With headlamps

Beer gold mine found along Highway 16

A group of friends from the northwest tell the tale of having discovered intact beer in a ditch off Highway 16

It’s the quintessential Canadian urban legend.

This reporter went to Shames Mountain for the first time on the last weekend it was open for the season.

After a day of boarding, I was socializing with some fellow skiers and was offered a “ditch beer”.

“What’s that?” I asked.

Knowing looks passed around the circle, and I seemed to be the only one out of the loop.

Then came the story.

One day in February, a car full of skiers and snowboarders were driving to the mountain. One friend told another friend that he went to the liquor store the night before and they were sold out of the beer he wanted. The reason being a truck had crashed along the Skeena and the store didn’t get its beer order.

As the friends discussed the possible scenario they came around a corner and in a swampy area on the railroad side of the highway, they saw a clean up crew where the truck had crashed.

There was broken glass, a keg and about six people clearing the debris.

At the end of the day, as the friends made the drive back home to Prince Rupert the clean up crew was gone, and they decided to pull over to check the spot out for themselves.

One friend dipped his hand into the cold water, hoping for the impossible of discovering forgotten beer in the murky depths.

His hand found the neck of a glass bottle — unbroken. Then he found another, and another. By some miracle, the truck had crashed in a steep bank of gooey mud that absorbed the impact and preserved many of the bottles.

That car full of friends claimed they loaded up 125 bottles of beer in their car that night: Corona, Sol, Heineken, Kokanee, Canadian, Coors Light, Keith’s and a few other brands.

But word had already spread at the bars, at house parties and on Facebook.

Much like the secrets whispered among sailors about sunken treasure, friends mapped out their plans to discover the barley bounty lost along the Skeena.

Some groups claimed to find 600 bottles, another group swore they recovered 800.

The people who recited the story to me said they went on a night mission with a trailer, totes, a dry suit and hip waders for the waist-high icy water in the ditch.

They floated around for about two hours extracting the beer, sometimes grabbing five in one fistful.

A couple of others had a similar idea and met them that night as well.

By the end of the mission, the friends said they had 1,300 ditch beer loaded up in their trailer.

In total, people have claimed it was about a sum of 3,000 beer retrieved from the ditch.

This all happened in the last week of February.

Was this a true story? The washed out labels on their beer bottles seemed to corroborate with what they were telling me. I called up Doug Johnson, the owner of Big River Distributors in Terrace to find out if indeed one of his company’s trucks had an unfortunate mess along the highway.

A truck did in fact go in a ditch. The truck got caught in some slush and turned upside down.

“It took us about 300 man hours to clean it up,” Johnson said. “We got most of it in the initial two days.”

The company hauls beer to Prince Rupert twice a week, and the last time this kind of accident occurred in the area was 30 years ago, he said.

The six-man clean up crew had to pick up the mess, including pickle jars going for recycling, cardboard, Styrofoam as well as the beer.

Johnson doesn’t want the story glamourized. He saw the photos on Facebook of people finding beer in the ditch.

“It’s not there for the taking,” he said.

In the next week or two he said that they will be able to determine how much they lost on that delivery.

“We’ve basically removed all the broken glass and stuff out of the swamp and by weighing the glass we’ll be able to determine how many dozens of bottles there are and what we took out and add the two together.”

He laughs at the idea there could 250 dozen beer bottles in that ditch. He said there were more beer cans than bottles, and because they float they were collected right away.

“You know how the stories go. It’s just like fishing.”