A 1950s Canadian Road Trip
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Jack Kerouac: On The Road
In our popular mythology the road trip is a metaphor for the series of life changing events we need to experience. Usually they take place just before adulthood; so some indigenous cultures have initiation rituals where the transition is permanently recorded by way of scars or tattoos, we get into a car and drive. The journey’s distance and duration aren’t fixed; the point is that at the end the protagonist’s life has been changed, for the better. He or she is wiser now.
In the 1950s two people took a road trip to Toronto and one of them photographed it. The album was printed in Victoria but it was bought sixty years later in Montreal so we can’t be sure where they left from. Most of the photographs look like they were taken on that ubiquitous road that criss-crosses North America: mountains in the distance, motels and diners lining the sides; for all we know we could be in North Ontario or southern Arizona.
But the real subject that holds our attention is the woman. Looking to be in her mid to late fifties, she holds more or less the same pose in each photo, not because she doesn’t have the imagination to think of another but because the photos and her role in them are purely functional. They want photos of the places they visited along the way, and a reminder that they were there but nothing more.
The theory is that this was their first trip across Canada, and possibly in their first car. She looks to have been born close to the turn of the century and it’s easy to forget that people from her generation had their youth taken away by two world wars and a depression. It isn’t uncommon to read of people in Britain and Australia who couldn’t afford a car until the economic boom of the 1950s. Even when they had the money, time wasn’t always on their side. Anyone old enough to have people from this generation for grandparents remembers perplexed conversations about leaving lights on, why having a bath every night was normal and explaining that cars these days didn’t have a choke.
Coming into being at the beginning of the decade that really gave us the contemporary road saga, his little album is unaware of the stereotype. This is a road trip without any great revelations because of course they only happen in the world of fiction. Real road trips in Canada and Australia involve days of unchanging scenery, pulling into motels around sunset with frazzled nerves and short tempers and falling into conversations with strangers in bars about nothing at all. In films the conversation ends with the protagonist staring into his beer and realizing what he has to do. In real life he yawns and says he must go to bed now, ‘cause it’s a big day tomorrow with another 500 kms of low hills and dry scrub ahead.
I suspect this is only one from several albums Belchers of Victoria B.C printed from the road trip. Even if it covered a relatively short distance – Ottawa to Toronto for example - there ought to be more photos from the rest of the journey somewhere. Not that we need them. The story here is enough.
|ROAD TO NOWHERE|