Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Alexandria, B.C., Aug. 27, 2020. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

The Editor’s Desk: Stop and smell the pines

In the headlong rush from Point A to Point B, it’s important to make time to explore the unexpected

Last month I had occasion to write about the New Pathways to Gold Society, and funding they had received to help communities along the historic Cariboo Wagon Road. I knew I was placing the story on a colour page, so went hunting for pictures to go with the piece, and was particularly taken with one that showed a tiny church. It was identified as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, between McLeese Lake and Quesnel near Alexandria, and showed a tidy white building with a bright red roof, nestled among deep green pine trees. A dirt road that was the site of the Cariboo Wagon Road ran within a few feet of the front door.

I used the picture, then thought no more about the church. Two weeks ago, while on holiday, my husband Christopher and I were travelling north on Highway 97, heading to Prince George to visit our son. It was a glorious Cariboo day: the sun was shining, the highway was almost empty, and I had plugged my iPod Classic into the car’s sound system and had John Williams’ glorious score for Raiders of the Lost Ark blasting through the speakers.

(As an aside, I am not much of a person for tech gadgets, but you will only pry my 160GB iPod Classic out of my cold, dead hands. It was designed to do just one thing — store vast amounts of music and video —and it did that to perfection, so of course Apple discontinued making it in 2014.)

Anyway, there I was, zooming along the highway (while observing all posted speed limits) near Alexandria, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a flash of red to my left. I turned my head, and there was Our Lady of Perpetual Help, about 100 metres distant from the highway.

I immediately began slowing down, looking for a place to turn around; somewhat to the consternation of my husband, who had no idea what was happening. I explained things to him as I pulled off onto a side road, turned around, and headed back down the highway to the aptly-named “Church Road”. We bumped our way along it for a short distance to the church, where I got out of the car but left the engine on, so that as I made my way up some overgrown steps and along a short weed-covered path to the door, “The Raiders March’ played in the background.

I didn’t really think the door would be unlocked, but tried it anyway. To my surprise it swung open, revealing a dimly-lit vestibule. I crossed the few feet to the inner door, which was also unlocked, and rather gingerly pulled it open.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the clean and tidy interior, filled with sunlight from generous windows on both sides, that greeted me; someone clearly maintained the tiny church (the Grade 6/7 class from St. Ann’s Catholic School in Quesnel, in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, as it turns out). Windows at one side overlooked a tiny cemetery, and a visitor’s book on a table indicated that we were not the first people to stop there recently, although on that day we had the place to ourselves.

A sign indicated that the church had been built in 1940 and fallen into disuse in the 1960s, when the highway — which used to pass right beside it — was rerouted to its current location. The sound of passing vehicles was faint and intermittent; for the most part there was only the soughing of the wind through the pines, with John Williams providing the soundtrack.

The stop only added a few minutes to the journey, but was well worth the slight delay. It’s a reminder that history of the most unexpected sort is never far away; you just have to keep your eyes open and be prepared to stop and smell the pine trees. Next time you’re journeying from Point A to Point B, make time to do just that; I’ll leave the choice of background music up to you.

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View from front of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Alexandria, B.C., shows the site of the Cariboo Wagon Road, and later Highway 97, directly beside the church, with the rerouted highway beyond. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Interior of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Alexandria, B.C., Aug. 27, 2020. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Cemetery beside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Alexandria, B.C., Aug. 27, 2020. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

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