the ghosts arrived

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.

P1100680A 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):

P1100679The 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:

Cariboo_RoadAt 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…

the marriage of rivers

We’re on a little road trip, a spur-of-the-moment whim to travel into the Thompson-Nicola area for a few days. We drove up the Fraser Canyon, a route that is deeply nostalgic in all kinds of ways. Signs remind the traveller of the goldrush and the building of the Cariboo Wagon Road begun in 1860 and the highway winds past the old Alexandria Bridge, the lodge, a hundred small reminders of those times. And this was the route my family took regularly when I was a child¬† — I recall my father announcing various places along the way (“Children, look at Jackass Mountain!” or “We’ll stop in Spences Bridge to stretch our legs” or “If you don’t talk until Boston Bar, we’ll have ice-cream…”). I loved the hot air — the Canyon is like a funnel in summer and there are wonderful archival photographs showing how the Native people used the heat and wind to air-dry salmon on racks above the river. I always hoped to see a rattlesnake but had to wait until I was an adult to see one on a road near Cache Creek. I loved the pines and the wildflowers and waking in our tent in the mornings to the smell of sage.

This is also the route John and I took on trips to the Interior with our own children so there is an added layer of nostalgia as we remember camping at Skihist, stopping for ice-cream at Boston Bar, walking a length of the old Wagon Road near Lytton. And there’s now another layer too as we stood at the Skihist picnic area and looked down to see the Thompson River racing towards it marriage with the Fraser and recalled rafting that length a few years ago with Forrest, a special gift to celebrate his successful defence of his PhD dissertation on British Columbia history. Here’s the Thompson, seen on a cold March day:

the Thompson River

We’re looking forward to taking Brendan and Cristen on the rafting adventure this August (to celebrate their defences a few years ago and now Brendan’s appointment as a tenure-track professor of math at the University of Alberta) when I hope the water will look less forbidding than this. (Seriously, that raft trip was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done! We paddled from Spences Bridge to Lytton, swirling out at the end in the wonderful confluence where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet, two colours of water flowing side by side for a time, then merging…)

And here’s the little pre-1900 Nlak’pamux church at Pukhaist which I’ve looked at in its isolation below the talus slope as long as I can remember. My father pointed it out when I was a child and I pointed it out to my children and I hope it will still be there in years to come so I can show it to my grandchildren…

old church at Pokhaist