Vivan George, Anna George, and Marcie Quaw are all strangers, but their location in northern British Columbia makes it so they have a few things in common.
All of these women have hitchhiked Hwy 16, infamously known as the Highway of Tears when public transit wasn’t readily available.
Hitchhiking is especially prevalent on the 700 km stretch of road from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
Northern B.C. holds the highest population of First Nation peoples in the province, yet many communities are at risk due to lack of adequate public transportation.
At the hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Smithers in September, witnesses testified that a lack of public transportation forces many to hitchhike.
Vivan George, Anna George and Marcie Quaw all know someone who has gone missing along this stretch of highway.
It is because of this they utilize a new public shuttle bus.
On Saturdays the bus is full and it’s hard to find an empty seat- but it’s better than being a statistic.
Anna George, of Lake Babine Nation First, 225 km west of Prince George, said she has hitchhiked all of the way from Kelowna to Burns Lake.
She said her experiences while hitchhiking have been frightening.
“Some of the drivers were picking us up and asking us if he could like do some drugs to stay awake on the road,” she said. “I’m like ‘excuse me, you just picked us up!.’
“We became scared because he wanted to shoot up just so he could stay awake,” she said.
For Vivian George, of Ts’il kaz koh, First Nation, halfway between Smithers and Prince George, it’s a similar story.
“You just pray and do what you got to do to get to A to B,” she said. “Sometimes you have to go to work or go get groceries and you have to get on the road and do it.”
After a decade of pleading for reliable public transportation, First Nation communities along northern B.C.’s Hwy 16 are now able to take a public shuttle bus.
Riders pay $5 per-ride, for the patchwork system launched in June.
The B.C. Transit bus travels between Burns Lake and Smithers – a three-hour bus ride spanning 150 km.
There’s also a second bus that travels over 200 km another four hours between Burns Lake and Prince George.
All of the women interviewed agreed that the shuttle is a good start; however, the limited route times are a problem.
This goes without mentioning the lack of service west of Smithers to Prince Rupert, where the shuttle does not yet serve.
Historically Greyhound Canada has served that portion of Hwy 16, but the service is also infrequent and often at night.
APTN News rode a Greyhound from Smithers to the neighbouring community of Moricetown, only to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere with no street lights, bus shelter or cell service.
That scenario is common for pick up and drop off along the Highway of Tears.
On top of that, those travelling along the highway often have to wait overnight.
Transit riders such as Marcie Quaw, of Burns Lake said they would rather hitchhike than wait.
“There was a couple of scary incidents like they’d drive us through the back roads and say ‘oh it’s a shortcut to Prince George,'” she said. “There was always times when we had nowhere to stay in Vanderhoof and we had friends in Prince George so we would hitchhike here just to have somewhere to sleep.”
To make matters worse for travelers, Greyhound Canada has applied to end its route from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
Quaw said the slow shut down of services over the past few years has led to an increase in hitchhiking.
“There was one incident where we stopped at a rest area in Vanderhoof and this guy pulled beside us and he was frantic saying he got a text from his niece who was hitchhiking and I guess they kicked her out of the vehicle,” said Quaw. “We joined him so there was multiple cars on the highway because we didn’t know if she was in the ditch.
“It was crazy because it could have been me.”
APTN contacted Greyhound Canada about the request to end the service.
A company spokesperson sent an email.
“The deaths and disappearances of women in the area are tragic. Please know that filing this application is an act of last resort. Despite significant efforts over the past several years to reduce cost and past measures to adapt to the market, The status quo is no longer sustainable.'”
The B.C. Public Transit Board will have the final say as to whether or not greyhound can continue to operate in the province with the proposed service reductions.
If Greyhound does get the green light routes will be changed next year.
Until then women like as Vivan George, Anna George, and Marcie Quaw will continue to ride the shuttle – a peace of mind on Canada’s deadly Highway of Tears.
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