One for the road: Columnist Steve Smyth signs off

Columnist Steve Smyth (File photo)

Columnist Steve Smyth (File photo)

After nearly 60 years of residency, this will likely be the last column I write as a resident of Terrace. Terrace has been my home since Kindergarten classes in the Community Centre and The Standard has graciously given me leave to write a very personal column

To say I’ve witnessed change is an understatement. How do you explain one channel of taped, week delayed television to current the thousand channel generation? How do you describe the Horseshoe being a ball of dust from gravel roads all summer long and a sleepy little Village with nearly everything locked up tightly on Sundays?

My family first lived on the 5000 block of Park Avenue which was at that time, a quiet, middle class neighbourhood close to the old Riverside School, where the Curling rink is now. Coming as I did from the brick schools of England, the old Army barracks which formed Riverside was quite a change. Early classes consisted of children of immigrants from all over the planet and those that were born in the area. Later, we moved to Eby Street on the Bench. Halliwell was then a gravel track with only 4 or 5 homes between Eby and Uplands School. The rest was open fields and forests of scrub pine containing gravel pits and half dug foundations, which because of the rain, made perfect playgrounds for homemade rafts and for soaked pants and rubber boots. We were Kings of the Bench, disappearing on bicycles after breakfast, occasionally coming back for lunch but usually coming home when streetlights flickered on and the sounds of mothers voices floated across the fields, calling us all reluctantly back home in the gathering dusk, one by one.

After a short time away, my parents relocated to the Horseshoe in the late 60’s. The sawmills were the heartbeat of the town and at night, we were lulled to sleep by the thump of logs, the toots of the whistle punks and the clank of lumber on the green chains. In the morning, we woke to our cars covered in fly ash and soot from the beehive burners. Gradually, new schools were built, and old ones torn down, streets were paved, and libraries, arenas and pools opened, making the sleepy village less isolated and less “small”. Entering high school meant merging with kids from the Southside, the Bench, from Thornhill and from Rosswood and the Nass. We met new kids, absorbed new cultures and like all teenaged boys, ate new foods.

With the opening of the Arena in 1972, hockey became part of our lives and we lived, breathed, and spent nearly all our time at the new rink. Grasping for every minute of extra ice, we played for multiple teams, sneaking on with men’s teams if they were short, and refereed and coached. We travelled the winter highways in the backs of pickups and ColCel “Crummies” driven by eager fathers, often seen at stops furtively passing around cigarettes and small flasks. Lifetime friends and rivals were made. We were the first generation on ice to build on existing rivalries with Smithers and Rupert and particularly, with Kitimat. As it still is today, regardless of the sport, the intensities built as the season progressed. Later in life, some of those bitter rivals became friends and customers, and we still battled each other into our 50’s and beyond with laughter, sweat and cold beer replacing the Friday Night Fights of years past.

After graduation, some of us left and didn’t return as lives were started in new cities and towns around the world. We entered the working world and made our way forward, even more of us transferred away, starting lives in other places, and returning in summertime, sharing memories around campfires at favourite places like Furlong and Kleanza.

Sadly, not all of us made it. Living in a resource town meant dealing with sudden, tragic death far too often. Friends taken in an instant, “he was so young” and “a promising young man” killed by the arc of a wayward log, drowned in a net or snuffed out in a truck accident. Families and friends left grieving and young children left behind. Some were lost to drugs and alcohol, losing battles with inner torments we knew nothing about, finding solace in a bottle or a needle, and finding peace only in death.

For some, the arrival of children started the cycle anew, old friends introducing their children, who became new friends and who learned to skate on wobbly ankles and frozen lakes. The next generation learning to love the crunch of tight turns, the crack of a ball hitting a bat, and the joy of hearing the puck or ball hitting the back of the net.

And now, in the 21st Century, what of our dusty little Village? A hub of commerce, education and medicine, a retail destination for the northwest, but always casting envious eyes at Prince George. Once a 2-day drive but now an easy weekend round trip, with different and bigger stores and attractions and restaurants. We have our own problems to deal with, our streets attracting the underhoused and homeless and the lost who live in alcoves and back alleys. Driven there by desperation and demons we know nothing about, some help is offered but never enough and not always accepted.

Our retail stores struggle with competition from massive online retailers and eCommerce. Why go downtown and park and drag the kids into the store? Easier to shop on your phone from your comfortable living room if you have one. As it comes time for me to leave this place, I hope they all survive, we need them to grow and prosper, to give our next generation of kids their first jobs, and for them to sponsor or hockey or ball teams and to donate to Music Festivals and dance.

If this magical, wonderful place and people, with world-class skiing, outdoor and indoor sports and thriving cultural amenities is to survive, we need each other more than ever. We need to help each other, and we need to work with the surrounding Villages and reserves. We need Kitselas and Kitsumkalum, and they need us, so we need to learn about each other, we need to lean on each other for support. Terrace and area have always come together in times of tragedy and need. We have cried together, and we have grieved together. But we have also laughed and celebrated together. Kraft Hockeyville in 2009, we were one, we were loud and proud, and we were Canadian Champions, together, this dusty little outpost in the rainforest.

I’m off to find new adventures, in a drier climate, but I leave a large piece of myself here in the mountains. I will be back and we will sit together around fires and we will tell stories of dusty streets, endless summer days and of games and friends won and lost.

Learn from each other and love and look after each other, the future of this wonderful place depends on you.