‘The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with
watches you shave his face in the mirror every morning.’
“Head towards Hope.” I said. It was the answer to Robyn’s question about how to get to Christina Lake, and the ultimate theme of the journey.
The grey waters of the mighty Fraser gave way to the large pink metal raspberries of the Abbotsford roundabout, and the village sign that marked our turnoff onto the bucolic pleasures of Highway Three. Experience Hope. But we had no time to stop for something so small. We drove by Hell’s Gate, past the salmon-clutching grizzly statue above the prairie dogs in Manley Park, and along the rows of rusted tractors and vintage cars through Keremeos, some with patty pan squash stuck in the parabolic hollows, where their headlights used to be. There was hot buttered corn and fresh fruit and ice cream and flowers and recycled antiques for sale, and Robyn and I congratulated ourselves on what a verdant peaceful country we had citizenship in. We had always believed that, unlike what had happened in the American Wild West, where ‘the person with fastest horse got the most land,’ in the Dominion’s march to western settlement, expansion had been carefully prepared by government officials, with much less attendant violence, and a more controlled flood of immigration.
It was all nonsense, of course. Canadian authorities used hunger to ethnically cleanse and clear the Western provinces for railway construction and settlement, until the aboriginal populations agreed to trade freedom for rations, and move to their new appointed reservations. Treaty Number Six.
Once there, ration house food was withheld for so long that much of it rotted while the people it was intended to feed fell into decades of malnutrition, impaired immunity, and tuberculosis and other sicknesses. Thousands died. The first Prime Minister of the country, Sir John A. Macdonald, boasted that the indigenous peoples were kept on the ‘verge of actual starvation,’ in an attempt to deflect criticism that he was squandering public funds. Within a generation, First Nations bison hunters went from being the ‘tallest in the world,’ to a population so unhealthy, they were believed to be genetically more susceptible to disease. Government physicians studied the natural history of malnutrition, instead of treating it, in a collusion not that dissimilar to the African-American Tuskegee experiments with syphilis. Canadians became inured to aboriginal marginalization from the mainstream, to terrible housing conditions on the reserves, contaminated drinking water, disproportionately lower educational and higher prison incarceration levels, and sexual and physical abuse at Indian residential schools. Adult ‘Registered Indians’ were not granted full citizenship until 1960, seven years after I had acquired mine as a birthright. Experience Hope.
The small hedges, separating the land yachts masquerading as homes, at the Sunshine Valley RV Resort, were the tragic topiary of the takeover. Robyn and I had been witness to own neighbourhood second growth forest, chipper-shredded into a tin can ghetto of ‘lifestyle choice’ and ‘resort amenities.’ Greed may be good, but it is no guarantee of elegance or erudition.
“I need to know the name of the town after Oosoyos.” I said. Robyn told me she couldn’t find one on the map. We stopped for a gelato in Oosoyos, and sat with a Nelson couple heading to our island, for their own holiday.
“We always stop here for the ice cream.” He said. “Its halfway good.” I wasn’t sure he was referring to the remoteness or the refreshment. We wished each other happy trails, and climbed up into the desert mountains, past signs which spoke of our geography. Do not pass snow ploughs on right.
The irrigation systems on the other side were named Stemwinder, like they could have been snakes. We drove through Grand Forks.
“Everybody here has four wives.” I said.
“Doesn’t look like there’s much else going on.” Said Robyn. We passed Johnny’s Motel.
“Looks like a Johnny’s Motel.” She said.
It was late afternoon, when we turned off into Christina Lake. We had general directions to Richard and Carolyn’s but, in our need for more specificity, we stopped at a motel to ask. The Chinese owner on the other side of the counter was speaking loud Mandarin into his telephone mouthpiece. He didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow to acknowledge our entrance. We stood in front of him for five minutes, before deciding to try somewhere else. The proprietor had no idea of our destination. Before a Scottish fur trader named the lake after his daughter, the local Indians had called it ‘En-Chalm.’ Unknown. This had made more sense.
Robyn and I finally arrived at the cottage, to a scowl from the old woman next door. She was sweeping the rocks. We slipped quietly into and through the house, to the magnificent end view of a long glacial lake horizon, flanked by pine-dense mountains, blue and green Kokanee perfection. We descended a path toward the shoreline, and out across the water on the tipsy boardwalk, to the floating pavilion on the dock. Here were watercraft and flotation devices and a ski boat and lounge chairs and laughter. A familiar sound echoed across the water, as they turned to the wooden ones we were making. Pssssht.
“Hey!” Said Richard. “You made it. You sure you don’t want a beer?”
I forget what I called him.