The Ministry of Transportation has some great news for people who love B.C.’s roadside heritage: the ministry is rejuvenating, and adding to, the iconic Stop of Interest signs around the province. And in an interview with The Journal, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said that the province is also bringing back the Garbage Gobblers, the bug-eyed creatures that guarded garbage cans beside B.C. highways for many years.
An original Garbage Gobbler stands beside Highway 1 at Ashcroft Manor, and Stone says that another 20 to 30 have been installed at rest areas and provincial parks around the province, with more to come.
“Some longer-term employees at the ministry were ecstatic when I asked ‘What would it take to bring back the Garbage Gobblers?’” says Stone. “The new ones look a little bit different, and we’ve made them bear-proof and added some other modifications.”
The original Garbage Gobbler at Ashcroft Manor. Photo by Barbara Roden
The Stop of Interest sign project got underway in the fall of 2015, when Heritage BC asked the public to submit information about the location, condition, and wording of the existing signs. The first signs were planted in 1958, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of British Columbia becoming a British colony.
“The current inventory has 164 signs,” says Stone, “and we estimate that about one-third of them have gone missing over the years.” In this area, both the “Ghost of Walhachin” sign (east of Cache Creek) and the “B.X. Express” sign (near 16 Mile) have vanished. Stone suspects that some of the missing signs ended up in people’s garages.
The new signs will be of a composite material, but are otherwise “as close a replica of the original look and feel as we could get. They’re a bit bigger,” says Stone. A link with the past is the fact that the firm that won the contract to make the new signs is the same firm that created the originals starting in 1958, and which is still a family business.
“We’re going through all 164 of the signs to update and modernize the language,” continues Stone. “A few of the signs reference Chinese pioneers in derogatory terms, and refer to First Nations people in less than modern language.”
A 1979 book called 126 Stops of Interest in Beautiful British Columbia by David E. McGill provides pictures, and further information, for the signs that were in place at the time (more were subsequently added). Of the signs documented, 10 commemorate mines but only one (“Early Chinese” at Emory Creek near Hope) commemorates the province’s Chinese pioneers.
Many of the signs reference “Indians”,
but only three specifically mention First Nations sites and traditions. One of them—“Ogopogo’s Home” north of Penticton—will be rewritten to make the sign more respectful of First Nations people and culture. The current plaque reads “Before the unimaginative, practical whiteman came, the fearsome lake monster, N’ha-a-itk, was well known to the primitive, superstitious Indians. His home was believed to be a cave at Squally Point, and small animals were carried in canoes to appease the serpent. Ogopogo still is seen each year—but now by white men!”
Another sign, “Totem Poles”, at Kitwancool (west of Hazelton), refers to the “stately monuments in cedar”, then goes on to refer to them as a “primitive” art form. This sign, too, will be rewritten.
The ministry is also asking the public to nominate people, places, and events for new signs, with Stone saying that the ministry will be erecting more than 75 new signs between now and summer of 2017.
“The response has been phenomenal,” he says. “We’ve had more than 100 responses from all corners of the province.”
He says that the ministry is looking for better and more diverse representation for the new signs. “There are very few in northern B.C., and this is a great opportunity to cover the province. And there aren’t many First Nations signs. The fact that there are so few signs with First Nations content is almost as offensive as the language on the signs where they are mentioned.”
Work on the signs has already started, with the one commemorating the “Birdcages”—the original legislative buildings in Victoria—moved to a new location in September 2016. The sign had been completely engulfed by a tree, says Stone, which made it impossible to see without wading into prickly undergrowth to find it. “Perhaps that’s why it was never stolen—no one could find it.”
A new Stop of Interest sign went up in Golden in early November. Government of B.C.
And on November 9, 2016, a Stop of Interest sign was unveiled in Golden, commemorating the arrival of Sikhs in that community in 1902. “It’s the first new sign put in place,” says Stone. “The Gurdwara [temple] there was the first in British Columbia, and possibly the first in Canada. It’s one of the oldest in North America. It was a touching ceremony, and the sign celebrates the impact Sikhs had on the town of Golden and the area.
“And you could tell the people who have lived in B.C. all their lives liked the sign.”
Members of the public have until January 31, 2017 to submit new Stop of Interest sign suggestions. For more information, or to suggest a site, go to http://engage.gov.bc.ca/stopsofinterest/.