In 1996, my sister and I were partway across the Hope-Princeton Highway when a blizzard hit. The weather had been slowly getting worse, all the way from Creston. We’d tried asking about the roads when we stopped in Princeton. We’d tried scanning the radio stations. We’d tried listening for updates between CBC Radio comedy hour reruns. No news, so we kept driving.
Half-way across the Hope-Princeton, we passed a car that had hit a snowplow, head-on.
By Manning Park, we were driving too close to the car in front of us, because following their lights was the only way to see the road.
By Hope, an attempt to exit sent us spinning across the highway.
Finally, in Chilliwack, we made it down the ramp and toward the first lights we could see, which happened to be the Greyhound bus station. The highway to Vancouver was closed, we learned. The alternate highway also closed.
From the bus station, we followed the crowds to a nearby school gymnasium. There were a thousand people there, all trapped in mid-holiday travel. Two other shelters held similar groups. And all along the highway, farmhouses were taking in stranded drivers.
Who expects to find themselves in such a situation?
And yet, the whole experience amazed us. Within an hour or so, there were Salvation Army volunteers at a microphone, asking if anyone needed medications brought to the shelter. A little while later, there was a line-up for those needing baby supplies. Then a line-up for people with pets. Within a couple hours of the shelter opening, there was hot soup for everyone. And soon after that, there were cots and blankets.
Sandy and I stayed in Chilliwack for two nights, until the highways were clear. And then we drove two seniors and two Scottie dogs to the Horseshoe Bay ferry. They hadn’t been quite as lucky as us — they’d made it off the highway, but their car was totalled.
I haven’t been a big fan of Scottie dogs since then, but I have been a fan of the Salvation Army. Every year, I make a donation and remember what it was like to be the one stranded in a snowstorm, and how awe-inspiring those emergency volunteers were.