From Loon Lake Road – Better communications technology needed

Barbara Hendricks' monthly column of community news and events in Loon Lake.

Like most people I always feel that the years just seem to rush away, yet at the same time feel that spring takes so long to get here each year. December is always a month of hope, delicious smells of baking and pleasant times with family and friends. It is also the month when focus is on helping others and on generosity toward those in need. It is good that there is one month of the year when this is in focus and I truly respect those who keep it in focus all year round. A big thank you to all who make that extra effort to lend a hand, help out a neighbour,  donate to good causes, stop for an animal on the roadway, rescue horses, dogs and cats and put out food for the birds in cold weather and other acts of consideration and help.

 

The weather during December was overall mild with a few days of colder weather, resulting in ice on the ground, snow and then icy snow. My cats are happy – they can again walk on top of the snow – and don’t have to stick to the trails I have shovelled. As Loon Lake is at a considerably higher elevation than Ashcroft and Cache Creek, snow cover in the upper Loon Creek Valley and along the lake is much greater in most areas, although I still wheelbarrow snow onto parts of the garden beds to ensure a good snow cover for my plants. Generally though the focus is on indoor activities right now and reading a good book and catching up on magazine articles are pleasures reserved for winter time.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good read and a glance over the offerings on the shelves at the local library or at the bookmobile will confirm this. The TNRD bookmobile is an important offering for rural people and ours serves Loon Lake Road well. My taste in reading does not agree with the modern best sellers in general, although several UK writers do interest me. I continue to test the waters of current Canadian literature but something about much of what I have sampled leaves me bored and disinterested and I stop reading after about 30 pages. I am perhaps too critical and expect too much. When I read of someone picking blackberries in some central BC wilderness, of asparagus and tomatoes being picked at the same time, or saskatoons blooming in February, I lose all interest in the writing.

This month I have enjoyed reading Bill Miller’s Wires in the Wilderness: The Story of the Yukon Telegraph. The book deals with a chapter of BC and Canadian history that I knew little about – the building of telegraph lines through BC and into the Yukon. The first portion of the line was built in the 1860’s by the Western Union Company and was known as The Collins Overland Telegraph. Originally the line was intended to run from the US, through Canada, north to Alaska then across the Bering Strait, across Russia and in to Europe. However a cross Atlantic cable was successfully laid between North America and Europe in 1866 and the completion of the Collins line was abandoned; at that time it had been built through BC (still a colony at that time) as far as Telegraph Creek with a line in to Barkerville. In 1871 after BC joined confederation, the Canadian government took over operating the line from Quesnel south. With the great number of gold seekers flocking to the Yukon for the Klondike gold rush in 1896 it was felt that there should be a line in to Dawson City and the federal government issued contracts for the building of the line. The all Canadian route of the line was completed in 1901, several years after the height of the Klondike rush. Upon completion, the main line from Ashcroft to the Yukon/Alaska boundary ran 1850 miles. A line ran to Lillooet, also completed in 1901.

The politics involved in the building of the line, a federal government undertaking, is telling also. Unfortunately I would say that not much has changed for the better on that front in the past 120 years.  Ashcroft had a central role in the story as this was where the all Canadian line for the Yukon telegraph connected to the CPR line and was also one of the important points for the transfer of materials and supplies to build the line through central and northern BC. The stories of the men and a handful of women working as telegraph operators, maintaining the big batteries and keeping the line connected through deep snows and storms are about dealing with a hard and lonely life with optimism and a positive approach to whatever was thrown their way. They had an enormous work ethic and their living conditions in isolated cabins along the line would today be considered to be a great hardship.

Some years ago I read Mel Rothenberger’s story of the Wild McLeans and noted that in 1879, when the McLean gang had killed the police constable in the Nicola Valley someone had to ride from Kamloops to Cache Creek to send a telegraph to the government in Victoria. It always hung as a question in the back of my mind “why there was telegraph service at Cache Creek and not Kamloops?“ The history of building the telegraph line explains this situation and tells of a time when there was a government service in Cache Creek but not in Kamloops. Of course the completion of the CPR a few years later brought telegraph services to Kamloops as well.

 

Away from the books and back at Loon Lake Road, all is still and quiet. We are still relying on old telephone lines at a level of technology nearing 100 years old. Sure, we were upgraded from the party line and counting rings some 40 years ago and that is where we are still as we complete the year 2014. Most permanent residents use rather expensive satellite services for internet and television as there is no such thing as high speed cable services available.

While satellite internet from the usual providers is better than dial up, most users complain about not being able to get on at times or of service being unavailable far too frequently. Summer homeowners, who are here for six months a year, don’t want to be tied down to a several year contract with monthly payments all year round for poor quality services and they  miss the instant communication they get in town. As the old land line services are allowed to decay in rural areas as well as urban areas, it is the rural people who cannot simply switch over to the newer technology, because the service isn’t available. The newer technologies seem to allow for better service to places like Loon Lake Road at a reasonable cost and probably less cost than the level of subsidies currently given to telecommunication providers for doing nothing at Loon Lake Road. Nothing will happen however unless residents make their voices heard.  Responsibility for rural connectivity is a federal government issue so let your MP (Cathy McLeod) and those candidates for other parties know about your concerns.

Barbara Hendricks

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