Past, Present & Beyond- Stops of Interest historical highway signs

Barbara Roden looks at the unique Stops of Interest signs that highlight beautiful British Columbia.

The Stop of Interest sign at Ashcroft Manor

The Stop of Interest signs along the highways of British Columbia are easy to overlook, as they become so familiar that they no longer register. It might surprise some people who drive to Kamloops regularly to know that the sign commemorating Walhachin disappeared some years ago, and has never been replaced. The headline on the sign – “Ghost of Walhachin” – was also the unofficial name of the pullout west of the Juniper Beach turnoff where the sign used to stand.

The Stop of Interest signs were an initiative that began in 1958, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Colony of British Columbia. With more and more people travelling through the province, it made sense to provide tourists with information about historic people, places, and things throughout the province. The most comprehensive guide is David E. McGill’s 126 Stops of Interest in Beautiful British Columbia (1979).

Some 130 Stop of Interest signs were erected between 1958 and the 1990s, and a further six were put up in 2008 to mark the province’s 150th anniversary. Many of the signs are dated; those that are not are, I suspect, the initial signs from 1958. The signs put up in 1967 bear a small plaque on the post reading “Created by the Canadian Confederation Centennial Committee of British Columbia, 1967.”

There are several Stop of Interest signs in our area, so let’s take a whirlwind tour, beginning in the north. “The Chasm” (1966), 10 miles north of Clinton off Hwy 97, gives a brief history of the geological forces that created the spectacular natural feature. A stream fed by melting glaciers 10,000 years ago cut through 1,000 feet of lava, exposing the layers of multi-coloured lava. “B.X.” (1967), six miles north of Cache Creek, commemorates the celebrated stagecoach company which transported people and supplies to the goldfields of the north. The sign notes that the coaches left Ashcroft at 4am, and took four days to cover the 280 miles between there and Barkerville.

“Ghost of Walhachin” (date unknown) is, as mentioned, no longer there. It succinctly told the story of the rise and fall of the community, calling it a “Garden of Eden” where the sagebrush desert turned to orchards, but became home to little except ghosts of flume and trees when World War I ended. “Ashcroft Manor” (1966), six miles south of Cache Creek, commemorates early settlers Clement and Henry Cornwall, who established a thriving roadhouse and other businesses on the site after their arrival here in 1862. The roadhouse beside the sign is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the Interior.

“Canadian Northern Pacific’s Last Spike” (1967), 10 miles north of Spences Bridge, tells the brief history of the railway, which dissolved into bankruptcy within a short time of the last spike being pounded there in 1915. “A Great Landslide” (date unknown), one mile south of Spences Bridge, documents the landslide of Aug. 13, 1905, when the lower side of the mountain to the west of the Thompson fell away, damming the river for four hours and killing 18 First Nations people in the initial slide and subsequent flooding.

“Thompson Canyon” (1966), in Skihist Park (west side, five miles from Lytton), is another geological stop of interest, explaining how the Thompson Canyon was formed. Due to limited space (each entry is only 50–70 words) many of the signs take a “just the facts, ma’am” approach, but “Thompson Canyon” is an exception, ending with the words “The awesome display of crags and cliffs is vivid evidence of the might of the river and the ceaseless power of water at work. In places like this, man sees his true size.”

“Jackass Mountain” (date unknown), 19 miles north of Boston Bar, is a “memorial to a mule” which plunged to its death in the canyon below and gave Jackass Mountain its name. It’s unique among the Stop of Interest signs in that it has an illustration: a loaded mule plodding along the trail. “Fraser’s River” (date unknown), six miles south of Boston Bar, begins with a quote from explorer Simon Fraser, who in 1808 became the first white man to descend the river that was named after him. “Fraser Canyon” (1966), 17 miles north of Yale at the Hell’s Gate Fishways viewpoint, tells of the challenges the river has always posed at this point: canoeists rarely ventured along it, only one paddlewheeler made it through successfully, and even railroads and the highway have battled to make their way past the area.

“Cariboo Wagon Road” (date unknown), four miles north of Yale, notes that construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road from Yale to Barkerville (1861–3) was one of the most difficult building jobs undertaken in the British Empire, while “Historic Yale” (date unknown), just south of town, records Yale’s importance as a fur post, gold-rush town, head of the Wagon Road, and CPR construction boomtown. “Yale Convention” (1970) commemorates the 1868 meeting which brought 26 delegates from around the then-colony to Yale for a meeting to help raise support for the idea of confederation with Canada, as a way of dealing with the soaring debt that was gripping the Colony.

Over the years many of the signs have deteriorated, and while some have clearly been replaced (the one near Fort Fraser marking the Grand Trunk Pacific last spike in 1914 looks much worse in a 1979 photo in McGill’s book than it did this past summer when I visited), Heritage BC, in partnership with the Heritage Branch of the provincial government, has undertaken a project to locate and assess the Stop of Interest signs. Members of the public are invited to fill in an online form about any signs in their area, and include a recent photo if possible. Submissions are being accepted until Dec. 18; for details go to http://www.heritagebc.ca .

Barbara Roden

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