There are two mile zeros on the Trans Canada Trail. One is in St.John’s Newfoundland and one in Victoria, BC. So there are two directions one can choose from to hike the 24000 km path across Canada. I have chosen to go from east to west, and to begin here in Newfoundland, the land of my father, John Whelan, and his ancestors, long ago descendants of Ireland who arrived here pressed as slaves on British ships and came here to start a new life as many continue to do that call Canada home.
My father was one of 11 children born to Mary Whalen and his father died young from tuberculosis so my Nanne raised her children on her own. Before her death she asked I one day write a book and call it 22 slices. She raised them with no money really and would make bread and cut a loaf into 22 slices to feed 11 mouths, each getting two thin pieces of bread.
I chose Canada Day, July 1st, for my departure date but on the eve of my departure date my cousin Shelley told me, ” it might be a day of celebration in the rest of Canada but here b’y it is a day of mourning. It is the day we Newfoundlanders remember the boys of Beaumont Hamel, the battle in World War one that wiped out a Newfoundland regiment and our great Uncle Gus was one of them.”
In the morning of July 1st, 1916, 868 soldiers marched to the front lines of the Battle of Somme to seize control of the German trenches near the French village of Beaumont Hamel. When roll call was taken the next morning, only 68 men answered their names. It was a day an entire generation of young men from Newfoundland died. And 99 years later Newfoundlanders still gather at the war memorial to remember.
After paying my respects I walked the streets of St.John’s towards the train station where mile 0 officially begins. Another monument of a dead ghost as there are no more trains in Newfoundland. The Trans Canada Trail follows where the rail tracks used to be. They have been ripped out but the loose reddish rock remains.
As I walked I thought of how we remember the spirits of the dead. This journey has many threads but the sacred part of this journey is to remember the 1186 murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Just as the boys of Beaumont Hamel are our fallen brothers, those women are our fallen sisters. Yet we no memorial, no day of remembering. So I will hold space and pray for all of them every morning on this long journey.
Maybe everything we need to know we have forgotten. I travel the trail to remember.