Bri­tish Columbia by the Road: Car Cul­ture and the Mak­ing of a Mod­ern Land­scape

Canada's History - - BOOKS -

by Ben Bradley

UBC Press, 309 pages, $34.95 The geog­ra­phy of Bri­tish Columbia’s In­te­rior, with its moun­tains, val­leys, and passes, has posed many prob­lems for road builders over the years. But geog­ra­phy is not the only fac­tor; pol­i­tics have played a role as well.

The de­sires of var­i­ous gov­ern­ments to pro­mote this or to dis­count that have helped to dic­tate not only where roads are placed but also what has ap­peared next to those roads.

In Bri­tish Columbia by the Road, Ben Bradley pro­vides nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of the ways gov­ern­ment poli­cies have shaped the routes that are trav­elled to­day. Along the way, he gives read­ers re­peated lessons on Fordism, which he iden­ti­fies as the mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury “po­lit­i­cal-eco­nomic ‘mo­ment’ that saw the state take an ac­tive role in reg­u­lat­ing, sta­bi­liz­ing, and some­times stim­u­lat­ing the econ­omy.”

This is not a com­pre­hen­sive his­tory of high­ways in prov­ince, or even in the prov­ince’s in­te­rior. Bradley gives the most at­ten­tion to two ma­jor routes — the Hope-Prince­ton High­way and the Big Bend High­way. The HopePrince­ton, which opened in 1949, re­mains one of the key links be­tween the Lower Main­land and the Okana­gan Val­ley — al­though its im­por­tance has been di­min­ished in re­cent decades by the Co­qui­halla High­way.

Through­out its ex­is­tence, the HopePrince­ton High­way has pro­vided a gate­way to Man­ning Provin­cial Park, a des­ti­na­tion that was given a high pri­or­ity by gov­ern­ment. Signs of civ­i­liza­tion, such as tele­phone lines, were kept away from the road. After a for­est fire, the park’s bound­aries were ex­tended so that east­bound high­way trav­ellers would see green­ery be­fore they saw the dev­as­ta­tion caused by the flames.

An­other provin­cial park, Ham­ber, was many times larger than Man­ning — but it was only ac­ces­si­ble by the mis­er­able Big Bend High­way, was not as scenic as Man­ning, and was un­der pres­sure be­cause of the gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­est in get­ting at the re­sources within its bound­aries. With the east­ern half of that high­way des­tined to go un­der wa­ter after the Mica Dam was com­pleted in 1973, the park was re­duced to about two per cent of its pre­vi­ous size.

His­tory was a fac­tor in high­way devel­op­ment, with at­trac­tions such as Bark­erville and Fort Steele re­fur­bished and re­shaped with high­way traf­fic in mind. And then there is Three Val­ley Gap, which is im­pos­si­ble to miss when driv­ing along the Trans-Canada High­way. It is not as his­toric as it looks and was cre­ated with tourist traf­fic in mind.

His­tory has also been marked, since 1958, with signs that pro­mote stops of in­ter­est along ma­jor routes. These signs, lo­cated at con­ve­nient pull­outs, pri­mar­ily com­mem­o­rated the ac­com­plish­ments of white males, al­though the more re­cent ex­pan­sion of the sign pro­gram has helped to bring more di­ver­sity. Bri­tish Columbia by the Road is a fas­ci­nat­ing book and pro­vides enough back­ground in­for­ma­tion to set­tle many an ar­gu­ment. It is, how­ever, not quite as ex­pan­sive as its ti­tle might sug­gest. By lim­it­ing its cov­er­age to the south­ern In­te­rior, it ig­nores the Lower Main­land, Van­cou­ver Is­land, and the prov­ince’s North — all ar­eas with in­ter­est­ing sto­ries about high­ways.

It also ap­pears that Bradley tried to bridge the gap be­tween aca­demic and pop­u­lar writ­ing. Too of­ten his book reads like a the­sis on Fordism, with high­ways and provin­cial parks used to prove key points. Un­for­tu­nately, the many ref­er­ences to Fordist ac­tions take away from the nar­ra­tive.

That said, the amount of re­search that went into this vol­ume is as breath­tak­ing as the views from Sk­agit Bluffs on the Hope-Prince­ton High­way. Bri­tish

Columbia by the Road is a fine his­tory that helps to ex­plain why we see what we see as we drive in the prov­ince’s in­te­rior. It’s well worth read­ing be­fore your next drive. Re­viewed by Dave Obee, the pub­lisher of the Vic­to­ria Times Colonist and a mem­ber of the board of Canada’s His­tory So­ci­ety.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.