Meet Basil Fuller, the driving force behind a growing Kootenay community of Jamaican truckers. By Vince Hempsall. Photo by Kari Medig.
My plate is overflowing with barbecue chicken, plantain chips, rice, a hot sauce appropriately named Atomic, and fried dough morsels that I’m told are called “festivals.” Mix in a stage with live reggae music and the summer heat, and it’s easy to imagine I’m on a Caribbean island. Instead, I’m one of over a hundred people attending a Jamaican celebration called the Can Jam Link Up, held at Kinnaird Park in Castlegar, British Columbia, a city best known for its Doukhobor borscht, not its fried plantains.
I was invited by 47-year-old Basil Fuller, a Jamaican who moved to Castlegar in 2013 to drive big-rig trucks. He’s the festival’s organizer and, I’ve come to realize, he’s also the unofficial Jamaican cultural ambassador of the area, which has a growing Jamaican expat community primarily made up of truckers. “There are well over a hundred of us driving trucks here now,” Fuller says in his energetic singsong voice. A slight man with a huge grin, Fuller is outgoing, with an easy laugh that makes him a natural storyteller. In fact, the Jamaicans I meet and speak with at the Can Jam Link Up all rebuff my offer to be interviewed for this story and point me toward Fuller because, as one man jokes, “Oh, that Basil, he loves to talk.”
It’s true, and his tales are fascinating, like the story of his inaugural experience driving a rig through snowy conditions on a mountain pass. “I remember the first time going down the Paulson [Summit] and seeing my trailer just minding its own business,” he says, describing how it started swaying back and forth across the lanes. “The truck driver behind me radioed that I needed to let go of the brakes and go faster. Oh, my dear Lord. He coached me all the way through that. Eventually, I got to Christina Lake. I got out of the truck. I lay down on the road, and I said, ‘Thank you, God!’”
Like many of his fellow truckers, Fuller was sponsored to come to Canada by Salmo-based transportation company Sutco and trained by Castlegar’s Mountain Transport Institute, renowned for its training ground, which includes some of the highest mountain passes in the country. His first two winters of driving were stressful, but “I came to enjoy it,” he says. “I’m a big kid now. Winter is my fun time. But I still chain up so often I know for a fact there are 52 links on every single one.” Then he laughs.
“I remember the first time going down the Paulson [Summit] and seeing my trailer just minding its own business,” Fuller says, describing how it started swaying back and forth across the lanes.
Fuller was a truck driver in Jamaica before he moved to Canada. Aside from the weather, he claims there is one main difference between the two countries. “Truck drivers are like rock stars in Jamaica, partly because the law in that country states that heavier vehicles have the right of way,” he says, and then he gets uncharacteristically serious. “But here it’s seen as low-skilled work, which I don’t understand.” He now drives for Mercer Celgar, hauling wood products, and when his rig is fully loaded with two trailers, it weighs 63,500 kilograms. “That’s a lot of weight and responsibility we’re carrying around,” he says. “Some of us drivers need to be more appreciated in my opinion.” But then he laughs again and switches topics. “Let me tell you about my first flight into Castlegar over the mountains. You can still see my fingerprints in the seat!”