Feathers in a flap

Controversy over a billboard has some citizens of Fort St. James in a flap.

A sign promoting Fort St. James on Highway 16, a few kilometres east of Vanderhoof, has been attracting quite a bit of attention.

The large billboard sign shows five chicken hens running across the sign with the words Fort St. James and World Class Chicken Racing along the top.

The sign replaced a Fort St. James National HIstoric Site sign which was worn and needed retiring, and Bob Grill, site manager at the historic site, came up with the concept in the hopes it would attract attention and visitors not only to the site, but also to the town of Fort St. James itself.

“I think it’s nice to have people that come to Fort St. James (for the park) also go into the town,” said Grill.

The concept of the chickens came about through a natural progression from the “More than a one horse town” sign, which the local Chamber of Commerce asked Grill to come up with within a very short time frame.

He showed them the concept, and while he said the chamber wasn’t overly excited about the image, because they were short on time to make it happen, they went with the idea.

From the horses running across a sign, the idea of chickens running across seemed like a good tie-in and chicken racing has been an attraction at the park which has gained interest over the past three years. The races were first implemented after historical reading of daily activities in the life of the fort got Grill thinking about horse racing, which would not have been very feasible as a park attraction, but chicken racing was, and he found out other people were doing it as well.

“It’s different,” said Grill, which is why the races attracted some attention.

Since the races themselves generated attention, and the idea was to intrigue passers-by with an image on a billboard, Grill designed the whimsical new sign to try and build on this.

They also have a large ad in the latest Visitor Guide with a park interpreter holding a chicken which has been getting lots of positive reaction, which also helped point them in the direction of a chicken theme.

“It seems to be working to me,” said Grill. “I’ve never heard anybody talk about a sign before.”

People have been talking all right. With a phone call from people pleased with the sign and park visitors who came to the site to see chicken racing, Grill has gotten some very positive feedback.

When the image went out online before it was put up along the highway, posted on Facebook page and through email networks, Grill had requests for t-shirts to be made, and the online responses were all positive, some from as far away as Ottawa.

The park also asked for feedback from some of their other associates in the area, and the responses all affirmed the sign stuck with them and most found it humorous.

Locally, however, there has been some negative feedback coming in, with the District of Fort St. James receiving two or three phone calls complaining the sign is an embarrassment and the callers saying it made them ashamed for their town.

One group called Grill at work and told him they didn’t like the sign, but he said once he explained the reasons behind it and they realized there really is chicken racing at the park, they went away happy.

Grill said he’s happy to talk to people about the sign and hear concerns, but he has had far more positive feedback than negative, with the only negative responses coming from Fort St. James residents, but this isn’t as big a concern as the reaction from tourists or travellers.

“It’s not directed at people that live here,” said Grill.

The next sign in the series will feature a number of Rainbow trout swimming across the sign with the words Fort St. James and underneath:  Home of endless rainbows The sign will be put on the reverse side of the “More than a One Horse Town” sign at the junction of Highway 27 and Highway 16.