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October 28, 2007


Meeting Destiny in Hedley, BC?

As a child in the 60s, packed away with my brother in the back seat of the blue Pontiac station wagon on our annual summer vacation, I’d squish my face against the window and dream. Past the boulders of the Hope Princeton slide on Hwy 3, the inside of the car grew eerily silent as if the environment outside demanded reverence. As we’d near the village of Hedley, my dad, in the best imitation of our favourite TV show of the time – The Friendly Giant - would alert us to look up, look WAY UP to the buildings on the side of the mountain.

Stretching my meagre neck to see, the dilapidated buildings represented mystery and adventure presumably like the kind I’d seen in cartoons in which skunks would scream, “There’s gold in them there hills!”

Hedley or Sna-za-ist “place of the striped rock” is squeezed into the base of the mountains near the banks of the Similkameen River. In 1898, gold was discovered at Nickel Plate Mountain with a tram built in 1904 to carry the ore from the mine to the mill below. In 1936 the Mascot Mine opened and remained to 1949. About 30 years later the Nickel Plate Mine became an open pit mine and operated between 1985 and 1995. Together the two mines yielded approximately 2.5 million Troy ounces of gold, 600,000 ounces of silver and 1900 metric tonnes of copper. In 1994 assisted by the Hedley Heritage Museum and then local MLA Bill Barlee, the Mascot Mine buildings were saved from demolition and the site restored by the Similkameen Indian Band.
Fast forward 40 years and this summer I felt compelled to visit Hedley as part of a longer road trip.

I was in another transition. I’d just left my job and was taking a break with only one potential employer crossing my consciousness. Located 10 minutes from my house, they develop exhibits for museums and science centers the world over. I’d applied there to no avail previously and as I left on the trip, I made a mental note for my return: Apply again!

I checked into the Gold Rush B&B, a large colonial house with a clean white wrap around veranda. Simon, a Brit from the Cotswolds and his Canadian wife has owned it for 8 years. I walked around the little village. I wandered through the old fashioned country store across the street and looked at the mural of miners on the side of a building. I visited the Hedley Heritage Museum. The Mascot Mine tour was scheduled for the next morning. It was time for dinner. I chose the Hitching Post in the village. Tanya, the waitress, said, “If you’re set on the seafood pasta ask for extra prawns and hold the mussels.” I did. It was scrumptious!

The next morning, Chuck our driver and Mike our guide loaded us into the bus set to wind 40 minutes up the steep switchbacks to the buildings at the top. It was a small group: me, a family of five, and a couple in their early 60s.

“What brings you on this trip?” asked the man of the couple. I relayed my childhood daydreams.
“Are you a geologist?” I enquired. ``No, I own the company that did the exhibits at the top,” he replied. My wife hasn’t seen them. I looked at him, amazement building.
“Is your company on Georgia Street?” I asked, the name escaping me when I needed it most.
“Yes” he said. “It’s called AldrichPears,” handing me a business card that read Phil Aldrich, Principal. I hesitated for a moment. I couldn’t believe it. “I’ve always wanted to work for your company,” I said and I noticed the expression on his face, perhaps amazed that I even knew his company.

We exchanged chit chat. At the top we stepped carefully down the 598 stairs admiring the dot that was Hedley below. At the bottom, we donned hard hats and headed into the mine shaft. . When Chuck ordered “lights out “so we could concentrate on the audio simulation of miners talking while they worked, Trudy Aldrich said, "Gayle, you can hang on to me if you like." It was sweet of her to think of me. I slipped my arm through hers.

We perused the exhibits. We huffed and puffed back up the 598 stairs. "Don’t worry,” said Mike, "I’ve got a defibrillator” and he tapped his backpack. “Haven’t had to use it yet though!” Phil was first to the top. Back in the parking lot he said, "Keep in touch! Send me a resume!”

I returned to my car, smiling, amazed, wondering at the odds of meeting the president of one of the only companies in Vancouver that currently piques my interest as a future employer, and, in Hedley, BC. Population: 250.

If that isn’t fate, what is?