Moricetown Canyon, a rugged piece of geography that the Bulkley River is forced to squeeze through to make its way towards the Skeena River, is nowadays a tourism hot spot. It wasn’t always this way.
As I drove by it recently on Highway 16, I remembered way back in 1972 when this jewel lay undiscovered. As a kid, I lived in Smithers. One of my favourite pastimes was lying on the rocks of the canyon, as close to the water as possible, watching the thousands of salmon try to jump their way through the falls, desperately working to get to their spawning grounds further upriver. The massive waterfall at the entrance to the canyon was a major challenge for the salmon. (There are now fish ladders that were installed several years ago.)
My sister and I would lie on our stomachs, watching the fish fight their way upstream. We learned to recognize the salmon as they would try, over and over, to leap up the falls. We even named them.
“Charlie! Go Charlie! You can do it this time!” we would yell. Up he would leap, then fall back into the water, only to get washed back downstream. “Aww—try again Charlie, higher this time!”
Up he jumped—trying to push the air with his tail. Up, up, up! Maybe he would make it.
“There he goes! He did it!” we hollered, slapping each other on the back. Then we saw another.
“Oh look! See that huge fish out there—look at her, she is so big! How can she fly like that? Mabel is a good name for her,” I suggested. Splash! Down Mabel went into the water, only to be washed all the way to the bottom of the falls. “These poor fish,” I thought to myself. “No wonder they are half-dead when they get to where we live.”
“There goes Mabel again,” my sister yelled. I turned my head and there she was, literally flying up that waterfall and waving her tail as if it was a propeller. Down she plopped, only to disappear. I hoped she would make it; she looked so worn out. I could see the round scars on her side where lamprey eels had attached themselves to suck her blood.
Many of the fish had those scars. I looked over at the rocks where the eels were hanging by the hundreds, clinging to the rock wall with their sucker mouths. They looked like long black snakes. I hated those lamprey eels.
“Here comes another big fish,” yelled my sister.
“Maybe it’s Mabel.” I said, as I watched intently. Up from the water she came. It looked like Mabel—I recognized the scars. We urged her on: “You can do it Mabel!”
She took a giant leap and pushed against the air with her tail—took a bit of a flip to the right, and down she went into somewhat calmer water. I quickly scrambled up a rock for a better view and I saw her swimming upstream, almost at the top of the falls. She had made it over the biggest hurdle.