; NORTH DAKOTA: Bismarck; MONTANA: Billings, Bozeman;
WASHINGTON: Spokane, Moses Lake, Seattle, Winslow, Lofall, Port Angeles; BC: Victoria, Langford, Duncan.
It’s a long way to drive across Canada or the northern states in the USA, but that is what my mother’s sister Harriet Compton (ANDREW) CLARK did in 1953 with her husband Charlie CLARK and 3 children. How fortunate we are that she kept a diary of their journey that started in Linkletter PEI (near Summerside and St Eleanors), and ended in Duncan BC on Vancouver Island less than 50 miles northwest of Victoria. That’s a distance of over 9,000 km, with about two-thirds of their road trip routed south of the border - the logical route after stopping in Toronto. Harriet's travel journal is filled with amazing details of their cross continent trip, focusing on their timeline, distances traveled, weather, key place names (particular where they had meals and stopped each evening), the scenery (usually if it was monotonous), car trouble, and trip expenses. I’ll share some of the highlights here.
As Charlie was a mechanic, tinkerer extraordinaire, and lover of all things on wheels, of course they had to drive the distance, although Harriet thought longingly of the train. In his “spare” time between two jobs, Charlie organized their “covered wagon”, a 1948 International Metro 3/4 ton cab over engine van, retrofitted with bunk beds made from BC fir plywood, and stuffed with their belongings and supplies for the trip. Harriet, while still recovering from her illness and dealing with their three young children, had the daunting tasks of selling off most of their possessions in preparation for leaving. They were so exhausted they couldn’t even enjoy the farewell parties.
They planned their route and schedule with great care. The trip was to last 19 days with a 10 night break in Toronto to visit Harriet’s oldest brother George ANDREW and family plus her youngest brother who was there apprenticing for an auto mechanic. From the above map you can see that the eastern leg of their route remained in Canada until after they left Toronto, and then crossed the border into Michigan at the south end of Lake Huron Lake. They then headed north to the head of Lake Michigan Lake, crossing the Straight of Mackinac by ferry. Remaining in the United States, they drove west all the way to Seattle on the Pacific coast. And finally they headed north to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula where they caught a ferry to southern Vancouver Island.
When on the road they drove hard, often getting up before dawn to cover the necessary miles. Sometimes they continued driving into the evening after putting the kids to bed in back. On Sunday July 5 they were delayed by a flat tire, and after getting it repaired in Cornwall Ontario (a new tube and patch cost them $9.50), they drove 375 miles before arriving in Toronto at 11:30pm.
During their stay with relatives in Toronto (from 11:30 pm Sunday July 5 to 6am Wednesday July 15), they were convinced that their van was no longer a suitable vehicle. I think the concern was that it was too heavy a vehicle and wouldn’t make it over the Rockies. No doubt there were mechanical reasons as well. Harriet doesn’t mention why, just that they decided to trade their van in on a brand new but very small car …
We decided we would have to change out transportation - sell the Van and get something else, to see us to the west coast. The only deal we could make to get a few dollars out of the Van was to trade it in on a 1953 “Volkswagon Beetle” Car “Brand New” “out of the box so to speak”. Charlie was fed coffee & doughnuts while our “BUG” was assembled, painted, and upholstered from scratch !!!! But to make this drastic change it meant undoing all the interior of the Van, the bunks and all clothing, bedding Dishes, etc. we bought large steamer trunks and packed & repacked [and then shipped west], left the plywood & sponge rubber, fragile dishes with George & June and started out for the second leg of our journey west. … Our little V.W. Beetle was a funny looking sight, we had a roof carrier loaded on top with a lot of stuff, so the wheels looked a bit pigeon–toed.
[On Friday July 17] After lunch on the road again it was about 1.30pm. we were traveling at around 100 mph when suddenly there was a loud BANG and our windshield literally crumbled in on us like very course salt, glass was everywhere it gave us all an awful scare!!!!!
Charlie cleaned out the glass & I quieted the kids, we had scratches on our arms, Charlie and I had sun glasses that clipped on over our glasses and there was tiny chips of glass imbedded in them, it was the shock more than anything. As the kids were sleeping – it was a rude awakening, Cleaned up and on the road again we drove slower till we reached a little town called Atkin Minnesota, about 10 miles of driving without a windshield, we found a glass cutting & (Body) and auto wrecker’s, run by a man by the name of “Wright” he cut us a windshield out of a 36 Chev. one ton truck windshield, just a bit of trimming to make it fit, an hour an a half later we were on the road again. Suddenly it pores rain and thunder what a relief from the extreme Heat!!
Their trip across the central States was uneventful, with "very tiresome scenery, desert & Hills ". On Monday July 20 they got up at 5:15am and were on the road by 6:30 am to drive through the Rocky Mountains. Their VW handled the terrain well: "VW very good passed lots of boiling radiators, struck about 12 miles of road construction, dusty gravel slowed us down considerably, but we reached “Spokane” Washington State at roughly 6pm.”
I think their longest and most grueling day must have been their last of the trip - Tuesday July 21. They were up at 3:30 am, leaving Spokane and arriving in Seattle by noon. and took a ferry to Winslow by 2 pm, ended up in Port Angeles at 4:20 pm. The CPR ferry Princess Elizabeth to Victoria was delayed until well after 8:30 pm due to high winds and rough seas. Harriet and son Arnold both got sick on the voyage. Harriet notes that the German officers on board and the Customs Officials were quite interested in their German “Folksvagon”.
Once on shore in Victoria they drove as far as Langford before being intercepted by their welcoming committee. Harriet’s mother Nell ANDREW and her sister (with husband Vern JONES and two young sons) had driven down from Duncan to escort them to their new home. What a welcome reunion that must have been! But the winding, narrow and scary Malahat drive was still ahead of them, which they drove at 50 mph most of the way. They finally arrived in Duncan at 1:30 am July 22, “totally bushed” but only a few hours behind schedule.
A final but very important note about their marathon trip is that Harriet was already expecting their fourth child at the time. So you could say the baby-to-be also came along for the ride! Charlie quickly had to make renovations to their new house to accommodate a nursery for their new daughter, born in February 1954. Their youngest son wasn't born until 1960. It wasn't long before they needed a bigger house!
Harriet’s handwritten trip diary was later transcribed by Charlie, who added the following note at the end:
“This is the Diary that Harriet did on our way from PEI to BC I have finally got it in the computer 52 years and 10 houses later.”
Harriet Compton (ANDREW) CLARK, the middle of seven children born to Harry Charles ANDREW and Eleanor Louise “Nell” (RICHARDSON) ANDREW, was born 17 May 1922 on their family farm in North St Eleanors, PEI, Canada. She described herself as “the brazen one”, I think in comparison to her siblings. A petite woman with a positive outlook and a wonderful whit, she was also energetic, very organized and didn’t suffer dust or clutter gladly. She was a a great cook and could bake up a storm anytime. I was always happy to get some of her cookies at Christmas, and the church bazaars always benefited from her skills and generosity as well. Harriet later worked side by side with Charlie in their family locksmith business. As a child I always enjoyed visiting the Clarks and playing with their two daughters. Their two older sons acted as our babysitters for a time. And as adults we kept in contact, and always enjoyed our visits.
I am selfishly grateful that Harriet and Charlie CLARK decided to drive from coast to coast back in 1953 to start a new life in the town where I grew up, swapping one island life for another. If they hadn’t, I probably would not have gotten to know and appreciate my darling Aunt Harriet and her wonderful family.