If a sign from a ranch near Spences Bridge could talk, it would be telling an extraordinary tale of a journey that saw it travel more than 350 kilometres in 14 months before being recovered on the Sunshine Coast near Gibsons.
The wooden sign, measuring approximately six feet long by one foot high, hung above the bridge to Osprey Ranch, about 14 kilometres east of Spences Bridge on Highway 8. Geoff Bannoff, who has owned and lived on the property since 2005, says that it featured the name of the ranch and an osprey carrying a branch laden with fruit that was designed by his brother.
“When we bought the property we inherited an orchard,” explains Bannoff, adding that inspired his brother to create the drawing. The sign hung over the distinctive bridge that led from Highway 8 to the ranch, and which survived the fire that raged near the area in summer 2021 and forced the evacuation of many Highway 8 residents.
In November 2021 an atmospheric river pounded the Southern Interior, causing massive flooding along the Nicola River and the adjacent highway and properties. The force of the flooding swept away houses and outbuildings, obliterated property, destroyed or severely damaged more than seven kilometres of Highway 8, and killed one person who was unable to leave their property.
The 120-foot steel bridge to Osprey Ranch was among the infrastructure swept away in the floods, cutting off access to the ranch. It wasn’t until June 2022 that Bannoff was able to return to the site, and he counts himself among the lucky ones.
“Highways started doing their work, and we got access to the property in early June. We got power back shortly after that, and we let highways build a work camp on the property.”
In September 2022 the final evacuated residents from Highway 8 were able to return to their properties. On Nov. 9, 2022 — 361 days after the flooding — the highway was fully reopened to traffic between Spences Bridge and Merritt.
“I look at the amount of work they’ve done, and it’s extraordinary,” says Bannoff. “They had to re-route the highway. We thought we’d never have access to the property again with the bridge and highway gone, but there was an old railway bridge at the end of the property, so they put a one-lane highway bridge where the old rail bridge was and extended the highway for two kilometres along the old rail bed, then built another one-lane another bridge to IR7.
“They got our neighbours home, but people lost property and buildings, and one person was killed. People are still a long way from recovering.”
During the months following the flooding, debris, wreckage, and personal items that were swept away turned up all along the Nicola, Thompson, and Fraser rivers. One broken BC Hydro pole from Highway 8 was found in January 2021, hundreds of kilometres away in Boundary Bay.
Bannoff says that a contractor working along Highway 8 found a tangle of wreckage from their bridge about three or four kilometres downstream along the Nicola River, and more debris from the bridge was found in the Thompson River south of Spences Bridge, more than 17 kilometres from the ranch.
“They sent pictures to us and asked ‘Is this your bridge?’ It was built by previous owners of the ranch in 1986, and was a fairly distinctive structure.”
There was no sign of the sign among the wreckage, but Bannoff says he figured it would have broken free: “It was a good, heavy sign.”
In early January 2023, 14 months after the sign was washed away, Sunshine Coast resident Peter Milne was out for a hike between Bonniebrook and Secret Beach near Gibsons. Bannoff says that Milne spotted the sign on the beach below him and hiked down to it, then retrieved it and carried it out, a round trip of nearly two hours.
Milne looked up Osprey Ranch online and saw that it was near Spences Bridge. “Someone had taken a picture of the sign [before the flooding] and it was on Google Maps and Street View,” explains Bannoff.
Milne called friends of his who live in Spences Bridge, Dorothy and Mike Baragno, and told them about finding the sign.
“They called me and said ‘We know this guy who found your sign!’” says Bannoff. The plan is for Milne to get it to Vancouver, where the sign will be retrieved and returned to its home.
The sign’s journey took it down three major rivers and into the Strait of Georgia, where it was at the mercy of the currents. Bannoff says that it’s in pretty good shape, considering what it went through.
“It was a pretty solid sign. It made it through Hell’s Gate.”