Posted by: Bro | July 1, 2008

When I met Prince George

“Everywhere, the snarl of diesel” – Planting manager, aka foreman.

I was fast asleep when we rolled into town. We stopped at a place called the Buffalo Grill or something like that. It was a fancier pub, now long out of business. Inside I met much of the management of the treeplanting company. Being tired and hungover I ordered food without saying much in the way of “hello.”

After gulping it down, I started to doze off at the bar. This, no doubt, made a great first impression. My good friend kindly took me to the apartments in which we would be living for a month while we planted just outside of town. As it turned out, just outside of town didn’t exactly mean just outside of town. More on that later. I inflated an air mattress, threw my sleeping bag on top of it and fell fast asleep.

Also, I was in Prince George about three days earlier than I needed to be. This meant that the management was getting up super-early to lay the groundwork for the planting season, while I dozed peacefully on my air mattress. Except I couldn’t really doze. You see, the air mattress was located in the living room of this unfurnished apartment. There was one piece of furniture- a rickety wooden picnic table which I was told was part of the bush camp gear. I had no idea what bush camp meant. There may have been a plastic ground sheet underneath the picnic table. It was classy. Anyway, the point is that my air mattress was adjacent to the picnic table at which management would eat at 5:15 a.m. before they went out for the day. One of them was fond of power-shakes. Blenders are loud.

So I didn’t sleep well, but instead tossed and turned in my sleeping bag as one of the managers made his power-shake and sang Ween. Thirty minutes later, the snarl of diesel would wake me again. I spent the next couple of days walking around town.

Prince George can best be described as a medium-sized Canadian town situated in the northern half of a province. That means that there are plenty of coniferous trees, pickups, and the 7-11 is a hot hang-out. It has the standard attractions, a dairy queen, a tourist centre, a few large malls. It also seems to be the product of post-war planning (though I admit that I don’t know much about this). The roads are big, the malls are spread out, the parking lots are enormous, and the desirable homes are well outside of town. The town is made for driving. Downtown itself is located in a small valley adjacent to the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako rivers. From the look of things when I was first there, the town had its last boom in the 80s.

I am going to work harder at trying to distill the essence of the newer Canadian towns. They have an air of sleepiness, rough edges, and pragmatism that is hard to capture. Having grown up in them, I miss their simplicity. Gas there, groceries over here, a hospital, a library, a high school, there you go. All in a neat tidy package thanks to their short history and a willingness to tear down what’s old. Prince George, in particular, seemed rougher and more pragmatic than the towns to the south.

In short, my introduction to Prince George felt like meeting a friend’s older brother. It was like the towns I knew to the south, but a little tougher and a little busier.

Having returned there for four more seasons, I met Prince George at what seemed to be the end of a peak. The town seemed to be doing well, and the people seemed optimistic, but they knew that rougher times were ahead. Given the fate of the Buffalo Grill and other small businesses that sprouted “For Lease” signs in the following seasons, they were right.

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