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Railways of Southern British Columbia


Kaslo & Southern #2 a wood-burning Mogul (note the link and pin coupler) hauling regular passenger train through the rugged Kaslo River Canyon 16 miles west of Kaslo in the Spring of 1896 on the newly-opened line of 45 lb. steel rail layed without tie plates, the normal practice at the time. BC Provincial Archives

Canadian Pacific Railway was not the only railway in the area of southern British Columbia, an area almost as challenging as the mountains on the mainline. North-south rivers and lakes met mountains and little else. Mining would be the main impetus to build into the Kootenay region while fruit growing would cover the Okanagan area and tourists would travel everywhere for the scenery. In addition to the CPR mainline and branches built over the years under different charters, there was a major threat from American interests, primarily James J. Hill's Great Northern which was invading the territory drawing traffic away to the United States.

Spokane Falls and Northern was built by railroad builder Daniel Chase Corbin from Spokane Falls, Washington (connecting with Northern Pacific) to Little Dalles on the Columbia River where it connected with a steamboat to Revelstoke and the CPR. Corbin ran a special train on August 15, 1890 to celebrate its opening. Connecting too with the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation company at Bonner's Ferry, Idaho on the GN mainline, he had access to the West Kootenay mining area by water. He had his eye on expansion.

Nelson and Fort Sheppard was built in1893 by Corbin connecting his SF&N to Nelson where the CPR barred him from access to the watefront there. He stopped just outside the town limits at Five Mile (Troup) on Kootenay Lake. It was completed in December just days from the deadline in its charter.

Red Mountain was the Canadian portion of another Corbin line between Rossland, not far from Trail, and the US border where it became the Columbia and Red Mountain connecting with the SF&N at Northport, Idaho where a smelter was opened to compete with the one in Trail. Corbin sold all his railway interests to the Northern Pacific.

Great Northern acquired control July 1,1898 of the SF&N and N&FS giving them a real foothold in the Kootenays. They weren't through yet. GN also built the Kootenai Valley from Bonners Ferry north to the border where it became the Bedlington and Nelson heading to Kuskonook on Kootenay Lake. Between Sidar and Creston the CPR granted running rights to the GN. In return, the CPR was granted running rights on GN's N&FS from outside Nelson to Troup Junction where the CPR would go on to build a branch to Procter to bypass a stretch of troublesome navigation on a small piece of Kootenay Lake that was prone to freezing up. It opened December 6, 1900.

Kaslo and Slocan controlled by GN was a small, narrow gauge (3 foot) railway running 29 miles from Kaslo to Sandon, a boom town (November 20, 1895) and Cody on December 15th. in a rich mining district. Steamers provided a connection to the Great Northern. Snowslides, landslides and a fire closed the line in 1910. The CPR took over the line to Kaslo, regauged it from there to Zincton, 20 miles. It re-opened July 1, 1914.

Kootenay Railway and Navigation Company was incorporated with GN involvement to take over the Kaslo & Slocan and the International Navigation and Trading Company. It soon added the Bedlington and Nelson. Another line, the Kaslo and Lardo-Duncan was to be built from from the head of Kootenay Lake up the Lardeau River to a new mining district. Only some grading was done. Financing difficulties saw GN assume more and more of the debentures until finally they acquired most of it. In 1910 the KR&N went into liquidation and in 1911 ceased all operations as GN gave up on the area.

Columbia and Kootenay was built by the CPR for 28 miles between Robson and Nelson, a new mining town, to bypass un-navigible waterfalls on the Kootenay River. Opening May 31, 1891 it was originally an isolated line that was later connected to other lines.

Columbia and Western a provincially chartered narrow gauge (36") railway was built by F. Augustus Heinze a Montana mining promoter to serve his smelter opened in February 1896 at Trail Creek Landing. On April 17, 1896 it took over his Trail Creek Tramway and opened on June 1, 1896 to connect to the Rossland mines eliminating sternwheeler service between those points. The 13 mile line had switchbacks and grades of over 4% over which ran diamond stack 2-6-0 Mogul woodburners. Heinze extended the railway (using standard gauge) in 1897 up the Columbia River west bank to Robson where the CPR's C&K was, intending to reach Midway and Penticton. He ran into financial difficulties raising the necessary money. The CPR came to his rescue. Well, they bought him out! The CPR no longer had trouble raising money for anything it wanted. He sold on February 11, 1898, the smelter at Trail, the C&W and its land grant for $806,000. The CPR standard gauged the line in 1899-1900 and sold off the five 2-6-0 locomotives of questionable parentage, all used.

Wanting a more direct line free of water routes the CPR soon began building west in 1898 using the C&W charter toward the Boundary district through the Monashee mountains completing it to Midway in November 1899. Eventually, using the charter of the Kettle Valley which the CPR had acquired, a connection was completed through to Penticton in 1914.

The CPR built a branchline south from the main line at Revelstoke along the east bank of the Columbia River 17 miles in 1893 to Wigwam and three years later to Arrowhead 28 miles. This meant steamers no longer had to leave the lake to navigate the shallow river.

Another line was built under an 1886 charter granted to the Shuswap and Okanagan Railway to build from the Sicamous Narrows up the bank of the Shuswap River south to Vernon and Okanagan Landing on Okanagan Lake completing it in June 1892. The CPR already had authority to lease and operate the line and in anticipation of new traffic set about having a new steamer built.

Yet another railway the Nakusp and Slocan was chartered in 1893 to build from Nakusp on Upper Arrow Lake south to Sandon a mining town in the Slocan Valley an area of rich silver and copper ore deposits. It opened December 12, 1895 and was leased by the CPR before it was completed, a common practice.

One more short isolated branch was built by June 1902 by the CPR for 10 miles between Gerrard, at the southern end of Trout Lake to Lardeau on Kootenay Lake. The small sternwheeler Victoria first served this short lake run followed in 1904 by the Proctor until it was sold in 1917 when the CPR ended service. It continued under other ownership until 1921. Anticipated mining traffic never happened and the branch withered its extention cancelled. While steam locomotives once hauled a mixed train, a station wagon with steel wheels operated a summer-only service on the isolated little branch for many years until abandonment in May 1942 after which a road was built on the right-of-way.

Canadian National also played a role in the Okanagan, one that included its own lake service with tugs and barges. It began with the completion in September 1925 of a branch line from Kamloops to Kelowna where a transfer slip was built in 1926. Service began that summer with a passenger carrying tug operating as the Okanagan Lake Boat Company, a name soon dropped. A used tug was added in 1928 along with a new steel car barge and a new tug and barge were built in 1930. CPR freight trains had running rights on the branch between Vernon and Kelowna from the beginning and later acquired running rights for passenger trains ending CPR passenger boat service in January 1935.

Freight service continued on Okanagan Lake for many more years with the CPR bowing out first, ending service on May 31, 1972. CNR carried on a little longer with its tug and barge service making the last run on February 15, 1973.



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