A year ago

Jul 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

‘Happy Canada Day’

The English owner of the guest house looked up in surprise.

‘Oh yes, so it is.  I’m so busy, I lose track of the dates’.

It was a brilliant British Columbian summer’s morning.  The Canadian breakfast was huge and included fresh waffles covered in maple syrup.  How everyone in the country was not obese was a mystery; maybe because they all seemed to work so hard.

In Revelstoke, the season is short and is filled with frenetic activity as people attempt to earn sufficient to balance the books for another year.  The building of a new ski resort promises traffic to the town, but with much of it being some miles out, there seemed uncertainty as to how much business would come the way of town centre traders.

Breakfast complete, bags for the day were loaded into the Chevy Uplander hire car and we headed out.  If there is anywhere in the world which has a surplus of scenery, it is British Columbia.  Every bend in the road presented some new breathtaking scene.

If there was a problem on the journey there, it was that the road was Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway, it was the route used by colossal sized trucks covering those areas not reached by the mile long trains of the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways.  People were trying to make a living and tourists rolling along at thirty miles an hour were not helpful on a single carriageway road.  But on 1st July, the roads were quiet for the national holiday.

The object for the day was to drive up to Rogers Pass, a place that had been important in the building of the railroad in the 19th Century and try to find the location of Illecillewaet, where Katharine’s great uncle had been a gold prospector in 1909.  The staff at the national park visitor centre were busy with a rush of arrivals.

“Hi, I’d like to pay for our national park pass and I was wondering if someone could tell us anything about Illecillewaet?”

“It’s Canada Day and because it’s our national holiday, all the national parks are free.  I’m going to print a receipt for you.  Stick that on your windshield; it covers you for up to 4 pm tomorrow.”

The smiling staff member handed me the free pass.  “And if you can wait until 12.00, someone who can answer your questions will be in”.

A man arrived in before 12.00 who told us about all there was to know about Illecillewaet -it had never been much more than a line of wooden buildings beside the railway; the last traces of which had disappeared.  He gave us the telephone number of a local historian who might be able to offer more information.

If there were awards for the world’s friendliest people, British Columbia would be amongst the winners.

We set off to see more of the national park, open roads and brilliant facilities and smiling people – two days of it, completely free.

Ian Poulton is in Rwanda from 23rd June until 4th July.  This post was written before he left.

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