In the Year of the Pandemic, there would be no vacations abroad – not even to Blaine. But in May it occurred to me that if Dr. Henry approved, there might be trips within British Columbia. So long as one kept six feet apart, one could go 600 km east.
So why not return to the summertime places of my youth, a circle tour of vacations past, especially those in the Okanagan that once upon a time seemed so far, far away. Because in the first decade of my existence, it was.
For those who lived on Vancouver Island in the 1950s, a trip to the Lower Mainland meant an overnight ferry from Victoria to Vancouver Harbour. And from there, the gravelly Hope-Princeton Highway, opened in 1949, might get you to the Okanagan if your radiator allowed. A trek further east required a detour into the U.S. to make it across the southern tier of the province.
Then came the era of W.A.C. Bennett and Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi: the founding of BC Ferries (right, MV Tsawwassen as originally built, 1960) and the paving of the province (from ‘Frontier to Freeway’). Now the family in a proud new Pontiac could get from the capital to the interior in a day, through the fields of the Fraser Valley, up and over the Cascades into the most northern tip of the Soronan – from rain forest to desert – with a tent in the trunk, eventually a trailer in the rear, and two weeks of paid vacation in a fruit-filled Eden.
A boy doesn’t ever forget those steep downhill curves above Kaleden and the first glimpses of the warm waters of Skaha Lake.
Why did our family stop summering in the Okanagan? For the same reason we started: prosperity. The post-war boom that made possible the infrastructure of highways and ferries, and the cars to fill them, and the two weeks of paid vacation, and the motels, campgrounds and attractions up and down the valley – all that was superseded by cheap airlines, higher incomes and the attractions of California, Hawaii and Mexico.
But in the Year of the Pandemic, it was time to return – now with the perspective of a life lived as an urban dweller and a student of cities. So for the next few weeks in Price Tags, let me take you back there in place and time, to see how it has changed.