A majestic and monumental map – Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal

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Have you ever played the game where you look at a colossal jackpot for a lottery and think about what you would do with that money if you won it? I’m not talking about $50,000, or $100,000, or even $1 million; I think of prizes that run into the tens of millions, more money than most people will ever see in their lifetime.

I’ll tell you what I would do; I would buy a card.

Not just any card, beware. If I wanted a plain old paper card, I could buy one with the money I made from the scratch tickets at Christmas, which was a princely $14. No; the map I have in mind is the Challenger relief map, which currently sits in an aircraft hangar at Vancouver International Airport, where it has been gathering dust since it was dismantled and removed from the custom-built structure that housed it in Hastings Park, the CWP’s home in Vancouver.

I have always loved cards, for reasons that even today I cannot fully express. I think it has to do with the inherent possibilities of a map, which shows not just where you are, but all the places you could theoretically go, if you had enough time and money. I recently had the opportunity to look at something on google maps and then spent about a very enjoyable half hour “travelling” through BC following roads and rivers just to see where they went, tracing various routes – some familiar to me in real life, some not – and the names of the places and things they passed.

(As an aside on names, is there a more beautiful and euphonic name than “Similkameen”? Say it out loud, and you hear what velvet or silk sounds like. Try it and see. )

I’ve felt this about maps for as long as I can remember, which is why when I discovered the Challenger relief map at PNE as a kid, I immediately fell in love with it. For those who have never seen the map, it is a 6,000 square foot relief map of British Columbia measuring 80 by 76 feet, painstakingly designed by George Challenger and his family between 1947 and 1954 in from a million pieces of jigsaw, stacked and hand painted pieces of 1/4″ Douglas fir plywood. It shows every town and city in the province, along with its mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys, and between 1954 and 1997 he lived in a building designed specifically for him in Hastings Park.

The map could be viewed at different levels of the building, and a walkway took passengers across the entire map from side to side while a guide gave a “tour”. As a child, I always found my home in Richmond and followed the roads that were familiar to me – to Okanagan Falls, where my maternal grandparents lived, and to Ashcroft, where we stayed in the cabin of a friend in Cornwall – then marveled at the vastness and mystery of the province, with its vast lakes that were unknown to me, its towns and villages that I had never heard of, its highways that were tiny threads winding through wide valleys and snow-capped mountains.

(As an aside, I note that George Challenger shares a name with Professor George Edward Challenger, the fictional great explorer and scientist created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who first appeared in the classic novel The lost World. I’m sure the larger-than-life Professor Challenger would heartily approve of his namesake’s creation.)

A movement is now underway to renovate and update the map, and put it back in its entirety. I certainly hope this venture succeeds, but it will take a lot of money to make it happen, and that’s where my theoretical lottery jackpot would come in. I know $14 isn’t going to be much help, but I still have two Christmas tickets left, and it’s good to dream. Wish me good luck.


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