One of the happiest times of my late mother’s long life was her first year of marriage, before kids, before money pressures, before fortune’s ups and downs. It was 1945. After six years of war, the future lay open. Anything seemed possible. She had joined my father in Prince Rupert, where he was teaching, and about as far from where she grew up in the Fraser Valley as possible, while still remaining in B.C. She loved the stimulus of new discoveries, on her own, far from home for the first time. My mother also taught school, the newly-weds pleasantly ensconced in a few rooms on the lower floor of a two-story wooden boarding house. They were part of a lively, progressive community in Prince Rupert, earning decent salaries, and they were very happy. Forever after, when there was a soft rainfall in Newmarket, Ont., where she lived for more than 50 years, my mother would get that dreamy look in her eye and sigh: “This reminds me of Prince Rupert….”
After that blissful year in Rupert, however, my father snared a job in Vancouver, and off they went. Young and carfree, they decided to hitch-hike the nearly 1,000 miles to Prince George and down to the Coast.
My mother loved talking about that trip, how they stayed with people they met along the route, how they made a detour to pre-touristy Barkerville when they decided to look in on a miners’ strike in nearby Wells, and especially, their frightening trip with a truck driver through the Fraser Canyon. In those days, the Canyon “highway” was a dangerous, rutted, narrow road, full of precarious hairpin bends with few guardrails. The truck driver drove quickly, explaining that the faster he drove, the sooner he would get through the Canyon. Along the way, he would casually point to spots where drivers he knew had plunged over the edge. Luckily, my parents survived that terrifying section of their adventure, and here I am.
Years later, when we made a family trip across Canada, riding the new Fraser Canyon highway, tunneled, well-paved and safe, my mom would \shudder every time she glimpsed remnants of the old road down below.
All of which is an introduction to one of my favourite photos of my mother. That’s her hitch-hiking along Highway 16 on the old, historic Telkwa Bridge near Smithers, which still stands. She was 26.