A warm throwback to earlier this summer

My home for a large chunk of my time here in Canuckistan has been a travel trailer – otherwise known as an RV, a camper or a tin can. But over the August long weekend I was evicted by its owners, who took it and themselves to a lake not far from here.

Said lake holds many memories for me. I decided to join them for the day to add to those.

But as I lie here in my mobile home perched on concrete blocks now, with temperatures dropping to the low negatives every night, I realize that I never blogged any photos from the lake. And this seems like the perfect time to rectify that – remembering the warmth of both the weather and the people.

One little lass took a particular shine to me. I suppose it’s because I noticed that she existed, and took a few photos of her riding her bicycle. I would be sitting at the water’s edge, just enjoying the peace, when out of the blue a tiny voice would be at my left shoulder regaling me with stories of when she went horse riding, and how she could also ride an inflatable seahorse and that she was more proficient (although she didn’t use that word exactly) on her bicycle than any of the horses.

And I would answer, “uh huh,” and “really?” and “well I never!” and then she would take off on new adventures, only to return just as I was getting lost in my thoughts to ask if I had noticed her beating the boys at rock throwing and sand castle building.

Another time I found her sobbing profoundly at the water’s edge because one of the brash bully boys had tipped her head-first off the water-horse or unicorn. But once I had assured her all would be okay, I propped her back on the water beast. Just like when the sun breaks out after a thunderstorm – the air fresh, the sky shimmering and the sun glowing and smiling with the most brilliant of beams – so was her face …

Often in life I have tried to hold on to relationships and people that were always going to be transient. Now I’m learning to let them go but to hold onto the memories – both the happy and the sad.

67 and 69 are just numbers, after all

A few years ago I visited Bob, a collector of cabins and other junk. Here he is:

Bob with the licence plate that holds the most significance for him.

Last week I was driving by his house and, as I often do with anyone I’ve met just once, felt I should stop to say hello. He was in the yard raking leaves.

I said hi from a safe distance, in case he had a shotgun stashed in his wheelbarrow. He looked like the type of person who might.

“Hi, I’m Robin. I visited you a few years ago and you gave me a tour of your cabins,” I explained.

“I don’t remember you. But I do have dementia, so I don’t remember much,” he replied with a smirk. “And you’ve got one of those forgettable faces, right?”

I chose not to take it personally. After all, the old guy did have dementia. Next, I thought I would ask if he had any old car licence plates that I could look through, to possibly buy.

“Well, I don’t have any of those, eh,” he replied.

“You don’t?” I asked, surprised. Because I knew he had lots the previous time I visited.

“Well, I may have a couple,” he responded dryly, after taking a long drag on his cigarette.

“I’m looking for a ’69,” I continued. “May I go and see?”

This is how the conversation progressed, as we walked down to the cabin coated in number plates.

“A ’67, you say?”

“No, a ’69,” I replied…

Staring at the cabin he hummed and hawed. “Nope, I don’t seem to have a ’67.”

“No worries, because I’m looking for a ’69,” said I, with no hint of sarcasm.

But he only had one ’69 and wasn’t willing to get rid of it. So I asked if I could take a photo of his licence plate shed, anyway.

He immediately refused, scared that people would see how many number plates he has and try to come and steal them.

“But no one will know where this is,” I tried to placate him.

But he was adamant: no photos! So I said goodbye after thanking him for letting me see the shed.

But as I was walking up the hill back to my car, he called after me. “Okay, it’s fine, you can take a photo!”

And so I did. In fact, I took two!

And I complimented him about how neatly he had hung them, and how cool his collection of other car-related knick-knacks was. I snapped one more photo.

Once we had exhausted all the small talk, and I had explained at least half a dozen more times who I was so he could tell his wife when she got home, I said goodbye.

But Bob had the last word.

“So you want a ’67, right? I’ll look out for one for you!”

Dementia, my foot! He was just having a grand old time pulling my leg!

Paper – at the core of a city

The lifeblood of Quesnel, the little town in the middle of the Cariboo, in the middle of British Columbia, in the west of Canuckistan has to be the lumber industry. Originally founded on the back of the 19th century gold rush, the town was known as Quesnellemouth, which was shortened to Quesnelle and finally Quesnel by the early 1900s.

Although Quesnel has always been tied to the timber industry, it was only in the 1940s that it really took off. This is how the local museum describes it: “In 1948 there were 33 registered sawmills within a 30 mile radius of Quesnel. By 1952 there were 180, plus 5 planer mills. As the decade progressed the number of mills declined as operations were consolidated into larger companies … Today, Forestry is the leading industry with two pulp mills, five sawmills, a plywood and MDF plant. The City’s main industrial area is the most concentrated wood-products-manufacturing area in North America.”

Once upon a time wood chips from the saw mills were simply dumped outside of town in ginormous landfills. Now they are all transported to one of the pulp mills around town and turned into pulp.

Cariboo Pulp and Paper Company

I visited one of those mills, Cariboo Pulp and Paper Company, recently. Pulp is produced either through a chemical or mechanical process. Cariboo Pulp uses the chemical method to produce 170,000 Metric Tonnes per year of what is called Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft pulp (NBSK). The pulp is made by mixing wood fibres with a solution of chemicals, and cooking them inside a digester. The solution is then washed, bleached, rolled into a huge sheet, dried and finally cut into smaller squares for transporting. Paper products, including printing and writing paper, as well as a range of tissue products are typically produced.

Apart from its core business, the mill is also responsible for the treatment of the city’s sewage.

Probably the most amazing thing to me, though, was the handful of employees I met who had worked for the company for over 40 years – especially considering the hot, humid, noisy environment.

Here then a little peek into the bowels of a pulp mill.

Searching out natural curiosities in a familiar neck of the woods

I hate shooting the same things twice. And when you live in a smallish community, it really does become difficult finding new subjects, and is challenging shooting old subjects in a fresh way.

Recently, though I headed south out of town towards Australian Creek with a friend. 25 minutes down highway 97 we pulled off left and off-loaded his “side by side” All Terrain Vehicle. Our first stop was a clump of rocks we had heard about earlier in the week. The rocks really are weird – dumped in a strip with nothing like them anywhere else in the region. What caused them? How did they come to be there? Maybe someone cleverer than I could answer that…

We walked a bit further and found a little waterfall (which I didn’t shoot because I was too lazy to walk down to its base) and then returned to the side by side. Because it was still light and we had found the rocks quickly, we then drove out to “Little Blue Lake,” explored an old hunting cabin filled with rat and bat droppings and a photogenic blue chair.

From there we drove out to Wineglass Falls, in the direction of French Road. I would never find them again but my companion knows the place like the back of his hand, and drove straight there down the old logging roads. What a special set of falls too! They plunge over a layer of hard rock, and down to what was probably once the sandstone river bed. As a result, the water has eaten out a shallow cave/bank that one can walk along. In the one end there is even an abandoned mine shaft (safely locked behind a rusty gate.)

The falls were beautiful enough in the summer, but I’m told that winter is when one really needs to see them – completely frozen in the shape of a wineglass, with a trickle of water often running down the centre.

At that we drove back along the power lines to our vehicle, loaded up the side by side and made it home in time for supper. New place to explore? Priceless.

A Curious Canucki Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

It just so happened that on the day we visited Barkerville (see yesterday’s post) they were celebrating something called the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. My companions assured me they had told me it would be happening, but I knew nothing about it until we walked through Barkerville’s front gates and I saw kids earnestly making lanterns.

Apart from the lantern making, where tourists could create their own, and then parade with them just before the park closed, there were tours of Chinatown, cultural sessions, Chinese games and typical Chinese meals served.

Once it got dark, everyone who had stuck it out were treated to lion and dragon dances, music and dance solos. I’m out of words, so here are the photos.

Exploring a Cariboo gold-rush town

Eighty kilometres east of Quesnel, along BC Highway 26, lies Barkerville, the most well-known town from the Cariboo gold rush in the 1860s. The town sprung up quickly after Billy Barker (after whom the town is named) struck it rich on Williams Creek (which flows through town). The town burnt down a few years later and was rebuilt within months with better boardwalks, better buildings and wider streets.

By the mid 1860s the town had a population of around 5,000 and by the 1880s there were enough children in town for the first school to be built. But, within 40 years of it booming, as gold became more difficult to mine, and yields became more scarce, it went bust. Only a handful of miners stayed, barely eking out a living.

Most gold rush towns from this era have disappeared but in 1924 Barkerville was declared a National Historic Site of Canada, and in 1957 the government of British Columbia decided that the town should be restored and run as a tourist attraction. Since then it has operated as the Barkerville Historic Town, with anywhere between 50,000-60,000 annual visitors. It consists of 107 heritage buildings, 62 replica heritage buildings and over 200,000 authentic collection items.

Summer is an absolute hive of activity, with several activities offered to tourists daily. These include hands-on gold panning, town tours, the Theatre Royal’s productions in the Williams Creek Fire Brigade building, Anglican Church services and stage-coach rides.

Actors playing the part of town inhabitants from the 1860s can be found throughout town – from singing in the street, to serving Barkerville beer in the local pub, from drinking tea outside the local hotel to giving lessons in the schoolhouse to willing tourists. I tried to get them to break character, but to no avail. True professionals!

There really was plenty to do in town, and by the end of the day, after attending the “Mid Autumn Moon Festival” in the evening, I was exhausted. (I’ll have to do a separate blog on the festival later in the week.)

Previously I visited the town in winter, when it was all closed up and shut down, but in recent years they have expanded their repertoire and now offer winter activities too.

Here, though, are a few photos from around town last weekend, including many of the characters we encountered.

Mesmerising. Eerie. Smoky. Soup.

Last year this time I was sitting in South Africa reading people’s reactions to the smoke lying heavy over British Columbia (B.C.) because of wildfires. And I thought to myself, “I sure am pleased I’m not there for that. My lungs would be a mess!”

This year I am here, and the wildfires are back with a vengeance, and not far from town. Here is today’s graphic of all the fires burning in B.C. (We are around half way up, just south of Prince George on the map and east of the two “wildfires of note” right next to each other.)

I haven’t gone out much and my lungs have (mostly) survived, because of well-insulated homes with air conditioning. But every morning one finds one’s car coated in a fluffy grey film. Today seemed worse than the previous few weeks, with ash dancing like light autumn snow in the dusk-like morn. At around 1.44pm everything went burnt-orange dark. It reminded me of the solar eclipse I experienced a few years ago, but this was caused by a thick cloud of ash and smoke apparently blowing down from the Shovel Lake fire west of Prince George, estimated at 79,000 hectares.

Wrap your mind around the sheer size of the wildfire, and the impossible task firefighters face in bringing it under control. And this is only one of around 550 wildfires currently burning in B.C.

While others were lamenting the conditions on Facebook, I grabbed my camera bag and something to wrap around my face and drove to shoot my “favourite model” – a gutted church on “First Nations” land not far from where I am staying.

Very dark. And very orange. Quite eerie!
Around ten minutes later, with things clearing up a bit. One friend on FB called it mesmerising, and it was.
20 minutes later, and more like what we have seen many afternoons for the last few weeks.

The B.C. government declared a state of emergency this week, and there is no end in sight of the wildfire season, with hot dry conditions predicted for at least the next few weeks. With my lungs finally bemoaning the bad air, I think I’m going to take myself down south to the cleaner climes of the lower mainland and Washington State.

See you back here in Autumn.

In search of dragon boats on Dragon Lake

I had been asked to take photos yesterday evening of a group of Dragon Boaters, the Dragon Lake Paddlers (named after the lake at which they train.) I wolfed down my supper and rushed off to their boat launch at Pioneer Park on the south-western shore of Dragon Lake.

The group, which was formed in 2008, currently has two dragon boats but when I arrived at their headquarters everything was locked up tight and the only people on the dock were a middle-aged couple walking their two dogs. They told me training had been cancelled because of the bad air.

British Columbia finds itself in a state of emergency because of hundreds of wildfires burning out of control. Quesnel (where I live) and Williams Lake just south of here are at the epicentre of some of the worst fires, and currently also boast the worst air quality because of all the smoke and ash.

“Dragon Boating is pretty strenuous,” the woman told me, “and so we had to cancel. Most of the club members aren’t spring chickens anymore, and we need every bit of oxygen we can get when paddling!”

Off they went, but I stayed to enjoy the peace and pastel colours. And then some geese flew over. Not one to waste a gift of a photo opportunity, I shot them and the landscape.


Not the rodeo I’ve grown to love

Five years ago I attended my first rodeo here in Quesnel, British Columbia. I had no idea what to expect and absolutely loved it – especially as the sun went down across the arena, blanketing the riders in a golden glow. A couple of years ago I went back and had a blast playing with different shooting techniques with only a 105mm macro lens. Although the results were a bit different to the norm, I was still very happy.

When I heard I’d be in town at the same time as this year’s rodeo I immediately pencilled it into my mental calendar. But this year was weird. It was a dull, overcast day, which seemed to affect both riders and animals and a lethargy hung heavy over the event. Several of the bulls or broncos simply refused to exit the stalls, and new rides had to be organised. There also didn’t seem to be as many competitors as normal, which meant several rode twice. I know of a handful who would normally have competed but didn’t.

Maybe another reason I just wasn’t as into it was that I was there alone, so couldn’t turn to anyone and say, “wow did you see those roping skills” or “how awesome was that ride?” And strangers never seem to appreciate my unforeseen cheery banter.

But hey, I was there, so I shot away as I always do. And there are a few classic moments captured. Enjoy!


Just cruising Cariboo’s back-trails

Yesterday I started telling the story about our trip along the Yank’s Peak trail, and how I was wondering who the “yank,” after whom the peak was named, was.

Let’s continue from where I left off.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot next to the Cariboo River, just downriver from the Lower Cariboo Falls. A few of the guys tried fishing but didn’t catch anything of significance.

After lunch we took a different route back to where our vehicles were parked – up past Little Snowshoe Creek, one of the myriad of creeks that course through the Cariboo back country. It was these gold-carrying streams that drew many fortune-seekers to the area in the 1860s. One of those was William “The Live Yank” Luce, who was originally from either Maine or Massachusetts (depending on which history book you read) but had participated in the California gold rush.

There are two versions as to how Luce got his nickname. The first is that he got it from his first claim in the Cariboo, “The Live Yank” at Harvey Creek. The second is that he was given the nickname by a reporter from Barkerville’s Cariboo Sentinel, who visited him several times to write about his mining and hunting exploits.

In 1866 the reporter wrote, “The Live Yankee has every faith in his old quartz lead on Snowshoe and intends to resume work on it as soon as he makes a little money.”

Over the years Luce staked several claims in the area, including one on Little Snowshoe Creek, where he built himself a cabin. With so many people travelling through the area on their way to and from the Cariboo goldfields, Luce eventually turned his cabin into a makeshift hotel. It seems as if Luce made most of his money from this “hotel”.

One of the funnier stories attributed to the Live Yank’s Hotel was louse racing. The story goes that the hotel’s patrons would place lice or bedbugs (which were plentiful) on plates and bet on which would be the first to cross from one side of the plate to the other. Sometimes the plates would be heated to encourage the little critters to run faster, allowing more “races” to be run each evening.

Despite the fact that gold mining in the area started tailing off by the 1870s, Luce remained at Snowshoe Creek. In May 1881 The Live Yank died of heart failure at the ripe young age of 60. There is both a creek and a peak named after him, and we even discovered the cemetery where he was buried – a few hundred metres up from a random cabin, Tom Kinvig’s cabin.

Tom Kinvig’s cabin was the site of a gold-rush era general dealer, Borland’s Store (I believe it was called). I read somewhere that Tom’s daughter mined from her father’s cabin for many years. But we didn’t stay long enough to find out who was staying there now, what with laundry hanging on a makeshift line, and a mosquito coil burning in the corner. It had been a long day and we were anxious to get back to our vehicles.

It was a long, 10-hour day in the saddle (in a manner of speaking) and well worth it!

Discovering the yank after whom the peak was named

I had never heard of Yank’s Peak before coming to the Cariboo. When some friends decided to load up their all-terrain vehicles to drive up to said peak and asked if I wanted to come along, all I could think was, “What a weird name for a mountain. And I wonder who the yank was?”

Well, we drove out towards Barkerville, the gold-rush town, and swung left just before reaching it, onto dusty Matthew Valley Road. At Antler Creek Road (which I can tell you is a stretch to call it a road) we offloaded the 4-wheelers and then tore down the road and onto a small track, which would take us up to Yank’s Peak.


After stopping for a while to admire the stunning scenery we continued up narrow trails more used by snowmobiles in winter than off-road vehicles. We would have loved to take a detour to the see the safety cabin perched on a rocky outcrop across the valley, but that has been banned in the summer months because of damage already done to the fragile sub-alpine ecosystem.

But I digress.

The next stop on our planned route was Keithley Creek, another gold-rush landmark. Bringing up the rear of the convoy, we got to eat dust most of the way there. Fortunately we got a bit of break when the rest of the group screeched to a halt to point out a grouse – the only wildlife we saw the whole day.


Although there isn’t much to show for its gold-rush history, there is one interesting thing about Keithley Creek. Nay, two things even. The first is its cemetery, with graves dating back to the 1800s, and a detailed history of everyone buried there and what they died from. The second is the library – the smallest in the Cariboo. It’s unmanned and housed in a tiny hut next to the cemetery. One of our party found a couple of Calvin & Hobbes books to check out until they return – whenever that may be.

By the time we were done exploring the cemetery and library we were all famished and decided to find somewhere to stop for lunch. Fortunately two members of the group knew the area like the backs of their hands and led us straight to the perfect spot, which no-one would find if they didn’t know it was there. I’ll give you a sneak peek of the lunch spot, but for the rest of the journey and to find out who the yank the title refers to is, you will need to come back tomorrow …

Quesnel’s Bridges

Quesnel, the Cariboo town of around 12,000 inhabitants, lies at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel rivers. It also lies on the main route to northern British Columbia and the Yukon, with Highway 97 running right through town.

Originally the commercial centre of the Cariboo Gold Rush, Quesnel now owes its existence mainly to the forest industry, including several mills. As a result, the rail yard is a hive of activity for the distribution of plywood, MDF, pulp products and lumber.

Obviously this means that the town boasts several bridges – three road, two rail and one walking – over both the Fraser and Quesnel rivers. Sadly, most of them are not very pretty bridges, with the exception of the walking bridge – but I decided to document them anyway.

All the photos were shot handheld.

The Quesnel River Bridge (part of Highway 97) in the foreground, with the rail bridge behind it. Shot from Red Bluff.

This rail bridge links Cariboo Pulp and Paper with the rail yard.

The rail bridge from upriver.
A nice sloooooow shutter speed at dusk, shot from the south shore of the Quesnel River.

Next, we have Highway 97’s Quesnel River Bridge.

This was shot late at night. The golden colour is purely as a result of the bridge’s lights.
Quesnel River Bridge and a passing truck.

Downriver from the Quesnel River Bridge is the Johnston Bridge, which links the city to Johnston Sub(division). It is without doubt the most unappealing of them all. The first (wooden) bridge in this spot was built in the 1800s, with the current bridge, built with steel beams and open deck grating, being completed in 1974.

All I got was a sunset photo across the Johnston bridge towards town.

A few hundred metres downriver is the CN Railway Bridge, the main rail route out of the city.

The CN Railway Bridge at dusk.
The bridge served as the perfect backdrop for wedding photos last year.

Next across, and on the Fraser this time, is Moffat Bridge, which links Quesnel to West Quesnel. It opened to traffic in 1971. Again, not really one of the more photographed bridges in town, but fortunately the evening I went to photograph it, a light fog drifted in, making for some nice moody shots.

Moffat Bridge shot from the Fraser River’s east bank.

Next I got a nice little wide-angle of both Moffat Bridge and the Old Fraser River Bridge. At 831 feet (253m) long, the wooden bridge is apparently the longest wooden-truss walking bridge in the world. It was officially opened in March 1929, with traffic limited to pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, cattle and the occasional motor vehicle. As the lumber industry grew though, the bridge became inadequate for the increased traffic and large logging trucks, eventually leading to Moffat Bridge being built. Finally, in 2010, the walking bridge was restored and a programmable lighting array was installed.

Moffat Bridge on the left, and the wooden walking bridge on the right.
The wooden-truss bridge shot from the east bank.

Et voila! There you have them – Quesnel’s six bridges in vivid colour.

Finally shooting Quesnel’s “little people”

I lived in Quesnel for about two years in 2013/2014 and shot pretty much anything of significance. But, strangely enough, I never got around to tracking down its painted fire hydrants. Until now.

So, what’s the story behind them? In 2001 the Quesnel Downtown Association decided to paint some of the fire hydrants to represent historical figures important to the town. They approached sponsors, who got to choose who they wanted represented, and then artist Leigh Cassidy got to work.

There are now 23 publicly-viewable fire hydrants, several of which have been repainted (and so look a bit different to their original versions). Gas Jockey and Blacksmith look completely different and it seems that the Hockey Player was replaced by a Dogsled Dog.

Oh, there are some funky angles because all I had was a wide angle lens. But here they are. And if anyone can tell me where to find “Betty Boop,” I will go and shoot her too.

If you would like to read more about each fire hydrant, here’s the pdf produced by the city.

To the Beaver’s brook in black and white

I’m trying to take in as much of this area as possible in my last few days here. On a cloudy day this week I drove down to the Beavermouth Creek out along the Quesnel Hydraulic Road. (That was where I saw and shot the fox.) And, what with it being overcast, the photos just work better in black and white. All except the last few at Dragon Lake, which I passed on the way home in the perfect light.