The highway south through British Columbia travels through some of the warmest parts of Canada. It is perfect farming country and there are fields upon fields along the highways.
Canada is one of the largest agricultural producers and exporters in the world. As with other developed nations, the proportion of the population and GDP devoted to agriculture fell dramatically over the 20th century but it remains an important element of the Canadian economy. A wide range of agriculture is practiced in Canada, from sprawling wheat fields of the prairies to summer produce in the valleys.
It was appropriate then that my travels took me through the Bulkley Valley just in time for the annual Exhibition (County Fair). The fair is held every year in the small farming town of Smithers. It is a popular event and the campground in town was full so I ended up at a great RV park in Telkwa just south of Smithers and easy driving distance to see the Exhibition.
Pioneer settlers made Smithers their home because of the fertile valley soil, its abundant mineral riches and imposing coniferous forests. Later, tourism played an important part of the economic foundation of the area. Following World War Two, many Europeans immigrated to Smithers, notably Dutch and Swiss families.
Ranching began in the Bulkley Valley around the turn of the 20th century, but has been surpassed in economic importance by the forest industry and more recently, tourism. Fur traders and then missionaries arrived in the valley in the mid-1800s. Soon after, in 1866, an exploration team headed by engineer Colonel Charles Bulkley arrived. The team intended to build a telegraph line connecting North America and Asia. The mission failed but the valley was still named after the team’s leader.
“I haven’t seen a tractor working all day. The country has gone sane and got back to horses. Farmers all look worse, but they feel better.” – Will Rogers
The Bulkley Valley Exhibition was the best of what a country fair has to offer. There were a plethora of events and activities, where local farmers and ranchers had a chance to show off their skills. From logging competitions to livestock auctions to horse shows, a rodeo, antique tractor parades and draft horse-pulling competitions there was lots to see.
As I am writing about this farming area of Canada, politics in the US are once again focusing on immigrants. It is these immigrants that keep much of the agriculture in the western states productive. And the history of the migrant farm workers in California and the west is a tumultuous story with a positive message thanks to César Chávez, a folk hero and symbol of hope to millions of American farm workers.
“Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen. We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.” – Cory Booker
So my readers will have to humor me while I digress and talk about this history while I post photos from the Bulkley Valley Exhibition.
Mexican-American Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was a prominent union leader and labor organizer. Making a major contribution to the way in which farm labor and migrant workers were treated in the United States his nonviolent methods of protest became a banner cry across the country for all workers that were forced to work for low wages and in poor conditions. Chavez modeled his methods on the nonviolent civil disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. employing strikes, boycotts, marches and fasts to draw attention to the cause. An ardent advocate of nonviolence, Chávez was one of the most inspirational labor leaders of the 20th century, with an influence that stretched far beyond the California farm fields.
“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” – Cesar Chavez
César started the National Farm Worker Association to help improve the working conditions of farm workers. African Americans, Filipinos, white Americans, Mexican Americans and Mexicans, and men and women of all backgrounds joined César. His union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California, and the two organizations later merged to become the United Farm Workers. Despite conflicts with the Teamsters union and legal barriers, he was able to secure raises and improve conditions for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.
In 1962 when he and a few others set out to organize a union of farm workers nearly everyone told them it was impossible. But they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. Founding the union was a leap of faith, not just because the odds were against him, but also because he still had serious doubts; he didn’t know if he would succeed. But he did it anyway. He knew he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t at least try.
Isn’t this what our country is all about? Standing up for what is right, sometimes against all odds, because we can.
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain
So back to the trip south through British Columbia. Along with the farm fields there are lots of lakes and beautiful canyons. The weather really started to change and become quite a bit hotter and unfortunately smokier with the fires that had been burning in BC and were still burning in the Western US.
On recommendations from a number of other travelers I stopped and stayed a few nights at Lac La Heche Lake to enjoy paddling and playing around with some night photography.
The trip south through Canada has been quick but full of great experiences and beautiful country.
Next I cross back into the lower 48 and begin the trek back to California.