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Book Reviews

My Cross-country Checkup: Across Canada by Minivan, Through Space and Time

by Walter Stewart

Walter Stewart first travelled across the Trans-Canada Highway in 1964, for a series of stories in the Star Weekly. In My Cross-Country Checkup, Stewart and his wife, Joan – dryly referred to as “The Driver” – take to a minivan 35 years later to tackle the longest highway in the world. They begin in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and finish at Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Along the way, Stewart provides travel information as well as commentary on a number of issues facing Canada. In comparing today’s Canada to 1964’s, Stewart hypothesizes that the nation is much more tolerant, open-minded and multifaceted than it once was.

Throughout the book, Stewart does a good job of taking the reader into lesser-known areas rich in local history; he covers the historical roots of the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the true story behind Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Stewart’s knowledge is deep and thorough, with enough inside information and tall tales from his days as a journalist to make even the most dreary stops entertaining and informative.

And Stewart is funny. Most of the humour is rather dry and sarcastic, with Stewart acting the part of the pessimistic and ill-tempered traveller. But the humour also does a marvellous job of revealing certain truths. For instance, Stewart’s few pages on the cyclical nature of Alberta’s politics are laugh-out-loud funny, but also an effective comment on the current political landscape in the West.

However, Stewart treads dangerously between contextualizing current events and bogging the reader down with too many history lessons. He does tackle political issues, but doesn’t offer much opinion, either from himself or from the people he encounters. And although many of Canada’s major issues are discussed, there are more history lessons and tourist attractions than serious commentary. Still, Stewart bundles his odyssey in wonderfully free-flowing and energetic prose, and the book is entertaining, informative, and easy to read. Taken as a travel guide and a work of humour, My Cross-Country Checkup works well.