A long trip to graduation

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist describes an epic round trip to Haida Gwaii

Gord Turner

Gord Turner

We’ve been to the Stanley Humphries graduation ceremonies many times over the years. We’ve also been to Selkirk College’s graduation every spring for about 25 years. But those events were nearby, and all we had to do was drive for not more than ten minutes.

This year our oldest granddaughter was graduating from high school. She was graduating, however, from George M. Dawson Secondary in Masset, B.C. on Haida Gwaii. We’re talking about what was once called the Queen Charlotte Islands, a long way from Castlegar. In fact, if you look at a map, you will think twice about driving there.

As our granddaughter had been accepted into Selkirk College this fall, we were asked to help move her belongings back to Castlegar.  So, four days before her graduation we were on the highway heading north in my van.

Truly, it takes three full days to get there. The first day, you have to get as far as Prince George. Over to Kelowna, up to Vernon, across to Kamloops, on to Cache Creek, and then all the way up the Cariboo Highway to Prince George—13 hours.

The second day you have to get as far as Prince Rupert. The reason for that is you have to take the B.C. Ferry on the third day, and you have to have that booked well before you get there. Prince George to Prince Rupert seems an endless journey because Highway #16 is such a winding road.  You pass through Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake, Houston, Smithers, New Hazelton, and Terrace for nine hours.

The B.C. Ferry experience occurred on the third day of our trip, and we were required to be at the dock by 8 a.m. for a 10 o’clock departure. We managed to get on board with our vehicle by 9 a.m., and then we watched the rest of the vehicles being loaded.

Unfortunately, this ferry only loads and unloads from one end, so all the freight and tanker trucks had to back down the long winding ramp and then be wedged in place. Of course, some of the drivers couldn’t back up straight, so B.C. Ferries personnel had to take over. Needless to say, we left Prince Rupert at 12:15, more than two hours late.

Arriving in Queen Charlotte City at about 6 p.m., we picked up my eldest son and my six year-old granddaughter, who had arrived in Sandspit earlier by air. Then we drove for two hours on a twisting under-repair highway to Masset. Fortunately, being so far north, Haida Gwaii had lots of evening light.

The graduation itself was a snap in contrast to the trip to get there. In particular, we enjoyed the grand march with each of the 28 students dressed in their finery. Graduates came into the hall separately walking to music they had personally selected, so we listened to everything from “Wild Thing” to “Sesame Street”.

It was neat that the grads selected their escorts, and most of them chose family members, either grandparents, parents, or a big brother or sister. Our lovely granddaughter walked up the aisle accompanied by her six year-old sister from Castlegar, one in a blue gown, the other in a yellow one.

Upon arrival at the stage, the escorts departed, and the graduate had to face the audience and listen to a brief statement about his or her life and future prospects. These write-ups were prepared ahead of time by the happy parents.

The four hour graduation was enjoyable and different.  A couple of days later, however, we had to think about the gruelling three day trip back home to Castlegar.