Perception Problem

Photo Credit: Facundo Gastiazoro

Perception Problem

👤Jo Boxwell 🕔Feb 27, 2017

The stories are familiar. I’d heard them before I’d even set foot in Prince George. They constitute part of the so-called “perception problem” this city suffers from.


I’m heavily pregnant and the icy walkways are keeping me housebound. Instead of exploring trails I’m glancing out of the window at a tree-lined neighbourhood and a distant mountain peak. I feel like a beached whale, but with more hip ache and, I imagine, considerably less distress. I spend too much time reading the local news, uncovering parts of my city that I haven’t actually witnessed in the couple of years I’ve lived here.

Drug busts become a staple part of my local news consumption. In one of the first reports of the year, 1,000 needles are discovered in a downtown crack house. Two months earlier, the cops raided a similar establishment, occupied by 10,000 dirty needles and several children aged between 12 and 15 years old. It’s difficult to visualize what 10,000 needles look like, just laying around a house. It’s much harder to comprehend children living there.

I haven’t experienced violence in my city, but the media reminds me that it can be a violent place. A woman is shot in Moore’s Meadow; the victim of an early morning attempted murder. I walk the dog there sometimes. It’s a pretty spot; a former pasture surrounded by trees and the open sky, the city around it completely hidden. The woman is still at risk, the police say. Perhaps she always has been. Like most other residents, I have no idea what that’s like. I am not at risk. I’m eating toast in a warm house with one hand resting on my abdomen as my baby kicks.

The local paper transports me to another scenic part of the city: the Nechako River, known for its iconic cutbanks. It hits the headlines when a woman evades police capture by jumping on an ice floe. She drifts along for two kilometres before the cops catch up with her, by which point she has started a fire on her precarious raft in an apparent attempt to burn the evidence of her crimes.


My son is born just a short drive from those crack houses, and that river. After two days of hospital care, we wrap him up and take him home in a ridiculously expensive car seat fitted with every conceivable safety feature.

We gradually introduce our son to all of our favourite places. We go for walks around the local ski hill as the wildflowers begin to bloom. We spot a beaver swimming in the Hudson’s Bay Slough and inspect its teeth marks in the sawn-off trunks of young cottonwoods.

Even sleepless nights occasionally have their advantages. On the eve of our first Mothers’ Day, my partner and I bundle up our little night owl and sit outside for a few minutes to watch the sky above us shift and shimmer. Admittedly, my camera captures it better than the naked eye, but the northern lights still look majestic from our suburban home.

During the few semi-awake moments that I have to myself, I get back into my local news habit. The city upholds the licence suspension of the Connaught Motor Inn, introduced in response to the neglect of the property and an excessive number of police callouts. The cops estimate they have had cause to visit the location several thousand times in only a handful of years. Assaults, alcohol, prostitution, drugs, theft—the usual suspects. The inn is spitting distance from city hall. The “perception problem” is a little too close to home.


The media report the drug-related murder of a 30-year-old man gunned down in a residential neighbourhood. Just a couple of weeks earlier, a gunfight (also linked to drugs) caused a stray bullet to break through the window of a home where it narrowly missed a couple and their two children.

My son naps through most of our first family picnic at Purden Lake. We bring the grandparents and an umbrella to protect him from the sun. Two opportunistic Steller’s jays keep an eye on proceedings. We attend our first pride parade, a big event for a boy with two moms. He sleeps through that, too.

Maclean’s Magazine declares Prince George Canada’s third most dangerous city. It had previously held the top spot. The mayor responds with a comment to say the stats are skewed.


Northern BC breaks a troubling record: for the number of overdose deaths reached in the region in one year. Fentanyl accounts for at least 10 such deaths in Prince George by the end of September.

A couple is charged with human trafficking, forcible confinement and sexual assault. They allegedly kept a woman against her will in a Highway 97 motel room and forced her into the sex trade.

A 30-year-old woman escapes a brutal attack with life-threatening injuries after being kidnapped and driven down a remote forestry road. A father and son are charged with her attempted murder.

My son turns six months old. He chatters away to us from his carrier as we explore the university trails. He loves watching the crisp leaves rustling in the trees. The dog goes wild when we come across a big pile of fresh bear poo, and I’m glad we don’t meet the culprit. I’m thankful that poo is about the most dangerous thing we’ve come across so far this year.


A spate of arsons warms up three Prince George residences over the same number of days. No injuries are reported. Three men are arrested in connection with an armed robbery at a convenience store. Police investigate several vehicle thefts that took place over the course of one weekend, including a truck that ended up sliding down an embankment onto the frozen Fraser River.

It gets so cold an ice jam begins to form on the Nechako, both spectacular and potentially dangerous. Thick, broken ice sheets erupt from the surface, forced upwards by the immense pressure beneath. All that moving water below has to find a way through somehow. The city is monitoring it closely, preparing to deal with an emergency situation, should one arise. In the meantime, local photographers rush in and snap incredible photos of the scene. They’re good at that— capturing the beauty of this town without the struggle, the way we like to view ourselves.

We cut down our very own Christmas tree, something I’ve wanted to do since we moved here. It’s a perfectly symmetrical Norway spruce, but bald at the back. Hopefully no one will look too closely.

None of us like being examined from unflattering angles, but sometimes it is necessary.