It was refreshing to visit the Devil’s Elbow the other day and not have to wear a lifejacket and helmet or get doused with freezing cold water for a change. The Devil’s Elbow Ale & Smoke House is named after a stretch of Class IV rapids on the Elaho River, roughly an hour’s drive up a dirt logging road from Squamish, that I’ve been down countless times through a side gig as a whitewater rafting guide. Located inside the former Chambar Restaurant on Beatty Street, the place is owned by the same people behind the Squamish-based Howe Sound Brewing Co., early trail-blazers in B.C.’s now-flourishing craft beer biz who first put out an award-winning India Pale Ale named after the rapids a decade ago. It’s a hell of a beautiful spot, with glacier-capped mountains overhead and icy green water surrounded by forest and sheer rock cliffs.
It also has the dubious distinction of being one of the deadliest stretches of river in the country. What makes the Elbow so dangerous is, after the biggest rapids end, the river makes a sharp 90 degree turn to the right. If things have gone pear-shaped, people can end up getting pushed into an often log-filled eddy to the left that can be very difficult to get out of. Or even impossible.
Five people from the Vancouver area died there on Canada Day in 1987 after two of three rafts on a commercial trip flipped over after hitting a log jam in the Elbow. The body of one of them was never found.
The accident, along with yet another one a month later on the Chilko River that killed five more people (not to mention inspired an Alan Alda movie) ultimately prompted the creation of provincial licensing and safety standards for the rapidly growing rafting industry. Not that running whitewater can ever be made entirely risk-free: A 17-year-old Squamish girl also died there in 2005 after her raft hit a rock and dumped everyone into the water. And that’s just the rafting deaths. A 47-year-old Vancouver man met his end there four years ago after Thelma & Louising his SUV off a 70-metre cliff and into the river.
You could argue that naming a restaurant after a place where so many people have died in recent years is in poor taste. Imagine how outraged the loved ones of stabbing victims would feel if, say, someone opened a place named Surrey Central Station. Fortunately, should someone decide to start up a different pub named after rapids on the Elaho River, there are plenty of other good ones to choose from:
Cheeseball: A watery homage à fromage, “Cheeseball” is the unofficial name given by paddlers to a tricky drop next to a giant mid-stream boulder a few hundred metres upstream from the Devil’s Elbow. Surely Vancouver’s cheesy legions of aspiring bar stars would feel right at home at a place sharing the name. It would certainly make for a cleverly self-aware addition to the Donnelly chain.
Coffee Grinder: This rapid above the Elaho’s confluence with the Squamish River earned its name after one of the sons of the owners of Delany’s Coffee, who was working as a raft guide at the time, had an unpleasant underwater experience there. Although Coffee Grinder sounds like a much better name for a cafe than a brewpub.
Steamroller: Although not mentioned by name, Steamroller was in the news quite a bit last summer after a slide on Mud Creek, which flows into the rapids, washed out the bridge and stranded campers for a few days. (That’s Steamroller in the hammy background image of my Twitter profile.) On the down side, a new Vancouver place called Steamroller would risk being confused with the already established Steamworks.
Wu-Tang: Nobody is quite sure how a huge wave at the bottom of Steamroller came to share a name with the east coast hip hop collective. Certainly none of the many Wu-Tang Clan members themselves have claimed ownership of a wave in any of their tracks. Unlike Soundgarden. RZA and friends chose the name in honour of the kung-fu classic Shaolin and Wu Tang, and a bar called Wu-Tang (or possibly Wudang) could be a safe bet in a city with such a large Chinese population.
Shark Fin: This is a large pointy rock in the middle of the river that is important to not hit, but it also sounds a potential winning name for an edgy new bar. Although it risks being confused with the Shark Club. Serving actual shark fins would also be a bad idea.
Mike Tyson: This is a wave towards the end of the trip that packs a serious punch. There would likely to legal issues choosing to name an establishment Mike Tyson, not to mention the bad karma of naming something in honour of a convicted rapist.