Driving across Canada is a big undertaking. You'll encounter high winds, harsh weather, different types of topography, and roads of varying quality. But it’s an adventure — something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You’ll meet other travelers, overcome obstacles, and have stories to share for years to come.
When you think of a cross-country road trip, particularly across this diverse country, SUVs and camper vans often come to mind. But we spoke to someone who did it in one of the smallest cars out there: a 1998 Mini Cooper. This summer, Jeff Mayer — who had never been farther north than Sudbury — took his Mini over 10,000 km from Toronto to Tofino and back on an unforgettable journey through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and finally British Columbia. And now, he’s recommending that every Canadian who dreams of road tripping the Great White North get out there and do it.
"With it being the 60th anniversary of MINI this year, I thought, why not take the Mini Cooper? This is a great way to celebrate... It was the greatest road trip of my life, and I can’t imagine a better car [for the job]," Jeff told Narcity.
If you thought MINIs were reserved for city driving, think again. For 60 years, the company behind the classic car has challenged conventions to revolutionize the idea of what an automobile can be. In addition to its iconic design and spirited performance, every MINI has go-kart handling, a personalized drive, creative use of space, and a surprising size that's much more spacious than its name implies.
In fact, thanks to its unique agile handling, MINI has a proven racing pedigree. In the early 60s, the city car went from underdog to top dog at the most-glamorous race in the world, the Monte Carlo Rally. From the first spectacular victories at the Monte Carlo Rally to the Dakar Rally and the FIA World Cup, MINI Motorsports teams have maintained a winning tradition for over five decades.
There's no doubting, then, why Jeff Mayer decided to take his Mini Cooper across Canada on the road trip of a lifetime. In this exclusive interview with Narcity, Jeff discusses his experience driving over 10,000 km in his 1998 Mini Cooper, his favourite spots in Canada, and why he recommends the MINI as the ultimate road trip car.
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
Can you tell us a little about your Mini?
My Mini is a right-hand drive 1998 Mini Cooper imported from Japan. It’s red with a white roof and bonnet stripes.
Canada is a beautiful country, but road tripping across it is not something you hear about too often. What inspired you to take the trip?
I have lived in the Greater Toronto Area my whole life, and I had never been farther north than Sudbury, Ontario. I’ve driven to Prince Edward Island before, so I wanted to see the rest of our beautiful country. The main inspiration was that I’ve always wanted to try surfing. I found out that Canada has a surf town, Tofino. It's located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. So I was inspired to drive there to do the two things I’ve always wanted to do: see Canada and surf.
What made you decide to take your Mini on a road trip?
Every time I take my Mini out for a drive, it makes me smile. It brings me joy and the general public seems to enjoy it as well! I always get a thumbs up and people taking photos of me when I drive it. With it being the 60th anniversary of the brand this year, I thought, why not take the Mini? This is a great way to celebrate. I knew driving a classic car across most of Canada would have its challenges, but that just makes it more exciting!
How did travelling with a MINI make your experience special?
My Mini broke down on the second day of my trip about 2,000 km from Toronto. I was just outside of Kenora, Ontario. I posted a picture of my Mini on the side of the road to the Ontario Mini Group on Facebook asking for help. It was a Friday evening, and all the automotive shops and stores were closed until Monday.
Lucky for me, Dave, the owner of Classic Car Adventures, saw my post and put me in contact with Classic Motor Works, a Mini shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I had my Mini towed there the next day. They opened up for me on a Saturday night and installed a new wheel bearing. They also fed me, gave me tea, and packed me a lunch to go. This break down turned into a highlight of the trip for me! So many people came together and went out of their way to help a stranded stranger. It was very humbling. I owe it all to the wonderful people in the MINI community.
Tell us a little bit about your trip. When was it? What was your most memorable moment from the trip?
My trip was mid-June to July 1, 2019. My most memorable moment was during my journey back home when I hiked up the Big Beehive Trail at Lake Louise. I got to the very top and sat down to rest and take in the views. As I looked down, I could see my Mini! It was perfectly centered in a break in the tree line.
As I was reflecting upon my trip, a chipmunk jumped up onto my leg and just sat with its back facing me. Together, we enjoyed the views of the mountains and the blue waters of Lake Louise!
Who joined you on the road trip? Did you meet anyone along the way?
Nobody was crazy enough to join me, but I had two friends fly out to meet me in Vancouver. We met on the Horseshoe Bay Ferry to Vancouver Island. We drove to Tofino and went surfing together. I also visited a friend who moved from Ontario to Penticton, British Columbia. Although it was a solo road trip, it never felt that way. The MINI community was following my adventure through the Ontario Mini Facebook Group and eventually demanding daily updates as they wanted to track my progress and cheer me on!
Which province was your favourite to visit and why?
British Columbia was my favourite because it’s so foreign to me. It may sound silly, but I had no idea that Canada has rainforests or bald eagles! It was a geographical shock. I loved the clean ocean air and all the amazing winding roads, specifically the Sea to Sky Highway.
Did you learn anything in particular about Canada? Did you uncover any hidden gems, see any breathtaking sights that are a little off the beaten path, eat a dish that’s not popular nationally but should be?
I learned that Canada is truly massive! In the time it took me to drive up and out of Ontario, I could have been in Florida had I gone south. Northern Ontario is beautiful when the thick morning mist is hit by the sunrise — just watch out for moose. The best thing I ate was a Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo, delicious!
If given the chance, would you do this road trip again in your Mini? Would you recommend other people do this as well?
I would absolutely do it again! It was the greatest road trip of my life, and I can’t imagine a better car. Well, perhaps a modern MINI JCW would be ideal for next time!
What’s the one destination you would like to drive to in your Mini and why?
I would like to drive my Mini down to the Tail of the Dragon (a famous 27 km drive in North Carolina that’s known for its twists and turns). I love the way the MINI handles corners, and that should give me my fix until the next adventure my Classic Mini brings me.