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Crossing Canada Day #9: Chilliwack and back!

We continue our Chronicles of Crossing Canada. Welcome back!

We left our sunny, riverside, camp with the view of the mighty Rockies in Hope British Columbia at 8 am heading south-west. Our next stop: Chilliwack.

Tunnel Mountain Park, Banff Alberta, Jaime Lee Lightle (2022)

Jaime Lee:

Chilliwack was the home of the only Royal Canadian Engineers until 1984. The reason for the stop was for Jim to pay homage to his comrades of the Engineer trade and the most west we will go on this journey. The drive to Chilliwack took us through the Fraser River Valley. The river opened into a huge valley hugged by the Lillooet Mountain Ranges. Farms, then tree nurseries, then houses, then large real estate billboards increased in frequency as we got closer to the City of Chilliwack.

Chilliwack seemed like a typical town one would see in urbanized B.C. Boulevards with flower beds, nice homes, health and wellness business, people pushing baby carriages and retirees walking little dogs. No signs of homelessness, no garbage, this was a very different place from the communities where we’ve visited thus far.

The old base – well the only remanent left was only a street sign: Petawawa Road. The name of Petawawa originates from a local Algonquin language word, biidaawewe, meaning “where one hears a noise like this”. Once a HQ school of the Engineers, now a dog park and border security agency branch - what a transformation!

We took a photo, then headed off to our destination of the day – Banff Alberta.

Back on the 3-lane, 120 km/hr stretch of Hwy 5, a clear day for driving. When we got on to Highway 1 East towards the National park, the Rockies turned into small hills that resembled dessert fingers reaching towards the low point of the valley. More smoke from the smouldering fires in Kamloops reached us on this drive.

Animal Crossing, outside Sudbury (2022) Jaime Lee Lightle

The drive around Salmon Arm was spectacular. Sandy beach towns, First Nations communities, signs for Revelstoke – billboards urging you to ski, shop, eat, tour etc.

Rogers Pass to Golden we were hugging the mountain on one side/steep valley on the right. Construction, cranes and barely a barrier kept us from plummeting to our death. It was an exhilarating experience for me being in the driver’s seat. Jim was not as excited.

Dark tunnels lit by headlights, fast speeds on winding 2 lanes, then passing opportunities that would make an experienced driver cringe. So many tractor trailers, campers, passenger vehicles, motorcycles and even cyclists were on this route.

We crossed the BC/Alberta border around lunchtime and had a plan to stop at Lake Louise before heading to our final destination. I turned off the highway for our Lake Louise detour and ran a red light at the very first intersection - I must have been exhausted!

Photo Credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

We drove the route ascending to the most photographed location in Canada. Vehicles were parked on the side of the road all along the route. It was a sign that COVID-19 restrictions could not stop people from going to this attraction. No parking, no parking, no parking, the signs on the shoulder of the road repeated. At the top of the windy, slow climb as the Chateau Lake Louise. For a basic room it cost $800/night. As we guessed, the parking lot was jammed full, and our patience was spent. We didn’t even put the truck in park, we just made the circle around the parking lot and headed back down the highway. “Fuck Lake Louise”, we yelled as we took the onramp towards our final destination.

Disappointed about Lake Louise we drove to our site. Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff Provincial Park was our first serviced site. Power woo hoo but unfortunately no fire pit again. Great site, great view. Our neighbour behind us introduced himself as William Banks, originally from Middleton N.S. (just 35 km from our home in Nova Scotia). He and his wife are retired and spend their time travelling and living across Canada, U.S. and Mexico. COVID-19 border restrictions had them return to Canada from Mexico early in 2020.

Photo Credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

Another camp neighbour made a quick point to come over to us to recommend that we stop at Lake Minnewanka in the morning before the tourists (come). We took note of his easy directions, thanked him and got busy making our supper sandies.

We are almost at the halfway point of our time on the road. We are pointing in the direction of the rising sun. What a journey it’s been so far.

Jim writing:

We woke up in Hope British Columbia to a beautiful sunny morning. Got the Truck house ready to head on our way to Chilliwack. “To Chilliwack and Back”, that was the idea behind our journey. Chilliwack was the home of the Canadian Forces School of Military engineering, and it was moved to Base Gagetown in Oromocto NB in 1995.

We made it to Chilliwack and stopped on the corner of Petawawa Road and Dieppe Street. We took a photo and headed back. That’s right we made it to Chilliwack and turned around and headed back. We started driving east in the direction of Banff. Many of the people I have served with are from B.C. Their surnames which are rare to see, were dotted on the sides of the roads on billboards. We took the road we had already traveled before heading up towards Kamloops. We took a different road from that point heading over the mountain Passes.

Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

As we drove, we passed beautiful lakes and towns, even a town with the most house boats in Canada, Shuswap Lake (Salmon Arm). I realized that the road we were taking was the same journey that the Rocky Mountaineer takes to make its way to Banff. We passed where the last spike was driven on the railway tracks. There were amazing views that left me awestruck, at the same time, it would make your ass pucker in fear if you were to look down beyond the edge of the highway.

We made it to Lake Louise, a stop my Cousin Rob suggested. During this PANDEMIC I have rarely seen a crowd. Most people are afraid to travel and to see what Canada has to offer. This was not the case at Lake Louise. I was hoping for a little crowd but instead we got to the busiest place we have visited in Canada yet. The cities that we have driven through were nothing in comparison to this majestic lake. The Parking lot from hell is what we experienced. We drove around for ten minutes looking for parking and I must say that was ten minutes to long... “Fuck Lake Louise”. Not today, maybe another day. We then headed to the camp for the night and relaxed.

Our camp site was one of the highest elevations we’ve experienced, our views were amazing, and the neighbours were friendly. Just like most Canadians.

Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

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