Rest Stop

Chaos in Print

It’s kind of weird what we associate happy childhood memories with. We could be cleaning out our closets and come across some raggedy old piece of clothing and suddenly we’re having a scene right out of a chick flick where we remember that incident from that summer. Having once been a child myself, I do have my fair share of childhood memories. And there’s this one I’ve been having quite often of late. Working in the oilpatch with my Dad, I end up driving by it many, many times. Of course, we don’t stop in anymore, mainly because our business takes us elsewhere, or the lure of the greater services in Edson just causes to keep on driving. I’m talking about the Edson Rest Stop.

The Edson Rest Stop is a quiet, unassuming building actually quite far from Edson. About 20km east on the Yellowhead highway to be specific. You may be wondering why I have fond childhood memories of such a place. “Just a glorified set of washrooms,” you might be saying. Well, to be fair, that is what it seems to be on the outside. But to me, stopping at the Edson Rest Stop was always the end of a wonderful summer vacation in Jasper National Park. As part of their services, the Edson Rest Stop has a complete RV dumping station, so you can empty out your trailer’s septic tank. And, since the rest stop is completely outfitted with picnic tables, we’d always end up having a picnic lunch at the Edson Rest Stop.

So, we’d stop at the Edson Rest Stop. I’d hop out of the van and help my father with the mechanical work of hooking up the hose and emptying out the sewage. While that was going on, Mom would take the cooler out of the trailer and go claim a picnic table. Once I was done helping Dad with the sewage, I’d go into the washrooms, wash up, and then feast upon the last of the camping snacks. When lunch was done, we’d all pile into the van and head for home. It was a perfect end to another perfect summer vacation.

You know how these things go. We all started growing up. Summer vacation started getting passed over for summer jobs. We just didn’t head out to the Rockies as much as we used to, and stops at the Edson Rest Area starting becoming fewer and further between. I think the last official stop (“official” being the capacity I just described) was in the summer of 1999. We’d just stopped in Edson for gas, and I bought a bag of Doritos. That summer, there was a miniature Episode I trading card in every bag of Doritos. I kept getting Padme. But there, at the Edson Rest Stop, I opened by bag of Doritos and discovered…R2-D2. After a whole summer with Natalie Portman, I was quite excited to spend some time with R2-D2.

And that was it. No more stops at the Edson Rest Stop. And that place always rather stuck out in my mind. Once I started doing some research into it, I discovered that there really aren’t that many government-run and maintained rest stops in Alberta. The only other one I know of (or at least have driven by) is on the QE2 Highway, right near the overpass to Wetaskawin. And, in this day and age, the construction of more government-maintained rest stops is likely never to happen. The Klein government is big on its 3P projects (public/private partnerships), and they instead foster the construction of roadside gas stations to be billed as rest stops. It’s probably more practical in the long run, but seems to fly in the face of “not in the business of making business.”

I was recently lucky enough to have a job interview in Edson. At the close of the interview, I swung by Tim Hortons to unwind a bit and prepare for the drive home. As I ate my donut, I started thinking, “Hey! Why don’t I stop in at the Edson Rest Stop and have a look around the old place?” I even decided to hold it in, so that way I’d have no excuse not to stop. Ye Gods, I swore I’d never write about my bathroom habits, yet here we are.

I pulled up to the Edson Rest Stop and walked up the familiar building. It was built in the early 1980s, and vaguely resembles a government building of that era. It’s painted in the same familiar brown as most Alberta government buildings. The same model of street lights that you find at government buildings line the walk up to the front. And it always struck me for its architectural style. It looks like a prism that was cut in half down the middle, and the pulled apart. In between the two halves, they then built a much smaller cube to fill in the gap. It almost looks whimsical.

I went inside at looked at the plaque. There’d always been a dedication plaque inside, like on most government projects. This proclaimed when the Edson Rest Stop was opened (1983) and the reigning MLA and Transportation Minister at the time. The plaque had long been a victim of vandalism with people scratching their names into it and such, but not anymore! Now, they have new plaque encased in glass to prevent further scratchings.

I used the washrooms, took a sip from the drinking fountain, and looked around. It always struck me how the Edson Rest Stop is such a large, empty building. I remember always asking my Dad why the building was so empty, and my Dad always told me the same answer. When the rest stop first opened in 1983, the large, empty area was filled with all manner of vending machines. But, vandals and thieves soon began abusing the machines, so the machines were removed. Now, I don’t remember ever seeing vending machines in the Edson Rest Stop, but the multitude of electrical outlets would seem to back up Dad. I also remember that they used to have a clock inside, and a couple of drinking fountains outside, but not anymore. Again, they were probably vandalized too much.

I went back outside and wandered around the grounds. Not only was I reliving childhood memories, it was also a new experience. I’d never been to the place in the dead of winter, so I was marvelling at seeing everything covered in snow for the first time. The trees, the familiar picnic tables, the decorative walls that block nothing, were all covered in snow. It gave a pristine quality to the over-glorified washroom.

When I’d had my fill of childhood memories, I jumped in my car and drove off. Yes, I still drive by it many, many times, but sometimes, to experience the same flood of childhood memories, you just have to stop and have a look around. It was a good 10 minutes spent walking around the grounds and remembering several picnic lunches past, and time spent helping Dad. Of course, I find myself still helping Dad. I guess the more things change, the more the stay the same.

And besides, after holding it in so I’d have a reason to stop, I really needed to go once I arrived. I drove away with yet another happy memory.

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