History of the Trans-Canada across Newfoundland & Labrador

Signal Hill in St John's viewed frm the water

Early Transportation

Newfoundland was England's first overseas colony, having been claimed by John Cabot in 1497, only 5 years after Columbus claimed the New World for Spain. Transportation around early Newfoundland was mainly by boat.

1880 Newfoundland legislature enacted legislation to construct a trans-island railway, and its construction went took 1881 to 1897. In 1923, the Newfoundland government acquired the railways, coastal boat service, and St. John's dry dock from the Reid Newfoundland Company.

Air Travel

In 1939, construction of Gander airport completed and the airport opened. It was a vital step on getting war planes built in Canada (and later, those built in the United States) ferried over the Great Britain, so they did not have to be sent by boat and be vulnerable to submarine attack. This airport was also a base for anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic for the sector between Halifax and Iceland. In 1944, the Newfoundland Government agreed to lease Goose Bay airport (in Labrador) to Canada for 99 years.

After the war, the Gander Airport was a trans-Atlantic stop-over for almost all passenger planes between Europe and North America. Also, for Russian planes between Iron Curtain countries and Cuba, which resulted in many defections at that airport over the years. By the late 1960s, jet planes with extended range made Gander Airport was much less important.

Impact of Joining Confederation

Driving the foggy highway on the Isthmus In 1948, a majority of Newfoundland voters favoured Confederation with Canada, and in 1949 Joseph ("Joey") R. Smallwood formed their first provincial government. As part of the deal (the 1949 "Terms of Union"), the federal government took responsibility for transportation links between the island and the mainland. And CN Rail (the crown corporation operating railways) expanded its ferry fleet and upgraded rail connections to the island, helped by the construction in 1955 of the Canso Causeway.

1954 to 1965, the province's resettlement program moved 8,000 people in 110 communities to larger centres around the province. This centralized education, healthcare and other government services.

Trans-Canada Highway

Boats moored on Fogo Island The Route 1 highway cost $92 million in federal spending and $28 in provincial spending. It ran 903-kilometres northeasterly from Port aux Basques to Corner Brook before heading east through Grand Falls-Windsor to Gander and then southeast to St. John's.

Newfoundland had the second-longest distance to cover, after Ontario, and it also had the most difficult terrain, after only British Columbia. With a population of 500,000, it had the second smallest number of people to absorb the costs (after only PEI), and its per capita income was the lowest.

roadside Moose caution sign The paving of the Trans-Canada across Newfoundland was completed on November 27, 1965 with the official opening ceremony at Pearson's Peak near Grand Falls on 1966 which was attended by Premier Joey Smallwood and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

There are stories though, that several sections were not paved until 1970, and that several of the bridges first built were not structurally strong enough for trucks carrying circus elephants (so the circus cancelled a performance in St John's) and needed additional work.

In 1969, the highway led to the end of passenger rail service provided by Canadian National Railways across Newfoundland. This was replaced by the "Roadcruiser" bus service, which could cross the island in just 10 hours.

Expansion North and into Labrador

L'anse aux Meadows Historical Site Part of the expansion of roads in Newfoundland was a road connection up the Northern Peninsula alongside the Long Range Mountains, from Corner Brook to St Anthony, connecting to a ferry to Labrador. L'Anse aux Meadows Viking site was declared a National Historic site n 1968, and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978. Over the 1960s the Churchill Falls Power project was built, and completed in 1971 to generate hydroelectric power for the province, though most was sold to Quebec (who resold it to the Americans) under a 65 year agreement. In 2001, an amendment to the Constitution of Canada change the province's official name to Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 1988, Newfoundland announced closure of the railway, in return for receiving $800 million for road improvements from Ottawa. The railbed was converted to become part of the Trans-Canada Trail recreational trail, as was done with abandoned rail lines in many other parts of Canada

2006 Improvements

The seven roadway projects funded through the Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program cover a variety of improvements to enhance safety, traffic flow and capacity on the National Highway System. These projects include:

Here are some history notes, organized by Itinerary Segment (from west to east):

Port-aux-Basques to Corner Brook

Corner Brook to Grand Falls - Windsor

Grand Falls-Windsor to Clarenville

Clarenville to Whitbourne

Whitbourne to St John's

Argentia to Whitbourne

Other Resources

Newfoundland Trans-Canada overview Newfoundland Highways & Ferries 50 Years of Trans-Canada

More Trans-Canada Highway History

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