Yellowhead Highway Special – The Highway of Tears

Distance sign along the Highway of Tears, a remote section of the Yellowhead Highway in B.C.

The Highway of Tears refers to a series of murders and disappearances on a 720 km stretch of the Yellowhead Highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George, B.C., beginning in 1970. This section of the highway has become notorious for the disproportionate number of victims who were First Nations women. As the Yellowhead Highway runs through a very isolated and remote part of the province, many of the victims have never been found, or the murders have never been solved. To date, over 40 women have been reported missing or murdered near the Highway of Tears.

Eighteen of the victims whose last known whereabouts were along the Yellowhead Highway.

Several factors contribute to the high number of cases occurring on this stretch of the Yellowhead. The highway passes through a rural area plagued with poverty and lack of transit access, which leaves many to rely on hitch-hiking as the cheapest form of transportation, or to partake in high-risk lifestyles to survive. 23 First Nations communities and numerous municipalities border the Yellowhead, which accounts for the disproportionately high number of victims who are Aboriginal women. Issues of systemic racism may also contribute to why many cases go unsolved, as cases involving white women tend to get more media coverage. Violence against women, especially of First Nations descent, has been an ongoing problem that still needs to be addressed today.

Between 2006 and 2017, several recommendations have been put in place to help curb the amount of crimes occurring on the highway. A shuttle bus service has been put in place between Prince George and Burns Lake for people in the communities along the stretch to travel safely, with funding provided by the province of B.C. and the government of Canada. Expanded health services and mental health counseling for Aboriginal peoples have been provided by the communities as part of an effort to help stop inter-generational poverty rampant in the area.

Raised awareness for the Highway of Tears has been gaining steam recently, with several books, TV episodes, and documentaries featuring information about the victims and the victims’ families call for justice. You can find out more through these media available today:

– Finding Dawn (2006), a documentary by Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh
– The Vanishing of Madison Scott. Documentary by Steven Scouller
– Highway of Tears, a documentary by Matthew Smiley and Carly Pope
– Searchers: The Highway of Tears. VICE miniseries. Also available are online articles featuring the Highway of Tears murders and disappearances
– Canada’s Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women, a 14 episode miniseries on CBC’s news program The National.
– That Lonely Section of Hell, memoir by former police detective Lorimer Shenher.