Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nail Pond’s Hank Gallant walked Canada 40 years ago

Nail Pond’s Hank Gallant walked Canada 40 years ago
The Journal Pioneer

NAIL POND — Walking the Trans Canada Highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic in the days before debit cards and bank machines is a surefire way to trim away the pounds.

Hank Gallant was a trim 155-pounder when he set out from Beacon Hill Park in Vancouver, and 28 pounds lighter when he reached St. John’s, Newfoundland.

That was several pounds and 40 years ago. He reached his destination on his 25th birthday, November 13, 1967.

Hank Gallant was the first person to complete the cross-Canada walk on the newly opened TCH.

“It was quite an experience,” said Gallant, recalling the walk while seated at the kitchen table in his Nail Pond home.

He did the walk as a Centennial project and as a tribute to Courier de Bois (Runner of the Woods), the first of the news-runners.

During the nine-month, 5,226-mile trek, Gallant experienced Canada in all its seasons, from the bitter cold of the Prairies to the summer heat and mosquitos of central Canada and the fall colours of Atlantic Canada.

There was a mixture of taunts and encouragement along the way. He survived a robbery attempt and encounters with bears, a wayward moose and a stealthy cougar.

He slept in grain elevators, in homes, hotels and an outhouse, on frozen ground and in a hay pile.

“It took months to slow down and get a sense of the birds and animals,” he said.

“I walked everywhere I went. If I had a radio interview, I’d walk both ways.” Conversely, upon completing the walk, he accepted his first ride in a car from two doctors who took him for a physical examination. “They were going only 20 or 30 (miles per hour) and I was terrified of the speed.”

“Everything had slowed down.”

“Forty years later,” said Gallant, “I still enjoy the memories, and sometimes I wonder, ‘was it a dream?’”

One of the highlights of the walk was attending Expo in Montreal and a banquet at the Canadian Pavillion. Those pleasantries, though, were enjoyed while dealing with the miseries of an earlier encounter with poison ivy.

Perhaps the greatest of highlights, though, was the parade to the finish in St. John’s, accompanied on his birthday by hundreds of children and a welcome from the Newfoundland cabinet.

He took odd jobs to help pay his way and sang songs from coast to coast, his guitar hanging from his 50-pound pack. At each provincial border he would stop and sew onto his cap the crest of the province he had just conquered.

Two years after conquering Canada, Hank Gallant walked across Europe. In 1970 he married Doloris and they travelled to B.C. by car, retracing much of the route he had covered on foot. They returned to Nail Pond in 1974 and raised a family of four sons and two daughters there.

One of their sons, Jonathan, earned a trip to the National Heritage Fair in Kingston for a project he did on Hank Gallant’s 10 million steps across Canada.

In 1999, as part of the Tignish Bicentennial, Hank and Doloris wrote and published The Walk - Ten Million Steps Across Canada.

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