In the summer of 1954, these four women took a road trip across Canada: Anna Brown, Helen Salkeld, Audrey James and Rosemary Gilliat (the photographer featured in my last post).
Sounds simple enough. But this was the 1950s. Feminism was barely a whisper. Ozzie and Harriet reigned supreme on TV. In North America, the middle class was flocking to the suburbs to live in shiny new houses with shiny new appliances. While more and more women were working, the media continued to portray women as happy homemakers, like this:
Rosemary Gilliat’s photographs tell a very different story: four adventurous, independent women heading out across Canada in a station wagon. Not a skirt, modern appliance — or man — in sight.
In just over one month (July 31-September 5), they drove from Ottawa to British Columbia and back (that’s close to 5000 km).
This road is a big deal. It’s not just any road — it’s the Trans Canada Highway — the first highway to join Canada from coast-to-coast. It had huge social, political and economic implications for the nation, and Canadians were excited to travel “the highway to adventure” in their comfortable new automobiles. Construction began in 1950, and lasted twenty years. When Gilliat took the trip, parts of the highway were unpaved, and significant sections were not yet built.
I’ve read much ado about the first men to make this journey — but precious little about women making the trek. I’d venture a guess that cross country, all women trips like this weren’t very common. Perhaps this was a first (on the Trans Canada, anyway).
Thankfully Gilliat documented the whole adventure — taking more than 800 photographs (all beautifully preserved by Library and Archives Canada).
They roughed it most of the way, camping along the road, in the mountains and in the middle of fields — wherever they could find a spot to pitch their tent (love the glass milk bottle pictured below):
They cut their own hair:
Washed dishes in the nearest lake:
Slept on crowded bunk beds:
They even brought their own wine:
Judging by her photography (and her life), Gilliat and friends were ahead of their time — a harbinger of things to come?
Road trip anyone?
Credit for all photos: Rosemary Gilliat/Source for all photos: Library and Archives Canada