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Canadian travellers get their kicks on historic Route 66

Best places to visit along Route 66

Picture of a Corvette stopped on the side of the Route 66 sign.
Lorrie Fleming, known as the Canadian Mother of the Road, at the original Route 66 starting point at Topock, Arizona, near the California border. — Photo courtesy Bob R. Walker

“When your hands are on the wheel, you are the master of your own destiny,” said Lorrie Fleming, founder of the Canadian Route 66 Association. She believes in the restoration of North America’s most treasured roadway because of the joy it brings travellers, and sees plenty of opportunities for Canadians to join the adventure.

Dubbed The Mother Road by author John Steinbeck in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, Route 66 travels 3,945 kilometres through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. It opened in 1926 as the beginning of the American highway system and was enshrined in the hearts of Americans with the birth of the family road trip and in popular culture.

A television show called Route 66, broadcast in the early 1960s, showcased the adventures of Buz and Tod who travelled the route in a Corvette, experiencing the countryside one town at a time. In 1946, Bobby Troupe brought us the song Get Your Kicks On Route 66, and more recently Pixar reminded families of Route 66 its 2006 animated film Cars.

“Everyone remembers Route 66,” said Fleming. “Baby boomers are rediscovering it. Now they want to get off the homogenous highway and into old America where pie and ice cream tasted so good and life was less predictable.”

The highway remains 75 per cent drivable (without needing a Jeep) and U.S. State Highway associations have reclaimed the road as Historic Route 66, thanks to resurging popularity and tourism opportunities.

“Route 66 means going somewhere, but it’s the mystery of what’s around the next curve,” Fleming said. “People want to rediscover America, and Canadians are a big part of that culture.”

The Canadian Route 66 Association is headquartered in Burnaby, B.C., with about 400 members from coast to coast. It provides travel advice, sightseeing recommendations, state-by-state tourism contacts and Route 66 guidebooks to Canadian travellers seeking the open road.

Fleming said there are many ways Canada can tap into the success of Route 66 revitalization.

“Almost every province has a direct route to Route 66,” she said. “Highway 89 starting at Glacier National Park in Alberta takes you straight to the Mexican border, crossing Route 66 in Flagstaff. The Jefferson Highway in Winnipeg leads to New Orleans, but crosses Route 66 in Joplin, Missouri. The provinces could be taking advantage of these opportunities."

The Canadian Association was incorporated in 1996 and mainly functions as an information network, with informal monthly meetings in Burnaby. Members participate in two major events each year—the Arizona Fun Run and the Route 66 Festival, held in a different state each year.

Route 66 dealer network

Sylvia Thistle-Miller, owner of Triangle RV Centre in Sidney, B.C., has had a lead role in establishing the Canadian Route 66 RV Network—a collaboration of RV dealers forming a nationwide trail of businesses promising reliable, ethical service.

“The network offers peace of mind,” said Thistle-Miller. “When you break down and you don’t know where to go or if you’re going to get good service or a good price, it can be bad.”

Over 140 RV dealers in the U.S. work as a collective, serving one another’s customers with roadside assistance and repairs as well as offering discounts to members of the Route 66 network. Thistle-Miller is bringing the same assurance to Canadian travellers, with 10 existing network members and more to come. 

“There is safety in knowing where you’re going,” she said. “We are looking at connecting about 40 dealers across Canada who will help one another.”

KOA recently connected with the network, offering discounts and assistance at every location in North America. Memberships to the Route 66 Network can be purchased from member dealers, or travellers are automatically enrolled when they buy a unit from Triangle RV Centre.

Thistle-Miller believes more Canadians visit Route 66 each year, seeking authenticity and family time in their vacations.

“A lot of people aren’t flying to Europe,” she said. “They are investing in themselves, getting away from the big cities. It’s important that families come back together, and believe in the RV lifestyle.

“It’s important to bring Route 66 back into the fold, and we are offering some travel security so people can do that.”
 

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