The Road Runs West:
A Century Along the Bella Coola/Chilcootin Road.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
B.C.'S THIRD OUTLET to the sea, the Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road, traverses an area the size of Belgium and Holland put together. An area that even now is sparsely populated. There are still no supermarkets or fast-food chains west of William's Lake. This is the story of that road and the people who have lived along it.
These are people who deal with hardship with not only fortitude and ingenuity, but exuberance. Here are stories of gala balls that people drove fifty miles to attend; of a huge hotel with chandeliers hanging from its twelve-foot ceilings, but no indoor plumbing, built in order to get a liquor license. Stories of monkeywrenchers, mudpuppies, and polo players; of resourceful individualists and the impossible, almost impassable, mountain road that was their communication line. And here also are glimpses of the racism inherent in the government policy of the day.
In 1951, Diana French arrived in Chezacut, twenty miles off the Chilcotin Road, to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. She married Bob French, the son of Chilcotin pioneers, and moved to Williams Lake in 1970. She has worked as a reporter and editor, and is currently curator of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin. This background is reflected in the book; she knows what she is writing about, and she writes about it well.
A map of the area is reproduced on the inside front and back covers, and the text is interspersed with interesting black-and-white photos gleaned from private collections and the provincial archives. The bibliography reflects the research that gives the book its authentic flavour; along with an extensive list of books and newspaper articles, it includes many interviews and several unpublished archival sources.
I was captivated by the world that French has re-created, but for high-school students to be similarly captivated the stories would have to be given to them piece-meal, in the context of a descriptive lesson about the area. The Road Runs West gives a human face to history -- an important part of understanding ourselves. Maybe, in the context of a creative cooperative teaching unit, this and a number of similar works would come into their own and breathe some life into Canadian history.
Recommended with reservations.
Bob Haxton is a teacher-librarian at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver.
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