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The Somewhere Else Cafe really is something else

The Somewhere Else Cafe really is something else
Autos
Classic big rigs line up at the Dogwood Valley Truck Stop in B.C. s Fraser Canyon to honour Gail Marlatt for her years of providing home-cooked meals for drivers.Alyn Edwards

The Somewhere Else Cafe is an institution among truckers driving the Fraser Canyon, one of the routes featured on the Discovery Channel series Highway Thru Hell. For many long-haul truckers, a piece of heaven is the restaurant attached to the Dogwood Valley Petrocan truck stop gas station on the TransCanada Highway 1, approximately 10 minutes east of Hope.

Owner Gail Marlatt has been serving truck drivers since she was 10 years old, beginning at her sister and brother in-law’s J&R’s Truck Stop Cafe at Flood, five miles west of Hope. Gail knows the truckers by name, who they work for, what they drive and what they are hauling. She was a long-distance truck driver for five years starting when she was 27, hauling freight, produce and meat on the Vancouver-Los Angeles-Toronto triangle for Cougar Freight, a division of Motorways.

Before COVID-19, Gail was known for putting lone diners together at one table in her cafe, so they had company. On one occasion, Gail organized four truckers sitting at separate tables into one group. It turned out they all drove for the same parent company and knew a lot of the same people.

She works 60 hours on a slow week. After reopening from a COVID shutdown, she went 123 days without a day off. She is tired, can’t hire enough staff for the 12-hour days and wants to retire.

“I’d like to sell it so the best staff ever have jobs. But, either way, we will be closed soon,” she says.

This was not good news for veteran trucker Bruce Shantz and numerous others who have been stopping at Gail’s truck stop cafés for decades. So, Bruce organized a Saturday afternoon ‘Haul In’ tribute . Sixteen classic big rigs turned up, some from as far away as Williams Lake and Vancouver Island.

Bruce Shantz drove the restored 1965 Kenworth truck and trailer he has owned for 30 years from Vancouver. Bernd Dessau brought his classic 1970 Hayes heavy hauler to park alongside Arnie De Jong’s 1961 Hayes Clipper. Both trucks were built in Vancouver. Owen Paquette drove his 1974 International Loadstar flat deck with a huge Cummins diesel engine on the deck.

“I’m going to install the engine in a 1981 Freightliner cab over. It’s one of the last of the ‘big shack’ haulers, Paquette says, referring to the giant sleeper cab.

Slices of chocolate cake brought by one of the truckers were handed out. Pioneer drivers Bruce Harger and Brian Busby, members of the B.C. Truck Museum in Cloverdale, came along for the ride.

The Somewhere Else Café is very homespun. “Everything here is real,” Gail says. Her big sisters make the pie crusts, jams and jellies. Gail’s newest creation is bacon cheesecake.

Bruce Shantz sat with fellow veterans sipping coffee and eating chocolate cake.

“I’m afraid this could mark the end of the old-time truck stop cafe where truckers could always get a home cooked meal,” Shantz says. “The other truck stops have A&W and Subway fast food restaurants. You can’t get liver and onions there.”

Although half of Gail’s business comes from truckers, many of today’s trucks have refrigerators and microwaves enabling drivers to have their meals in their trucks. This eats into the truck stop restaurant business.

I’ll be here to the last day.

The Somewhere Else Cafe retains a 1950’s atmosphere. Photographs line the walls detailing the history of trucking through the often-treacherous Fraser Canyon. Many of the old photos have been brought in by the truckers who make this regular stop. Visitors can buy a T-shirt boldly stating: Real Men drive the canyon. The photos on the wall speak volumes of the perils.

The long-haul truckers are sad to see the end of the line coming for the Somewhere Else Café. So are the staff.

“I’ll be here to the last day,” says veteran server Serena Newlands. “I love it here”.
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