What a treat Kamloops turned out to be. Yet another great motel with outdoor pool, aptly named the Grand View Motel. What a ‘grand view’ it had. Nestled where 2 rivers meet in mountain country it becomes inaccessible at times in winter, with all roads to it closing. Weather permitting, in winter flights come in and out bringing provisions and tourists who come to ski and sled. With a small airport and beautiful setting it has grown to over 100,000. A vibrant community of people have been drawn here. They have built a stunning municipal park on the water’s edge, with obligatory beach, bandstand, play park, and a wealth of sporting facilities all free. People gather, like Gary, who was playing basketball alone until others joined in spontaneously. Unbelievably every night they host, at the bandstand in the park, a free music concert. We have since found this is pretty much standard. How great that towns get to come together, young and old, and musicians have a wealth of paid work across Canada. But what was really stunning about Kamloops was our insight into 2 contrasting cultures that have built Canada; European settler cowboys and the First Nations Shuswap Tribe that had been here for thousands of years.
Going up to the Tourist Information Office we found out that there was a local rodeo starting just down the road in Pritchard. Off we trotted taking a route through a river gorge reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Millions of years of erosion had carved out stunning scenery. Arriving at the rodeo we stepped back in time. This was a truly local rodeo and we looked like the only tourists. Women wore their plaid shirts with rhinestone studded jeans. Men limped around battered cowboy boots topped with broad brimmed hats. We would understand why so many limped in a few minutes’ time. Saddled up, cowboys and cowgirls caught up with friends, a few with tiny tots perched on their saddles with them. I never knew they made cowboy boots so small, and it was most endearing when the tiny ones held the reins in one hand and their comforters in the other. They certainly start them early here. I lost Dean at one point and found him at the competitor entry stand. I’m pretty sure he was a few seconds away from entering the steer rustling contest. The lady at the stand was certainly finding him amusing with his man bun, florid Hawaiian shirt and bright red shorts.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new grandstand (think local rugby club size), parade of teams participating and renditions of ‘O Canada’ and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by a 10-year-old girl, the contests started. First up was the bareback riding. Unbroken horses were released into the arena mounted by cowboys with nothing but a leather strap to hold onto. Maximum time any of the cowboys lasted was 12 seconds, with most of them tasting the dust in about 4 or 5. Even with body protectors they took a violent battering, none more so than when they were ditched into the aluminium fencing around the arena. Horses definitely won that one. This was followed by steer tethering, steer riding etc etc. As the interval approached we were astounded to find out what ‘Mutton Busting’ was……
To our ‘amused’ amazement and horror ‘Mutton Busting’ is bare back riding for the under 10’s but on sheep. The horror was watching wailing 2 year olds strapped onto bucking sheep, and also tasting the dust in a few seconds. We presumed that British Columbia social services have other concerns! I guess that’s how they toughen them up round here….
Fred acquired a Budweiser cowboy hat for free which he proudly wore for the rest of the afternoon. In the stands we got talking to a family that had just relocated out here from Bristol. All in all, it was a fabulous afternoon, and great to see an authentic local rodeo rather than a big commercial one like the Calgary Stampede. Total cost for this one was £12, whereas Calgary would have been over £150. We finished off the hot day in the pool of the motel and more home cooked food thanks to the kitchenette in our room.
Sunday we headed over the river in Kamloops to the First Nations museum on the Shuswap reservation. We were the only ones there which was surprising. The museum was run on a shoe string but full of fascinating exhibitions. To set the scene we were shown into a small room to watch a video made in the 80’s. Incredibly moving, it described the lives of the tribe before, during and after the European settlers arrived. The history of the European settlers attempts to ‘civilise’ the First Nations people was shameful to watch. Far from being wild savages, the first settlers were welcomed and helped by the Shuswap tribe. They had no need of coal, gold or lead and so let the settlers mine and take it from their land. However, as further commercial gain was to be had and the British and American interests expanded, the First Nation people were removed from their lands. Nomadic by nature, they were corralled into small settlements with their traditional migrations prevented.
With the ‘Indians Act’ in the 1880’s the British Government enshrined in law the right to forcibly remove any ‘Indians’ from settlements over 8,000 people, and children from First Nation families were removed from the age of 6 and sent to religious institutions away from their families to be ‘re-educated’. We met Dan, who was 2 years older than Dean, working in the museum. Fred who was teary after the video and horrific stories told, was stunned as Dan told how he had been removed at gun point from his family in 1970 as an 8-year-old, and sent to the site we were on. This site was a boarding school run by the Roman Catholic Church staffed by nuns and priests. Terrible physical and sexual abuse took place. Children who became ill, which was often as the accommodation was inadequate for the harsh winter climate, died. Families who tried to find their children were told they had been sent to hospital but subsequent research has shown no records of this. What was most astounding was this practice did not end until 1980. A pretty inglorious bit of history for ‘Great Britain’……
After a sobering day we distracted ourselves with Fred’s pool games, and were joined by the son of the Nepalese family running the motel. We then took ourselves down to the park to enjoy a local band. Along with the mixed aged prosperous middle classes of Kamloops, sat out on their picnic chairs, a couple of local drunks were dancing exuberantly at the front. We were very touched to see a large group on a trip out from what must have been a mental health rehabilitation unit. There were some very ill people in the group, one inspecting individual blades of grass on his hands and knees with very bad Parkinsonian side effects of medication, but all given free rein to roam about, and treated gently and kindly by the staff.
As we set off the next morning for the start of our ‘Rockies’ adventure we dropped back into the Shuswap museum. Fred wanted to interview Dan for his ‘Canada Day’ video (he’s just finishing the editing and then we’ll post it) to get a First Nations perspective. Dan was there, but although he had talked freely and confidently to us the day before he was uneasy about ‘speaking for First Nations peoples’. Instead Carol, the archivist for the museum, from the tribe came and did the interview. I won’t say more because you’ll see it on Fred’s video, but again I was reduced to tears by her quiet and moving responses to his questions.
With lots to talk about as a family, we set off in the car to Valemount which is the last town with accommodation before the Icefields Highway. A 5-hour drive through yet more glorious scenery and we arrived in a ski resort with no lifts. It seems that a lot of BC ski resorts have no lifts, instead you need to take a helicopter to the top of the mountains and with a guide ski the backcountry. Not something suited to my race slalom skis!!
Valemount is a maudlin run down small town with little to do. As luck would have it, however, that evening the Tourist Info were running a session on Beavers and Muskrats down at the lakeside. After an A&W burger we met the youthful Sarah at the rendezvous. To our delight we were the only people so had a really personal guide through the wildlife on the wetlands. Accompanied by a wealth of mozzies we spent an hour searching for Muskrats. Dean and Fred were rewarded with sightings, which I kept missing…. Never mind we learnt an awful lot. Fred was amazed that Sarah happily let the mozzies graze on her. She shuns deet products and even in Thailand for 2 months last year she applied no product. They do make them tough out here!
For the second time we were staying in an old jailhouse. Cells are still intact, the owners grown up children have their beds in the cells, so we all made the most of the photo opportunity of being behind bars. We had breakfast with a young Scottish / Canadian couple on their way to a festival in Whistler. Steve recommended Nelson as a place to visit after we had done the Rockies. As I write this we are now headed there for 3 nights. Seems we’ve taken to going where others tell us which feels quite fun J
Unfortunately, as we woke for our Rockies road trip the weather had closed in. Instead of soaring mountains we could only see the foothills and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots…. of trees. Thankfully we could see the stunning glacial icefields and beautiful turquoise lakes. We were going to stop for lunch in Jasper, but when we drove it we found it very disappointing. It was a poor man’s alpine resort and we couldn’t see the point of it. So we drove in and drove back out. However, the biggest treat came out of the blue. Just after the icefields the sparse traffic came to a halt, we thought there must have been an accident. Then we spotted it. Directly alongside our car, we had a perfect view, a black bear came out of the woods. Ignoring the Japanese and Chinese tourists, decanting from a bus and cars, it foraged in front of us. We were no more than 15 meters away safely shut in our car. Others were within 5 meters on foot …… For bears own longevity you should be 100 meters away and not stop for more than 30 seconds otherwise they become too socialised, which this one clearly had. We had no choice but to stay where we were as we were boxed in by traffic. It was several minutes before it slowly wondered off into the woods. This encounter, which we caught on film close up, made our day. Shy Rockies evaded us, but the wildlife gave us the biggest treat. A few irresponsible tourists being given the fright of their life would have gone down well too!
So we pulled into Revelstoke after 8 hours driving and found a motel with a kitchenette. Whilst Dean unpacked Fred and I went off to the store to get supplies to cook. Thai green curry on the menu, I found a lovely bottle of red to cope with the hefty dose of chili I was going to put into it; taste buds needed reviving after too many burgers. The early night that was planned got canned when we got talking to our motel neighbour Rob. Rob was in town to negotiate permission to mine lead and gold. We passed a couple of hours discussing local and world politics. He sat firmly in the camp that the world needs a policeman and that is the role that the US and UK have nobly taken, and which Canada should support. He was also of the view that the First Nations never invented anything “where are the pyramids they built?”. Despite divergent views we enjoyed his company. When we moved off the politics we got more recommendations on places to visit. A native of Vancouver he suggested we don’t bother with it, or Vancouver Island, if we’d already been to the places we’d described. So now we are going to linger in Nelson (Steve’s recommendation), which we are driving to now, then drop off the car as planned on 19th before we take an earlier crossing into the US. Of course this is liable to change…..!
Yesterday the sky cleared for us. Revelstoke is surrounded by mountains and we decided to take the 23Km drive up the main mountain to then do some hiking. It’s become a running joke that wherever Dean goes and asks what a town has on offer they always recommend hiking to him. Along with hot sandy beaches, hiking is one of Dean’s least favourite activities. As I point out it must be because he looks like he loves hiking ;-) So he finally gave in and decided to please the locals by going hiking. The fact that we’d been so sedentary sitting in the car for hours the 2 previous days meant we were all ready for some serious exercise.
It was beautiful. Gorgeous blue skies, mountains draped in snow thanks to the bad weather the day before, wild countryside, and meadows of wild flowers. The views from up high in the Monashee mountains more than made up for the poor visibility on the Yellow Highway the day before. More mozzies for company kept us moving at a good pace, so much so that at one point we lost Dean again and I found myself wondering around with Fred asking people if they had seen a man with a big beard and a Budweiser cowboy hat…… A young couple pointed us in the right direction – thank God he’s noticeable. After our bear encounter the previous day Fred gave Dean an enormous telling off for being irresponsible. He has very little faith in us!
Free passes for the local pool came with our room. Very well equipped, it included an indoor rapid that you floated through, and with islands to hide behind and in it made for an exciting game of ‘infection’. Quick stop for supplies and we went downtown for another free concert in the square. After music and an explore tired out we retired early to bed to watch a movie. Just as we did so an enormous thunderstorm and flash floods hit. At 8:30 the electricity was cut to the whole town. This lasted till the early hours when Dean was woken by lights coming on in the room & the rings on the electric oven where we’d been cooking. Apparently we’re having unseasonably rainy weather in the last couple of days. After the heat we’re quite glad, and it’s still 20 degrees, but we are feeling for all those camping, which is what most people do in BC. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a summer holiday for us Brits without a bit of rain!
For me this trip is all about having a great adventure with my family. Its taken years for us to finally stop talking about it and do it - simply because it both excites and frightens the life out me! So I'm stepping out of corporate life, where I singularly failed to achieve a work/life balance....to experience different cultures and spend time with those I love xx