6 May 2016

Centennial Caravan: Canada's COASTERS ride again!

For Fraser Field of Deroche, British Columbia, life on the road has largely amounted to attending the sick and aiding the injured. Which is what you do, of course, when you spend thirty years at the wheel of a fast-paced, wailing-siren ambulance as a paramedic. So it’s no surprise that Fraser's knowledge of, and interest in, these life-saving utilitarians grew with time. Plus, if you're a car guy to boot, why not collect them too. And so, Fraser's job-to-passion transition led to him owning various such models and makes, including a unique 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, a couple of late ‘60s Pontiac Bonnevilles, a 1972 Cadillac, as well as a rare 1948 Chevrolet Panel currently being restored for future use.

“It's interesting to observe people's reaction when they see ambulances out of the past”, he says. “There is a special aura about them that rekindles human sentiment, mixed with intense curiosity. On one hand, an image forms of the 'user'—usually individuals who face sudden threats to their lives at some point. On the other, the realization of those who provide the care needed, typically in critical circumstances. Add an historical layer to the picture, and all of the right ingredients combine to create a singular fascination for this mode of transportation”.

But now, a bigger mission awaits Fraser, as a busy summer looms ahead in 2017: That of shepherding 125 vintage vehicles across Canada and back—a whopping 9,500-mile journey stretching over four months. As chief coordinator of this formidable volunteer task, he is conferred the title of Wagonmaster by a one-of-a-kind grassroots organization known simply as the “Coasters”, whose Canadian origins date back to 1966.

Those were, of course, the inimitable days of peace and love, the year when Mary Quant's miniskirt was all the rage, when Batman started competing with Captain Kirk for top TV ratings and the creatives who made The Sound of Music the highest grossing film ever won the Oscar statuette.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, a group of intrepid car collectors decided they wanted to do something out of the ordinary in the name of their passion. Wouldn't it be great, they thought, to organize the mother-of-all-trips across the entire nation and back. After all, the 1967 Centennial celebrations were fast approaching, and what a fine way this could be to celebrate Canada's history by showcasing its automotive heritage. It was further agreed by the newly formed organizing committee that their über-cruise would leave from Victoria, B.C., and reach St. John's, Nfld. way east, with a farewell dinner scheduled in Montreal at the then-biggest bash of all: EXPO 67. Amazingly, and in spite of the ambitious commitment required from Tour participants, some 130 registrations from every province were officially entered. Of that number, nine cars would eventually complete the total distance under their own power.

Pete Gagan took part in that inaugural Coasters expedition with wife Mary Jane aboard their 1928 Model A Ford Roadster, while best friends John and Sue Somerset lodged in the car's rumble seat. A young Bill Sauder of Ontario was also among the event's pioneers in his dad's 1914 Ford—the oldest car to finish the entire Tour, though their engine chewed up two crankshafts along the way. Bill even remembers the day when they climbed the stairs of Ottawa's Parliament building in their Ford while the Coasters stopped in the nation's Capital. Unimaginable nowadays. At 15, Jean Mulloy joined her mom and dad, George and Ethel Brown, for the ride of a lifetime. To this day, she remembers how proud she felt to be Canadian, as the trio traveled 9,000 plus miles across the land in their 1929 Chrysler Four-Door Sedan. Amazingly, Jean, Bill and Pete all plan to return in 2017.... five decades later!

When the first Coasters edition of 1967 got underway, it was decreed that the Tour should be repeated every decade or so thereafter, despite the massive, multi-year, volunteer effort involved each time. One of the founders' initial intent was unifying antique car clubs across every province. The result was the establishment of a first chartered organization, now the National Association of Automobile Clubs of Canada—just one of four noble goals agreed upon, including:

  • To travel across the breadth of Canada on her 100th birthday and see as much of her and her people as possible, the slow and easy way (now, that's the spirit!)
  • To join together all of the antique car clubs of Canada in a co-operative effort, as another step toward building a working federation (nation-building at its best)
  • To show the people of Canada the part that the antique auto clubs are taking to preserve an important segment of Canadian history (significant social legacy)
  • To assist other Centennial celebrations where possible (going the extra mile).

Fraser Field thinks the Coasters experience provides an unparalleled way to discover one's country and discover its people. “This is when you also become aware of the power that antique vehicles carry with them, everywhere you go. Literally any person you meet has a tale to tell about themselves and their own family car. In the end, it's the story of a whole nation unraveling before your eyes”, he adds.

So once again next year, participants departing from across Canada will meet in Victoria for the Coasters' historic 50th anniversary Tour and Canada's 150th birthday. They will travel east, winding through British Columbia's and Alberta's spectacular Rockies. Then, along the awe-inspiring flatness of Saskatchewan and Manitoba – the Prairie region, said to have “a lot of sky” – straight into Ontario’s breathtaking vistas. Moving next into French-speaking Quebec, across its distinguishing panoramas, then onto New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, all replete with maritime history and sea air. The goal is to ultimately reach St. John's and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s picturesque shores. A mari usque ad mare, as the Latin motto reads on the Canadian Coat of Arms. From sea to (shining) sea!

In the summer of 2017, as Wagonmaster Field gets behind the wheel of his freshly restored 1948 Chevy Panel ambulance, flicks on the switch of its symbolic siren, and sets forward with wife Dorothy by his side, one can wonder what reflections will fill his mind. After all, he'll be carrying the torch of those who assembled this venerable caravan of Canada's Confederation five decades before him, not to mention the countless men and women who have kept that national flame burning ever since.

There will be shared memories of years passed around barbecues at night, and new friends from across the land joining the fun. Cars and parts may demand urgent repairs; logistics, regular checking and weather, the big unknown, could wreak havoc as it pleases. But then, there will be thousands of well wishers, old and young alike, in numerous towns and cities, shopping malls, arenas and schools, waving the flag and cheering on the proud pan-Canadian convoy. So much motion marked by so many emotions.

But then again, Fraser may just be too busy to engage in deeper thought, making sure there's enough gas in everyone's tank both morning and night, or plenty of food to feed his family of hundreds thrice a day. It's nothing he won't be able to handle, of course, when you've been an ambulance paramedic helping people in need all your life. One thing is certain, though: The summer of 2017 won’t be the same across Canada, thanks to a remarkable league of devoted lovers of old cars: The country's very own, homegrown, Coasters.

And now, a little travelling music, please.

For more information and visuals: canadiancoasters.ca

24 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Noreen Cross British Columbia May 11, 2016 at 13:09
    Awesome article! you captured the feel of the tour!
  • 2
    Dale and Betsy Prince George B.C. May 11, 2016 at 17:26
    we are going on the tour for the first time and we are really looking forward to having a great time seeing the country from coast to coast,and meeting all sorts of car people. Thanks for the article telling people we are coming.
  • 3
  • 4
    kathy Callfas Sherwood Park, AB May 11, 2016 at 11:24
    It is a very well written article on the coasters. Thank you for the great promotion. The tours do have so many wonderful memories. Kathy Callfas
  • 5
    Sue Campbell Bellevue, WA USA May 11, 2016 at 11:54
    This sounds like so much fun! What a great adventure with an entire fun group that appreciates their treasures in not only vehicles but in their country as well !!
  • 6
    Doug& Jean Lester Picton, Ontario May 12, 2016 at 13:40
    We were on the 2000 tours trip of a lifetime #152. Great people,salt of the earth.
  • 7
    Clayton T Damstrom BC May 12, 2016 at 10:30
    I plan to be part of this tour in a 1941 Buick. I have worked on my Buick since 2004 knowing the trials and tribulations of doing this type of restoration and next year will be my Buick's maiden voyage so I thank you for writing such excellent article explaining why car guys do what they do.
  • 8
    Tom Denis Lacombe, Alberta May 12, 2016 at 11:22
    Great article - we did the 2010 tour and will be on the 2017 tour also! This is a super opportunity to see our great country and its people again!
  • 9
    Chris Georgetown May 12, 2016 at 12:26
    Excellent article! I very much enjoyed the stroll down memory lane of all the great connections our family and friends have had around the antique car culture in Canada. From my brother's 49 Lincoln to the latest car of my mom and dad's ('38 Buick!) cars and car culture have been a part of our lives since I can remember. Good luck Mom and Dad on the 2017 trip! Sounds like it will be fantastic! Chris
  • 10
    Gary Glover Salmo,B.C. May 13, 2016 at 09:09
    That was a very interesting story on how this amazing tour began. Gary & I are so excited to be a part of the 50th Anniversary of this Tour and are honored to going along with many others with the Best Wagonmaster and Helper you will ever find. Looking so forward to meeting up with friends we made along the way!! 2017 will be here before we know it!!
  • 11
    MARIA and JOHN SNYDER Manitoba May 13, 2016 at 22:50
    Good article! We went on the very well organized tour in 2010. We have fond memories of seeing Canada and meeting people from coast to coast.
  • 12
    Jerry and Denise Tremblay Chatham Ontario May 16, 2016 at 07:47
    Thank you Michel , great article . We attended the complete trip in 2010 ,and are the Ontario Canadian Coordinators for 2017 , people you meet ,places you visit and friends you keep , becomes a trip of a lifetime . Feel free to joins us for a campfire and singalong
  • 13
    Jack and Carol Body Luseland , Sk May 17, 2016 at 15:41
    Jack and I were part of the 2000 & 2010 tours an experience of a lifetime meeting so many great people and seeing so much of our great country in fine style in our antique autos, such wonderful memories.
  • 14
    Fraser Field British Columbia May 17, 2016 at 21:34
    Thanks to Michel for gathering all this great information. This is an adventure like no other. The old vehicle culture is strong in Canada and it's going be such a great opportunity to meet with so many car groups and individuals as we wind our way through this great country of ours. I give a big pat on the back to the many Provincial coordinators and individuals that have helped make this the tour of a lifetime.
  • 15
    Scott Ogilvy British Columbia May 19, 2016 at 23:56
    What a great article and photos! It is very informative and interesting.I enjoyed it a lot!
  • 16
    John & Linda Boehmer Saskatchewan May 22, 2016 at 14:16
    This is our first time trip with Coasters. We have never been to East coast and everyone makes it sound so exciting. What an experience to meet with car enthusiasts and to see this great country.
  • 17
    john chace abbotsford May 23, 2016 at 19:18
    good article cant wait till next tour we are booked and getting ready. it was a great write up
  • 18
    Richard and Anna Fahrion Edmonton AB May 24, 2016 at 00:53
    Thank you Michael for the great article and information. We were participants of the 2000 tour going from Victoria to St John's with our 1964 Pontiac Parisienne convertible and a 16 ft Prism travel trailer. In 2010 we did the tour from St John's to Victoria with the same trailer and a 77 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. We are also planning to participate in the 2017 tour from Victoria to St John's with the same trailer and 77 Cadillac. We have met so many great people along the way and on the tours which help make these tours almost addictive. All of the coordinators accross the country with their input , information and planning have greatly contributed to the enjoyment of these tours and their efforts have been greatly appreciated and welcomed. Traveling accross this great country of ours also makes these tours so rewarding and excilerating. As a side note, we have participated in every tour reunion that we have had since 2000. Thank you all for all the great memories.
  • 19
    Jean Mulloy Ontario June 5, 2016 at 21:06
    Michel, Your article ties together threads of many memories. Thank you for all your work in sharing the tale with so many people. We are looking forward to having a seeing Canada from sea to sea from the by-ways and making new friends along the way. This time the trip will be in a 1934 Desoto Airflow pulling an Oxygen trailer, both more streamlined and odder looking than the '29 Chrysler my dad drove in '67 when the tour travelled Highway 1, the Trans Canada Highway. A lot of families were seeing Canada in Centennial year.The most popular vehicles we met that summer were pickup trucks with campers on top and pulling a plain aluminium boat. Wonder what it will be in 2017?
  • 20
    Wilf and Linda Boardman Cranbrook B.C. June 11, 2016 at 12:00
    Looking forward to the 2017 trip - just want to express out thanks to all the co-ordinators - a lot of time spent to make this a trip to surely remember. Thanks again to you all.
  • 21
    Brian and Pat Johnson S. V. of Southvew, Alberta October 13, 2016 at 23:17
    Great article. We did the tour in 2000 with our 54 Mercury and a 13 ft Trillium trailer. We are participating again in 2017 in a 65 Mercury Parklane and a 18ft Trillium trailer. Looking forward to seeing all our old friends and meeting new ones.
  • 22
    LESTER AND MILLIE MCKAY PENNFIELD N.B, November 20, 2016 at 13:27
    cant wait to meet up with the tour for a few days , not able to do the whole tour but will do some in the maritime s and met some of our friends from the 2000 and 2010 tour's
  • 23
    John Carlson Belcarra BC Canada February 28, 2017 at 12:59
    A special thank you to NAACC Director Michel Lamoureux for writing this article. As Michel pointed out, the first Tour in 1967 was really the starting point for the formation of the largest Old Car group in North America. Call up www.naacc.ca to view Coasters coverage.
  • 24
    Gordon Brown Springhill n.s. March 30, 2017 at 11:08
    went part way on the 2000 tour all of the 2010 no .088 great people good food doing the 2017 tour in a 1975 Chrysler hope to see you all in June

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