Stories & Features

Northern B.C. kids embrace 'warmup act' about electrical safety

A frozen Williston Lake Reservoir was among the highlights of BC Hydro's community team trip through B.C.'s northeast to talk to school kids about electrical safety. Show caption
Just outside of Taylor, B.C. sits the Lone Wolf Golf Club and what could be the world's largest golf ball. Show caption
A pair of electric vehicle chargers in Dawson Creek are the two most northern public Level 2 chargers in the province. Show caption
You can take a glimpse into Dawson Creek's storied history, including western storefronts and the Mile 0 sign for the Alaska Highway. Show caption
Grain elevators around Dawson Creek are popular with visitors, who can even check out an art gallery housed inside one of the elevators. Show caption
Chetwynd's famous chainsaw carvings range from the beautiful to the creepy. Show caption
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BC Hydro community crew a hit on tour from Fort St. John to Prespatou

What will BC Hydro's community team remember most about a February tour of northeastern B.C.?

A -25°C day that forced sprints to the car between photos. Bus drivers who would wave and smile as you passed. A giant golf ball. Dozens of chainsaw-carved sculptures. Places with names like Buick, Blueberry River and Prespatou.

And above all, wildly enthusiastic elementary school kids who didn't seem to care a bit that a 20-minute talk about electrical safety was standing between them and the wonders of the Science World On the Road Tour.

I'd definitely rather be warming up for Science World than following them," jokes BC Hydro's Vanessa Lo, who was plain blown away by how receptive kids were to safety demonstrations during a circle tour of communities north of Fort St. John that included Prespatou, an agricultural community that blossomed with the arrival of 86 German-speaking Mennonite families from Saskatchewan in 1961.

"I have to say the best audience you ever get, hands down, is the elementary school audience," adds Lo. "They're just so excited about us visiting. When you ask a question you see so many hands going up. When we selected a volunteer at one school, you could just hear a collective "Awwww..." as they put their hands down. The enthusiasm of those children was amazing."

As a member of BC Hydro's community team, Lo usually presents to the public at cultural festivals, tech expos, retail spaces and trade shows. So it was a treat to travel to B.C.'s northeast and get a chance to teach important electrical safety info to kids as part of the BC Hydro-supported Science World tour. Fortunately, teachers across B.C. also have a chance to get in on the act during BC Hydro's third annual Electrical Safety Day on May 17.

On that day, teachers across the province will lead their classes through a 20-minute interactive safety video that covers concepts including:

  • How electricity travels from a touch point out in circles
  • Why you need to stay a minimum of 10 metres away (the length of a city transit bus) from a fallen power line
  • Down. Danger. Dial. (What you need to remember when you see a fallen power line)
Image of Kiskatinaw Bridge, Alaska Highway
The Kiskatinaw Bridge outside Dawson Creek is part of the old Alaska Highway and stands as one of the only remaining timber bridges on the route.

Eating bannock with kids, driving a piece of the old Alaska Highway

Before February's tour, BC Hydro community rep Kathryn MacDonald had visited Fort St. John without really getting a feel for the region. She had also never before experienced a windy -25°C day.

"I think Dawson Creek is probably the coldest place we've ever been," she says. "When we were getting photos, we'd run to a spot, then run back to the car."

A self-professed electricity geek, MacDonald also had not seen BC Hydro's two dams on the Peace River – W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon – up close before this trip. She admits to being wowed by the size of the dams, built in 1968 and 1980 respectively, but hopes to return to Bennett during a time of the year when the visitor centre is open.

Along the way, she discovered Dawson Creek's historic western-era storefronts in a downtown that lost nearly an entire block to a February 13, 1943 explosion. She loves that the "Mile 0" sign for the Alaska Highway is at Dawson Creek, and thanks to a tip at the local tourist office, she was treated to an amazing local slice of history.

Rather than take the Alaska Highway to their next stop on their tour of the region's elementary schools, they sampled a piece of the old Alaska Highway that took them across the historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, a 162.5-metre long bridge that curves nine degrees and which was built in 1942-43 out of creosoted fir shipped form coastal B.C. by rail. It survives today only because of its limited 25-tonne capacity – not strong enough for larger trucks used in the oil and gas industry – led to construction of a new bridge on the new Alaska Highway that bypassed the Kiskatinaw Bridge and which was built in 1978.

Other highlights of her trip included dining on bannock as a lunch guest at the small school at Moberly Lake, and crossing the Peace River Bridge near Taylor (home of the World Invitational Gold Panning Championships). And if you think spotting what is supposedly the world's largest golf ball at a course just outside Taylor might be the strangest thing she saw on the trip, you'd be wrong.

That claim to fame goes to Chetwynd.

"On the main streets of town, I think there are a couple hundred chainsaw carvings," she says. "Chetwynd is apparently the chainsaw sculpture capital of the world, and there's lots of variety. There's everything from wildlife, to notable people from the north."

If you go, don't miss out on the really creepy pumpkinhead creature who's right out of a nightmare.