Canada 2017

How cycling from coast to coast — again — has refreshed my view of Canada

Four years ago, Asad Chishti cycled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. For Canada 150, he decided to do it again. Although he's visiting some of the same places, much of the country for him has changed.

'So much feels different. I suspect a lot of it has to do with my own shifting perspectives.'

It gives me no shortage of wonder that the word "suffer" means "journey" in Urdu.

There is a level of suffering when journeying by bicycle from one coast to another coast, particularly if the country being traversed is one of the largest in the world.

This year a fellow photographer and I decided to bike across Canada as a means of listening to, learning about and investigating the conflicting narratives of our histories.

I'm grateful to call this place home but also alarmed at the amount of work we still have to do.- Asad Chishti

We started from Canada's easternmost point, Cape Spear N.L., went as far north as the road goes in Inuvik N.W.T., and recently turned south towards the Pacific Ocean, aiming to finish in Victoria, B.C..

Four years ago, I bicycled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic alone. So much has changed since that pilgrimage. So much feels different. I suspect a lot of it has to do with my own shifting perspectives and growth.

The first time around, I was a first-generation Indian Muslim immigrant, cycling alone trying to develop a relationship with Canada; a place my parents decided would be our home.

This time, I am still a first-generation immigrant but instead of exploring Canada, I, alongside my white-settler male travel companion, sought to inquire about the multitude of nations that exist on Turtle Island. The ones that came before Canada, the ones that continue to survive in spite of Canada and the ones are new to Canada.

I looked to projects like Ryan McMahon's #thenext150, Justin Wiebe and Rudayna Bahubeshi's #150waysfwd as well as the work that Canadian Roots Exchange and 4RS have been doing for years.

Technically speaking, I tweaked a few things for this trip, but the journey was vastly different.

Our project, #astheravenflies, had a very public investigation rather than merely personal curiosity. It had to strive to achieve a more critical exploration of the multiple narratives which are part of our founding stories, much older than 150, not the mostly simple understanding of a single nation which I had when I was younger and less informed.

What follows is merely a sneak peek into a larger, expansive, heavy and joyous odyssey.

Iceberg or bergybit? in Twilingate, N.L.

Newfoundland was entirely new to me. The last province to join Canada. Not being a part of Canada is still within living memory for a lot of Newfoundlanders. The sheer scale of this one province, the diversity in its buildings and their willingness to help strangers set a good tone.

Lobster boat crew member Simon Doucette, shores of P.E.I.

The Maritimes is a strange place. The last time I cycled through, I met some Ontario transplants at a heavy farm equipment auction and I was also rescued by a now-retired veterinarian who was out walking his dog. This time around, his family, my co-adventurer and I spent a full day on a lobster boat hauling in about 800 pounds with his crew. The lobster industry is very lucrative right, now but these fisherman work just as hard as when lobsters were being sold for $2.50/lb. They start at the crack of dawn and don't head home until the last light of sunset. It was fascinating to be back on the island and see so much more than the potatoes and Anne of Green Gables.

Jessica Bolduc rehearsing 'Smudge da Police' on Canada Day

This photo features Jessica Bolduc of 4RS from the #Resistance150 Tipi Corner. They took over a portion of unceded territory on Parliament Hill through ceremony on Canada Day. I looked at the city and legislative building and what it symbolized: a series of coordinated efforts to take from indigenous groups and peoples to make room for non-native communities. Ottawa felt very different to me this time around.

Christopher Tse on the Alaska highway, Teslin, Yukon

This is a photo of my distant cousin, Christopher Samuel Tse. It was taken just south of Teslin, Yukon. His life's belongings in a car relocating to Vancouver Island. A celebrated and well-known poet who knew I was headed in his direction willingly sharing his stash of grapes, handed me some salmon jerky and refilled my water.  The highways are a fascinating part of the rare pieces of capital infrastructure projects which literally stitch together the mishmashed fabric of our nations. More so than on the last trip, the Trans-Canada Highway felt like home. I kept running into friends and family members without coordinating such run-ins. This is a big country, but it can feel small too. It always reminded me to be kinder and to tread lightly.

'Goating me on', B.C. Interior

One of the earliest stories that shattered my illusion of a perfect Canada was reading Obasan by Joy Kogawa in high school. I knew that historically more Japanese-Canadians had been detained in the B.C. Interior during the Second World War than other parts of the country.

These Canadian citizens, many of them born in Canada, had their property confiscated, their families forcefully split and scattered across internment camps. The threat of enemy aliens was loud and similar to the First World War when cities like Berlin changed their name to Kitchener.

Although I spent more time in 2013 in the B.C. Interior, it wasn't until this trip that I met someone whose family lived through the experience and is currently speaking her truth in her play Hidden Memories. It was an incredible honour to listen to the story of her community, in her voice, with her strength. Thank you dear Lillian Nakamura Maguire.

Now that I've come to the end of this adventure, the ordeal and absolute privilege, I'm mindful of how much wider the gap feels between urban and rural Canada and how inextricably linked their futures are. I'm grateful to call this place home but also alarmed at the amount of work we still have to do.

Next year I intend to work on a multimedia journalism project which aims to bridge these inequities. Then I plan to voyage across the country for a third time — with what I suspect will be another new lens.

I'd like to end with the words of Jay Pitter:

"It's entirely possible to be sentimental about your grandmother's migration story, awed by the beautiful landscape and appreciative of the opportunities you've received here while also being fiercely critical of the colonial project. In fact, critique and truth-telling are important expressions of love."

Getting a four-legged boost for my two wheels, Inuvik, N.W.T.


Asad Chishti is an inventor at Chairs and Tables, a 10-year research into what it takes to lead a good life. For two of the thematic years of research, Happiness and History, he bicycled across Canada.


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