Down Canadian Roads Part 10

Rockies near Banff, Alberta


Rockies near Banff, Alberta

Going Home: The Journey Ends, the Odyssey Continues

From Montreal we have traveled close to 4000 kilometres already. We spend a clear night under the stars in a campsite south of Jasper, Alberta while under moonlight the mountains sparkle. We then retrace our path back south on the Columbia Icefield Parkway. We have the impression that our life’s adventure is just beginning. Not yet 24 hours since we have arrived in these magnificent mountains and we have already been transformed. It is difficult to contemplate the idea of leaving all this to return to familiar past landscapes.

Past Field, the border community between Alberta and B.C., the dramatic Mountain Parks continue into British Columbia. Yoho National Park has a primeval quality and archeological studies of the Burgess Shale geological formations in this region confirm this impression. In today’s mountain setting, well preserved fossils have revealed evidence of creatures living over 500 million years ago in an ocean environment. Geological forces are still actively and obviously at work shaping a future landscape in a narrow valley with steep canyon walls, dominated noisily by the Kicking Horse River. Only the “Under Reconstruction” or “Evolution in Progress” sign is missing from the scene.

Our sense of the primeval is frequently punctuated by the whistle, the screams and groans and the laborious chuff-chuff-chuffing of monstrously long trains going through a network of spiral tunnels carved into the mountains. At points, the leading end of the train enters a tunnel on one level and another part of it is leaving another tunnel vertically above or below the leading end. The canyon rock face walls duplicate and magnify the echoes of  these machines straining, snaking, crawling, clutching on to narrow terraced switchbacks perched precariously above the frothing, tumbling Kicking Horse River: a strangely thundering, hybrid symphony of nature and industrial man, swirling wind and gushing water in concert with scraping, screeching, rumbling mechanical locomotion, echoing, echoing, being duplicated, echoing, being reduplicated, echoing, echoing, subsiding, echoing, subsiding, echoing, fading as the machine leaves the valley, fading fading…(Photo to be appended later)

We pass Golden, B.C. where the Kicking Horse River joins the Columbia River. By now we are on the western side of the Continental Divide and the Pacific Ocean will be the beneficiary of the abundant, gushing flows of many beautiful rivers flowing from these mountains.

Traveling ever west, we enter Glacier National Park, the location of Rogers Pass. With an elevation of 1323 metres (4534 ft.), Rogers Pass is a formidable obstacle to the Trans Canada rail and highway transportation routes. Ten to fifteen metres of snow annually have forced engineers to create structures against the frequent and devastating avalanches which are produced in winter from the precipitation in this interior rainforest. The tunnels and snow sheds give some security to the many trains passing through this danger zone. The Mount Macdonald Tunnel at 14.7 kilometres (9.1 miles) is the longest of these barriers of protection against the dangers of avalanches. (Photo to be appended later)

Glacier National Park gives way to Mount Revelstoke National Park which shares with it the unique climatological designation of Interior Rainforest, situated more than 400 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean.

We head westward, Revelstoke, 3 Valley Gap, Illiciliwaet River. We gradually leave the mountains traveling on a plateau and regain a semblance of familiar terrain, coniferous forests and lakes not unlike the landscapes of Central and Southern Ontario.

We roll west: Sicamous, Salmon Arm , Sorrento, Chase. Between Kamloops and Cache Creek the Trans Canada Highway takes on a most unique aspect. The cultural clichés of Wild West movies all seem to come to life as we move. All the accessories of a Lone Ranger flick are present except the masked gang of bank robbers and the pursuing posse. The parched terrain through which we are traveling yields only dried grasses whipped by a hot wind.  Rounded bunches of hardy shrubs cling tenaciously onto the sides of rounded slopes. The brittle skeletons of stunted trees and the blackened members of makeshift fences pass through our mobile field of vision. Fittingly at Cache Creek we stock up with provisions, club sandwiches, Pepsi and the inevitable butter tart, that we will need on our passage into Cariboo, Gold Rush Country. (Photo to be appended later)

At Cache Creek we leave the Trans Canada Highway and head north, still 250 kilometres from the West Coast. The West Coast will wait a year. The need to establish a residence for our family, soon to be four, and the concerns of starting a new job in an unknown environment now replace the aspect of exploration and adventure which has marked the trip thus far. The 4400 kilometres we have traveled from Montreal have left their imprint on us in ways which will take a lifetime to assess and appreciate. The drama and the exhilaration of yesterday’s Rockies subside as we move increasingly into a gentle country on a plateau with grand sweeping vistas of the Fraser River. We head north on Highway 97, the Cariboo Highway, gradually leaving the hardscrabble, dusty, arid yet fascinating, highland steppes.

North of Clinton more familiar terrain reappears: coniferous forests, mixed farms, lakes, rivers and small communities: 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Mcleese Lake, Quesnel, Hixon, Stone Creek, Prince George.

Home to the Unfamiliar

Our arrival in Prince George in mid July 1969 is somewhat anticlimactic. The trans Canada journey has been filled with a sense of such beauty and grandeur that Shangri-la would be the only worthy destination to end it. About 50 kilometres south of Prince George we are greeted by a series of cloud bursts that dump a mixture of precipitation, ice pellets and fat, flattish flakes that resemble snow. At a latitude of almost 54 degrees north we will be visited regularly by Arctic outflows and with the added influence of the Pacific Ocean we will also learn to expect autumn days and nights in summer and regular spring thaws in winter.

For the next 22 years home will be in or close to a small city near the geographical centre of British Columbia, 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the West Coast. At Prince George our call to adventure, “Go Northwest” has come to an end. We settle into a community sitting at the hub of two major highways which bisect the Province, Highway 97 running north from the southern population base of B.C. joins the Alaska Highway and Highway 16 lying on an east to west axis from the Alberta border near Jasper to Prince Rupert on the North West Coast of British Columbia.

Mount Robson, at Hwy, 16, The Yellowhead Route, B.C.

Mount Robson, at Hwy, 16, The Yellowhead Route, B.C.

Also at the hub of two major rivers, the important Fraser and the Nechako the abundant water supply and the existence of a reliable supply of wood from surrounding forests, this isolated and energetic City  has become within the last decade the industrial base of a vast geographical area in the north central part of the Province. Since 1964 three major Pulp and Paper Mills have been established here along with many lumber and plywood mills.

We are among many newly arrived young people seeking our fortune in a region which a century before had seen fortune seekers pulled to Cariboo gold streams around Barkerville, east of Quesnel. In autumn and in winter atmospheric inversions frequently impede the outflow of air from the sunken residential area of the city. At those times the heady, sulphurous bouquet of pulp mill emissions pervades the city in a generously fetid blanket. In  some magical, metaphysical, alchemy the unpleasant odour is refined then reborn as prosperity, “the smell of gold ” the colourful Mayor Harold Moffat would remind us. The statistics of most prosperous Canadian cities based on annual average salaries in that era would frequently support the claim. Prince George would be among the 10 most affluent cities along with other industrial based communities, Oshawa, Sudbury and Sarnia among others. And we citizens of this municipality, beneficiaries of the exploitation of the surrounding forests, can reformulate in 1969 the dictum of the toothless old Sourdough Prospector announcing the Gold Rush: “there’s gold in them thar mills.”

The month between our arrival and the orientation period before the start of the school year is barely enough to accomplish the necessary: rent an apartment, purchase furnishings and stock up on household provisions and locate a doctor to ensure the safe arrival of our Trans Canada stowaway Baby in Deanne’s belly. From Fredrickton, New Brunswick in February until September in B.C. she had traversed New Brunswick, Quebec Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in cramped confines within her Mother before emerging in B.C. late one unseasonally warm evening in September in the Prince George Regional Hospital.

Anita and Deanne, On board C.N. Train Jasper to Toronto, 1970

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