It’s a snaky single-lane highway bending its way around Yoho National Park’s towering peaks. It curves along the blue waters of the Kicking Horse River and the canyon it calls home. The railway line sits along the craggy cliffs up along side it, elk and bears are often seen trying to navigate their way around it.
There’s no denying the surrounding beauty, but the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway through Field, B.C., is undeniably ugly for many.
“I think for this year, it’s pretty much the deadliest stretch of highway from coast to coast,” said Patrick Cais, a first responder who is also the deputy chief of Field’s volunteer fire department.
“This is the worst I have ever seen in 15 years,” said Cais, who responded to eight of the nine fatalities on the treacherous stretch this year alone.
He admitted that many of the images are impossible to erase.
“We can usually see from zero to three fatalities, but I’ve never seen nine in 10 months,” Cais said.
Dee Morrison should be celebrating her 27th wedding anniversary this week. But it will be one of the many heart-wrenching firsts she will mark without her husband Scott.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you, and then it does,” Dee said.
Scott died last February in a crash on the Trans-Canada Highway near Field. Dee said a cube van lost control and slammed into her husband’s vehicle, killing him instantly. His brother was severely injured.
“People say you find your one love — he was my one love,” Dee said, tears brimming her eyelids. “And when you find it and lose it, it’s the most heartbreaking thing in the whole world.
“Every time it happens (a fatal collision), it opens the wound. Something needs to change.”
Dee said she believes if the road had a meridian and was twinned, there is a good chance her husband would still be here.
Twinning of six kilometres of the Trans-Canada Highway in the region was completed in 2018. Parks Canada said it is prepared to twin the remaining 40-kilometre section when funding becomes available.
“Parks Canada anticipates that highway twinning will be undertaken in a phased approach and take place over several years,” said a statement from a Parks Canada spokesperson from Yoho National Park.
But Cais wants Parks Canada to do more in the meantime. The Field Fire Department is without a fire chief and has not been responding to collisions for the past two years.
“All the members are volunteers and they couldn’t face that level of liability and administrative duties anymore,” Cais said.
Emergency services are now called from Golden and Lake Louise to respond. Local paramedics then have to juggle many roles when they first get to the scene.
“It’s about 40-50 minutes away from the scene, so that requires a long distance and it might delay the patient care,” Cais said. “It puts a lot of stress on the other first responders.”
Parks Canada hired an employee to oversee all risk situations in Yoho and Kootenay national parks and insists it is working to find a solution to help with the challenges expressed by the Field Fire Department.
“My biggest hope would be to have people talking about Yoho National Park for its beauty… and not talking about people dying along the highway,” Cais said.
It’s a dream shared by Dee as well. As she mourns the passing of the love of her life, she too is battling Stage 4 cancer, a fight she is determined to win.
Her hope is to be able to witness the construction of a much safer road so others won’t have to travel down the one she is currently being forced to bear.