If you have driven the 45k gravel road from Port Hardy to Holberg on Northern Vancouver Island, you have seen the famous crushed car warning drivers to be prepared for the unexpected. But do you know the history? And wasn’t it white?
Northern Vancouver Island is known for its untamed wilderness, fishing and beautiful remote sand beaches. Flashback to the ’70s and it was a different story.
Holberg used to be a bustling area of North Vancouver Island, as it played an essential role in the security of North America during the Cold War. Home to CFS Holberg, the military base housed hundreds of people and was the anchor location of the Pinetree Line, a series of radar stations built by Canada and the United States as a part of NORAD.
Holberg was once the home to the largest floating logging camp in the world, the bustling logging town was surrounded by windy narrow roads accessing remote forests, built for logging but used by the locals to reach other towns, get to work and access remote locations for play. It was a dangerous time as the off-highway logging trucks, affectionately known as elephant trucks, used to haul the trees were huge!! Taking up most of the narrow road at 15′ wide and could carry 90 to 150 tons of wood!
In 1971 five people somehow escaped instant death when a falling tree flattened their pickup truck. They were on route to Holberg and were passing through an area where a crew was widening the road. Just as the truck passed by a worker felled a tree that dropped across the road. The cab was levelled, luckily no one was killed. Two adults were seriously injured and flown to Vancouver, the two kids in the truck escaped uninjured.
There are two different accounts of how the car and sign were created, with one being more fanciful than the other. However, it seems that the original car and sign were installed as a result of numerous close calls and accidents. In 1974, a community initiative was established to alert individuals about potential hazards through a highly visible sign that could not be overlooked.
A well-used 1965 Chev was donated by Al Clayton and a large tree was placed on top of the car. The display was installed along the busy road warning people of the many dangers up ahead. There used to be a sign on the front of the log, reminding individuals to turn on their headlights.
Over the decades and with the popularity of San Josef Bay and Cape Scott Provincial Park, hikers and visitors alike pass by the sign making it a popular landmark and one of the most memorable photos from Vancouver Island. The famous image even made its way onto the cover and was the title of a jazz album.
The car had been exposed to the elements for decades, causing it to become nothing more than a rusted pile concealed beneath the log. In 2020 another classic American car, this one red, was placed under the same log and a new bright yellow sign was added with the famous phrase written out for all travellers to see.
The Radar base closed in January 1991 and the logging industry changed, the large elephant logging trucks haven’t been in use since the 80s and the large camps closed down. The area is still remote and wild but as cars get better and tourism grows, Cape Scott has been recognized worldwide as a destination.
Now, instead of cautionary tales, the sign has become a photo opportunity as visitors take the time to stand on the hood of the car with their arms up and proudly say I was here.
There is another story that may be attributed to a car just down the road that had a tree placed on it around the same time. The unconfirmed story is about a logger named Charlie and on his way to work in 1974, his car broke down.
He pulled over, parked on a deserted setting and hitch-hiked to work, leaving his car for a week or so before he got back to retrieve it. In the meantime, a grapple operator had recognized the car and dropped a scrap tailblock log on it. Charlie’s reaction was, “Oh well, I only paid 50 bucks for it”.
You can find that story here.
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Vancouver Island is a land of natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Please be aware of your surroundings and take the usual precautions for personal and wildlife safety.
Black bears, cougars and even wolves are common on Vancouver Island for more on Wildlife Safety Click Here
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Changing seasons and tides can have a drastic effect on most locations on Vancouver Island. Please be cautious as the information in this post may vary depending on the time of year and weather. Make sure to check for current weather and tide information before you make your journey!
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We would like to acknowledge the land we appreciate daily within the 50 First Nations that make up the traditional territories of the Coast Salish, Nuu chah nulth, and Kwakiutl–the first peoples of Vancouver Island .
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