Gruelling Finish: Winning by a Nose

June 14, 1921


 Mr and Mrs Dill Arrive in Vancouver
from Halifax


Frank and Jenny Dill, Jack and Clifford Behan, Charles Burkmand in Front of Vancouver Sun Offices, June 1921


 June 12, 1921   

     And then it was all over.  The great trans-Canada adventure, which started as a simple concept of a walk across the Dominion ended as a proverbial barn-burner of a competition five months later when Jack and Clifford Behan appeared on the outskirts of Vancouver, Saturday June 11, wobbling between the rails of the CPR line, half starved and near collapse.
     Knowing that the Dills had arrived in Spuzzum the very day that the Behans left on the next leg of the race, the father and son duo ended with an epic surge. “To be absolutely certain of reaching the balmy shores of the Pacific first, we actually walked for 22 hours on our last drive without a rest–making 66 miles,” Jack told a crowd in front of the CPR station.
     It did not take Mrs F.C. Dill long to react to the Behans’ winning claim.  She wired from Harrison Mills–61 miles east–late Saturday, blazing mad: “We won anyway, from a time standpoint,” she argued.
     Burkman also wired from North Bend on June 12: “The race is officially over, and I have been beaten.  I’m now 3,504 miles from Halifax and only 109 miles away from the finish line. . . Vancouver or bust has been my motto from the beginning–especially since I was left alone and the hike turned into a race.

June 9, 1921  

      Haig . . . Agassiz . . . Harrison . . . onward the Behans struggled barely conscious of where they were and too tired to give a damn. Waterfalls gushed off the Coast Mountains, overlowing with spring runoff, but who noticed?
    The same day, Burkman reached Kamloops, where he put a new spin on the outcome of the competition: “If all the reports of flooding in the Fraser Valley are true, and if the floods are near where the Behans are camped, it may yet be possible to catch them.”
     The Herald was happy to add speculation about floods to the mix.  The headline on Saturday, June 11 was:  

Will the Dills Steal a March on the Behans?
Will Burkman Make One Last Spurt and Head Off His Rivals?  

June 8, 1921  

      Past Cherry Creek . . . Spences Bridge . . . Kanata . . . North Bend, stumbling along railroad ties and weaving across narrow bridges across the turbulent Thompson and Fraser rivers, the indomitable Jenny and her Frank charged into Spuzzum only to find the Behans a full day ahead. “For the second tine since we left Halifax, we today pulled into a town that the Behans had left the same morning.” Jenny said. “We made 47 miles today and if we have to walk all night tomorrow, we will still be within reach.” Anxious, exhausted and psychologically frazzled, Jenny was no longer certain they could beat the Behans across the finish line, but it was impossible to beat the Dills in terms of days on the trek.
     With the deafening roar of the Fraser River in their ears, the Behans were sometimes so distracted that they scarcely had time to leap from the tracks to safety when an iron horse thundered past.  The sleep deprived father and son were tortured by visions of a relentless Jenny Dill cracking her whip at their heels; they took to walking day and night. They wanted the ordeal over, and they did not intend to be beaten by the Dills.

 June 7, 1921  

      Reporting from Spences Bridge on June 7, Jack Behan struggled to be objective. “It has been very hot all day with the sun dancing on the rails. You can see for miles ahead; still in the dry belt, but we hope to be out of it tomorrow.” Rather than pay for a night’s rest, the pair curled up in a hillside burrow outside the village for a few hours of uncomfortable shut-eye.  Weary as they were, a cacophony of coyotes, encouraged by the howing of village dogs kept them tossing and turning.  Morning light found them limping toward Spuzzum. “British Columbia is not at all as liberal as the other provinces,” Jack complained when CPR officials at Lytton refused to buy their postcards. ‘There are not many places where we can sell cards to pay our expenses; therefore we are putting up with every imaginable hardship as we near our finish.”
     The same day as the Behans reached Spences Bridge, Burkman completed a spectacular 45 mile downhill run from Revelstoke to Sicamous, making gains on both his rivals. With the accomplishment came a renewed sense of commitment.  “If it lies within my power to catch the other hikers before they reach the west coast, I shall do it,” he promised.
     Frank and Jenny left Sicamous at 8:30, Sunday June 6, taking time to have their pictures snapped with the mayor. They bolted down a small dinner in Salmon Arm and snatched a few hours sleep in the section house at Carlin after completing 30 miles. On the 12th they left Carlin at 6:30, ate dinner in Chase, where Frank had his boots repaired. Driven on by clouds of mosquitos and images of the Behans, they pushed on in growing darkness toward Kamloops.  The front runners were 47 miles ahead of them while Burkman was 88 miles behind.  The cross-Canada event promished a gruelling finish.  

 June 4, 1921  

     The Behans were up bright and early June 4 more determined than ever to get back on the tracks and end the race. “Hard to believe, I know, but we travelled from Salmon Arm through Notch Hill to Kamloops in a 15 hour 50 mile marathon–our longest junket in the race!
     The Herald finally located the Dills at Albert Canyon. After leaving Beavermouth at 5:30 a.m. and stopping only briefly for lunch at Glacier, the couple sprinted 42 miles in nine hours.
Burkman took the time to visit fellow Maritimers at the Hector Divisional Point before completing the terrifying walk through the Spiral Tunnels.  He did not reach Glacier until well after dark. “I chalked up NINETY-EIGHT MILES in two days,” he bragged. The lone hiker was still in the race, and sports continued to play at “what if.”  

Dominion Hotel Kamloops Where Hugh Gillis, the first trans-Canada pedestrian also stayed


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Into the Rockies

May 31, 1921

     Burkman reached Banff May 31.  His feet were now recovered and he claimed to be at the top of his game. “Some, I suppose, criticize me because I let a woman pass me,” he said. “Few know what I have gone thru since I left Halifax. It has been a hard, long, lonesome grind, and many times I felt like chucking the whole thing up.  I would have felt different if I’d had company, but I decided to stick and I will until I reach Vancouver.”
     Fuelled by adrenalin and bouts of anger, Mrs. F.C. Dill was too obsessed with beating the Behans and winning the race to Vancouver to concern herself with the latest musing of Charles Burkman. “We have gained back at least half of the lost time on the Behans,” she mused, “and I hope by Sunday, June 5 we will have gotten the other half day . . .”
     Meanwhile the Behans had fallen ucharacteristically silent. When The Herald finally tracked down the father and son on June 2 with the help of telegraphers at Revelstoke, the news, as feared was not good.

Son of Hiker Admits That Pace of Dills is Too Strong
and Obeys Doctor’s Orders

     In Revelstoke, Clifford saw a doctor who diagnosed “a cold in the back” and advised him to “lay up for a few days,” but, according to Jack, “he said nothing doing.” The spunky 24 year old took the No. 4 train going east, got off at Albert Canyon station and started walking back to Revelstoke in the pitch dark. “It was the most lonesome walk I have had since leaving Halifax . . . I arrived back in Revelstoke at 7:00 a.m. tired, but feeling better.”

May 29, 1921

     As the race tightened, leaving competitors muscle-sore and foot-weary, with nerves frazzled and minds bitter, the levity in Jack’s night letters was much appreciated.  “We had a very comfortable time at Lake Louise,” he wrote. “Took the soft side of a board to lie on, and the rats and gophers whistled ‘Home Sweet Home’ all night.” They spent this night in Field at the Railroad “Y” and readied themselves for an early start in an attempt to unload the Dills, who were close on their heels.

Cliff Behan on AB-BC Border

     Where was Burkman? people wondered.  Was the lone hiker still in the race?  The answer was yes! Burkman was in Calgary on May 29 and was still very much in the game. No longer hounded by the public’s expectations, he felt comfortable nipping at the other hikers from third place.


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Within Striking Distance

May 26 and 27, 1921

     After an astonishing 52 mile hike from Gleichen to Calgary, the Dills were only 41 miles behind the Behans.  Quick to anticipate disbelievers, Jenny told the doubting Thomases to check the milage on a CPR timetable.  Frank, Jenny claimed, would have been quite happy to stop at the 40 mile mark.  “No, Frank,” I said, “I’m hungry to win this race; and remember there are BEANS ahead.”  “Alright, girlie,” he replied. “I’m after the BEANS if it takes all the PORK off me.”
     The Dills entered Morley the same day the Behans left the town for Banff.  After hiking the taxing 41 miles from Calgary, a disgruntled Jenny tried to enjoy the rousing reception prepared for them.  Things had not gone well in Calgary, where Jenny’s worst fears were realized.  The boys from Halifax had succeeded in whisking Frank away to the Kiwanis Club for a publicity stunt just as the couple was about to leave town.  “We lost nearly a whole day, and allowed the
Behans to get out of our clutches for the time being,” she pouted.  Feeling depressed and irrational, Jenny spent the night brooding over Frank’s lapse of judgement.  It could cost them dearly, and she knew it.

May 25, 1921

     Unusually hot temperatures continued to distress all the hikers. Even so, the Dills were able to creep up on the Behans.  Jenny’s euphoria over their consistent gains was compromised by the niggling fear that Frank had plans to waste time visiting his pals in Calgary.
     In Calgary, the legendary western cowtown, Jack and Clifford glad-handed their way through the dirty streets, predicting a comfortable win over all rivals, boasting that they would reach Vancouver in 15 days and it would be all over.
     Meanwhile the hapless Burkman had reached Medicine Hat the previous day, protesting that he was still very much in the race.  True, the other hikers had passed him, leaving him to plug along alone, but he put a brave face on it: it was important to remember that the trek across Canada wasn’t just about winning; it was also about getting to know the country.  He assured readers that he had learned more about Canada walking across the country than he could have in six lifetimes in one place.

May 23, 1921

     Individual dispatches from the hikers had become increasinly erratic, but on May 23 The Herald was able to give readers an accurate update on the front runners.  “The Dills and Behans were in Alberta both making a feverish run for the Rocky Mountains.”  The paper also noted that interest in the hike had “boiled over” into the United States, becoming as high as the interest taken in the hikers in Canada.

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On To Alberta

Mr. & Mrs. F. Dill Reach Med. Hat
Halifax Hikers Slowly Gaining on the Behans
in the Race to the Pacific

May 20, 1921

     Looking fit and well, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Dill of Halifax, transcontinental hikers, left Medicine Hat this morning on the last stage of their trip to the Pacific Coast.  The Behans were in Medicine Hat on Monday last, so that it can be seen that the Dills are slowly but surely gaining on their rivals.  “We are only a day and a half behind the Behans now, and are confident of catching them before they reach the Coast,” Jenny told the sports reporter of the Medicine Hat News. “We have a better daily average and are doing better than either Burkman or the Behans,” Frank added.

To the Hikers
From Halifax there went on hike
Three teams with publication
To walk the ties or turnpikes . . .
It’s the Herald’s sole creation
Burkman, Behans and the Dills
All rush on in manoeuver
To pass each other o’er the hills
‘Tween here and old Vancouver.
                                                        . . . M.P. Halifax Herald. May 23, 1921

May 16, 1921

John Behan and his Son Clifford Left Halifax Jan. 25th
with Intention of Walking to Vancouver
                                             . . .  Medicine Hat News May 16, 1921

     The travellers left Halifax on January 25, and their competitors in the race were Burkman and Carr, who left on the 17th, having had an eight day start.  After a few days Carr dropped out, returning to Halifax, but Burkman carried on and was overtaken at Chelmsford, Ontario. The Behans accompanied him around Lake Superior and as far as Port Arthur where he rested. No one seeing their cheery optimism will doubt that Clifford and his father Jack will make good. The Behans pointedly made no mention of Frank and Jenny Dill.
     The Dills raced 41 miles from Mortlach to Ernfold on May 15. They had bolted down a quick dinner at Parkbeg en route and then, too preoccupied to enjoy the generosity of the host–or to appreciate the admirers dogging their steps–tore off to Ernfold.  There was a marked change in Mrs. Dill’s behaviour.  She was no longer content to accommodate people who wanted her to stop and chat or pose for pictures.  The Broadview takeover had given her a purpose, a responsibility to win the race for her gender. The Behans were already in Alberta, close to the Rocky Mountains; time was running out.
     Content now with all the attention The Herald could muster, rested and grateful for the good grub received, and soothed by a favourable press release, Jack regained his combative stance. “We read in the Herald,” he said,” where the Dills say we must be tied to a pole by the way they have been catching up to us. For their information, they will consider they are trying to stand on the equator if they think they can overhaul us.
    Jenny Dill was all business when the Halifax Herald finally caught up to her and Frank at Hatton, a whistle stop on the Alberta Saskatchewan border.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” the sports remarked after reading the daily spreads by the feisty little woman racing to close the gap between herself and the Behans. “We left Piapot at 8:30 . . . had dinner at Hatton at 9:30. Now we will rest up for our hike to the Hat tomorrow; made 36 miles today,” said the “scorned” woman.  The Dills left Hatton at 6:30 the next morning in a hard rain.  “We got wet, and dried in the sun,” Jenny wrote: “Stopped in Irvine for lunch at the Great West Café.”

Irvine. Great West at Left

May 12, 1921

     The day started poorly for Burkman.  Shortly after he left Grenfell, it started to rain and he was forced to stop at Summerberry and take and early dinner. He didn’t reach Wolseley until late in the afternoon, and after sending a short dispatch to The Herald, he pushed on to Indian Head, ending with a spectacular 31 mile hike.  Playing catch up appeared to agree with him.
     The Behans left Herbert for Swift Current and managed to enjoy a day of big sky and prairie landscape awash with Spring. “Passed some of the finest sheep and cattle ranches in Saskatchewan,” Jack said.  “The agent at Rush Lake told us that in the Fall the nature preserve is a hunting ground, and sports from all over Western Canada come here to shoot.” Despite the tone of the Behans’ night letter, the men had found the day just another slog. “First shave we paid for since we left Halifax,” Jack grumbled, “so we decided to allow our hair and whiskers to grow until we finish our trip–which I hope will be soon . . . 28 miles today.”  Jack and Clifford decided to rest until noon the next day to avoid the heat wave sweeping the province.
     The growing support for the Dills resulted in an increasingly brisk sale of postcards. ”Thank goodness the postcards were at the Moose Jaw station when we pulled in to town after a 43 mile journey, ending our financial troubles,” Jenny sighed in relief. It had been a day full of surprises: five miles out of Regina, when trainmen threw them money. even Frank smiled.
At Pasqua, where the ghosts of thousands of crocuses still graced the short-grass country, the hikers were greeted by Frank’s brother Blake and A. Cann of the CPR, who escorted them into the city. They covered the last seven miles of the route in 1 hour and 20 minutes: “A pretty good time for long distance pedestrians,” Jenny said.  That evening, while the Behans brooded over their mounting misfortunes in Swift Current, the Dills were entertained at a lavish garden party in Moose Jaw. “Calgary is drawing nearer every step we take, and then the real race will start for Vancouver.” At the mention of Calgary, Jenny cast a worried glance in her husband’s direction.  He lowered his head. “Frank has many friends in Calgary,” she explained, “but that should not present any problems.

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Dills Overtake Burkman

May 11, 1921

Husband and Wife Hikers Make Wonderful Showing
and Continue Pursuit of Leaders.

     When the Dills reached Whitewood–Burkman’s birthplace–the operator was waiting to connect them with the lone hiker who was resting and nursing his sore feet in a village some 20 miles to the west.  ”After reluctantly conceding second place to us, Charlie told us that the Behans were only a short distance ahead of us.” It was true. Burkman told the ecstatic couple: John was having trouble with his feet as well, and was able to complete only a small daily milage.  After their 28 mile hike to Broadview, Jenny proclaimed that they had started out 15 days behind Burkman, 6 or 7 days behind the Behans, and were now only 160 miles behind the front runners. Winning never looked more possible, and she wanted it more than anything.

May 5 to May 9, 1921

     From Regina to Grand Coulee . . . Penz . . . Pasqua . . . 41 miles to Moose Jaw the Behans trudged. The burning haystacks of protesting farmers* lit up the night skies and ensured them safe passge along the rails.  Temperatures were unseasonably warm for May, so the Behans, like Burkman, had taken to treading the ties at night.
     Brandon . . . Alexander . . . Virden . . . Fleming Manitoba on to Moosemin Saskatchewan–trading


 one Prairie Province for another–the determined Jenny and her Frank strode on until they reached Wapella, Saskatchewan: 77 whopping miles, one filthy dust storm, two days later. “I wish the Halifax people could have seen our dirty faces after the sandstorm,” Jenny said. “It took nearly an hour to dig all the sand out of our skins.”
     “Tomorrow should be a good day for us,” Jenny said. “If we do not make 42 miles we will be very disappointed. We passed the point where Burkman telegraphed us from this afternoon, and if he is not able to carry on because of his feet, who knows what might happen.”
     As they pressed on from Moose Jaw through Mortlach and Chaplin on their way to Ernfold the Behans struggled against north winds through the dirt hills of Saskatchewan. It was tough country, this land the government had staked out for soldiers returning from the Great War. The hikers reported feeling good about the 26 mile day that brought them to Ernfold, but complained that the Dills’ relentless nipping at their heels was threatening to take the fun out of the race.
     On Monday May 9 that competition intensified as the Dills moved into second place.

May 2 and 3, 1921

     Burkman broke his silence on May 2 and continued to be optimistic about his chances of winning the race.  “Winnipeg was a goal of the past; Vancouver is of the future. I arrived at Brandon tonight after doing 36 miles, and am still close on the heels of the Behans.  If I continue to make such gains, I will easily make the Coast ahead of my greatest rivals.
     Mrs. F.C. Dill sent a saucy letter to readers from Sidney, Manitoba, on May 3. “We made only a slight gain on the birthday boy and his son,” she said. “Intended to do 25 miles–but then, lulled by the delights of the day, we walked 31 miles instead.” (Frank celebrated his 45th birthday that day at Indian Head, Saskatchewan.) Jenny was very pleased to read the Burkman had been making big gains on the Behans. Her birthday greeting for Jack was less kind: “With the lead that the Behans had last month, I thought that Burkman would never catch his rivals–now it looks as though the Behans will soon be behind Charlie.”

May 1, 1921

     When Frank and Jenny Dill reached Winnipeg on May 1, they were surprised to hear that Jack Behan’s feet had gone bad, and that he and Clifford were about finished as competitors. ”Hard luck for the Behans, but good news for the Dills,” Jenny said.  “If it is true!” muttered Frank. At the start Jenny had been the centre of attention because of her gender, but now the possibility of actually winning the race called for a more aggressive strategy. “They cannot keep away from us much longer, as we have made better time than any of our rivals. Every place we go, people new tell us that they are wagering on the Dills to reach Vancouver first; and if humanly possilble, we won’t disappoint.”
     The Behans sent their dispatch from Elkhorn, Manitoba, just 20 miles from the Saskatchewan border. In Virden the previous night they gave a travel lecture at the local movie house and sold cards to theatre goers during intermission.  When they learned that most of the locals were attending a dance, they went along there as well and did a fairly brisk trade. Jank was moved by the generosity shown them, admitting feeling some guilt. “I hope we do not meet any more Nova Scotians before reaching the Coast, because they never stop doing for us, even though they are often down and out themselves.”
      It was rumoured that Burkman was laid up in Melbourne; whatever the case, the lone hiker was silent May 1.

* The farmers’ protests against a government they saw as dominated by Central or Eastern Canadian industrial interests led to the foundation of the Progressive Party and the overtuning of Meighen’s Conservative Government in the election of 1921.

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Hide and Seek

April 30, 1921

     By all accounts the great transcontinental race had turned into a serious battle of hide and seek by April 30.  “A gruelling contest . . .” wrote a Herald editor. “While this is a race of 6 or 7 months duration, and the course is more than 3645 miles, the matter of a mere hundred miles or so does not enter into it.”  Of greatest relevance, the editor pointed out was the remarkagble gain that Charles Burkman, the lone hiker, was making against his foremost rivals.  In his latest dispatch, Burkman reported that he had completed 55 miles in a 24 hour hike to Melbourne–the longest recorded hike since the pedestrians left Halifax. He was now about 82 miles behind the Behans.  With both Jack and Clifford dealing with sore feet, Burkman struggling gallantly to catch up, and the Dills consistently racking up the best daily scores, The Herald predicted that come May 2, there would be a considerable change in the positions of the hikers.

April 24, 1921

   The Behans left Winnipeg on April 22 in a heavy downpour accompanied by a friend, who followed them to the city limits before wishing them God speed and leaving them to hike in peace.  It rained “cats and dogs” on their 29 mile jaunt to Marquette.  The next day they set out for Portage la Prairie (or “Rat Portage” as the older residents liked to call it). ”Twenty-six miles,” Jack noted.
     The Dills, who were battered by fierce hail and rainstorms 17 miles outside of Dryden, described April 24 as their worst day since leaving Halifax. “We were drenched thru to the skin,” Jenny complained, “and the mud was bothersome as well.” The couple had not succeeded in beating the Behans to Winnipeg as Jenny had predicted. “Frank is still confident that we will pat the other hikers on the back before we reach Regina, but I am not so optimistic,” wrote Jenny: “although I expect to overhaul them all before we reach Vancouver. We will try for 30 miles tomorrow, but can hardly expect to beat that mark with more rain expected.” On that wet, miserable night in Dryden, Jenny could not even take solace in the news of Burkman rallying in his attempt to catch up to the Behans, because the young maverick didn’t send in a dispatch.  Burkman had disappeared yet again into the Canadian wilderness.

April 21, 1921

Eaton's Store in Winnipeg

     After a good night’s rest, the Behans put in one of the busiest days of the hike.  They called on the mayor and one of the MLAs.  They also delivered a card signed by his father in Montreal to Captain Penhale of the Royal Canadian Horse, and were then given a tour of the city by another war time buddy of Jack’s, Neil Wilson of the Princess Pats. The men were hugely impressed by the big Eaton’s store with its new $3million addition that covered nearly 6 city blocks. The hikers spoke at both the Garrick and Dominion theatres and the dimes came rolling in. ”I was a little timid at first,” Jack claimed, “but now the more opportunities to raise money the better!”

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April 20, 1921   

     On Wednesday April 20, Jack and Clifford Behan completed a triumphant 37 mile lap and became the first of the hikers to enter Winnipeg Manitoba.  “At last we sat down on the banks of the Red River and bathed our feet for half an hour,” Jack said. ”The water was cold, but the day was perfect.
     Charles Burkman bounded back into the news on April 20.  In a combative dispatch from the Commercial Hotel in Kenora.  He said he had completed a 45 mile hike–his longest since leaving Halifax. ”Few people believed I would ever get as far as Port Arthur when I left the Herald office in early winter,” he wrote. “But I am not a quitter, and I think I’ve demonstrated that.  The Behans still have a few days on me, but they will not hold that lead for long if my health holds out.”
     It was not until the Dills arrived in English River that they learned that Charlie had met with an accident.  “Tell him we wish him well,” Jenny wrote The Herald, “and hope that he will continue the race and leave the Behans far behind.”

April 18, 1921   

     This day The Herald reported that Burkman intended to continue the hike despite sustaining a sprained hip in a fall from a precipice in the Ontario woods while checking out a shortcut that would have put him ahead of the Behans.  Burkman responded that yes, he had sprained his hip “slightly” when he fell off a greasy rail, but the whole story had been blown out of proportion.
     Jack and Clifford arrived in Rennie at 11:30 p.m. exhaused, but too excited to rest.  “So close to the Manitoba border, thoughts of Winnipeg raced thru our heads, and instead of trying to sleep, we enjoyed a good read thru of the newspapers we’d received in Kenora.” Jack said. ” Mrs Dill seems to be quite interested in us,” he noted. “They have about as good a chance of catching us as Burkman–and his chances are very poor. . . . Tell them we made 33 miles today.” 
     The Dills, the subjects of the Behan rancour wrote from Raith about the big time they had in Port Arthur and Fort William with friends.  “We left Port Arthur at 8:30 Sunday morning and came as far as Sunshine, covering 32 miles. . . . We had intended to leave the Port on Saturday, but were kept busy all day seeing Frank’s old school chums.

April 16, 1921   

     The Behans were now only 50 miles from the Manitoba border; more than half way to Vancouver, having passed through four provinces and one state.  Yet Jack was worried.  Diminishing cash and the determined Dills were not his only concerns.  “My feet, which have been giving me a great deal of trouble, being covered with blisters are better tonight.  They were in such a condition before starting out today that I used my last top shirt for bandages.”
     In the meantime the Dills reached Port Arthur, and were making better time than any of their rivals.  “We stopped at the residence of one of the prominent citizens,” Jenny said.  “Port Arthur looked a long way off when we passed thru Barrington Street on the first leg of the journey many weeks ago.  But now Winnipeg does not seem to be more than a stone’s throw from here.”

April 14, 1921   

    Spring was in the air (with hints of summer to come) when the Behans left Tache April 12. “The heat wave continues to give us discomfort;” Jack told the press, “it’s time to think of changing into summer duds.” As they passed through the area around Wabigoon Lake with its many islands and picturesque summer places, that afternoon the pair noted many boats and canoes (as well as some lingering ice) on the water.  That evening father and son disregarded a tip they received from a telegraph operator in Dryden, who said that Burkman had taken a shortcut through the woods west of Lake Superior and would beat them to Winnipeg.  “I hope he has better luck with his short cut than we did when we lost 100 miles trying to be smart.  We expect to be in Winnipeg in lots of time to tell our friends that Burkman is on his way.”
     Frank and Jenny travelled 34 miles that day: “We are proud of the day’s work, and now more certain than evewr that we will reach the coast inside of three months–if people don’t kill us with kindness.”  They were still being pursued by mobs of well wishers.  In some cases whole towns turned out to cheer them on.
     The Behans were no longer enjoying the adulation they had experienced in Ingace and Tache. Worse, it was not Jack’s turn to suffer from a case of raw feet. ”Will lay off here, and get patched up for tomorrow.” He and Clifford did take time out to tour the thriving pulp town of Dryden.
    No word from Burkman again, disappointing readers of The Herald who had come to anticipate daily accounts of the adventure serial with morning coffee.

April 11, 1921   

     Although Jack and Clifford didn’t retire until midnight in Ignace, they were up early on April 11.  After a second forced trip around town and a meal of garlic sausage, stale bread and pickles with an Italian section man, they finally pushed off to Tache, where they were mobbed at the railway station.  “The farther we go, the more people seem to know about us,” said Jack. “We are sure popular as hikers go, and we are going some!”
     Meanwhile the previous day, the Dills put in a punishing day rounding Lake Superior between Peninsula and Jackfish and hiking through tunnels.  They left Jackfish at 9:00 a.m. and headed for Schreiber where Jenny spent an annoying 2 hours in a cobbler shop getting her boots back into shape.  “All things considered, twenty-two miles was a fair tramp,” she said.
     Burkman had left Kaministiquia at 10:00 on April 10, had dinner at Stewart’s Mill and after a harrowing walk through a very long tunnel, made it to Raith.  He was pleased to report that he had done the last 4 miles in 48 minutes and 30 seconds.

April 9, 1921    Burkman was back in competition Monday April 9.  “Well I’m away again,” he wrote from Kaministiquia Ontario.  After spending 2 days at home he told friends that he was raring to go and hungry for “Beans” (Behans). It took courage to start out again from home, with the prospect of going the full half distance to Vancouver alone.  “But I have given my word and intend to honour it.”
     The Behans made no mention of Burkman in their dispatch.  They had spent one evening at Raith, entertained by Dan Connors, formerly of New Glasgow and now hosteller of the Canadian National Hotel.  Connors was in the 85th Battalion and was one of Jack’s war buddies who “sure knew how to party.”  The next morning Connors could be seen howling drunkenly after the Behans as they strode out of town: “Go to it you herring chokers.”  At Savanne, Jack and Clifford declared that they were now officially half way to Vancouver.  It  is downhill from here, except for the Rockies, Clifford larked.
     The Dills announced on Saturday that they had managed only 64 miles in the last 2 days: 40 miles Friday, and 24 on Saturday. “We didn’t find sleeping accommodations the prevcious night, so we left the tracks in favour of a rutted road, slipping and sliding in thick mud in the dark through a number of small villages where people slept peacefully not knowing that two coast to coast hikers were passing their doors.  The couple finally reached Peninsula.

April 6, 1921   

     A violent storm kept Burkman and the Behans from reaching Port Arthur on April 5, as planned. “how the thunder did roar across Old Superior. How the flashes of electricity did glimmer over the waves, and how the torrents of rain did splash upon old mother earth.” Jack wrote. Pleasant though it was to wait out the storm in good company, the men became impatient to get on with the journey. “We are determined to reach Thunder Bay by dawn, leave Burkman to visit his parents, and carry on to Fort William.” The storm subsided at first light and the hikers struck out for Port Arthur where hundreds of people–friends and family–were at the station to greet Burkman when he arrived.

Port Arthur CPR Depot


     The Dills lopped off another 36 miles from their long jaunt to the Coast, and spent the night as Missanabie, professing new enthusiasm for their “hop” to Vancouver.  Hundreds of school children were out picking mayflowers on the hills and in the hollows between Franz and Amyot as they passed by, and Jenny remarked how wonderful it was to see little children dressed for summer romping in the fields which only a few days earlier had been covered by snow.  
April 3, 1921  
     Burkman and the Behans encountered a pack of angry wolves at a lumber camp outside Nipigon. “For once I am glad not to be ahead of Jack and Clifford,” Burkman said: “if I had been . . . I am certain there would have been one dead hiker.”  The hikers were able to take cover in a nearby shack, but the wolves continued to unnerve them with a cacaphony of wailing through the night. “I don’t think the Behans got any more shut-eye than I did,” said Charlie.  At daybreak the howling ceased and the beasts slunk into the woods, leavintg the hikers to ease themselves cautiously back to the railway tracks. Late morning found three tense hikers crossing the longest CPR bridge west of Maine, reaching the outskirts of Nipigon and safety.


 April 1, 1921  

      Friday April 1, the Dills tripped lightly down the tracks into the village of Nemegos singing The End of a Perfect Day. 

Dills at Woman River


     ”It was, too,” according to Jenny, “and no April Fools joke either.” The couple had just racked up another 35 miles after leaving Woman River that morning. The sky was blue, the air was crisp and the day cold, but folks living close to the train tracks ventured out of their hastily constructed clapboard houses to cheer the couple on.  “Everyone seemed interested in us, and asked all about the trip to the Coast. They told us that Burkman and the Behans are not making as fast time as we are, and we should be able to overtake them.”
     Burkman travelled 39 miles himself the next day, and caught up with the Behans at Cavers. “They were in the post office picking up their mail when I slipped through the front door and smacked them on the back.  They were some surprised!” 



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Marching Through March

March 31, 1921 

     On Thursday March 31, it was the Behans who gave Burkman the slip as they became the first of the trans-Canada hikers to see the frozen shores of Lake Superior. “The wind was very strong and the waves were running mountain high,” Jack said. “A beautiful sight; one we will never forget.”  The rail line impressed the men as well–”curving around and through cuts of rock hundeds of feet high, demonstrating the great engineering carried out in building the line.” The victorious hikers rested briefly at Penninsula after hearing from the locals that Governor General Victor Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, was arriving in 10 minutes. The Governor General signed the Behans’ hiking book and told them they had a beastly trip ahead of them: he offered them a ride, which they refused, of course, but in a Royal way.
 While the gregarious Behans were hobnobbing with near royals, and Burkman continued to make the best of things, the Dills, with much to prove, pushed hard.  They did battle with a wind that almost bored through them on their 20-mile hike to Biscotasing. “At times I felt like finding a place to nap,” Jenny said.  “But I didn’t.”  There was no time to dawdle if they wanted to finish first, and she knew it.
     The Behans ran into a blizzard that day. “Snow, more snow, and still snowing” was the best description Jack could put on the weather. “One h– of a day, the worst I was ever out it.  Our position on the trail at the top of the page tomorrow will look sick, for we only did 16 miles today. At times the hikers could walk only two miles an hour, and on one occasion they were forced to crawl over a 150 foot long trestle bridge 60 feet above the ground.  Clifford was very nervous: “With snow blinding my eyes, I crept ahead of the lad, and told him to take his time and follow me.  We kept to the middle of the track, so we wouldn’t be blown into the gorge.  Thank God we got over to the other side safely to Jackfish.”
     Nothing was heard from Burkman on March 31.  The mouse appeard to be at an impasse with the cats. 

March 30, 1921 

     Burkman slipped away from the Behans early Wednesday, March 30, headed for Heron Bay, but managed only 10 miles before his rivals caught up with him. “Not only did I have to stay with the Behans yesterday, but I had to sleep with them,” Burkman complained to the newspaper. The truth is that it was 11 below zero, and Burkman was happy enough to have company. The hikers walked 33 miles to Heron Bay. Jack and Clifford smoked to provide some warmth, while Burkman sang from behind a layer of scarves that left only his eyes exposed to the frigid cold.
     The Dills did not fare as well as the other hikers. They covered only 20 miles to Fogamasing, Ontario, where Jenny noted: “Everyone is laughing at the way Burkman had given the slip to the Behans and how the Behans were sleepng like dogs do–with one eye open–and it on Burkman.”

March 26, 1921 

     The lone hiker ws overtaken by his Dartmouth rivals on March 26 at White River, a place traditionally thought to be the coldest spot in Canada. “No doubt there will be some anxiety among my friends in Halifax owing to my failure to send reports during the past few days. The fact is that the telegraph operators along the line were tipping me off as to the progress of the Behans, and I was able to keep ahead oif them. On Friday, however, Jack got wise to what was going on and then made a determined effort to catch up.
     Jack announced that he, Clifford and Charles were “star artists” in a White River “Y” lecture that day. ”This is a first for the ‘Y’ I can tell you.” On reaching the building the hikers found all of the citizens of the community–men, women and children–waiting to hear their hiking stories.
     The Dills were unaware on Burkman’s situation when they woke up on Saturday morning.  After wolfing down a glass of milk and a plate of toast the couple set off for Wanapitel–”see if you can pronounce it,” she challenged readers.  They soon cncountered a rainstorm but “after a thousand miles of hiking, weather conditions mean little to us,” commented Jenny dismissively.
     While The Herald was reporting “love-in” between Burkman and the Behans at King, trouble was brewing in the Dill camp at Cartier.  “Here is a little family squabble I must let you in on” wrote Jenny, coming all over girlie; “The other day, I got a letter from Charlie Burkman and then today I got another. Now that is not so much, but we were told at the telegraph office that Burkman had again allowed the Behans to catch him.  Now Frank has it that he intends to wait for us.  I told him he was silly, but he said it looked fishy to him.” 

March 25, 1921 

     Burkman didn’t make a appearance on Good Friday as nervous friends had predicted.  The attitude of the always pragmatic Herald was that Burkman had a gun, as as long as he was able to find food, he would be fine.  The Burkman no-show left the Behans shadow boxing: they carried on at their own speed, but in a vacuum. ”It was a real day for us,” Jack smiled ruefully. “We cooked dinner on the side of the road, made tea and sat around like real pioneers.”  After a one hour break, he and his son hiked in Franz, where they put up for the night. “It has been a fine day, and we are feeling ‘Jake’” Jack said. 

March 24, 1921 

     The Behans finally surfaced at Nicholson on Thursday March 24.  They had followed false tip given to them by an Indian guide and “lost 50 miles trying to gain 100 on Burkman.” Father and son left the CPR tracks shortly after passintg Woman River.  They were told that a branch line used by lumber operations would cut 100 miles off their trip. ”After travelling for a day we came to a lumber camp and were told that the tracks ended there and the only way we could get back on the main line was to retrace our steps.  This we did; peeved but wiser, determined to never again put faith in Indian guides.”
     It had been an emotional week for the Behans, and after reading a back issue of The Herald, Jack was overcome: “It was better to us than a day’s rations, to once more see our paper.”  Refuelled and refocused, the Behans spent a good night and awakened the next morning raring to take on the lone hiker–if they could find him.
     After reading about the latest Burkman/Behan cat and mouse games, the Dills, who had just completed a 26 mile hike to North Bay, reaffirmed their solemn prediction: “There will be another team in that race within the next six weeks as we now feel positioned to go after a record.” 

March 18, 1921 

     During the third week of March, heavy storms in northern Ontario had Burkman and the Behans working hard for every mile they gained.  For three long days the hikers struggled, playing cat-and-mouse, with neither team able to gain a definitive advantage, but on March 18, Burkman finally gave the Behans the slip at Woman River, and the race was wide open once again.  Burkman had stopped at Woman River to swallow a quick bowl of hot buckwheat laced with dried cranberries and skim milk, but when he was informed that the Behans were entering the town, he set off again.
   350 miles behind the leaders, Frank and Jenny Dill had a quandry of their own: could they actually win this race?  As they crunced along the railroad ties, heads butted against the icy winds, woollen mitted hans jammed deep into the pockets of their sheepskin lined coats, the tantalizing possibility ws shaing a dream: “I want all the people to know that our enthusiasm in this hike has increased, because we have so much to look back on and know what we can do.”
     Three days passed without any word from the Behans.  Not even Burkman could shed light on their whereabouts. In a terse dispatch from Nicholson, Burkman admitted to being as anxious as anyone about their disappearance.  When the Behans and Burkman failed to send a dispatch to The Herald the next day, even the newspaper expressed concern, reporting a rumour that Burkman had tried to give the Behans the slip by taking a trail through the woods and had gotten lost.
     Only the Dills sent in a night wire that evening. It packed a wallop and provided a welcome distraction.  “We were attacked by a wolf!” Jenny said. “When we telegraphed yesterday, we stated that we would make 25 miles today, but we were feeling so good over an adventure that we had en route, that we decided to make 30 miles. . . . Walking pecefully along the track, our attention was suddenly attracted by the baying of an animal a hundred yards behind us, and before we could say Jack Robinson a big timber wolf sprang at Frank.  I drew a revolver from my belt and fired.  The bullet stopped the wolf, and Frank killed it seconds later with his .35 calibre pistol.”  Jenny was very grateful to the boys of Dartmouth for giving her a gun as a departure gift.  “This is the best day we’ve had since leaving Halifax,” she added, saying: “I cannot get the idea out of my head that this is some kind of omen, and we are meant to reach Vancouver first.”

March 16, 1921 

     This day The Herald reported that no clear winner in the neck-and-neck race between the Behans and Burkman had emerged over the weekend.  This was confirmed by the hikers’ dispatches from Pogma where conditions continued to be brutal. “I left Cartier at nine and had dinner at Benny, at the Puly Wood Camp,” Burkman wrote. ”It was the best meal I’ve had since leaving Truro. Villages are pretty scarce here, with stations few and far between.  The Behans arrived here tonight soon after I did.  They are determined to stick with me, tho’ I am trying my best to shake them off.”
     The Behans too had suffered through the long walk from Cartier to Pogma.  “Big storm has been raging all day, and we have not made more than 23 miles. . . . Reached Pogma soon after Burkman.  It snowed all night and snow was six inches deep when we left Cartier this morning. . . . Although the race with Burkman is a great human test, we are confident of wearing him down, and if it is fine tomorrow we will show him our heels. 

March 15, 1921 

     As the Dills quit Ottawa on March 15, Alice Higgins offered up her final comments to the public. She was expecially interested in Jenny, as the female participant in the race, noting that Mrs Dill was too keen on the outdoor life to want to stay around the city very long, and no theatres or comfortable society affairs could tempt her. 

March 14, 1921 


     “The battle is on!” declared the Halifax Herald on March 14.  Canada’s greatest hiking contest ws now a neck-and -neck crisis. John Behan and his son Clifford and Charles Burkman had met, shook hands and played pool together. “But is it ALL OVER? The friendship is fine, but the men are out FOR HONOURS,” the editors assured readers. 

March 12, 1921 

     “According to a telegram received from Behans last night, it looks as though the father and son hikers are cutting across country to head off Burkman without actually passing him on the road,” The Herald informed readers on March 12. They had just travelled a daunting 34 miles, and said that unless Burkman was able to put on an extra spurt, they would cut ahead of him somewhere in the Ontario woods the next day.  Charlie’s friends claimed that Burkman was letting his rivals catch up with him, and would then step out and lead them to Port Arthur, his home town.
     Jack took time out to say how pleased he was to read in the Ontario papers that the Dills had reached Montreal–but he also suggested that he did not consider them serious competition.  The “hiking honeymooners” made 26 miles after getting off to a bad start. “We wandered along the track not noticing anything in particular,” Jenny reported, “when we suddenly found that we had taken a route entirely different from the one that would lead us to Vancouver.” After correcting their mistake, they made excellent time to Greenfield where Jenny fell asleep plotting their next moves. “The other hikers cannot be too far ahead of us, as we have been making great time, so it’s dollars to doughnuts that we will overtake them before Winnipeg.
     The Behans failed to overtake Burkman over the weekend; in fact father and son managed to hike

Burkman with roller device

 only 21 miles on Saturday, while Burkman was able to brag about covering 70 miles in two days.  Some accomplishment for a boy with sore feet hiking alone!  “The great race between Burkman and the Behans has turned into a gallop,” commented The Herald
     Burkman was now in a desolate part of the province, with few villages or people, which hampered the sale of postcards.  There was little time for sales anyway, and in a Saturday night telegraph the besieged hiker wrote: “Left Warren at 8:40.  Had a call in for 5:00 because I wanted to get to Sudbury in time to see a hockey game, but the hotel proprietor slept in, and I woke myself.  Reached Sudbury at 10:00; I walked the rail most of the way; I have devised a roller skate conveyance to enable me to balance myself on the rails.
     The dispatch from the Behans in Markstay was terse: “Left CPR hotel Verner and had breakfast.  Good soul propritor: four dollars bed, breakfast, big hearted. Tough walking today: rained, frost covered rails with ice.” By the time they reached Bailey, the Behans were too tired to even know where they were, but they did know that they were sleeping nine miles closer to Burkman. 


March 9, 1921 

     The hikers received a spectacular page 3 spread on Wednesday March 9 that included reports from the Dills and Burkman, but nothing from the Behans. In a strenuous effort to hold on to first place, Burkman travelled 25 miles through rain and lightning storms as far as Noth Bay. “Believe me, the thunder was fierce, and sent thrills through my body,” he said. He stayed at the Bay the next day to have his boots repaired and his gun oiled in preparation for his nothern Ontario adventure.
     Curious to see the couragious little woman who had set a new record in feminine athletics, ther noted society writer, Miss MJ Dewar called at the Winsor Hotel on March 9 and reported: “I was surprised to find her so slight and girlish; her vivacious, frank personality greatly attracted me.

March 7, 1921 

     As the couple marched victoriously through the streets of the great Canadian metropolis to the Windsor Hotel, Burkman dispatched an admission to the public, hopiing for a little empathy.  He had arrived in Mattawa at 9:15 that morning, then managed to hobble as far as Rutherglen in the dark.  “My feet are so painful that I holed up foir the night, hoping aginst all adds to reach North Bay the next day” he said.  “From ther Bay I planned to strike out for northern Ontario, and if all goes well, I hope to celebrate Easter Sunday in Port Arthur with my family.  It may not mean much to readers, but I still hold a 100 mile lead over my rivals.
     Jack and Clifford did not intend to slow down to accommodate any hiker, blistered feet or no.  “We are intering the wilds of northern Ontariom a wondrous land if 60,000 square miles of boreal forests and hundreds of lakes,” Jack wrote

March 5, 1921 

     Burkman arrived at Mackey, Ontario with dukes up, ready to spar.  “It makes me laugh to read the stories of the Behans and the Dills catching me before I reach Winnipeg, because the more I walk, the better I feel. I am only starting off on my real gait now, and if my rivals hope to catch sight of me this side of British Columbia, they will have to travel some.”
     But readers were beginning to doubt that he still had the stuff to win the race.  His rhetoric sounded as tired as sore as his feet, and in a March 5 headline, The Herald asked: “Will he?”

March 3, 1921 

     As the Behans made their exit from Ottawa, Burkman walked 32 miles from Egansville to Chalk River and marked the thousand mile point in this jouney.  He had shifted gears and was no longer above tooting his own horn.  “Chalk River papers are publishing reports that the Behans are on my heels.  Are they really? If they are, my heels are much longer than their heels,” he mocked.
     Haligonians were serious about the transcontinental race, and since it was now public knowledge that Burkman was quietly experiencing foot problems, his cranky behaviour and uneven hiking scores led one Halifax sport to bet “thousands of dollars” that the Behans would catch the lone hiker by March 12.
     The Dills  meanwhiule, were marching toward Cookshire, Quebec. After a long, hard 23 mile grind through harsh winds and bottomless drifts, they arrived there in good condition and spent the night at the Hotel Bury.


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Vive Montreal

February 28, 1921 

After the final dispatches of the day had been received from the hikers, The Herald issued this statement: “The Behans are close on the heels of Burkman, and the Dills are making better time than Burkman.  Father and Son are expected to reach Ottawa by noon, March 1.” 

February 25, 1921 

Ottawa Museum was Parliament 1916-1920

Charles Burkman reached Ottawa shortly after 7 pm, completing 876 of the 3,645 miles from the Garrison City to Vancouver.  This  was the young Burkman’s first visit to Ottawa, but he was not much interested in touring the city.  Rather he noted that the parliament buildings (destroyed by fire in 1916 and almost ready for re-occupancy) were a “must do.”  He was particularly interested in meeting the Prime Minister, Sir Arthur Meighen (who, unlike Mackenzie King, disappointed Burkman with his cold, charmless style).  “Can he survive the rumoured fall election with such personal failings?” wondered Charles.

As Burkman was leaving Ottawa, and the Behans nearing the Capital, The Herald reported a “not too shabby” hike by the Dills who had reached Onawa, Maine after encountering a fierce blizzard. “The kind you read about blowing around the Arctic Circle,” commented Jenny, adding: “However that isn’t much in a tramp to Vancouver.”  The self-proclaimed superwoman continued to show her mettle as the Dills hiked through the infamous wildcat territory of Maine. “We’ve heard a lot about the wildcats that nearly ate up the Behans,” she said, “and we were ready to tackle them on our way to Lambert Lake, but no such luck.” 

February 21, 1921 

Charles Burkman left Montreal after a 2 day visit.  The popular, happy-go-lucky daredevil may have danced the last night away (a reporter remarked that “Charlie . . . showed himself such an adept at terpsichorean art that he is being described as the man who is ‘dancing his way across the continent.’”) but he was up bright and early to pay a visit to La Presse to update his French speaking acquaintanced.  Then after getting his picture taken on the roof of the building he set off for Ottawa. 

February 19, 1921 

Charles Burkman reached Montreal on February 19 where he was accorded a hero’s welcome. A smitten Montreal Star reporter, Roy Carmichael described him as: “looking every inch the matinee idol of the silver screen . . . bronzed like an Indian and aglow with radiant health.  Asked about his status as the “lone hiker,” Burkman said that he could set any pace he liked, and walking 21 to 23 miles a day would bring him to Vancouver by July 4.  When asked about the effects of distance walking on his feet, Charles admitte what friends and family suspected, but did not want confirmed; he was suffering from “walker’s curse. 

Meanwhile the Behans continued to close the gap.  They were “spitting mad” over one of Mrs Dill’s candid comments to the reporter McNulty in St. John that Clifford was slowing down his father. “The statement is absolutely false,” wrote Clifford. “We are feeling in great shape and going through the country like a whirlwind.! 

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February 6, 1921

Windsor Jct Station

Tramping was difficult for the Dills during the entire weekend after leaving Windsor Junction: The hikers wandered off the track repeartedly, first into knee-deep, bone-chilling snow banks, and then into slush.  The going was a little better for Charles Burkman.  “Hello, Halifax,” he crowed. “I’m halfway to Montreal, and still 6 days ahead of Behans.”  The father and son team left St. John Sunday morning in freezing rain.  “Weather conditions were bloody awful,” Jack grumbled.

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