Travelling For The Journey
While travelling through the Province of Québec, we stayed a few days in the neighbouring city of Lévis, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The benefit of staying in Lévis is the opportunity to board a ferry, a service shuttling commuters and tourists between Lévis and Québec since the early 1800s. At just under a kilometre, the 15-minute crossing to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River offers the best view of Québec City.
This way of approaching Québec City provides a lens to see the districts layered within the historical centre, the varied architecture, and the majestic Château Frontenac perched on the top tier. We started our visit in the Lower Town at Rue du Petit-Champlain, admiring the many boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Then after watching other people being transported to the Upper Town on the funicular railway, we opted to take the stairs. From there, we walked along the promenade of the Dufferin Terrace and onward to explore the Plains the Abraham, the site of the great battle of Quebec in 1759, where the British troops defeated the French soldiers, changing the course of Canadian history.
In many respects, our visit to Québec City was nearly identical, but we weren’t travelling together. We had experienced this separately, with more than 120 years between our respective journeys. My visit to Québec in 2021 was one stopping point of many as I follow the route of a young Nova Scotian man named Karl Creelman, who was there in 1899 after proclaiming that he was going to ride his bicycle around the world.
So what led Karl to make that bold statement? Quite simply, for the first time in history, it was possible.
There were significant achievements between 1869 and 1870, including completing the transcontinental railway in America, the railway linkage in India, and the Suez Canal opening. These advancements captured author Jules Verne’s imagination, who, in 1873, set his protagonist Phileas Fogg on a mission Around the World in Eighty Days. Following this fictional story’s publication, the allure of travel captured the interest of many and there were various attempts to complete the route set out by Verne, to do it faster, in reverse order, or some other variation.
You can imagine the newspapers during this period of history — stories of travel experiences and adventures from corners of the world that were previously difficult to access. So, for a young man living in rural Nova Scotia dreaming of seeing the world, why not try to accomplish this on a bicycle.
I learned about Karl serendipitously in 2016, and was immediately captivated by this fellow Nova Scotian who ventured across North America, then to Australia and Sri Lanka, then northwards to India, Egypt, Europe and Great Britain before returning home in 1902. It took me three years to research Karl’s journey, map out his route, and review newspaper articles and historical facts related to the time he travelled. That’s when my journey became clear, to follow Karl’s route around the world, take photos of the places he visited and write about my adventures. Karl travelled for two years, three months and 24 days, travelling 51,283 miles by bicycle, walking 1,600 miles and sailing 34,558 miles. I have planned a 75,000 kilometre journey, being as authentic as possible to Karl’s original route and stopping in those locations that he documented on his trip. I should also disclose that I have no intention or desire to travel worldwide by bicycle. I will complete Karl’s route in segments — taking full advantage of 21st-century means of transportation — while documenting my journey in the Karl Chronicles.
To date I have travelled 5,250 kilometres from Karl’s starting point of Truro, Nova Scotia through New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.Starting Karl’s journey in my home province of Nova Scotia made things easy. No sooner did I set out on the first leg of the journey from his hometown to Londonderry (formerly Acadia Mines) did my preconceived notions get challenged. The towns visited by Karl had significance, and in the process of researching the history of these places, seemingly straightforward facts led to all sorts of other fascinating and unfamiliar facets of history. With over 100 years between our travel dates, I anticipated that what Karl saw may look very different from what I will see, but conversely, like my visit to Québec City, some things would look very similar. I’m also learning on this journey that I need to look beyond what remains to see what is missing.
So far, Karl and I have crossed the same Rivers but not always on the same bridge. We have sat in different pews beneath the same stained glass window, in Amherst’s First Baptist Church. We’ve both looked upon the same china plates from the now-former Hotel Windsor Karl while eating a meal, me through the cabinet in a local museum. I’ve stood at the hydroelectric generating station in Grand Falls, New Brunswick while Karl described to his hometown newspaper about a forthcoming project here to harness power from water. We both paid our respects at the monument memorialising the 1812 Battle of Crysler’s Farm in Ontario. I spent time with the third-generation owner of Chicago’s oldest camera store that was founded in 1899, that same year Karl was in town getting a Cyclone magazine camera. I have paused on the side of a road in Wisconsin and watched the grazing cows in “America’s Dairyland” while Karl wrote of navigating his bicycle around the distant relatives of those cows. I’ve watched pleasure boats cruising along the Mississippi River while Karl watched steamboats moving bushels of wheat, barley, and oats to be exported north. I’ve arrived at the addresses of hotels, churches, and post offices where Karl visited to discover they have since been demolished, burned, or, amazingly, remain completely unchanged.
These nuances continue to inspire me on this journey and fuel my curiosity.Nowadays, it’s infrequent that we travel for the journey. We are more inclined to travel as a means to an end, an inconvenient necessity to arrive at our predetermined destination. In fact, for many, the proposition of travel, especially in present circumstances, may be enough of a deterrent to stay at home. But not me, I’ve set out to complete a journey around the world, and I’ve only just begun.