When you live on a relatively small, wet island, you dream of road trips uncluttered by traffic and cars larger than a size 9 shoe. Pandemics can exacerbate such wistful desires but also prohibit them. In September 2021, North America remained closed to Brits. But then Canada opened its doors. I went north, hoping their love for classic automobiles and the open road matched that of their southern neighbors.
From the west coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, I set out on Highway 1 to head east for the prairie. By day two, I was past Kamloops, the wipers on my competent but uninspiring rental in constant use. So far, Canada was winning on scenery, losing on weather, and sadly lacking in classic cars. GatorBob’s fixed that for me. Of all the anthropomorphic names I expected from a Canadian car dealer, this wasn’t one of them. I was anticipating a Grizzly Pete, or a Beaver Ben, at least a guy called Moose, but Gator
GatorBob’s emporium was a chain link enclosure with a phone number and a Telus e-mail address. I stood on the wrong side of the fence in persistent drizzle, just feet from Highway 1, catching spray from the passing trucks while gazing on the classic machines penned inside. Bob’s predilection was clearly the Sixties to the Eighties, with a leaning toward Plymouth and Chevrolet, and should those cars come equipped with fat rear tires and a nose down stance, well, that was all good. I never got to meet Bob, but I liked his style. His absence allowed me to imagine him rumbling around in a jacked-up Camaro, Def Leppard on the tape deck, scouting back roads for bargain stock.
From this point on the scenery, already impressive, became quite simply stupendous. The highway carved a heady path through dense forest, river valleys and mountain ranges. The ascents challenged the auto box on my rental SUV. Stoic, laden logging trucks hugged the crawler lane, their warning flashers punctuated by the black smoke belches jetting from their exhaust stacks.
Late afternoon I pulled into Revelstoke. Downtown, resting below forested mountains shrouded in mist, blended the feel of a smart village with a kooky, offbeat “Twin Peaks” vibe. I found good coffee, friendly locals, and the railroad museum, losing myself in the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its construction. A feat that was both technically fascinating, fiscally exorbitant, and for the railroad workers a tough, inhospitable, and sometimes tragic drama. In 1899 they named the town after the banker that funded the CPR construction. A century later his bank, Barings, was taken down by a single rogue trader.