PORT HARDY, B.C.
The northern tip of Vancouver Island is isolated by perception as much as by distance. When I told people where I was going, responses ranged from “Good heavens, why?” to “all that way?” to “do you realize how far that is?” It’s a five-hour drive from Nanaimo, if you’re counting, and those five hours are spent on smooth, fresh blacktop with sea to your right and mountains to the left.
This North Island Highway was a long time coming. Politicians used the construction of it to woo voters starting in 1897. Mile by mile the highway came into being, with asphalt eating away at pockmarked gravel, with contracts awarded and budgets adjusted to make it happen. Till the mid-1970s, that is, when funding was unceremoniously dropped with just 22 miles to go. The good citizens of Port Hardy were as isolated as ever.
With residents up in arms, the Port Hardy-based North Island Gazette ran opinion pieces and news stories citing the “missing link” and “incredible gap” and reporting breathlessly when the highways minister said, “You have access, by land and water.”
By land, sure: The unpaved road on which was held a race — the Annual Missing Link Rally — to Port Hardy. By water? Yup, and when the ferry hiked its prices, the uproar was so loud they had to scale it back by 10 per cent.
In April 1976, the Gazette had had enough with politicians using the highway as a carrot to garner votes. It used prime advertising space, an entire inside broadsheet page, for a screaming headline: DO YOU CARROT ALL and a list of 10 ways citizens could put pressure on the provincial government in Victoria. Send postcards, it said. Telegrams. Write letters. Organize petitions. Make phone calls. Send some carrots.
“Anyone who can afford a dollar more on his phone bill is urged to telephone the minister and leave a message: ‘I want the rest of the carrot.’ Don’t be afraid, you’ll only get as far as his secretary” and “When you answer your phone, say ‘I want the rest of the carrot’ and you could be a winner of a year’s subscription to The Gazette. We will be calling 22 people a week (one for each mile of road left).”
It kept the pressure on for months. It had postcards printed and urged local businessmen to include them in all their mailings. Other residents were encouraged to send a postcard to Victoria every time they sent a letter. People sent carrots, carrot juice, and carrot seeds to the provincial capital. The Gazette ran carrot-centric recipes. They arranged a march over 6.5 miles from the end of the pavement along the Incredible Gap.
And then in June, it happened: Victoria announced the highway’s budget had been reinstated: a consortium called the Missing Link Road Construction Co. won the contract to pave the last 22 miles. They started that October and the last mile was completed on schedule in 1979.
Port Hardy is Mile 0 of the Trans-Carrot Highway. It ends at Carrot Park, right there by the giant carrot statue commemorating a great moment in public-service journalism.
(Newspaper clippings are screen grabs from Google’s newspaper archive, North Island Gazette)