A self-described Highway of Tears survivor, Prince Rupert’s Marlene Swift joined elected officials and stakeholders Nov. 17 in Terrace to open the last leg of bus service connecting Highway 16 communities.
As of Nov. 20, BC Transit will now be able to offer contiguous service from Terrace to Prince George, a welcome but long overdue accomplishment for Swift.
In the early winter of 1983, Swift was driving cab in Prince Rupert when a customer raped her at knifepoint. Her attacker stole her taxi and left her for dead in a ditch, but thanks to an alert RCMP officer and a long mental and physical process to recovery, the 69-year-old now shares her story as a tool for awareness and change.
For the past 14 years, Swift has served with the RCMP’s North Coast Victim Services and felt it was important to attend the small ceremony in Terrace’s George Little Park to commemorate the latest addition to the Northwest’s transportation infrastructure.
“I was so pleased to hear they were putting bus services to each community,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have cars, but sometimes maybe there’s a desperation to just get home.
“So what this means to me is if one person who was going to hitchhike uses the bus service instead, and it saves their life, it’s worth it. Just one person and it’s all well worth it.”
Swift travelled to Terrace with North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, the province’s parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness. In a ceremony with BC Transit and elected elected officials from regional districts, municipalities and First Nations communities, Rice spoke on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation to officially launch the transit route between Terrace and The Hazeltons.
The new Route No. 164 will overlap an existing route westward from Gitwangak that connects to Kispiox.
“It’s a very happy day, a celebratory day to see this come to fruition,” Rice said. “This really improves the safety along Highway 16, which of course is known by another name, the Highway of Tears.
“We’ve seen women—and men—put themselves in vulnerable situations just because they need to get to work, or visit family or just get home. So, again, this is a much needed transportation link.”
The new service will come into effect on the morning of Nov. 20. The addition of this route will allow for a minimum service of three days per week between Terrace and Prince George. The schedule allows for return travel from small communities to the nearest large centre on the same day.
In George Little Park the speakers acknowledged the difficulty of negotiating through multiple levels of government and community groups, but all arrived with compliments for the outcome.
“It sets a fine president in Northwest B.C. to show recognition and respect of reconciliation with First Nations people,” said Gitwangak chief councillor Chasity Daniels. “We’re very excited to have the service begin.”
Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc, who served on the Highway 16 Advisory Committee, welcomed the new route as a practical improvement to anyone who relies on the city for services like health and education.
Leclerc also noted the transit corridor cannot replace the service of Greyhound Canada, if the company succeeds in cancelling its northern routes, but otherwise celebrated the achievement with BC Transit as a milestone for the north.
“It’s been a long journey. I don’t think most people understand how much work has gone into this,” she said.
“The service that’s going in today is not as much about connecting communities, but more about connecting people. Connecting families, connecting friends.”
The province has committed to five years of transit funding to the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan, a project worth $6.4 million. The funding covers the cost of buses and two-thirds of operating costs. Local governments and First Nations partners are responsible for the remaining third.
Route 164 will make round trips between Terrace and Hazelton (with connections north to Kispiox) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The standard one-way fare will be $5, less $1 for seniors and students.
With files from Martina Perry