We drove up the Fraser Canyon this morning on the first day of a little road trip in service to the novella I’m currently at work on. What am I looking for exactly? I always say I have no idea but I’ll know when I find it. The novella is set partly in Lytton in the late 1970s. And in many ways the communities along the Fraser Canyon haven’t changed much. When the Coquihalla Highway opened in 1986, people predicted that the small towns along the length of the TransCanada highway from Hope to Cache Creek would suffer. And they did. Yale, Boston Bar, Lytton, Spences Bridge — places with interesting and vital history, with quirky restaurants and funky auto-courts, with ice-cream stands and old-fashioned service stations. We like to drive this route, particularly this time of year. The river is sinuous, the sage is pungent, fishermen stand in hip-waders in the eddies, hoping for steelhead.
We were hungry at Boston Bar so we stopped at the Old Towne Inn.
A homey interior with some antique stoves and photographs on the walls and big delicious burgers. The room was decorated for Halloween with wispy spider webs and pumpkins and a skeleton or two. And a few old ghosts from my past, Kenny Rogers singing “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille”, June Carter and Johnny Cash singing “Jackson” — I was in heaven. And then a green pick-up truck pulled up in front the place and a man began to unload actual ghosts. He placed them carefully in the front patio where people would sit in good weather (it was raining while we were eating our lunch):
The thing is, the Canyon is haunted. Train whistles, the original Alexandra Bridge visible from the current one, the overgrown remnants of the Cariboo Wagon Road, weathered barns and cabins, the faded signs from the auto-courts of the 1940s and 50s. I said to John, “When you enter the tunnels, you come out to something you never expected.” There are seven tunnels, all of them taking you through a mountain, so that you feel the weight of millions of years of rock on your chest. You feel the labour of those who created the tunnels, built between 1957 and 1964. And driving through them, you remember the photographs of the original wagon road taking miners and others from Yale to Barkerville:
At Lytton, we crossed the point where the Thompson River enters the Fraser and wound our way along Highway 12, past old ranches and rock slopes so precarious that we recalled a slide over the summer which closed the road to traffic for some days (and now there’s a sign with Big Slide on it, to which a wag has added “Really”), past sumac almost fluorescent in its fall colour —
— to Lillooet where we’re staying for the night, a town with its own ghosts –23 Bactrian camels and Ma Murray, fire-jumpers, Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki, Native fishermen and their fish-drying camps…And now Fort Berens Estate Winery with its beautiful tasting room and friendly dogs. We have a case of their award-winning wines in the trunk of our car as I write…