Longtime Terrace resident Steve Smyth, 62, is about to depart to Chase B.C. for his retirement, but he is sure he’ll be back at some point in the future.
“There’s something about the place that attaches itself to your heart,” he said. “I’m moving away and I have a feeling that I will be leaving a good chunk of my heart here as well.”
Smyth’s family moved from England to Terrace in 1965, part of a trend of families migrating to B.C.’s northwest from places across Europe. Coming from a fully industrialized area between Liverpool and Manchester, much of Smyth’s childhood was spent on a bike, exploring the area beyond the gravel roads of Terrace, which at the time was closer to Hazelton in size.
“There wasn’t a lot to do as far as organized sports, but there was a lot to do as far as riding your bicycle somewhere, we obviously didn’t have cell phones to use Google Maps, so if we wanted to know what something was where, we went there, and there were very little restrictions.”
That all changed in 1972 when the arena opened. Smyth said that hockey became a way of life for him, and everything revolved around playing and getting on the ice. His gear was left in the rink’s furnace room so he was ready at a moment’s notice to fill in if a team was short players. He would stand in line for hours waiting to skate.
“It was very exciting, and not only did the kids learn, there was a lot of learning from a lot of parents, because we came from England, right? There’s no hockey,” he said.
“So my dad got involved as helper and skate tie-er and whatever he could do, and ended up as our bus driver years later on. [There were] a lot of Italian, Portuguese, a lot of German parents, absolutely no exposure to hockey whatsoever, but they were really passionate about it.”
Smyth said that home games are always very well attended with loud fans. Strong rivalries with Kitimat teams helped to build the hockey culture in Terrace.
The Terrace Centennials played junior hockey in the Pacific Northwest Hockey League at the time, which Smyth compared to the Federal League in the movie Slapshot.
“The rink was packed every Friday night, there’d be 1,000 people in there, cigarette haze coming down to ice level and it was pretty wild and pretty hairy.”
Smyth’s love of playing turned into a love of coaching. Over 32 years, he has coached every division in minor hockey.
“I’m coaching with young men that I used to coach when they were 12 years old, now they’re adults and we’re coaching their kids together and so it’s kind of a generational thing, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s very rewarding,” Smyth said.
“Outside of work I’m probably called coach more than I’m called Steve when I meet people downtown, and it’s something that’s very dear to my heart, it means a lot to me.”
Smyth has seen the ups and downs of Terrace over the years, finding himself unemployed for a stretch in the early 1980s. He moved to Burns Lake for a year but returned because it didn’t feel right. Smyth said back in the 80s you either worked in the bush or didn’t, and the allure of making big money in the bush was always tugging at him.
“A lot of my friends worked in the bush, and a couple of them were killed, unfortunately, and it always kind of made my mind up for me that I never wanted to go there,” he said.
“I did actually, at one point, quit my job because I was tired of getting jerked around over low wages and I was going to go in the bush and luckily, one of my friends talked me out of it over the weekend and I went back to my job on Monday and rescinded my resignation.”
For the last 22 years, Smyth has worked for Peterbilt selling trucks and managing its facility here. He has written a column in The Terrace Standard for more than five years. His early columns were mainly focused on the “trials and tribulations” of running a business in town. Smyth represented a more pro-responsible development and pro-business point of view.
“I think that I always wrote from the perspective of a Terracite and wrote about my home and tried to talk about things that were important to people that live here now.”
“A couple of my early columns were really strident pro-LNG, you know, log it, fill it, pave it point of view. I like to think I’ve matured from that point of view and I’m able to look at all sides or both sides of an argument.”
But Smyth still strongly believes that Terrace needs an industrial tax base to survive and grow into the future.
“If it doesn’t, then we will end up as a gas station between Prince Rupert and Prince George. And hopefully that never happens.”
Now, as Smyth prepares for his retirement and move to Chase, he wants to point the attention to some of the incredible people he has met during his time here.
“They’re serving on boards without compensation, they are donating their time to be the accountant for minor hockey, they’re serving as presidents, they’re putting themselves out there. They’re division heads, they’re skate tie-ers, they are bus drivers. There’s so many good people in this town.”
And it is a near certainty that Smyth will be back in Terrace at some point to visit.
“There was an old legend that if you drank the waters of the Skeena, you were always destined to come back, and they don’t talk about that much anymore, but maybe there’s something to it.”