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Steam shovel can be Likely calling card in Quesnel

Mayor suggests using artifact for double community benefit
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The sun sets on the Likely steam shovel’s time in Ceal Tingley Park, now that it is Lhtako Dene Park. Council has opted to retain Quesnel’s ownership of the industrial artifact for an as yet undetermined location. Its shovel boom has already been removed for interim storage. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

For the community of Likely, there is a silver lining to Quesnel’s council voting to keep the historic steam shovel artifact that was only hours away from being trucked back to its original site.

The steam shovel has been on display in downtown Quesnel since 1987 but was no longer befitting the plans for newly rededicated Lhtako Dene Park. Not a single councillor of this or the previous mandate has any problem with clearing out the old to usher in the paradoxically new plans for ancient history that site now represents.

The previous council voted to send the steam shovel back to Likely, where it had toiled in the community’s bullion pit in the early 20th century. The pit is now an interesting historic location of its own, albeit well off the beaten Cariboo Highway path. There is another steam shovel still at that site, and the Quesnel one was heading to that spot, too, until 1980s history came roaring back to the surface with Quesnel, and apparently even some Likely people, complaining that it was delivered to Quesnel quite deliberately and with great effort, and there it should remain.

Mayor Ron Paull was the City of Quesnel’s deputy clerk when the transfer happened back then. He was a councillor who voted in favour of sending it back to Likely when it came to vote in 2022. But it was a burr of regret in his mind, and he was motivated by the opposition to put the brakes on the move. He was intent on pausing the transfer, pending more research and public consultation, but council voted instead to simply remove the steam shovel (and a separate artifact, a steam boiler and pump situated next to the huge digging implement) and store it for future display in Quesnel.

“It’s a real iconic piece of Quesnel heritage. Yes, it didn’t come from Quesnel, but it has been here for many, many years. The people in Likely (in the ’80s) were happy that people were stepping up to restore the old steam shovel, and these Quesnel guys were the ones doing it,” said Paull to The Observer following the council decision.

The feedback he received from Likely was “we already have a steam shovel at the bullion pit, why would we want two?”

And his message to Likely is, think of this as an opportunity - an opportunity he would strive to support on behalf of Quesnel.

“Think about this: rather than having that steam shovel hidden off in the bush at the bullion pit, where not too many people visit, why not have that steam shovel downtown in Quesnel in the sani-station RV parking loop (only a away from its prominent display spot up till now)? It would be so simple to do that: set it up on the railway track foundation, and invite Likely to put up their own interpretive signage. ‘Come to Likely and see the bullion pit.’ ‘Come to Likely and see the sister steam shovel.’ It could be two things: a major draw for downtown Quesnel, because it is so iconic, and it also could be a huge tourism advertising opportunity for Likely.”

A final decision has not been made on where to locate the artifact equipment now in temporary storage.

READ MORE: Quesnel city council reneges on deal to give gold rush steam shovel back to Likely

READ MORE: The Likely story: steam shovel committee responds