Photo Credit: Simon Ratcliffe - Channel Collective
In Search of the Strange: a tour of the odder side of northern BC
Once upon a time there was a young, ordinary man, in search of the extraordinary experience his life had thus far kept hidden. Growing up in a suburban neighbourhood surrounded by kind, friendly people, he constantly bore the niggling feeling that something was missing. What was it? What could be absent from such a simple and happy life? He had family, he had friends. He had enough to eat, he had small luxuries. He had even grown up making plenty of lasting memories: trips to the lake, hikes in the woods, and days spent idly walking endless sandy beaches. So, what was it, he asked himself? What single memory stood out? It was the hockey stick.
As far back as he could remember, the man—just a boy then—had periodically found himself in the back seat of an ancient and massive blue car, the bench seats stained with age and the floor emanating a musty smell. The car would take him northwards, away from home and suburban serenity, on a short trip that seemed interminable to his young mind.
And every time he squirmed uncomfortably on those tired seats time would stretch into infinity, but for one single moment: whenever the stick was near. The car would slow down and cross a couple of bridges, the grated metal humming in his backside. That’s when he knew it was close. After a few stoplights it would suddenly present itself, practically filling the entire window: the World’s Largest Hockey Stick. His face would light up in wonder and incredulity, his mind spinning questions that he never voiced out loud, nor ever found answers to. Why was it there? What was the point of it? Indeed, it was the mystery of the stick that kept him longing for its sight. As they passed, he’d turn around and watch it through the rear window until it disappeared from view, and he’d sigh and settle back into the seat. The car never stopped, he never talked about it, and the boy was happy.
When the boy became a young man and he tracked through his memories trying to find that missing something, the stick finally hove into his consciousness, long forgotten, and he knew what he needed to do. He had to go in search of the strange. He had to seek out the unusual and quirky things the road has to offer. He had to find more hockey sticks. And it was worth the trip.
This, then, is an article about the unusual; an attempt to find for you those weird and wonderful experiences that linger in your mind, right here in northern BC. You might never talk about them, you may dismiss them initially as unnecessarily odd, maybe even pointless…but you will undoubtedly remember them forever.
Back in the 1990s, the northern town of Chetwynd was looking for something to showcase to travellers passing through on the Alaska Highway. As a logging community, it wasn’t a stretch to think of such things as chainsaws and bears. The first chainsaw carving the town commissioned, a welcome sign and scene of three bears standing on their hind legs, has since spawned a movement that firmly places Chetwynd among those roadside stops that linger in your mind. Every year the town hosts the “Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship Invitational” in early June, and the carvings around the town—now well over 100—have become more intricate and detailed as the event attracts carvers from around the world. Over the years they’ve also become more bizarre. Giant preying mantis? Yup, got that!
In the 1960s, the planned forestry town of Mackenzie was taking shape. As forestry and hydroelectric projects in the area boomed with unprecedented growth, the industrial community responded in kind. Commissioning the construction of the world’s largest self-powered tree-crushing machine, Mackenzie introduced to its young community the G175 Tree Crusher.
When the huge machine arrived—in pieces, taking four days to assemble—it was sent out to start work and immediately got stuck. It was too big and too heavy. Winter arrived and the Tree Crusher was abandoned until the next summer. The beast managed to move the next year, albeit with plenty of problems, and it actually did some of the work it was built for. But by the end of that season, spending a good chunk of its time stuck in the mud, the Tree Crusher’s time had come. For the next 20 years it sat in the bush until the municipality decided to bring it back into town as a monument. And since 1984, every person who enters Mackenzie drives right past the World’s Largest Tree Crusher. Got your camera ready?
You can’t visit Prince George without paying a visit to Mr. PG. At about 10 metres tall, the goofy monument was built back in 1960 and he’s travelled to Kelowna, Vancouver, and Smithers. You can find him at the junction of Highways 97 and 16, waving his flag with a giant grin on his face.
Fort St. James
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel back in time? The National Historic Site at Fort St. James has a pretty odd accommodation opportunity that comes close. You can stay in the heritage building, having the entire site to yourself for the night, by booking into their bed-and-breakfast program. You get the full experience: artifacts in the room, original bedding, sheep clomping around outside, a rooster crowing, not to mention the costumed interpreters who cook for you. Bill and Ted, move over! It’s time for a new generation to take an excellent adventure back to another age.
This one we include because its sheer insanity puts it up there with the strangest things you can do in northern BC. Every year, the Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association hosts the Big Pig Mountain Biking Festival. This year it’s from August 14-16. On the Sunday, riders with a penchant for masochistic behaviour start a mind-bogglingly painful endurance race. Starting at 8 am (I’m cringing already) riders set out on a 10-km course, riding as many laps as possible until 11 am, when they switch to the “Burnt Bike Challenge” (BBC), a 30-km loop that kicks off with an 18-km uphill slog. Once competitors finish the BBC, they hop back onto the first trail and continue riding until they complete eight laps for a total of 110 km. Strange? More like crazy.
The world’s largest fly rod: enough said.
“I found it with a buddy, randomly, when we were out flagging a bike trail.” Brian Shorter, a Smithers-based mountain-bike trail builder, stumbled on the crash site of a downed plane on the steep slopes of Hudson Bay Mountain in the early 2000s. He asked his mom—a member of the Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue—for the story and she could only tell him snippets. “I think she said the guy was skiing,” says Shorter. “He’d flown in, skied for the day, and then was flying home when he caught a downdraft or something and crashed into the trees. He actually lived, from what I heard.”
Naturally, when the trail-builders found the crashed plane—a Piper, a small plane often used by semi-amateur pilots or for bush work—they opted to build the trail featuring the crash. They even named the trail in its honour: Piper Down. Now, mountain bikers can either check out the plane as they ride past on the single-track downhill or—experienced bikers only, please—jump right over it. According to Shorter, if you want to find out more, get in touch with the BV Air Search and Rescue.
UFO conspiracy theorists ready? Terrace is the home of some seriously strange sounds that have perplexed the town’s residents a few times over the past couple of years and caught the attention of national media outlets. Several newspapers, radio stations, and online magazines carried the stories and the YouTube videos are admittedly pretty creepy. When the recorded sounds first hit the internet back in 2013, the town claimed it was a bizarre effect created by a grader blade. Whatever causes the aural effect, there’s no question it sounds like aliens playing synthesizers…at pretty high volume. So if you’re on the hunt for a weird experience, head to Terrace, camp out, and keep an ear open in the early morning. Who knows, maybe you’ll solve the mystery…
Prince Rupert/Dodge Cove
Ever since I first laid eyes on the place, I wanted to spend a night in it. The old doctor’s house on Digby Island, across the harbour from Prince Rupert, is a compelling place. Surrounded and overgrown by the bush, the derelict building still exudes charm and character and seems like it has a story to tell. While unlikely to be a sanctioned thing, sleeping in that building would be a bizarre and amazing experience.
Anytime you find yourself bored in northern BC (however unlikely that is), remember you’ve got plenty of opportunities for seeking out the stranger side of life while on the road. Sometimes it’s just a frame of mind. Grab your binoculars and camera (but make sure you put some kind of fuzzy filter on first) and try to find the elusive Sasquatch. Complement your outings with a wacky wardrobe. Buy a unicycle and ride it at every rest stop on the highway. Strange is a state of mind, and life can be a lot more fun when you let it get a little weird.