|"Humanity is genuinely good," says Matt Jackson, four years after hitchhiking across Canada.
Although being picked up and hosted by complete strangers on his four-year journey eventually became passe for the 31-year-old writer and photojournalist, Jackson is still amazed by the generosity and warmth of his fellow Canadians.
Starting in Lake Louise in April 1997, Jackson rode on horseback, sailed across the Great Lakes, paddled a canoe, flew in a Twin Otter - but mostly bummed rides in cars and trucks - on his way across the country, finally reaching Newfoundland in 2000. Along the way he relied on Canadian hospitality to get him from point to point and, sometimes, to provide a warm bed.
At the end of his thumbing tour he wrote a book.
With an absorbing, humorous writing style and beautiful colour photographs chosen from the 25,000 images he shot on his journey, Jackson describes his cross-country adventure. Kindred spirits can relate to Jackson's severe case of the travel bug, but perhaps not to his primary means of transportation - hitchhiking is a culture that has all but died out in North America. (Interestingly, hitchhiking is legal on most roads in the country, just not within city limits or on certain freeways, such as Toronto's 401.)
The Calgarian chose hitchhiking instead of driving his own vehicle because he thought it would be a "great way to meet people and a great way to save money."
He was right. On average, Jackson waited 15 to 20 minutes for rides and only had three disheartening experiences: he was picked up by an intoxicated driver on the Alaska Highway who almost rolled the truck; he met a shady fellow in a Dawson City pub who later robbed him; and he spent nearly three days on a deserted highway in the Northwest Territories waiting for a lift.
The positive experiences, however, far outweighed the negative.
"I really appreciated different parts of Canada for different reasons and I mean that quite honestly," he says. He won't pin down a favourite place, but says he fell in love with the West Coast and also the country's Far North.
"Quebec was a wonderful surprise," says Jackson, who admits he is far from fluent in Canada's second language. "I found Quebecers to be just as welcoming and friendly as (people) anywhere else in Canada. And a lot of them invited me into their homes despite the fact we could hardly communicate."
Even in the Lac Saint Jean region, a "very separatist" part of the province, Jackson says, a Quebecois man who had never before pulled over for a hitchhiker stopped for Jackson, invited him home for several days and treated him like family.
But what Jackson finds most compelling about his epic trip is what he learned about Canada: that the country defies neat labelling or packaging; that its strength can be found in its diversity; and that Canadians are comfortable with, and embrace, that diversity.
"I think Canada is a lot more exotic than we give it credit for … It's very diverse … I think I had this grand notion when I set off that I would cover the country and discover the Canadian identity. And really … I found that we're very different all over, so I don't know that there's one thing that ties everybody together completely."
He also wants readers to know it's still possible, and enriching, to hitchhike across the country as Canadian travellers did in the 1960s and '70s.
Jackson's wanderlust is contagious. After paging through The Canada Chronicles, you'll want to quit your job and hit the open road.
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