There and Back Again

👤Charlynn Toews 🕔Aug 01, 2012

As soon as my prairie family came to visit me in Terrace, I would whisk them down Highway 16.

“How far is it?” they would ask.

“Not far,” I’d answer.

“Is it a long ride?”

“No, quite short.”

“What does it cost?”

Ha! “It’s free.”

“How many cars does it take?” they would ask, but by then we would have pulled up to the ferry at Usk, and they could see it had a capacity of only two.

Oh, the mighty Skeena flows swiftly to the western sea! How will we cut across? With powerful motors? No! The Usk ferry is a reaction ferry: rudders are used to angle the pontoons into the current, causing the force of the current itself to move the ferry across the river.

So when we cross from the rest of the world to Usk, the rudders are aimed this way; then when we go from Usk back to the rest of the world, the rudders are aimed the other way.

I would take my family to visit my farmer friends, where they would be introduced to a cow named Moon, then we would turn around and go back again. An enjoyable seven-minute summertime cruise, just a few miles from town.

I also love the Southside ferry. Drive south from Burns Lake and wait a bit. There are 20 runs daily between 5:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. The price is right—free. It crosses Francois Lake between the north shore of the lake and the well-named village on the south bank: Southbank.

High rolling prairie greets you, with the mountains politely standing way back so you can see for miles. There are settlements going back to the early 1900s, with lovely names like Danskin, Grassy Plains, Tatalrose, Takysie Lake, Ootsa Lake, Cheslatta and Wisteria.

Throw a line out in Takysie Lake and catch a big trout. Motor down to Ootsa Lake, greatly expanded by the reservoir created by Alcan in the 1950s to power its aluminum smelter in Kitimat. But you can’t get there from here, you can camp (for free) at its ample beaches and peer at the far side and imagine Kitimat, but unless you fly or float, you have to turn around and go back again.

River ferry, lake ferry, ocean ferry: from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii on BC Ferries was my next trip. You check in about two hours before sailing because of the car-ballet, the fluid and precise packing of the ferry with all manner of cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, motorbikes, and bicycles.

Then six hours to do nothing but relax, read, snack, meet new friends. I would say it’s priceless, but that would be a fib. That ferry is not free, especially if you bring a big truck, a Boler, canoe, kid, etc. Our Boler was much admired by locals. “Where would I get one of those?” a gent asked us. “I’d probably have to go off-island.”

We watched the sun rise over the Pacific. We harvested crabs, paddled to shore, and cooked them on the beach. One day an eagle overtook us, passing us overhead, and we followed him as he flew just ahead of us under a canopy of treetops overarching the road.

There’s Haida Gwaii: lush, magical, warm, wet, dreamy. Then there’s the rest of the world, where I come from, or “off island,” where there is a lawn to mow and meetings to go to and appointments to remember. If you go to Haida Gwaii, you must be careful: it is very tempting to go there but not back again.