So long, Terrace


Jen with her brother Ron when he rode up to Terrace on his motorcycle. She went for a spin but wasn’t ready to leave Terrace yet.

Originally published February 23, 2005 in the Terrace Standard.

By Jennifer Lang

When I first came to Terrace, I asked my brother Ron to make me a promise. If I’m still here in a year, say you’ll drag me back to Vancouver – even if I say I like it. I belong in the city, I sniffed.

My brother, who lived in Peachland, just smiled. Ten years later, I know why.

Picture a bustling forestry town in the northern frontier – before the arrival of the internet, cellphones, a decent café latte (except for Rene’s at the farmers’ market) or a tap beer more adventurous than Molson’s or Rickard’s Red.

It felt pretty remote. But serious news kept happening. As a wide-eyed cub reporter straight out of journalism school, I couldn’t believe my luck.

The Nisga’a were still negotiating a treaty, prompting fractious, lively debates here and across the country, and garnering international headlines.

They weren’t the only northwest residents fighting for their rights. For three days that first summer, commercial fishermen in Prince Rupert held an Alaskan passenger ferry hostage. Later, there’d be rallies and protests against everything from fish licence fee hikes – where a young MLA named Christy Clark helped forge her reputation as a rising political star – to a day of grassroots action prompted by the emerging Skeena Cellulose crisis; a 2-km long convoy of logging trucks from across the region rolled into downtown Terrace, demanding the province do something to save the company.

Famous people were always passing through Terrace. Anyone else remember when Kevin Costner came here to fish? I tried tracking him down at various fishing lodges – in the interest of the readers, of course. Alas, the trail went cold.

Political leaders were prone to dropping in, too. I’ve met five sitting premiers. A shields-up Mike Harcourt came here to deliver the bad news about the Kemano Completion Project. A cocky, magnetic Glen Clark posed for photos at the Terrace Inn the day the Nisga’a completed their treaty; Rock-star-like, he later electrified the crowd at the official signing ceremony in the Nass Valley.

There was the chain-smoking, abrasive Dan Miller, who, along with then MLA-Helmut Giesbrecht walked straight into the lion’s den, a standing-room-only anti-NDP rally at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre called Have You Had Enough?

I ambushed Gordon Campbell when he was still an ambitious Liberal leader early one sunny morning in the Desiderata Inn parking lot. Last year, he told me some of his favourite movies are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Elizabeth, Shakespeare In Love, and Life is Beautiful.

I even got a chance to ask Prime Minister Jean Chretien a question in a well-controlled scrum in New Aiyansh. (And stalk him outside Joe Gosnell’s home hoping for an exclusive.)

Sometimes my job took me out of town: to a Hollywood film production next to the Bear Glacier, where I encountered the force of nature that is Robin Williams. He imperceptibly removed his sunglasses for a millisecond, so he would be more recognizable while someone snapped a picture of us.

I got to interview CBC star Ernie Coombs (Mr. Dressup), who sang to me over the phone, and meet war historian and journalist Gwynne Dyer. “Work on that ego, kid,” he told me. No one’s laughter sounds anything like novelist Eden Robinson’s.

I learned this is a vast region, bigger than anyone down south can imagine. I took a one-day campaign tour of the Skeena riding with federal NDP hopeful Isaac Sobol. A noisy Cessna took us to Telegraph Creek, Atlin, Dease Lake and Iskut and back. “If we drove, the election would be over,” Sobol quipped.

I spent holidays kayaking in Gwaii Haana, exploring North Beach, driving to the Yukon, or meandering the coast on Alaskan ferries, and weekends at folk festivals or hiking Maroon or Thornhill Mountain – sometimes without seeing another living soul.

I pitied my former classmates at suburban weeklies. I also pitied my friends in the Lower Mainland.

I realized Terrace had given me a true sense of belonging to a community.

That’s why my brother was smiling. I understand that now.

I’ve gotten to know people in all walks of life. Some became friends. Others became valued contacts.

It’s true a lot of people have left town in the past few years. Now I’m about to add my name to that list.

Ten years, two newspapers, a few seasons on channel 10, various freelance gigs, and literally thousands of stories later, I’m heading back to the Lower Mainland. I hope I still belong there. We’ll see.

It’s time to hand this job over to someone new, someone who can bring fresh enthusiasm and energy to this demanding but curiously rewarding position.

I’m grateful to everyone who welcomed me into their homes and offices, poured out their deepest fears and hopes over coffee, or simply returned a phone call on deadline to patiently explain some technical detail.

So long, everyone. Thanks for everything.

Robin Williams

Jen with Robin Williams on the set of Insomnia, next to the Bear Glacier on the road to Stewart B.C.

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