For Fraser Field of Deroche, British Columbia, life on the road has largely amounted to attending the sick and aiding the injured. Which is what you do, of course, when you spend thirty years at the wheel of a fast-paced, wailing-siren ambulance as a paramedic. So it’s no surprise that Fraser’s knowledge of, and interest in, these life-saving utilitarians grew with time. Plus, if you’re a car guy to boot, why not collect them too. And so, Fraser’s job-to-passion transition led to him owning various such models and makes, including a unique 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, a couple of late ‘60s Pontiac Bonnevilles, a 1972 Cadillac, as well as a rare 1948 Chevrolet Panel currently being restored for future use.
“It’s interesting to observe people’s reaction when they see ambulances out of the past”, he says. “There is a special aura about them that rekindles human sentiment, mixed with intense curiosity. On one hand, an image forms of the ‘user’—usually individuals who face sudden threats to their lives at some point. On the other, the realization of those who provide the care needed, typically in critical circumstances. Add an historical layer to the picture, and all of the right ingredients combine to create a singular fascination for this mode of transportation”.
But now, a bigger mission awaits Fraser, as a busy summer looms ahead in 2017: That of shepherding 125 vintage vehicles across Canada and back—a whopping 9,500-mile journey stretching over four months. As chief coordinator of this formidable volunteer task, he is conferred the title of Wagonmaster by a one-of-a-kind grassroots organization known simply as the “Coasters”, whose Canadian origins date back to 1966.
Those were, of course, the inimitable days of peace and love, the year when Mary Quant’s miniskirt was all the rage, when Batman started competing with Captain Kirk for top TV ratings and the creatives who made The Sound of Music the highest grossing film ever won the Oscar statuette.
Meanwhile, back in Canada, a group of intrepid car collectors decided they wanted to do something out of the ordinary in the name of their passion. Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, to organize the mother-of-all-trips across the entire nation and back. After all, the 1967 Centennial celebrations were fast approaching, and what a fine way this could be to celebrate Canada’s history by showcasing its automotive heritage. It was further agreed by the newly formed organizing committee that their über-cruise would leave from Victoria, B.C., and reach St. John’s, Nfld. way east, with a farewell dinner scheduled in Montreal at the then-biggest bash of all: EXPO 67. Amazingly, and in spite of the ambitious commitment required from Tour participants, some 130 registrations from every province were officially entered. Of that number, nine cars would eventually complete the total distance under their own power.
Pete Gagan took part in that inaugural Coasters expedition with wife Mary Jane aboard their 1928 Model A Ford Roadster, while best friends John and Sue Somerset lodged in the car’s rumble seat. A young Bill Sauder of Ontario was also among the event’s pioneers in his dad’s 1914 Ford—the oldest car to finish the entire Tour, though their engine chewed up two crankshafts along the way. Bill even remembers the day when they climbed the stairs of Ottawa’s Parliament building in their Ford while the Coasters stopped in the nation’s Capital. Unimaginable nowadays. At 15, Jean Mulloy joined her mom and dad, George and Ethel Brown, for the ride of a lifetime. To this day, she remembers how proud she felt to be Canadian, as the trio traveled 9,000 plus miles across the land in their 1929 Chrysler Four-Door Sedan. Amazingly, Jean, Bill and Pete all plan to return in 2017…. five decades later!
When the first Coasters edition of 1967 got underway, it was decreed that the Tour should be repeated every decade or so thereafter, despite the massive, multi-year, volunteer effort involved each time. One of the founders’ initial intent was unifying antique car clubs across every province. The result was the establishment of a first chartered organization, now the National Association of Automobile Clubs of Canada—just one of four noble goals agreed upon, including:
- To travel across the breadth of Canada on her 100th birthday and see as much of her and her people as possible, the slow and easy way (now, that’s the spirit!)
- To join together all of the antique car clubs of Canada in a co-operative effort, as another step toward building a working federation (nation-building at its best)
- To show the people of Canada the part that the antique auto clubs are taking to preserve an important segment of Canadian history (significant social legacy)
- To assist other Centennial celebrations where possible (going the extra mile).
Fraser Field thinks the Coasters experience provides an unparalleled way to discover one’s country and discover its people. “This is when you also become aware of the power that antique vehicles carry with them, everywhere you go. Literally any person you meet has a tale to tell about themselves and their own family car. In the end, it’s the story of a whole nation unraveling before your eyes”, he adds.
So once again next year, participants departing from across Canada will meet in Victoria for the Coasters’ historic 50th anniversary Tour and Canada’s 150th birthday. They will travel east, winding through British Columbia’s and Alberta’s spectacular Rockies. Then, along the awe-inspiring flatness of Saskatchewan and Manitoba – the Prairie region, said to have “a lot of sky” – straight into Ontario’s breathtaking vistas. Moving next into French-speaking Quebec, across its distinguishing panoramas, then onto New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, all replete with maritime history and sea air. The goal is to ultimately reach St. John’s and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s picturesque shores. A mari usque ad mare, as the Latin motto reads on the Canadian Coat of Arms. From sea to (shining) sea!
In the summer of 2017, as Wagonmaster Field gets behind the wheel of his freshly restored 1948 Chevy Panel ambulance, flicks on the switch of its symbolic siren, and sets forward with wife Dorothy by his side, one can wonder what reflections will fill his mind. After all, he’ll be carrying the torch of those who assembled this venerable caravan of Canada’s Confederation five decades before him, not to mention the countless men and women who have kept that national flame burning ever since.
There will be shared memories of years passed around barbecues at night, and new friends from across the land joining the fun. Cars and parts may demand urgent repairs; logistics, regular checking and weather, the big unknown, could wreak havoc as it pleases. But then, there will be thousands of well wishers, old and young alike, in numerous towns and cities, shopping malls, arenas and schools, waving the flag and cheering on the proud pan-Canadian convoy. So much motion marked by so many emotions.
But then again, Fraser may just be too busy to engage in deeper thought, making sure there’s enough gas in everyone’s tank both morning and night, or plenty of food to feed his family of hundreds thrice a day. It’s nothing he won’t be able to handle, of course, when you’ve been an ambulance paramedic helping people in need all your life. One thing is certain, though: The summer of 2017 won’t be the same across Canada, thanks to a remarkable league of devoted lovers of old cars: The country’s very own, homegrown, Coasters.
And now, a little travelling music, please.
For more information and visuals: canadiancoasters.ca
Article by: Michel Lamoureux
Photos summitted by Michel Lamoureux courtesy of the “Coasters”
Originally published in Hagerty Classic Cars magazine and www.hagerty.com
An Interesting Letter from a 1967 Tour Participant
I think I need to sign on for the 2017 Coast to coast tour. There is a good reason for this, as I was on the 1967 tour, so should do a 50th anniversary.
I am 75 now, but got into the old vehicle hobby early with a $35.00 Model T, and a $15.00 1912 Indian motorcycle when I was 16. I joined the Ontario Region of the AACA, and the Ontario Region of the HCCA which later became the ACCCC and the HASC. I was a charter member of both, but more active in the latter. I was also a charter member of CHAF, the forerunner of the NAACC.
I drove car #46 in 1967, a 1928 model A Ford Roadster. We drove the Ontario and Quebec sections, with another couple in the rumble seat.. I knew all the key players well, and remember the names of most who went the whole way. Jack Bray, Porky Schneider, Bill Sauder, Jack Veroche, George Brown, Sandy Intini, Tom Stewart, Jack Morton, Charlie Forester come to mind. I still have the brochure and my registration card. The oldest coast to coast finisher was Tom Stewart’s 1909 Ford. I can probably dig up a few photos. Bill Sauder broke three crankshafts in his 14 Ford, but made it none the less, replacing them on the side of the road. He specialized in climbing stairs with the T, and climbed the stairs of the Parliament buildings with it. You probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that today.
I saw it mentioned somewhere that a water bomber dropped a load by accident on the campground. That was no accident. We were in a parade in Ottawa, and Ron Miller was following a float which had a man sitting in a bathtub ahead, advertising something or other. Ron and his wife had water pistols and were using the poor fellow as target practice. As Ron and his wife were on their honeymoon, they camped with their 1926 Dodge away from the crowd. The bathtub man, who happened to be a water bomber pilot attacked in the morning, and got his revenge. The rest of us were unscathed.
I noticed mention of the 1975 tour with no details known. It was organized by Charlie Forester and Jack Bray, and had most of the “hardcores” from the 67 tour. We were living in Calgary then, and although we didn’t attend, we had Tom Stewart, Jack Bray, and Porky and Marion Schneider as guests. We still had the Model A, and we all went to a local car event together. Charlie Forester fell ill just before the others left Ontario, and planned to catch up. His wife Pat phoned when we were all together in Calgary to tell us Charlie had died from a brain tumour. It put a damper on our party. All of the people previously mentioned are dead now, except possibly Ron Miller who was about our age, but I’m not sure.
On the motorcycle side, I founded the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group, served as President of the US based Antique Motorcycle Club of America, and on the Motorcycle Commission of FIVA in Europe.
I just sold my 1921 Stutz Bearcat, but still have a 1904 White steamer and 1978 Ferrari. I’ll probably get something more suitable than either for the tour. The Ferrari would be fun but it doesn’t carry anything. I couldn’t get Mary Jane to ride on any of the nine motorcycles. She says after 50 years of marriage, she does’t have to do that anymore.