Columbia & Western Rail Trail

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The Castlegar to Grand Forks section

In 1890 gold and copper were discovered near Rossland. The Columbia and Western Railway (C&W) was charted to run from the smelter in Trail to Penticton. This line was completed to Robson West in 1897. The C&W from Rossland to Trail was a narrow gauge railway to the smelter at Trail. On April 2, 1898 surveyors led by a man named Rice reached Grand Forks with slashing crews following close behind them. By September 24, six railway construction camps between Cascade and Grand Forks employed 250 men. A portable sawmill, operated by McPherson and Stout, supplied rail ties and timbers and W.H. Fisher supplied 70,000 rail ties from a site north of Niagara. The Columbia and Western Railway was purchased from mining developer Fritz Heinze, along with the trail smelter by CPR in 1898.

The Boundary country ore (from the City of Paris Mine) was delivered to the Trail smelter. On November 25, 1899 passenger service extended to Greenwood. By 1900 the railway had reached Midway with a branch line from Eholt to the copper-rich area of Phoenix. Construction of this railway required great effort and was often times extremely dangerous. On January 11, 1900 two men were killed by flying rock. On February 4, 1900, 100 men were lost when sent out to shovel drifts. By reaching the Boundary District, the CPR had scored a major victory against its American railway competitors in its bid to re-establish Canadian control in southern British Columbia. American communities along the Kettle River and tributary valleys south of the international boundary found it easier to ship via CPR than to use the long and rough wagon roads leading to J.J. Hill’s Great Northern (GN) railway in Washington State.

Although the KVR produced an operating profit for most of its years, the railway never came close to paying off the massive capital investment of its difficult construction. Nevertheless, the KVR halted the flow of Kootenay trade to the United States at a critical time in B.C.’s history and thus provided an important contribution in the development of the Province. Though freight service on the KVR was terminated shortly after abandonment of the Coquihalla line in July of 1961, due to major devastation by avalanches the previous winter. The line was abandoned after serving for nearly 50 years. The extensive bridges of this line quickly succumbed to the forces of nature and the demolition practices of the Canadian Army. Some of the smaller bridges that crossed narrow creeks were sold for scrap. Most of the resident buildings, station platforms and other Right of Way buildings were torn down or set ablaze. Rolling stock was removed, followed by rails and ties. The 131 miles of trackage between Penticton and Midway were abandoned in 1978. This portion is now part of the Trans Canada Trail network in southern BC Rails were removed between Midway and Castlegar in 1990. Today Burlington Northern continues to provide rail service to Pope & Talbot (now Interfor) sawmill for a little longer as they too are struggling along. The section in the industrial area between the two bridges in Grand Forks was purchased from CPR in 1992 by Pope & Talbot and CanPar Industries which operate it as a private railway. This section of the railway has remained in active use. A bypass trail routes you to the town of Grand Forks and connects you back on the Columbia and Western. The entire railway including the Kettle Valley Railway is now part of the Trans Canada Trail systems in British Columbia.

Castlegar saw the last train leave in 1989 and the abandoned rail bed has now become a popular cycling trail for both locals and visitors. The mountain trails will take you into awe inspiring wilderness where you may see indigenous species such as black bear, coyote, grouse, and deer to name a few. When cycling along the highway, the traffic is usually light, however, the mountain passes tend to be a bit of a haul, but you can do it one turn of the pedal at a time.

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