Yesterday was Canada’s 156th Birthday, and in 1967 the country celebrated its 100th birthday. It was also the Summer of Love and the Summer of Expo 67 in Montreal. That same year, nine teenage boys from Vancouver bought an old school bus, converted it into a Motor Home, and headed across the country to visit Expo 67 and join in the birthday celebration. I was one of those 9 teenagers.
While the rest of the world seemed to be heading to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, we headed to Montreal. I don’t think our hair was long enough to be doing the hippie thing, besides, we were proud Canadian lads celebrating our country’s 100th birthday, and spreading love across our great nation. Are you buying this so far?
Nine teenagers in an old school bus, what could possibly go wrong? We had ripped out the seats of the bus and built 4 sets of bunk beds with pullman curtains, and one bed across the back. We had a small kitchen table, benches, a sink with running water, and a hot plate. We painted the bus red and white stripes, with red maple leaves on the white stripes. It looked like a candy cane on wheels!
I kept a diary of that celebratory Summer, and the first entry was July 29th, when we received a send-off from the Hotel Georgia, across the street at the courthouse fountain. On day one of our journey we just about made it to Chilliwack before we got our first flat tire. Not a good start! No fear of getting speeding tickets though. I think that old bus had a top speed of 50 mph (80 kph).
With the flat fixed we blasted through Kamloops and made a stop in Banff where our red and white striped bus didn’t exactly blend into the surroundings.
On we rolled to Calgary and discovered the B.C. Lions were in town to play the Stampeders. We couldn’t miss the chance to cheer on our Lions, and needless to say, we weren’t the most popular row of seats in the stadium!
We didn’t stay long in the Stampede city, and I don’t mean to offend anyone from the Prairies, but Saskatchewan was a bit of a blur as we motored through and crossed the Manitoba border.
In Winnipeg, one of our guys had a cousin who not only offered us a place to park the bus but also phoned all her girlfriends and invited them over for a party with the “boys from the west coast.” The party was going great until the girls’ boyfriends showed up looking for their girlfriends. They weren’t amused, or as hospitable as the girls. I thought it was supposed to be the Summer of Love! The next morning made up for it though. The Winnipeg cousin had a just-released copy of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. We were all spellbound, we’d never heard anything like it and played it over and over till it was time to hit the road.
We made a stop in Toronto that included a visit to Yorkville. At the time it was the place to be if you were an aspiring folk singer. I saw some great acts at a little place called the Mousehole on Yorkville Ave.
By the time we reached Montreal we were in full stride, and again called upon a relative for a place to park our old bus and they opened their doors to us. We all slept on the bus but were able to use their facilities and use the address as a home base while going back and forth to the Expo site, and to what became our favourite haunt, a bar called “Your Father’s Moustache.” It was there that we hosted a few girls from Detroit and introduced them to the Bobby Gimby “Can-a-da” song that had become the new national anthem in 1967.
We made a side trip to Quebec City to deliver a letter of congratulations to the Premier of Quebec, Daniel Johnson, from W.A.C. Bennett, the Premier of British Columbia. How about that, we were Western Canadian Ambassadors!
It was then time to head for home and we decided to drive across the northern U.S. First we slid down through Maine, made a stop in Boston, and continued on to New York City. We parked our bus on the Columbia University Campus that borders Harlem and took the subway into the city. We saw the sights and on the way back accidentally got off the train one stop before the Columbia University stop and found ourselves in Harlem at midnight! Not the safest place for a bunch of Canadian teenagers that Summer. Not only was it the Summer of Love, but it was also a Summer of racial and social tension. We were picked up by a cab driver who recognized our mistake, and thankfully got us back to the bus.
On we drove with a few more flat tires, and a few more stops by the Highway Patrol. The police stops weren’t because we had done anything wrong, the cops were just curious about our red and white striped bus! In Detroit, we saw burned-out buildings from the recent riots and cops in riot gear. We kept heading for home through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.
We crossed the border and spent our final night in Hope. The next day, September 4th, the bus rounded the corner and with just one more block to go, the engine died! We had asked a lot of that old bus, and we coasted the final few feet where friends and family were waiting to welcome us home.
50 years later, we got together again. Seven of us celebrated with a commemorative cake. In the photo below: Leigh, Ross, Dave, Tony, me, and Peter with Jim down in front. Bill couldn’t make it due to illness and Geoff has passed away.
It truly was a trip of a lifetime. Happy Birthday Canada!
Till next week...
1 // Departure at the Courthouse Fountain across from the Hotel Georgia
2 // On the road, somewhere 1967
3 // Commemorative cake
4 // 50th reunion Leigh, Ross, Dave, Tony, me, Peter, and Jim down in front
Bobby Gimby's Can-a-da Song
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