Travelling west on Highway 16 took us through familiar territory. Our picnic lunch site at Beaumont Provincial Park by Fraser Lake was pretty but noisy. Workmen raked, shovelled and scooped; a small machine moved gravel; their supervisor stood rooted in one spot doing nothing. Nearby, kids played on the sandy beach, and in the lake.
Waste piles from Endako Mine are now high enough to be seen from the highway; with thoughts of the recent disaster at Mount Polley Mine, we wondered aloud about the tailings pond above us. Passing through the almost defunct community of Endako, husband John told me the story of its demise: “It could have been a booming metropolis, but folks living there when the mine was preparing for production were too greedy. Land prices sky-rocketed. ‘Phooey!’ said the company, Canex. ‘We will build elsewhere.’ And so the township of Fraser Lake was born while Endako basically died.” A decrepit hotel remains.
Approaching Burns Lake, John stated he had no wish to linger in the town where he was born. However, he peered around curiously, trying to recognize roads and older buildings. Next came Dekker Lake where he pointed out the school that friend Sandra had attended. Soon after leaving there, we noted a huge fire developing south of the highway, but no sign of any aircraft swooping in. Colourful but deadly, clouds thickened close to us and spotty small fires burned on the hillsides. We left that scene briefly, turning north at Topley, to see if we could stay by Babine Lake. Brilliant sunshine glittered on its ripples, but all resorts were full, so we returned to the small community of Topley. Coming closer to the highway, we saw flames flickering higher and redder on its far side. Taking a chance that all would be well, we stayed there that night. The waitress in the local restaurant had made a fast trip to her home, closer to the fire, to pick up her dog and essentials, her husband working away. Locals coming to eat kept offering her accommodation so we knew she was well-cared for, but do not know if her place survived. The following day, Highway 16 was closed west of Burns Lake, traffic detoured for many miles to stay south of the fire.
Leaving that scary scene behind us, we continued west to Moricetown. First Nations men were fishing in the white water where the Bulkley River squeezes into a steep-sided canyon. Despite precarious footholds and safety ropes, their actions resembled a dance: cast the net, tug ashore strongly with catch, carry to nearby partner, upend net to release catch to his safe-keeping and return to the canyon’s precipitous edge once more.
By staying in New Hazelton that night, we were able to visit Old Hazelton and nearby Ksan at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers in the early morning, to view its intricately-carved totem poles. After shopping in Smithers, we drove to Kitwanga. Here, some 500 km after leaving Prince George, we pointed the car north towards the Alaska Highway.