What's Your Story

One Canadian life — told in 7 cars

For many, the car is a big part of Canadian life. Patricia Collins recounts her life's milestones along with which cars got her there.

You can measure a life in kilometres travelled.

Collins and her dad with the family's first Subaru, and Collins with the Subaru she still drives today. (Patricia Collins)

From borrowing your parents' car to buying your first second-hand wheels, for many, the car is a big part of Canadian life.

Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Patricia Collins, of Fort McMurray, Alta., shares her story through the cars she's known.

Parental source — the Oldsmobile

There were always two vehicles growing up. When we lived in Victoria, there was my father's beloved yellow GMC truck, followed by a less lovable Subaru sedan and there was mom's trusty Subaru wagon. In 1987, the Subarus were traded for the Oldsmobile Delta 88 when we moved to Dawson Creek, B.C., and my dad had a Ford Explorer as the company truck.

Though I learned to drive the winter roads around Dawson Creek on the Oldsmobile, and it took us on so many road trips through Alberta and back and forth to Victoria, it was never quite my own freedom-mobile.

That came later.

Cars and roads = freedom, mobility, choices.

The Red Car (1992)

Mom bought this two-door LeBaron not long after my 16th birthday. It became mine upon graduating from high school.

'Red car = coming-of-age.' (Patricia Collins)

On the paved and gravel roads around Dawson Creek, and from Grande Prairie, Alta., to Fort St. John, B.C., it saw me through my last two years of high school and got me back to Victoria for university. Belting out tunes on the road helped me process the usual teenage issues of friendships, romances and WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?

Red car = coming-of-age. Return to my beloved West Coast. University. First "real jobs" in Vancouver. Young love. Young marriage. Job losses. An unexpected pregnancy. Financial crisis. Lifeboat to Fort McMurray, Atla., to solve financial crisis.

The Black Car (2002)

I mourned trading in the red car, but it was in need of constant maintenance, and we were back to living in winter conditions. Plus, I was now a responsible grown-up. A teacher, a homeowner — it was time to get a responsible, grown-up Sebring sedan to match. Still drove a lot to decompress: teaching was hard, "adult-ing" was filled with disillusionment. Marriage was crumbling. Health was failing.

'The responsible Sebring.' (Patricia Collins)

Black car = responsibility. Growing apart. Driving to doctors, tests and to and from the hysterectomy that saved my life. Driving to survive infidelity, separation and divorce. Moving the boxes of my life out of my home and across town. Taking first big solo road trips.

The Subaru (2013)

Back to family car roots. Trading in the black car was emotional, but it, too, had become a maintenance goblin. The Subaru was the first car I chose on my own and paid for on my own. It has been my companion through this solo phase of mid-life. Back and forth to Victoria, all around Alberta and out of burning Fort McMurray in May 2016. Abandoned at an oilsands camp 80 kilometres north of town for the six weeks of fire evacuation, but never forgotten. Cherished upon reentry.

The Subaru = rebirth. Rebuilding. New adventures. Relying on self. Fleeing a natural disaster. Reentry, rediscovery. New definition of "home."

The Subaru on the banks of the Athabasca River, off-road near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Patricia Collins)

Driving cars on roads is a definitive Canadian experience because this connects our small, spread-out population more readily, safely and more accessibly than any other form of transportation. Canadian geography is massive; the distances are huge, population density is low and weather is extreme.

For many of us, especially those in the north and away from urban conveniences, cars and roads represent freedom, choice, adventure and even our very survival.


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