I spent the last week and a bit travelling in the great Northern part of our beautiful Province, soaking up the cuisine in some really, really remote areas! As a City girl whose most rural experience was living an hour outside of London, I was a bit nervous to travel North. It just seemed like such a long drive, and I was sternly warned (but ex-Northern folk) that I would have trouble finding food to my liking — a warning that, as you will see, was not valid! The distances quickly seemed not so insurmountable either, with 100 kms quickly turning into a casual jaunt rather than an epic road trip in its own right by Island standards.
What I noticed more than anything else was the the difference in interpersonal interactions as the towns dramatically decreased in size. Despite the fact we say that everyone knows everyone in Victoria, everyone really, really knows everyone in a small town, and even if they don't know you you are welcome. Every person that passes has a greeting or a wave, and invitations to stop in and share a drink flow freely. Stories are held in generational memory with family histories seemingly woven together like braids.
The post is presented not chronologically, but in distance from Victoria in kms.
Cache Creek (430 kms)
Four hundred kilometres isn't too much by the standards we considered in this trip, and is really only four hours past Vancouver (traffic depending). Approaching Cache Creek you would almost think you were in the deserts of the southern US, not the middle of BC. However, this marked the end of the dry climate as we started a long, boring drive North through 100 mile house and beyond.
This pit stop on the highway is extremely kitsch, done up in the style of Grease with old neon signs galore. While the glory days as a place to bury supplies (hence 'cache') along the road North are long gone, the glory days as the junction town of the North are also gone, erased by the quicker but far less picturesque Coquihalla route East.
As the sign approaching Cache Creek said, Hungry Herbie's was found "one block past the DQ" - and a great alternative to DQ it was! A truly classic Drive in, they took our order through a window as we sat on the patio giving our dog a reprieve from her corner of the back seat. I do have a nostalgic love of diners, something that are definitely plentiful in the North!
Williams Lake (630 kms)
A few hundred kilometres later and we stopped at, as it is affectionately known, 'the puddle' to sleep. The town surrounds a large, beautiful lake named after a first nations leader who stopped an uprising against the local settlers. While my anti-oppressive spider senses are tingling to tell me there is probably more to this story, this will have to be left untold, at least in this post! This is about the food...
I will also note that the breakfast buffet at the Best Western filled our bellies well! Plenty of options for everyone from cereal to muffins to hot plates with meaty delicacies and a waffle maker that temporarily defeated me, but I won out in the end.
Prince George (875 kms)
Our stop in the "Gateway to the North" was brief, and mostly spent in the kitchen of friends, but we did delay our departure in order to capture their Saturday Public Market. "In Prince George, you're either a Walmart person or a Market person" explained our host. While this isn't really so far off Victoria either, it was interesting that there is such a distinction.
Like the Moss Street market, this market features artisan vendors intermingled with food vendors and farmers. The set up reminded me much of the old market that used to be in Chinatown, but with more selection of fresh fruits & vegetables.
At our host's instructions we made sure to get the "Real" bannock from the Bannock Attack! stand. We had to wait a few minutes, but weren't disappointed. I haven't had bannock since I was in girl guides (and I am skeptical of the authenticity of that stuff regardless!) so I was excited to try it.
Burns Lake (1085 kms)
If I hadn't had a hot tip to stop at the New Leaf, I probably would have blown straight through the little stretch of shops at Burns Lake that looks like every other little town along the highway. Instead, we found ourselves in a full-fledged health food store complete with a gorgeous little cafe with an espresso machine and delicious menu of home-cooked foods.
Smithers (1235 kms)
Our stop in Smithers was largely for sleep, but we did stop for a late dinner at the Hudson Bay Lodge. The lodge sounds and looks historic, but I don't think it actually is - there is a rule in Smithers that the facade of buildings must match an "alpine feel." The inside was pretty luxurious, and I just about had kittens over their swanky bathrooms. The food was upscale, with pretty adventurous menu with fancy presentation. The end result was pretty tasty, and I was extremely excited that the ravioli craving I had been describing on the drive on the way up was so supremely satisfied!
Stewart (1565 kms)
Stewart is a boom-bust resource town with a long history. Driving into town was the most beautiful scenery of our drive, with steep mountains on both sides still topped with crisp, white snow. A stop at the Bear glacier midway through the drive brought home the remoteness of the North we had arrived in.
Hyder, AK (1570 kms)
Hyder is the very tip of Alaska, a little pocket of the US so small that for all intents and purposes it is a suburb of Stewart. There are less than 100 residents, and the few children that live there attend school on the Stewart side. Their area code is still 250, and the roads and power are provided by Canadian suppliers.
That being said - you can still get Everclear on the American side, leading to a lucrative business for the Glacier Inn intoxicating Canadians who wish to drink their strong liquor. While it is no longer the 190 proof version that it once was, the 151 Everclear is still a kick in the throat going down.
We visited the Glacier Inn for some dinner and a chance to get "hyderized" and were not disappointed. I am certified hardcore now. It is most excellent! There are a few other restaurants in Hyder, but sadly we didn't get to try them... not even the food cart, which is actually a bus! Foiled again.
Dease Lake (1835 kms)
Many hours North again but still somehow many hours South of the Yukon is Dease Lake, the last stop for gas in the North part of the Province, boasting a population of almost 300 people. The landscape is just foreign enough to be a little bit surreal; the landscape is coloured muted greens and greys and browns. The roads are permanently gouged from tires with chains in winter, and snowmobile tracks run parallel to them. Wild strawberries run over all of the unkempt space, and I was told when they are ready to harvest it they are delicious eating. In former years, Dease was kind of a hub of Northern resource-related government offices, but cutbacks have meant the population has dwindled accordingly. Still, it sustains several restaurants including a food truck, a pub, and a decent grocery/liquor store. Sadly, we missed the food cart - but it still means that Victoria is way behind in terms of food carts per capita!