|Pioneer Life in the Homes and Woods of the Queen Charlotte Islands|
|One road that comes straight
to the Port Clements Museum.
Only the history changes.
|Finding Port Clements is simplicity itself: One highway, drive up
it until you get there. There's enough history once you've heard about it to make the passing scene
interesting, even the boring bits. The first 35 kms hugs the shore following the route used from
earliest settlement days to get to homesteads at Tlell River where the land is flat and attractively
arable. About 20 km from Skidegate, look for the orange-and-white leading marks on the landward side
which marks the end of the amazingly long bar extending north from Sandspit.
At the Tlell River bridge, we pick up the route of Mexican Tom's walking trail to Port Clements. Straight to Port -- from one of the little knolls on this road you can see 55 utility poles at the same time. The route was surveyed in 1920 to turn the trail into a road of sorts.
|One highway built in stages over many years.|
|It was sort of a road because it was built of two
2x12 planks for each tire laid end to end. Sergius de Bucy remembers driving from Port Clements 72 years
ago (1932) when there was a pullout at the top of each little rise. It became easier with practice,
Sergius said, but you had to be careful to check for oncoming cars before starting each section. If two
cars met in the middle, one had to back up to the nearest hilltop and backing up was much more
challenging. And that was after the road had been 'improved' in its second year by the addition of a
six-inch plank on either side.
The museum's own Betty Dalzell also travelled that route and she remembers it more for the problems with trying to get up a six per cent grade out of the river valley on wet planks. Hills and curves were planked across instead of end to end to make the harder bits at least possible.
|Imagine, while you're whizzing along the
splendid modern road at 100 km/h, driving on a couple of planks feeling that 20 km/h was 'way too fast.
Worry about sliding off or, God forbid, meeting another driver.
Dispite the difficulties, people did travel even before the roads. They would set for a dance walking all day in their Sunday-go-to-meeting fineryand a pair of boots with their dancing shoes in their hands. After literally dancing the night away, they'd walk back home the next day. Fun? Bet they had more fun than 500 channels and nothing to watch on TV. Maybe modern is not always better.
|Halfway along the straight stretch you'll pass the Mayer
Lake park sign, and time for another exercise in historic insight. Mayer Lake was one end of the amazing
pole railway that ran for 12 kms to Port Clements -- that's right two rows of eight-inch logs laid end
to end. The museum collection includes one of the only two log haul tractors ever built, completely
restored and displayed pulling a load of telephone poles along a section of pole railway.
Our tractor is also interesting because it marks the end of the puddled-iron engineering age and the start of steel-built factory machines. Puddled iron is much better than today's weak and hopeless cast iron. The Eiffel Tower, don't forget, is a monument to puddled iron.
Our collection starts with puddled-iron donkey engines and ends with early diesel/ hydraulic production line creations. Some of those production lines, though, are very short indeed.
The plank road was changed to gravel eventually, with not-too-satisfactory results because the gravel tended to sink into the swampy ground. Good base for the modern paving, however.
|Two tourist-y factoids here before we send you off to another page.
First, the road beyond Masset out toward Tow Hill is partly gravel and quite driveable (and worth the
trip). There's a logging road route up the west side of the island from Queen Charlotte City through to
Juskatla west of Port Clements. Ask before you try it. Logging roads here are built with broken rock
like the Coconut Song ("Big ones, small ones, some as big as yer 'ed.") The heavy machines
break it down in time, but if it's fresh your sedan will have trouble.
Lastly, a curious detail. As you drive from Tlell to Port, those rounded shrubs growing in the swamp are Shore Pines, first cousin to the tall slender Lodgepole Pines that grow in the Interior of the province. Good poles, though, on good sites and rated 30-years-in-air the same as Douglas fir -- which doesn't grow in the Charlottes.
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