A former Merritt City councillor says he’s concerned putting up Yellowhead Highway signs on the Coquihalla translates into a loss of history and respect for the work that went into building the road.
Elmer Reimer said Wednesday he noticed the Yellowhead signs showing up on Highway 5 poles about a year ago.
The 40-year Merritt resident said the construction feat that saw the highway built in the 1980s in time for Expo 86 was significant. But with the Yellowhead signs going up, when someone from outside the area drives Highway 5, they’ll think the road is the Yellowhead only.
“For history alone, they should keep the name. When the project went ahead, it was a significant engineering feat,” he said. “It was a brand new freeway.”
Reimer said the sign-change lobby must have come from the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway Association. It’s a group that markets the route from Prince Rupert and Vancouver in the west to Winnipeg in the east.
“I find it repulsive, quite frankly. Eventually, if it stays that way (with the Yellowhead signs), we’re going to lose that reference to the Coquihalla,” Reimer said.
In 1998, Merritt City council members endorsed the stretch of road up between their community and Kamloops as part of the Yellowhead. Reimer was elected the following year.
He’d like the signs returned to simply marking Highway 5, with the occasional reference to the Coquihalla.
Calls to two phone numbers for the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway Association in Edmonton either rang unanswered or were busy Wednesday. An email request got no reply.
Coun. Harry Kroeker is Merritt’s association representative. He is trying to find out when the Yellowhead signs were added.
“What we’ve been after is to have standardized signage. What we’ve always advocated for was to have both the Yellowhead and Highway 5,” he said.
“There’s people who because of the fact at one point it (Highway 5) was going to be sold, there are people who are passionate the name should stay Coquihalla. But in essence, it’s always been Highway 5. There will be some people who will be upset if it’s changed.”
Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger looked into the sign change and was told it wasn’t recent. But even with the Yellowhead markers, it will remain the Coquihalla, he said.
“The highway is named the Coquihalla and always will be,” he said.
There was a lobby in the late 1990s to add Highway 5/Yellowhead designation for tourism marketing, he said.
“The Yellowhead symbol was added to the Highway 5 route marker shields in 1998 and 2000 when the Coquihalla was designated as part of the Trans-Canada Yellowhead route.”
That designation was extended from Merritt to Hope in 2000, with the blessing of the mayors of those two communities, he added.
Krueger said he didn’t believe the Coquihalla name or history are in danger of being lost. Those with concerns, like Reimer, can work to have the signs changed back, he said.
“He can always start a lobby of the councils and they can deal with the Yellowhead Highway Association and if people want to reverse it, it can probably be done.”
Thompson-Nicola Regional District chairman Randy Murray said his board’s association representative is trying to get more information about the sign change.
The issue was raised as a point of discussion, but there haven’t been any motions from the board at this time, he said.