Fraser Canyon hamlets and one-dollar houses

One-dollar houses 4

From downtown Vancouver, it’s an hour’s drive in mid-day traffic to the edge of the Metro regional district. It’s almost twice as far again to the edge of Fraseropolis, the larger region that overlaps and interacts with Metro Vancouver.

The Fraser Canyon hamlet of Boston Bar shares a health authority with the City of Burnaby, at the border of the City of Vancouver. Its small public library is part of a system that stretches into the middle ring of Metro Vancouver suburbs.

On Highway 1, Boston Bar

On Highway 1, Boston Bar

Economically, though, Boston Bar is beyond the range of the rest of Fraseropolis. By appearances, there’s not much money changing hands here — except at the Hell’s Gate whitewater rafting operations, and they’re shut down for the winter.

The Chilliwack-based regional authority responsible for Boston Bar has somehow acquired two old houses in North Bend, across the river, and put them on the market for one dollar each. This is a curiosity in a region where real estate values are notoriously high, and the local government’s offer to sell has been widely reported. There appear to be about a thousand people in Boston Bar, North Bend and the adjacent First Nations territory, and I don’t want to suggest that every home is going for a dollar. Still, it suggests a certain lack of demand for building lots in the area.

One-dollar houses 3As for the houses in question, I’m not sure they’re much of a bargain even at a dollar. They have reportedly been vacant for at least 30 years, and are open to the elements.

There’s no mystery about what is going on here. It’s a simple question of geography. The last town at the top of the Fraser Valley is Hope, slow-paced, with a couple of commercial streets and a 12-bed hospital. The highway signs at Hope warn drivers not to proceed further without winter tires. Boston Bar is 60 kilometres further northeast from Hope along an alpine highway. This road — Highway 1, the Trans-Canada, but no longer the main highway from the Interior — passes through historic Yale, squeezed between the canyon wall and the river; through Spuzzum, which is a few cabins; and through about a dozen tunnels drilled through the canyon rock. These places pre-date the railway. They were the site of a modest gold rush in the earliest days of British Columbia, and played host to miners on the way to richer goldfields in the Cariboo. People travelled by canoe in those days, by raft, by horse or by mule.

St. John the Divine Church (1863), Yale

St. John the Divine Church (1863), Yale

Trackside housing

Trackside housing

When I arrived in Boston Bar on a sunny morning, the temperature was minus five degrees, about nine degrees colder than the cities on the ocean. I saw a police detachment, a post office, and evidence of a long local history (by West Coast standards), some of it crumbling away.

Abandoned Canadian National railway station, Boston Bar, with the community hall to the right

Abandoned Canadian National railway station, Boston Bar, with the community hall to the right

Houses on Chaumox Road, North Bend

Houses on Chaumox Road, North Bend

At the suggestion of a gentleman driving a Boston Bar First Nations truck I drove east from the townsite for lunch, to the Canyon Alpine Restaurant. I was early for Sunday lunch, and had the undivided attention of the owner. We talked about the rapid growth of Metro Vancouver; he recalled a time when the Sheraton Hotel in Burnaby, almost at the City of Vancouver, was the first tower that one would encounter coming in from the east. He said it’s easy to find a decent house around Boston Bar for less than $200,000, for either  investment or retirement purposes. He said the area is a fine destination for anyone wishing to escape urban life.

Mural, Canyon Alpine Restaurant, east of Boston Bar

Mural, Canyon Alpine Restaurant, east of Boston Bar

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