Coquihalla Canyon

History

In the early 1900’s, the Canadian Pacific Railway decided a route was necessary to link the Kootenay region with the BC coast by rail. Andrew McCulloch was hired as the chief engineer in May 1910. He had been involved in many CPR projects, including the Spiral Tunnels near Revelstoke.

McCulloch took on the challenging task of building the railway over three major mountain ranges. The Coquihalla subdivision included 38 miles from the Coquihalla Summit to the junction with the CPR mainline across the Fraser River from Hope. This section boasts the most expensive mile of railway track in the world: $300,000 in 1914! The construction was done almost exclusively by hand with the assistance of a few horse drawn scrapers and some black powder. His assistant engineers nick-named the railway “McCulloch’s Wonder.”

The greatest challenge of this route was the Coquihalla gorge, just east of Hope, where the river had cut a 300-foot-deep channel in solid granite. Other engineers had suggested a mile-long tunnel by-passing the gorge, but McCulloch chose to build directly through it. Hanging in the gorge in a wicker basket, McCulloch surveyed the canyon for a straight line of tunnels that could be dug simultaneously. Cliff ladders, suspension bridges and ropes allowed workers to complete what is, to this day, regarded as a spectacular engineering feat.

The tunnels are known as the Othello Tunnels. McCulloch was an avid reader of Shakespearean literature, and he used characters such as Lear, Jessica, Portia, Iago, Romeo and Juliet to name stations of the Coquihalla subdivision. The tunnels in the Coquihalla Canyon were near the Othello station – thus, Othello Tunnels. Many of the passengers on the Coquihalla line came expressly to see and photograph the station boards and to send postcards from the stations’ post offices as a souvenir. This added an ironic touch of gentility to this adventurous journey.

The Kettle Valley Railway was officially opened on July 31, 1916. The line operated both freight and passenger service between Vancouver and Nelson, but the operation was plagued with snow and rock slides. In a two year period in the 1930’s, the line operated for only a few weeks.

On November 23, 1959, a washout was reported just north of the tunnels. The 400-foot washout was too large to be filled in one day, and numerous other washouts added to the troubles of the maintenance crews. The line was closed and never reopened; it was officially abandoned in July of 1961. The tunnels and surrounding area became a provincial recreation area in May of 1986.

Much of the modern four lane Coquihalla Highway is built upon the original rail bed of the Kettle Valley Railway. Travelling at modern highway speeds it is difficult to imagine the formidable task of constructing a rail route through this rugged section of BC.

As you drive along the highway, you may notice some small signs in the shape of an old steam locomotive, with Shakespearean names. These signs commemorate the approximate locations of the Kettle Valley Railway stations along today’s Highway #5.

Cultural Heritage

Conservation


Flowers, trees and shrubs are part of the park’s natural heritage, please don’t damage or remove them.

Wildlife

Park users should always be aware of bears and other wildlife in our park environment. Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife. View for more information on bear safety.

Wood ticks are most prevalent between March and June. These parasites live in tall grass and low shrubs, and seek out warm-blooded hosts. As potential carriers of disease, they should be avoided. Protect your legs by wearing gaiters, or pants tucked into socks. After any outdoor activities, thoroughly examine yourself, children and pets. If you find a tick embedded in your skin, the best way to remove it is by grasping and pulling it, gently, straight up and out with a small pair of tweezers, and disinfecting the site with rubbing alcohol. You may wish to save the tick in a small plastic or glass container for later inspection by your doctor especially if a fever develops, or the area around the bite appears to be infected.

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