Thirty-five years later, my husband and I decided to drive our Nissan Altima to Vancouver. It’s a largish car, spacious and comfortable for touring, with a powerful engine and good acceleration. Just prior to leaving Toronto, my husband took the car to the local garage he had been using for years to change the winter tires and have it serviced for our trip west. It was a major service job, with a hefty bill to prove it. For the first time, in all the years we had travelled across Canada by car, we were travelling west in the semblance of a luxury car.
We had such a nice trip. The Trans-Canada Highway has been greatly improved since our early ventures across the country. There are passing lanes in northern Ontario, and four-lane highways on the prairies. We were travelling fast, and no one forced us onto the shoulder. We visited friends in Winnipeg, and family in Davidson, Saskatchewan and in Calgary. We followed the Alberta foothills south to Pincher Creek, the very modest birthplace of Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, marvelling at the hillsides covered with windmills supplying power for the Calgary transit system. We camped, hiked, and admired the abundant wildlife in Waterton Lakes National Park, and vowed to return again someday, later in the season, when higher trails would be clear of snow.
Travelling on the No. 3 Southern Trans-Provincial highway, we crossed the Rockies at Fernie, visited the hot springs and lakes of the Lower Kootenays, and then headed to the Okanagan Valley where friends were expecting us. We drove the long, winding switchbacks which drop the highway several thousand feet into Osoyoos far below. It’s a dramatic drop on dry, open hillsides. The splendid vista into the valley always takes my breath away. Osoyoos is a farming and resort community, notable for its lake, its desert terrain, its fruit and, more recently, its many vineyards. We stopped at Burrowing Owl, one of my favourites, to order a case of our favourite vintages for delivery in Vancouver. I went into the showroom to place the order and my husband, who hates shopping, passed his time inspecting the car.
What he saw shocked him. The two front tires of our vehicle were hot, and gave off a wretched stench. He looked more closely and discovered that both front tires were worn right through. What had been new tires leaving Toronto now appeared to be in shreds. How could this be? What to do? We decided to drive very slowly on to our friends’ home up the valley in Penticton and find a tire store in their larger community. The next morning, my husband and our friend hustled down to a specialized tire dealer. Sure enough, the two front tires were ruined. The tire experts concluded that that they had not been secured tightly when they were changed in Toronto. We had come all the way across the country on tires which could have come off at any time.
We were absolutely horrified. We thought of our fast trip across northern Ontario and the prairies. We thought of the twists and turns we had made around the lakes in the Kootenays. We thought about the switchbacks on the road from the height of land into Osoyoos. We thought about the potential for an accident, killing ourselves and others. Clearly, if we’d been cats, we’d have used one of our nine lives.
When we returned to Toronto to confront the local garage dealer, he initially denied any responsibility. Then he said that he had contracted that work out. When we insisted on compensation, at least for the cost of the tires, he suggested we could have free gas for the next few months. That was not an option we wanted. As we considered our remedies, the garage abruptly closed. The property had been sold for an infill housing project.