When I was about five years old, my family would go to Gibson’s Landing in the summer to visit my father’s older half-brother, Uncle Gordon, and his wife. We travelled on a Union Steamship, the Lady Alexandra, one of the fleets they called “The Lady Ships.” It was a leisurely journey of about three hours, during which time we sat out on the deck eating a picnic lunch, reading, and playing card games.
Uncle Gordon and Auntie Annie lived in a small cottage on Franklin Road. What I remember most about my visits there, in addition to the sight and scent of the many roses on the trellised archway, Is the sunroom that was just inside the door, a crowded space where their travel mementos were featured. I was especially keen on the two painted and lacquered Chinese parasols. I hinted broadly that I would like to take one of them home with me, but to no avail. My mother explained that these were treasures from the trip Uncle Gordon and Auntie Annie had made during the Twenties. The Grand Tour, my mother said. A Trip of a Lifetime, said my aunt..
I think they made this trip in the 1920’s on one of CP Empress Liners of that period. They saved for a long time, travelled for months on this “round trip,” and enjoyed their souvenirs and memories for the rest of their lives. They had seen the world!
In those days of slow travel, they could not have conceived of making a trip to Italy and then another to Scotland and then Japan and then Britain… it was unimaginable! They dreamed, saved, planned, travelled and remembered.
By the time my parents had enough time and money to travel, airplane travel was commonplace. They flew twice overseas to see their old homes, visit family, attend a son’s wedding, and the also flew back east a few times to see children and Vancouver. My siblings and I were able, like many of our generation, to travel long distances frequently, greedily and thoughtlessly.
A few years ago, I read that there were 10,000 planes carrying well over a million people in the sky at any given time. Until now, the number of flights has been increasing exponentially every year for a few decades. But now, since the Covid Crisis began, everything has changed. Wikipedia reports that by April of this year over 80% of flight movements were restricted across all geographies, including North America, Europe and Asia. This has changed things. Many journalists have recently described clear waters, clean skies, new views of the Himalayas which had previously been veiled by smog. There are stories about animals taking over the streets and we are all hearing more birdsong than ever.
This won’t last, of course, but I can’t help wondering what post-Covid travel will be like. Will we take fewer trips, being very thoughtful about priorities, including the welfare of the environment? Maybe we will take long flights only once a year but extend our time away with side trips by train and boat. Maybe we will stay home and take the opportunity of leisurely forays into beautiful places close to where we live.
It’s too soon to tell, as Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was famously quoted as saying about the implications of the French Revolution – although it has since be said that he was referring to turmoil in France in 1968. Whatever the case, we will actually find out before long.