Backstory (n). The set of background conditions and events leading to a real-life situation.
During this leg of our trip, we’ve visited a few places where the backstory of the place was just as or more interesting than its current situation.
While in Sequim, we decided to take a short vacation. We took the ferry (walk on, not with the truck) from nearby Port Angeles for a two-night stay in Victoria, British Columbia. We took public transportation to the very popular tourist destination Butchart Gardens. It was once a 55 acre limestone gravel pit in the early 1900s. When the pit was exhausted of its limestone deposits in just two years, Mrs. Butchart transformed the entire property, including the pit, into a series of beautiful gardens. There is an Italian-style garden, rose garden, Japanese garden plus a handful of bronze statues and fountains.
The centerpiece, however, is the sunken garden. This area was once the bottom of the limestone pit and is now a beautiful garden. Beyond the garden is a fountain called the Ross Fountain. Hidden behind it is Tod’s Inlet once the location of the Vancouver Portland Cement Factory. As I stood at the top of the steps that overlooked the garden, I couldn’t help think about the garden’s backstory – the people who use to work the pit, the Sikhs and the Chinese that who worked at the cement factory, what kind of people were the Butchart’s and how much money they made from their various business ventures. Even though the gardens are designated a National Historic Site of Canada, they are still privately owned and it was difficult to find much information on the Butchart family or on the area in general beyond the usual fluffy tourist stuff. Finally, I was successful in finding this link and short documentary video to get the real backstory on this popular destination History of Tod's Inlet
Back on the Olympic Peninsula, we chose a sunny day to drive up to Hurricane Ridge which is accessible from Port Angeles and is part of the vast Olympic National Park. The 17 mile winding road through the forest took us from 164’ to just over 5,200’. The views from the visitor center were spectacular. There are several short trails on the ridge and we walked the 1.6 mile Hurricane Hill Trail which was partially paved. The paved trail seemed out of place. At the top of the trail I was surprised to see the remains of a cement slab and metal poles. What’s the backstory behind this trail? Well, I found out that we were hiking on what was part of the original road from 1930 that started in an area known as Whiskey Bend and went to the top of the ridge. And the cement slab was all that remained of a fire lookout tower built in 1930 and destroyed in 1960. Check out these photos of the Hurricane Ridge Lookout Tower
. Can you imagine living there and being observers under those conditions?
Perhaps the saddest backstory about Olympic National Park is the acquisition of land for the park. There were people living on the some of the land that would eventually become a national park in 1938. Some of these landowners lost their land to the park through imminent domain or were forced to sell at a low cost. Surprisingly, there are still some “inholdings,” that is, privately-owned land in the park and, from what I have read, the relationship between these “inholders” and the National Park Service is, at times, challenging.
So the next time you do a bit of sightseeing, you might look beyond the travel brochures or the video at the visitor center because the story or “backstory” you find could be just as interesting.