After a weekend of FILOMI festivities, I’m sure many tourists – and probably even locals – wonder about that big carrot with a chunk bitten out of it located near the waterfront. There’s quite a story, a piece of history, behind Port Hardy’s carrot memorial.
A plaque reads “this carrot, marking the northern end of the island highway, is a symbol of government road building promises, dangled in front of North Island settlers since 1897. The successful 1970s ‘carrot campaign’ was aimed at making the government keep promises of a completed highway.”
Believe it or not, there was no highway connecting the northern end of the island to the rest of the southern communities up until 1979. The only infrastructure, logging roads, in place was built and funded by private logging companies, coupled with a ferry system.
What is more, companies decided to hike prices to local ferries. Residents were in an outcry, so much so the ferry company immediately reduced fare prices to appease the northern communities.
North islanders had to navigate a network of unpaved dirt roads to reach the closest community to the south, Campbell River. Naturally, residents grew tired of it.
Provincial politicians back then, as the plaque puts it, dangled promises of a highway. Cynics believed it was to garner votes during election time. Albeit after a while they did start paving bits and pieces of the highway, but it was never finished until later.
And when it wasn’t election time the same politicians gave excuses, often saying that there is already adequate access by land and water.
In 1976, the North Island Gazette wrote a damning headline targeted at the provincial government, “Do you carrot at all?” This slogan was born out of a response to funding cuts for the highway. Residents would send carrots to the provincial capital as a reminder that there was still no finished highway, but more importantly it kept pressure on the politicians.
The Gazette also took it upon themselves to help residents – public-service journalism it might be called. Coupled with clever headlines the articles encouraged North Islanders to write letters to the provincial government, organize petitions and protests, and phone MLAs.
Reporters often cited the massive missing infrastructure in a modern age. It makes sense, however, since it is a truly unbelievable fact. How could the North Island be missing a highway no later than a few decades ago?
After prolonged campaigning by the local paper and residents alike it finally happened, the province caved and contracted a company to finish the last remaining miles of highway.
I can only imagine in a rural community like Port Hardy how isolating it was without accessibility.
The island highway ends with the carrot. And there’s a reason as to why there’s a piece bitten out of it – a commemorative symbol that residents wanted a finished highway. “We want the rest of the carrot” another slogan reads “Build the North Island highway”. And they finally got it in 1979.
Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.