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Revelling in Roadside Attractions
By Randall Shirley


It's hard to improve on Mother Nature’s tourist attractions—especially sites like the Rockies through Rogers Pass. But for years, the folks around Revelstoke have been trying. They've "enchanted" the forest, "miniaturized" the village, and housed the living at a "ghost town." You've barely pried your knuckles from the steering wheel after the drive down the Pass when these roadside attractions hit you in the face, one after the other.

They’re throwbacks to grueling car trips of the 60s and 70s, when nobody had dreamed of in-car DVD players, let alone the minivan itself. Imagine: actually getting out of the car and interacting with others!

You’ve driven by before. Here’s a handy guide to help you decide where to stop—whether young Brittney’s begging for the Enchanted Forest or you’re simply the curious type. Each is priced under ten bucks, with discounts for seniors, kids, and sometimes a family pass.

Revelstoke Railway Museum (www.railwaymuseum.com). This stop’s for dad and the boys. Like all good railroad towns, Revelstoke wants to maintain its heritage and pull in a your tourist bucks at the same time.

The spiffy rail museum is across the tracks from downtown. Appropriately, you may need to wait for a passing train just to get into the parking lot. Assign young Adam to count the train cars and you’ve resurrected a favourite highway game from years ago.

Three “galleries” allow you to explore different aspects of railroading history, complete with detailed models and interesting artifacts. Trainspotters will love the depth of information.

For the rest of us, the excitement lies in the amazingly restored (and cleaned up) locomotive #5468, a 1948 vintage oil burner. She’s a beauty, and it’s a thrill to climb into the engineer’s cab, with it’s endless array of gauges and knobs. It’s also humbling to get up-close with her massive steel wheels and pistons.

Outside you’ll find a variety of train cars, a snowplow engine, and a caboose that’s fun to explore.

            Three Valley Gap (www.3valley.com). Anyone who’s driven through the region will recall rounding a bend and being surprised by this massive, red-roofed hotel, dotted with charming dormer windows. “What the heck is that place?” you’ve asked.

            You MUST stop. This spot is worth at least an afternoon. It’s a place where you truly learn what a Dreamer can build.

            Almost fifty years ago, Gordon and Ethel Bell heard the Trans-Canada highway would go through this area. They bought 20 acres of lakeside swamp, and filled it in with 25,000 truckloads of rock and fill material, with the dream of building a small motel and museum to attract weary travellers.

            Today, that “small” motel has grown to 200 rooms—including requisite theme rooms—still run by Gordon, Ethel, and family. The rooms are simple, clean, and comfortable. There’s no need for art on the walls—the spectacular view from any window is art enough.

            The place begs to be explored. It’s full of unusual collections. There’s an indoor swimming pool with a giant mural of the Titanic on the wall—an arrow points out, “iceberg ripped through hull here.” The outdoor gardens, set along the lake and a small, sandy beach, are spectacular. The combination of red roofs, green mountains, blue water, and rainbows of flowers is truly dazzling.

            Behind the hotel is Gordon Bell’s “ghost town,” actually a collection of old buildings from communities throughout the region. Each was in danger of demolition when Bell came to the rescue. Of special interest are the Craigellachie Schoolhouse, and Gordon Bell’s extensive collection of lovingly restored antique autos, dating to 1902.

            Today’s highway travellers notice the new, massive, round red roof. When it’s finished, this will be a rare, indoor railway turntable. The huge space under the roof is filled with antique rail cars (including P.T. Barnum’s former carriage), all in various stages of restoration.

            You’ll be amazed to learn Three Valley Gap has its own dams and hydroelectric plant, all built by the Bells (they’ll send you on a hike there, if you like). If you don’t come away from Three Valley Gap inspired to dream a little bigger, you had your eyes closed. If you’re lucky, Gordon will be your tour guide. He’s full of sage advice like, “once you learn how to learn, you can do anything.”

            Enchanted Forest (www.enchantedforestbc.com): This is the kind of place where kids beg to stop and parents cringe. But my pal Dennis, a Calgary father who does the Coast trip each year says, “It’s perfect. The kids get out and run all through the woods. Then they’re wiped out, fall asleep, and I can drive on in peace!”

            Enchanted Forest is a true throwback to the 60s. Artist Doris Needham loved making large, fairytale figurines out of concrete. Eventually, she placed them in this gorgeous swath of forest, and started charging passing travellers to explore. Younger kids go wacky with glee when they come face to face with the Three Little Pigs, Captain Hook, and the Old Woman’s Shoe—at just their size.

            There’s a surprise for adult travellers: a stunning nature walk. “This whole place is really a way for people to get up close with the forest,” says owner Rocky Ehlers. A trail into old-growth trees leads to a boardwalk over marshland—allowing visitors amazing views of beaver dams, lilypads, and rich salmon spawning waters.

            Crazy Creek Suspension Bridge (www.crazycreekwaterfalls.com). This spot has the region’s slickest marketing. But ultimately it’s just a pretty waterfall (and you could have stopped at Takakawa for free). You can see Crazy Creek Falls pretty well from the road. The suspension bridge is owned by an evangelical religious group. Scriptural quotes on signposts throughout the attraction remind you of that.

            Beardale Castle Miniatureland: (www.beardaleminiatureland.com). If you love toys, models (trains, buildings, etc.), or dolls, this is a great stop.

            Herb Egin looks like a old style German craftsman. He takes your money and points you up the hill. Inside the “castle,” he and wife Fran have assembled and/or built a fascinating collection of miniatures, including complete European towns with moving trains, animated Mother Goose characters from the original Pacific National Exhibition, a Canadian prairie town, and even a Haida Native village.

            The place feels like it was built in 1970 and little has changed; in reality much of it is quite new—as recent as 2001. Adults will be amazed by the exhibits’ intricate details more than children will—there’s nothing to touch and play with here.

            So, next time you’re headed west, stretch your legs and “revel” in the bygone era of roadside attractions.

            Former Calgarian Randall Shirley has driven Rogers Pass in all weather. He finds the whole region “enchanting.”

 

Stay:   

·         Three Valley Gap Chateau, $95-150, seasonal, www.3valley.com. A great family reunion spot. Weddings can be arranged in the ghost town church.

·         R Motel (Revelstoke), $39+. Super budget, but always clean and friendly, with free wireless internet. Near tracks, bring earplugs. www.rmotel.com.

·         Revelstoke has many other lodging choices, www.seerevelstoke.com.

 

Eat:     

·         Conversations Coffee & Sandwich Shop, Revelstoke. Homemade lunch fare away from fast food. 205 Mackenzie Street. There are numerous local restaurants along this street. Bad Paul’s Roadhouse is also popular.

·         Three Valley Gap. A large, friendly dining room serves solid roadside food. Groups of 30+ can request (in advance) a barbecue in the ghost town.

·         D Dutchman Dairy (Sicamous). You may have to dodge busloads of Chinese tourists to get to the ice cream, but this true dairy makes it goooood!












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