Lytton B.C. and Gertie – 2021 and 1977

A guest blog by Martin Barnett

Lytton, BC Canada has been in the news lately for two reasons:

1. It registered the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada on 29 June 2021, at a toasty 49.6 C (122 F)

2: it burned down the following day, razing 90% of the structures and killing two people. It suspected that a spark from a train caused the wildfire.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and the homes of the people who lived there and the surrounding areas.

Lytton is situated at the confluence of the mighty Fraser and Thompson Rivers and when settlers arrived with the Fraser Gold Rush the site was named in 1858 after Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the British colonial secretary and a popular novelist who penned the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night… ”

Lytton is about 250 kms north of Vancouver and is on the Trans Canada Highway. It’s a brutal uphill drive and Graham and I drove it in October 1977 in our trusty Gertie, the ’66 blue VW Bug. Gertie developed a bad case of overheating and we had to pull over in Lytton. We were on our way to a wedding in Edmonton Alberta and we still had nearly a 1000 kms to go and most of that was through the Canadian Rockies!

Why were we going to a wedding in Edmonton? Well, as mentioned in a previous post by my renegade brother we were living in St Lucia before our journey to Canada and one of the expats that was in our group of friends was ‘Scottish’ Dave. Dave was a diver and was working on the piles for the new deep-water port in Castries. One of our other friends was Anne (Annie) Wheaton; some of you may recognize the name from multiple auto dealerships in Western Canada. Annie was around 21, blond and flew a Piper aircraft around the Caribbean Islands for an engineering consultant friend of her father’s. Many of the single lads tried to date her but she never had a steady boyfriend. Imagine everyone’s surprise when it became known that she had coupled with ‘Scottish’ Dave. Dave was a very quiet reserved man, not the jet-setter type and did not really seem interested in girls! Go Dave, you rascal!

Annie decided to return to Edmonton and bring her fiancé to meet the folks. A wedding was planned, and Martin and Graham decided to attend the wedding. What’s a 1250 kms drive to a party? no problem!

However, as we proceeded up the steep mountain passes, Gertie, our VW bug grew sick and was obviously not going to make it. We rolled it down into the next town, Lytton found a spot to stash Gertie and decided that we would walk the rest of the way. Well, it was Thursday night, and the wedding was on Saturday, so we decided to hitch-hike. We made it to Kamloops that first night but finding a ride out of town proved futile until a female RCMP felt sorry for us. She dropped us the other side of town (probably hoping that we wouldn’t cause trouble on her beat!) Without a ride we decided to go to the bus station and wait for the next Greyhound bus to Edmonton. What a great ride through the Rockies, and we were going to make it by Friday, the day before the wedding.

Well, we were a pretty relaxed and naïve duo and since living in the Caribbean for three years we hadn’t thought much about dress code. Clean shirt and jeans would usually suffice. We thought we could just meld in with the crowd and be informal. We got a ride to Annie’s parents’ house on the Friday afternoon and as we drove up the circular driveway through immaculate landscaping to the mansion, we had a feeling that our relaxed attitude might be out of place. I wish I had taken a photo of Mrs Wheaton when she was introduced to us…the look of shock and horror at these two hirsute British lads who were going to spoil her daughter’s big day. “Where are your suits?” she said, looking at our scruffy hockey bags. We explained that we only had ‘smart casual’ with us, to which she replied, “but you are standing up with David!” We weren’t aware that Dave didn’t have any other guests able to attend from the old country and that we we were the groom’s party by default! “You will have to borrow suits from Annie’s brothers!” she ordered.

I wish I could tell you about the wedding, but I can only remember a few details. It was held at the posh Petroleum Golf Clubhouse in Edmonton, nobody in the brides family liked Dave or his groomsmen and we definitely got looked down upon by those damn snobs. I met Max Ward the aviation pioneer who wore a suede jacket and a Bolo necktie. How come he didn’t have to wear a formal suit and tie? I guess the marriage was a complete disaster and Dave and Annie split after six months. I only saw him once again, briefly, on Vancouver Island and then he disappeared back to the glens of Scotland.

Petroleum Golf Clubhouse, Edmonton

After the wedding I think we got a ride to Calgary where we polished up our thumbs again. We started hitching out of the cowboy town on a fall morning which began warm but then turned very cold. Our rides came slowly and by the evening it got so bloody cold we bought a bottle of whiskey and stood drinking in the dark until a truck driver picked us up. The next morning we were only half way on our 1,250 kms journey when a couple of guys in a big green ford cruiser picked us up. It turned really bizarre when they stopped in a small town and asked us to drive the car to Vancouver for them. We agreed, not thinking that it could easily have been a stolen car or be carrying illicit drugs. Anyhow, we met them the next morning at the Century Plaza Hotel where we dutifully returned the car to them. I’d really love to know what the story was behind that adventure.

Ahh…but back to Gertie and Lytton. Graham and I had to do something about the car. No problem, we decided to tow it back to Vancouver and arrange to get it fixed. Well in the old country if you needed a tow, you just got another car and attached a rope, and pulled the broken down one. Someone sat in the rear vehicle and operated the brakes. Easy? Well our first problem was renting a car. No one would rent a car without a valid credit card which neither of us possessed, we had passports, international driving licences and cash for deposit but that was not enough. Luckily, one of Graham’s female associates was happy to oblige and we rented a ’77 Camaro from Budget Rental Cars. Graham had a substantial rope in his backpack, but we omitted to tell the rental agency what we planned to do!

It was a smooth ride up the Fraser Canyon to Lytton and the VW was waiting for us. The hook up with the rope was easy (Graham used to be a Boy Scout so he knew his knots!) Off we went on the 250 kms drive down Highway 1 to Vancouver. I drove the Camaro with Graham sat in Gertie, steering, operating the brakes and praying. Nobody gave us a second look until we reached Chilliwack, about 70 kms from our destination. Then we got pulled over by a patrol car with a young officer who looked at our rig with incredulity. I did all the talking and explained how we were new to the country, and this is how we solved this problem in the U.K. He decided not to throw the book at us but showed us Canadian vehicular regulations; Division 7 paragraph 7 stating clearly the rules for towing vehicle.  He followed us to a nearby repair shop which luckily agreed to evaluate the broken-down bug and give us a quote. We came back the next week and picked up the car with a brand-new head gasket!

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: