Summer season is driving season, and if you need any proof, just recall the nightmarish traffic jams you've experienced getting in and out of any urban centre in Canada on a weekend. People scrambling across our highways to go camping, canoeing, fishing, boating, hiking or just hang at the cottage. Good for them, they'll be off the road after Labour Day... or, in B.C., whenever it is that kids go back to school. But the rest, they're just driving. Across town. Across the province. Maybe even across the country. I like to do that every few years myself, like summer 2013 — Vancouver to Montreal and back with lots of crisscrossing to other places in between. Summer 2014 was more about driving around B.C. and the Prairies — not quite as diverse, but the same enormous distances.
This is indeed a big ol' country with lots to see from a car window, but one constant is the parade of two things: First, a string of bizarre and seemingly random roadside attractions (I use that expression loosely, and am not including the many odd things in this class that you don't need to stop to observe, like, from west to east: a giant lumberjack, a giant coal truck, a giant bear, a giant tepee, a giant Sasquatch — in northern Ontario, no less — a giant thermometer, a giant Canada goose, a giant nickel, a giant apple... etc., etc.), and second, the classic roadside motels strung along the Trans Canada Highway. The two are not entirely unrelated, as one often seems to be the reason for the other (which, I suppose, might make them less random). Let me first talk briefly about the former.
What exactly comprises a "roadside attraction?" Well, as conceived by their proprietors, something that should captivate you so completely on notice that you immediately want to abandon your already behind-schedule drive, slam on the brakes, and pull off the highway to view or partake of it. Like, say that weird grown-over mini-golf place on the outskirts of every town in the west, or a Go-Kart track in the middle of nowhere (because you are so sick of driving forward that you want to... go in circles?). Ever wondered about the hallucination that is B.C.'s Three Valley Gap, with its chateau right out of The Shining, heritage ghost town (which seems truly redundant), and creepy strange Enchanted Forest concession? Me, too. What about the absolutely cringe-worthy $30/night Hotel Madrid, with its large collection of concrete dinosaurs and monster trucks that languished for decades in the middle of absolutely nowhere halfway between Montreal and Quebec City? I stopped there once to pee and had my fortune told by a disembodied head inside a glass box (fortunately, someone saw fit to demolish it in 2011). It's like these places are trying to out-weird each other, and I think I found the winner last week in the north Okanagan, near Armstrong. There, in the requisite middle of nowhere, was The Log Barn where, apparently, "The West is Truly Wild!" No surprise since this place is (was?) also known as Dave's Goat Walk. Or the dinosaur ranch. Or pumpkin farm. Or pie place. Or any number of other possible appellations to describe a bricolage of large-scale prehistoric creatures, model birds, antique vehicles, flower gardens, a three-story chef with a pie in his hand, a pen of live goats that walk over an arched bridge above the parking lot, a food stand (pies? pumpkins?), a pond full of turtles, etc. etc. Simply put, it doesn't get much better — or more inexplicable. If you like this kind of thing, chase down the ones along your next driving route at the very thorough roadsideattractions.ca.
Now let's turn to motels. I could go on at length about any aspect of this anachronistic collection of neo-Hoser architecture, but there'd be no point giving it more attention than it deserves. Instead, I'll comment on the naming of these institutions, which I sporadically keep track of while on the road.
To start, there are many clusters of names (Silver Sage, Ranchman, Prairie Oasis, Cowboy Hat), or vague compass points (Superior North, Nor-West, Best Northern) that, should you be without a map, offer vague orientation. Forests and trees figure prominently in the canon (Woodland, Westwood, Black Spruce, Pine, Lone Pine, Shady Pines, Pine Grove,) and segue nicely into what I call the "overlook" trope (Pine View, Park View, Valley View — several — Mountain View), through a river jag (River View, River Mist, Riverside, Deep River, High Falls) to land up on a colour theme (White River, White Otter, White Fang) that may or may not have something to do with snow.
The most common names are, in fact, descriptive pairings (Iron Bridge, Mystic Isle, Falcon Ridge, Blueberry Hill, Jackfish Lake), but there are also odes to celestial phenomena (Sunset, Northern Lights... does Satellite count?), pastoral Victorian life (Coach House, Old Mill, Barrel Inn, The Clansmen, and numerous Carriage Houses) and a television show (Shady Rest — remember Petticoat Junction?).
A few generic classics (Continental, Ambassador, Traveler, Holiday, Hide Away) and cross-border throws (American, Trans Canada), pathetic portmanteaus (Sun-dek) and some that make no sense whatsoever (Pals, Red Top, Tel Star — isn't that a satellite, too?). Oddly, there aren't many that directly channel the history you're traversing (Circle Route, Voyageur, Trading Post, Mohawk, and a couple Champlains) and I find that worrisome, or at least sad. Sad enough to want to pull in to any of an uplifting series of names that, on the face of it, have no place in the mountains, prairies and boreal forests of our beloved land, but add an exotic flavour every time you count one, and which always make you go "Hmmmm..." (Villa Bianca, Villa Inn, Catalina, Bel-Aire, Sapphire, Flamingo, Spanish Fiesta).
In fact, I might hit the road again soon... because, of course, it's the quickest way to Paradise... or at least its eponymous motel.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.
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