A Man Named Rooster | Back To The Land

The road to Stewart, British Columbia is one stretch of highway worth taking. Once you make the turn-off from HWY 16, North at the Kitwanga junction onto HWY 37, your cell reception disappears and you get a good sense of the provinces wild North. With my wife riding shotgun, the truck interior illuminated by the sun's warm glow, we had no expectations but shared the excitement of a place that was foreign to both of us. Within minutes wildlife was everywhere. The first was a black bear, followed by another, then a moose, and another black bear by which we started keeping track. Our plan was to make it to Stewart by nightfall and to give ourselves enough time to enjoy the drive there. The highway was effortless where slight curves in the road allowed you to keep your speed without losing momentum and the interruption of your revving engine. It was May, the land was in full bloom with lush green trees passing by with a blur. As we got closer to Stewart, the landscape started to change and we were rewarded with views of distant glaciers, lakes, and the smell of the Pacific.  

When we arrived, we established a camp at a local spot and decided to make dinner then explore the following day. I volunteered to set-up camp, Vitalia went into the bush and 15 minutes later emerged with fresh fiddleheads, nettle, and dandelion; It was for the soup she was making. Looking at her like she was some crazy witch, I was quickly reassured that I was not going to be poisoned. It was the best soup I’ve ever had camping. I still think if she wanted me dead this would be my demise; death by a witch. The next morning we went into the town, found a local spot to sit and enjoy a coffee, quietly observing and listening to the locals' gossip and exchange stories. 

One particular gentleman stood out in the bakery as he chatted the ear off anyone he made eye contact with. A quarter of the way through my coffee, I soon found that very same old man sitting at our table. His name was Kenneth Olson but known to everyone as Rooster. After pleasantries and small talk, the three of us soon found ourselves visiting his home, a small 1924 well-used sailboat, moored on the docks just outside of town. Rooster lives a very simple life and is always accompanied by his cat. His personality is infectious as much as his energy for enjoying the simple things in life. He took us to the dump to show us more black bears and It didn’t stop there. We then drove across the Canadian and United States border to the town of Hyder which was only two minutes outside of Stewart. On the U.S.A. side, we went on a nature walk, picked wild edibles, and made a stop at a derelict home that Rooster owned. The house was very much unlivable, which may be the cause due to a large number of cats that have claimed the dwelling as their own. Plus the region gets on average 25-30 feet of snow a year. I’m not going to lie, it was in bad shape and the smell was horrible and after minutes you could feel the ammonia in your lungs from all the animal feces that lived there. 

Regardless of the smell or the condition of the home, Rooster loved his cats and didn’t care what anyone thought. He was born on June 7, 1941, and has been all over the country, but it seems his love for the ocean is where his heart is. He definitely has not had the easiest life and shares a variety of stories of which I don’t know if they’re true or not, however, the tone in his voice and the softness in his eyes I couldn’t doubt him. His conspiracy stories I find hilarious, with no sign of sarcasm. He has bootlegged booze in most provinces, found himself in jail at 15, worked the mines in Ontario and Manitoba, and has sailed every inch of the Canadian west coast in his boat named the Pacific Foam. I asked if he had a crew on board, he said, “Yeah, but they were always female.” followed by a wink and a laugh. I then asked “Did you ever have any kids?”, his reply “... Probably.” Needless to say, we all laughed.

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Back To The Land - Kenneth Olson - Stewart BC