From Heaven to Hell(s Gate) - The Orca

From Heaven to Hell(s Gate)

Bob Price Large

BC’s road less travelled through the Fraser Canyon is a hidden gem.

Slow down, you’re moving too fast.

As British Columbians can attest, we live in a stunning province with unmatched scenery in every direction. But sadly, over the years, a need for speed has caused many to detour around our natural beauty. As a result, we are running the risk of missing an opportunity to learn about the province’s rich past.

“What I’d like to see is some recognition given back to the scenic and historic Fraser Canyon that it rightly deserves,” says Bernie Fandrich, president of the Lytton Chamber of Commerce.

While sharing the goals of a newly-formed stakeholder group which is attempting to gain government support for an effort to promote the Fraser Canyon, Fandrich is convinced that a lack of awareness has led to a widespread lack of knowledge about British Columbia’s exciting history.

Fandrich blames successive governments for consistently low traffic counts along the route.

“I think the Fraser Canyon has the potential of being a stunning destination for British Columbians and out province tourists,” says Fandrich who points to years of neglect.

“In one case, we wanted to have some garbage cans installed at one of the really scenic lookout points…but instead what happened was the contractor hauled in load after load of gravel and blocked the entire view,” says Fandrich, with a distinct tone of frustration.

Ministry of Transportation data confirms that while the speedy Coquihalla Highway has been the busiest route through the Interior since it opened May 16, 1986, traffic on the slower but more scenic Trans Canada has never returned to its historic heyday and the region’s economy has suffered.

Government officials note that while the average daily summer traffic count through the Fraser Canyon was 4,000 vehicles in 2009, that figure had only increased to 4,273 in 2016.

“I find it shocking, it makes me sad,” notes Margaret Stubson of Hope, operations manager of Yale Historic Site.

“We clearly need better signage and awareness as people drive by without evening noticing that we are here,” she regrets.

As one of many attractions along the Fraser Canyon route, Yale Historic Site only averages about 1,000 visitors per month. With proper promotion Stubson is convinced that figure could easily be 5,000.

“Our numbers are not particularly great” she says with a sigh.

For those who have never driven through the Fraser Canyon, a day of awe-inspiring scenery awaits, featuring the roar of the rapids, steep and rugged mountains, and seven uniquely different tunnels.

It’s a history lesson, too: at the height of the 1858 Gold Rush, Yale was the largest community north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Today, the Yale Historic Site pays homage to B.C.’s past with an excellent museum, onsite gold panning, and the gorgeous St. John the Divine church, built in 1863.

At Hells Gate, consider riding the tram, unique in that you start at the highway level and descend into the canyon. Hells Gate includes a museum about the river and the International Salmon Fishways built after an enormous rockslide – triggered during the building of the Canadian National Railway in 1913 – nearly wiped out the salmon run.

While local MLA Jackie Tegart describes the route through the Fraser Canyon as a “forgotten treasure,” and is cautiously optimistic that government officials have listened to local concerns and proposals, she is also keenly aware that no promises have yet been made.

“Our first move is to get a real strong proposal together for government so they know what we have in mind,” says Fandrich, “we are looking for a long term and very significant impact.”

In the meantime, British Columbians who haven’t driven through the Fraser Canyon recently (if ever) might want to consider the road less travelled.

After all, life is a highway, and this one comes with postcard views and fascinating facts.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.