Original Highways by Roy MacGregor

by Edith Cody-Rice 

When I see a book about Canada or individual Canadians with Roy MacGregor’s name on it, I feel compelled to pick it up. He is a fine writer and an especially accomplished author of books about Canada.

He was born in the Whitney, Ont. During his career Mr. MacGregor has written for  the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star, The Canadian Magazine and currently writes for the Globe and Mail. He has won numerous awards for his journalism, including two National Newspaper Awards, several National Magazine Awards and twice the ACTRA Award as the best television drama writer in the country.

He  is the author of nearly 40 books and a premier chronicler of the Canadian experience, particularly in rural Canada. His affectionate biography of his father who worked for a logging operation in Algonquin Park, A Life in the Bush, reveals his and his family’s love of the wilderness and rural Canada. Other of his writings about the soul of this country are

  • Canoe Country: The Making of Canada. Random House, Canada, 2015.
  • Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him. Random House, Canada, 2010
  • Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People. Viking/Penguin, Canada, 2007.
  • Escape: In Search of the Natural Soul of Canada, McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 2002.

And of course, he has written extensively about hockey.

Mr. MacGregor’s latest publication, Original Highways grew out of a series of Globe and Mail articles that he wrote on the Great Rivers of Canada, what he calls the original highways that provided transportation and trading routes to both first nations and the Europeans who came much later. It is Mr. MacGregor’s contention that without the rivers, and the canoe which navigated it, Canada as a nation would not exist

In this book, he expands on the Globe and Mail  articles including chapters on 16 rivers, including the Fraser, the Bow, the Red,  the Saskatchewan, the MacKenzie, the Grand,  the Don, (the most abused river in Canada in his view) the Ottawa, the Gatineau, the Saint John,  and of course, the great St Lawrence. All of the rivers shaped the societies along their banks and all are at risk in one way or another, from human carelessness. We are a fresh water nation, with such abundance that we do not treasure it.

The book contains fascinating stories of the people along the watersheds: the great tax revolt along the Gatineau River; the 1958 visit by the young Princess Margaret when Toronto city fathers literally perfumed the Don River, dumping vats of sweet smelling liquid into the Don to cover the permeating scent of pollution as the princess crossed a little bridge.

Mr. MacGregor writes lyrically and convincingly, opening to us Canadian experiences that have lain buried. A joy to read.

Original Highways is published by Random House Canada

352 pages