January 1994

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


How We

Rediscovered Canada

in 1928


Robert F. McNamara

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Part IV

Quebec City was the terminal of our outbound journey. On July 9, 1928, Norm and Bill and I set out homeward for New England, spending the night near Sherbrooke, P.Q. Thus far, even the main highways in Canada had been barely adequate. As we moved now through very rural territory we encountered more dirt roads, narrow in fair weather and muddy in foul. The closer we came to the national border, the more un-Canadian the landscape seemed to become. On July 10 we crossed into Vermont at a minor international checkpoint. Too sensible to ransack our carryall for contraband, the customs officials caused us little anxiety. Now we found ourselves in New England, happy to be breathing "good old American air."

A slanted course to the southeast soon brought us into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Travel was delightful through the wilderness with its peaks and torrents. We halted, of course, for a view of the "Great Stone Face." Nature itself seemed to have created this stony profile, suggestive of a Revolutionary soldier, as a tribute to the old "Minute Men." Next we came through the state's lake country, viewing Lake Winnepesaukee and halting overnight at Laconia.

Laconia! The name was to remain a mournful memory. Our "Light-Six" had been on its best behavior throughout Canada. Now it became contrary again. Another tire exploded and the brakes suddenly gave out. This was our gloomiest hour. We absolutely had to buy a new tire and have the brakes relined. But what would that do to our budget?

A stopover at Cambridge, Massachusetts, renewed our good cheer and helped us save a little money. The Albert Lynch family, friends of my sister, let us spend the night with them. We washed our muddy car in-their yard, and dined at their table: our first home-cooked meal since Dansville. In the evening, they cordially took us on a sightseeing tour of Boston landmarks. Only one large bed was available in the Lynch homestead, but we accepted it gratefully and slept crosswise.

On the 12th, we waved goodbye to our kind hosts and set forth westward. Concord, Mass., was, of course, a required stop-off. We were thrilled to view that historic spot. Emerson had identified it so memorably:

Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Luck found us good "digs" that night at Greenfield, Mass. On the next morning we took a side trip to Deerfield, Mass. Bill had made arrangements to spend his senior year of high school at Deerfield Academy, a long-established and distinguished prep school. We were impressed by the Academy. We were much impressed by the ancient village itself. It had been the scene of a massacre by French and Indians in 1704, one of the many bloody encounters in the prolonged French and British border wars that had ended on the Plains of Abraham. Several colonial houses were carefully preserved. Memorial Hall, the town museum, also displayed many souvenirs of the episode on 1704. One was the door of the "Indian House." It still bore a hole chopped out by an Indian tomahawk and fired through by a French rifle.

From Deerfield we swung back to the main highway, coursed west through the wooded Berkshire country on the Mohawk Trail, and in due time reentered the Empire State. I forget whether we ran up the 200 steps of the State Capitol at Albany. (I had counted them carefully several years before.) We lodged that night at Duanesburg, just south of Schenectady.

Early on July 14, our final day of travel, we set out for Corning. If I remember rightly, we coasted downhill whenever that was possible. We were still worried that our chariot might try one last trick, and even more that the gas tank might run empty. The only event on the homeward lap was a quick stop at Waverly to greet Bill's Grand Aunt Lou, vacationing from Tacoma, Washington.

Somewhere in Canada (probably in P.Q.) we had all purchased scarlet berets and adorned them with little gold-plated maple leaves, Canada's national symbol. Wearing with pride these very Canadian caps, our tired and unkempt crew reached home base at 4 P.M. When they learned of our arrival, family and friends hurried out to give the dauntless trio the welcome we felt our due.

It was good to see them again!

Were we eager to schedule another odyssey in 1929? No. We had come to the parting of ways. Our "Light-Six" Studebaker had indeed carried us 1350 miles without accident, and for that we were grateful; but its quirks had discouraged any sentimental attachment. Consequently, we did not hesitate to sell it shortly afterward. Another schoolmate, Quincy W. Abernathy, asked us what we would take for the "Studie."

"Sixty dollars," we said. We divided the sale price into three parts, rather pleased to have realized $15 more than we had paid. But Quincy was probably the winner, for he acquired, "as is," a car with two new tires and reupholstered brakes.

Times and prices had changed much since those days. When we finished our reunion luncheon on June 17, 1993, the bill came to $38. It was a moderate charge. But as we rose and cast a final glance toward Canada, one of us mused, "Thirty-eight dollars. That's only seven dollars less than we paid for our jalopy in 1927!"

There, my friends, is the authoritative account of how we "rediscovered" Canada. No big deal, I agree. By 1928 thousands of other Americans had traveled the same route and returned with similar memories. Indeed, my whole family had motored to Montreal and Quebec in 1920 when I was only nine.

What was unique about the 1928 trip was that it was our trip. It was our Grand Tour, our Wanderjahr. We three had planned it, financed it, and carried it out. We had dared to venture into a foreign nation, even into a land where they spoke a foreign tongue. We had shared new experiences, new amusements, new griefs, and developed deeper mutual regard.

In other words, the Canadian safari became for us a rite of passage. We had picked our own challenge and met it. Now we were ready to take on the whole world.

And, by golly, we did!

© 1994, Robert F. McNamara
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
Index to articles by Robert F. McNamara
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR