On Monday, Sept. 10 a fully loaded bus of 20 seniors set out on an adventure. Wells Gray Country Seniors’ Society sponsored this trip and the destination was Little Hells Gate Regional Park, just north of Avola.
Long time Avola residents Eleanor and Kevin Deckert met the bus at the viewing platform at Little Hells Gate. Immediately Kevin introduced the group to the sport of geo-caching by sharing a traveling item he had found nearby. He will take the item home, log into the computer and record his find before leaving the item in another cache at a different location for another person to find.
Much ohhing and awing was heard as the folks viewed the narrow canyon and imagined how the river had turned itself on its side to rush through. Greg Gregory, a retired CNR employee pointed out the railway barely visible through the trees high above the canyon. He had spent many years keeping the signals working all along this line.
Kevin told the history of laying out the road into the canyon and the construction of the viewing platform. He told stories about rescuing a family in trouble as they tried to canoe the North Thompson River above the rapids. He told about a passenger train out of Blue River, breaking an axle and falling on its side. Being a first responder, Kevin helped to rescue 250 passengers from that remote part of the line. He commented that it was by the generosity of the folks in the area that all were cared for.
When the rain sent us back to the bus we were eager to hear more stories in the comfort of The Log Inn Pub in Avola.
After ordering our food and getting our drinks, Cheryl Thomas, who lived in Avola for 17 years many years ago, recounted some of Avola’s history. She talked about the large camps of construction workers and CNR employees. She reminisced about the store she owned and what life was like “back then”.
Muriel Dunford spoke about her first teaching job. She was hired right out of high school in 1947 to be the teacher of eight or nine children in the one room school at Avola. She said the children made a nice little class and she was able to make enough money to go to Normal School and become a qualified teacher.
Kevin was hired as a rail bike patrolman in 1978. His job was to pedal the rail bike about 30 kilometers a night, keeping the tracks clear of obstacles from Avola to the Messiter Summit. He reminded us that the bike had no heat and in the dark he often came across wild animals. He commented that more CNR employees were injured from teasing bears than from work related accidents.
Kevin mused about the change in technology he experienced in his career. He started with a hand-cranked radio that was patched into the telegraph wire after climbing the pole and ended with a laptop computer. When working on the railway, timing is everything.
Jean Iwaszkiw and her husband John came from London England in 1955. Fresh from surviving World War Two they lived at Messiter for 18 months. John’s job was to shovel the ice out of the tunnel and help keep the tracks safe for the trains. The tunnel was such a problem with continuous ice build-up it was eventually blasted out.
“This is a historic day for Avola.” said Eleanor as she took a break after efficiently serving lunch to all. “It is the first time a bus tour from Clearwater has made the trip back into Avola’s past.”
All agreed that the stories told were enjoyable and there is a pressing need for the history of the area to continue to be recorded.