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Rock Creek, B.C. : History Printer Friendly Version

by DMWilson
With thanks to T.W. Patterson, R.D. Turner, Bert and Bernice Hogendoorn, Brian Titley, H.O. Slaymaker, Chris Padwicki, and George F.G. Stanley.
revised 2015/05/21

Camp McKinney
Rock Creek
The Kettle Valley Railway, Part I
        The Midway and Vernon Railway
        The Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway, Part II
The Kettle Valley to Midway

        Cyclists tend to grin maniacally as they see stretched out before them the long grade which will slowly coast them down into the Kettle River Valley from the crest of Anarchist Summit (1233 m). Coming up out of Osoyoos was a tough go, even for the Ironman-fit, but now that the Anarchist is defeated, it’s time to let gravity do the work. Through the Highway’s first descending cut, down off in the distance one sees the little settlement of Bridesville. Approaching it, the sharp-eyed will spot the remains of the Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern’s right-of-way sneaking off south south-westwards towards the Boundary. The old grade has stood up well to a century of the Anarchist’s run-off and the attentions of neighbouring land owners who have breached it here and there to connect their fields. Across the Boundary, the old railbed re-assumed its alias of the Washington and Great Northern and carries on with switch-backs and ghost trestles up over 3600 feet above sea level through Molson1 and down to Oroville in the Okanagan Valley. The line was completed thither in early 1907.
        Bridesville is merely one unincorporated residential street arc’d from the southern side of the Highway and connected to it at both ends. The community came into being as “Maud” in 1905 when the VV&E surveying crews, seeking a way past the Anarchist and into the Okanagan, looped their right-of-way up the west slope of Baker Creek. Within the highest of the loops, Maud sprung up. In 1906, lending substance to the settlement, David Bride built his hotel and Joe Frank opened a store. It remains a mystery exactly what Bride did that convinced his neighbours to rename their community in his honour, but Maud disappeared in 1910 and the community has been “Bridesville” ever since.
        With Jim Hill’s “Third Mainline” running past its door-step, Bridesville made a decent living sending cattle and hay to market. In 1921 local entrepreneurs built a sawmill on the northeast corner of town and made their best money supplying the railway with ties and timber. However, the section of the WGN from Molson to Oroville proved discouragingly expensive to maintain and the revenue disappointingly low. In 1927, mentions Hal Reigger in his The Kettle Valley and its Railways, GN suspended service on the Line. On April 26th, 1931, having connected Oroville to its original mainline at Wenatchee in 1914, the GN officially abandoned the Molson—Oroville section and removed the rails a year later. As the crop-burning, cattle-killing, dream-destroying drought of the 1930s tightened its grip on the Okanogan Highlands, GN gave up all hope of re-opening the Line and applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the line west of Curlew, on the Kettle River south of Grand Forks. On February 28th, 1935, permission was granted, and by the end of the year the last of the steel had been ripped up, leaving Bridesville alone with the newly rebuilt, gravel-dusty trans-provincial road, the forerunner of the Crowsnest Highway. The sawmill long ago failed, and in 1953 fire claimed the old hotel and the nearby dancehall. In 1972 Franks’ old store burned to the ground leaving Bridesville without a commercial presence on the No. 3.
        From the Highway a couple of kilometres past Bridesville, the twisted, dusty old stage road tees off northward to pick its way some 40 kilometres over the shoulder of 7575-foot-high Baldy Mountain and skid down into the Okanagan Valley. Nine-odd kilometres from the Highway it passes the vestiges of Camp McKinney melting into sylvan oblivion.
Camp McKinney

        According to the report of the B.C. Department of Mines for 1928, placer miners working the sands of Rock Creek had looked for the source of the Creek’s gold since the 1860s. In 1884, outcropping from the granite-gneiss walls of the Creek’s gulch, the Victoria vein was located, and three years later the famous Cariboo vein was found. Of milky- to bluish-white quartz mineralized with iron sulphides, both veins glittered with free gold.
        T.W. Patterson in “Camp McKinney: B.C.’s First Lode Mine” (Canadian West, No. 17, Fall, 1989) writes that Fred. Rice and Al. McKinney staked their Cariboo claim in 1886 and the Rock Creek Quartz Camp soon developed around it. Finds looked promising so Gold Commissioner Tunstall at Granite Creek near Princeton recommended that the Ministry of Lands and Works reserve some land at the Camp and survey a townsite. Seventy-four acres were subsequently set aside and the province’s Surveyor-general, W.S. Gore, sent in a crew to lay out a main street for what he named “McKinneyville” in the fall of 1887. Already settling into what they called “Camp McKinney” nearer to the mines, the miners ignored the townsite and the government never sold a lot.
        By 1889 miners were hacking holes into the highly altered argillaceous and quartzose igneous rock on more than 25 claims and were generally encouraged by what they found. Especially pleased were the owners of the Amelia, the Alice, the Emma, the Cariboo, the Maple Leaf, and the Eureka for there the Cariboo vein widened to ten feet of very rewarding ore.
        In 1888 the province had spent nearly $2,000 building a trail through the Camp to Rock Creek from the Okanagan Band’s community at Nk’mip near today’s Oliver. In the wintertime waggons on skis could be dragged over the route; in summer it could be managed only by packhorses. Neither season allowed for the export of much ore. The new regional Gold Commissioner, Walter Dewdney, maintained that the Camp needed a good all-weather road, but the American ethnicity of most of the miners mitigated against the investment. With no way to economically move its ore, Camp McKinney slipped into a lethargy so deep that its post office closed in 1892.
        That winter of 1892-’93, however, G.B. McAuley, J.P Keane and James Monaghan organized in Spokane what would quickly become the Camp’s main operator, Cariboo Mining and Milling Company, to buy up the Cariboo and the Amelia mines. When the snow-pack was deep on the trails during the winter following, the company—now the Cariboo Mining, Milling and Smelting Company—sledged in a steam engine and ten-stamp mill from its defunct operation in Golden, Washington, and had them housed and working by the spring of 1894. Packing its concentrate some 56 miles to the CPR landing at Penticton for eventual delivery to the Tacoma smelter, CM&M grossed $131,000 in 1896 and enough profit to attract the attention of Big Money. Noted in The Annual Report of the Minister of Mines for the Year Ending 31st December, 1897 as the “Cariboo Gold Mining and Milling Company,” by 1898 it had been reorganized in Toronto as the Cariboo Consolidated Gold Mining Company with a mandate to work the Cariboo-Amelia and buy up surrounding properties—the Emma, the Alice, Maple Leaf, Saw Tooth Fraction and a percentage of the Okanagan—with its $1.25 million of initial capitalization. Robert Jaffray, then vice-president of the Imperial Bank, was elected president and McAuley was appointed mining director. How well the company rewarded its investors is not public information, but the operation’s profits had to have been eroded by the 30 to 35 dollars per ton costs of bring supplies in from Penticton, and $16.50 charge per ton of delivering concentrate to the Trail smelter. In 1899, while other operators such as the Sailor Consolidated Mining and Milling Company, Limited, moiled away on the Camp’s other claims and fractions, Cariboo Consolidated was recapitalized as the Cariboo-McKinney Gold Mining and Milling Company, Limited. Though its mine had given up $838,000 in bullion and rewarded its investors with nearly $460,000 in dividends to December 31st, 1900, Cariboo-McKinney declared no dividend in either 1900 or 1901 as it assessed the properties and considered installing a cyanidation process to leach the gold from the concentrate from its four 5-stamp batteries. Camp McKinney, which had by then grown to a sizeable community with four dry-goods stores and a drugstore, a church, a school, six hotels including the Sailor and the Miners’ Exchange, a thrice weekly stage connection to Penticton and Marcus, Washington, and a telephone line to Greenwood, held its breath. Unfortunately, the company decided against further investment, declared a dividend in 1902 and resolved to gut the mine in 1903 and quit. During its short life, the Cariboo and its associated properties had given up some 75,000 ounces of gold and some silver. Come 1904, Camp McKinney was dying.
        The CPR’s Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company bought the Cariboo property and 28 neighbourhood claims during W.W.I, but off-and-on investigations during the ‘20s turned up nothing worthwhile. Come 1930, though, with the United States rumoured to be considering raising the price of gold, Pacific Copper Mines interested itself in examining the Old England and Victoria properties, a job made infinitely easier by the wildfire in the summer of 1931 which cleaned out most of the brush on Baldy and exposed the Mountain’s ore outcrops. Reports the Minister of Mines in 1933, many of the old claims in the McKinney camp were being investigated. In 1939 six partners referring to themselves as Pioneer Gold Mines began working the Cariboo-Amelia looking for the fabled “lost lead,” while on the adjoining Wiarton another crew got busy. The Cariboo-Amelia returned enough that its owners persisted in working it off and on right through World War II and into the ‘50s. Amazingly, in 1958, the “lost lead” was located and in two years of work the lucky finders sent 4,400 tons of ore to be smelted at Trail and were rewarded with 5,400 ounces of gold and 6,000 of silver. By 1960 the lead had been mined to its end and, but for nosy rock hounds, the Cariboo has since remained undisturbed. Not so nearby McMynn’s Meadows which perennially draws more than its share of bush-kickers. They say that secreted there somewhere is nearly thirty pounds of refined gold which a robber was unable to carry away after holding up the Cariboo’s manger in the darkness of August 18th, 1896. They say. As for Camp McKinney, the great fire of 1931 pretty well cleaned up what a blaze in 1919 had missed.
Rock Creek

        A few miles beyond the Camp McKinney turn-off, the No. 3 comes upon Rock Creek cutting its way southward out of the Okanagan Highlands, heading toward the Kettle River. The bridge leaping the Creek’s canyon was built in 1951 and is still the most dramatic span on the Crowsnest Highway. Just at the western approach to the bridge, a ranch-yard café invites travellers to pause for an iced cappuccino and cool their toes on a shady balcony overlooking the three arches of silver painted iron truss-work which hang into the canyon, carrying the roadway on their backs. Those daring can scramble down by the abutment and crawl out on the catwalk which is suspended on the Bridge’s cross-beams and treat themselves to a thrilling, precarious, view. If not, the Bridge’s deck has been made thoughtfully wide enough to permit pedestrians to peer in safety over the parapet 300 feet down into the creek’s magnificent trench. It was down in those red depths, at a place called Soldiers’ Bar, that a Canadian called Adam Beame2 camped in October of 1859. Having supplied himself as the HBC’s Fort Colvile near the Columbia River in what is now northern Washington state, he was on his way to try his luck panning the sands of the Similkameen River farther west. Deciding to practice his technique a little, he dipped his pan into the sands of the Creek. What he found he could not keep secret. Come April of the next year, just as soon as the spring’s high waters had passed, the nearly-famous Indian-fighting Captain Collins led the first 34 of what would soon number hundreds of fortune-hunters into this canyon. Beame returned and began working a claim on May 6th, sacking nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of gold in six weeks. So the story goes.
        June and July of 1860 saw hundreds of hopefuls arrive at the Rock Creek bonanza. Supplies, wrote D.C. Thorne in a letter published by the Victoria British Colonist on August 14th, were “scarce.” Worthy of especial mention by the writer, “[w]hiskey (as they call it) $6 per gallon. Chinese brandy (no other liquor here) $12 per gallon.” Thorne goes on to mention that there were two saloons, a butcher’s shop, a hotel and five stores.
        In his diary3 under the date of August 30th, 1860, Charles William Wilson, a Royal Engineer and the Secretary to the British Boundary Commission which was working its way through the neighbourhood that year, wrote of Rock Creek: “The town, or rather I beg its pardon, city has sprung up like a mushroom, there are about 350 inhabitants, miners, gamblers, sharpers, Jews, Pikes, Yankees, loafers & hoc genus omne [sic]. There are a good many substantial log buildings, stores, gambling houses, grog shops, butcher’s shops etc and a good supply of everything, which of course has to be paid for pretty highly as they have to import everything from the Dalles and Fort Hope.” “This day was a great one for Rock Creek as some waggons arrived from the Dalles, the first ones that had ever come up, their previous supplies having been packed in by mules...” He goes on to describe a typical claim as being about 300 feet by 100 feet, centred length-wise along the stream which was diverted into a flume to expose its bed. Five or six men shovelled the sands of the bed into a sluice the riffles of which were loaded with mercury which bonded with the coarse, high-quality gold to form an amalgam which was sacked and sent to San Francisco to be processed. Plans, noted Wilson, were afoot to import hydraulic equipment and wash out the Creek’s banks as was the contemporary practice in California.
        This renewed invasion of British territory by American freebooters came quickly to the notice of Governor Douglas, and so alarming were the reports of mayhem that Douglas decided that he had better see Rock Creek for himself. He arrived on September 24th, 1860. It was as he suspected; few of the miners were licensed under the provisions of the Gold Fields Act for British Columbia—or even cared, really—and the majority had not paid any import duties on their animals, tools, et cetera, primarily, they said, because there was no official to whom to give the dues. Not one to ignore a revenue stream, Douglas immediately sent a letter to Wm. Geo. Cox, an officer of the Colony’s newly raised Constabulary, appointing him Gold Commissioner and Collector of Customs, posting him to Rock Creek and instructing him to proceed thither post-haste. Douglas didn’t await the capable Cox’s arrival, trusting that he would immediately impose British Law and order upon the 500 or so rather fractious miners then in residence on The Creek, regulate the size of claims, collect taxes on imports and royalties on exported gold. Returning to the Coast through Hope, the Governor did, however, appoint John Carmichael Haynes as Cox’s deputy, duties which Haynes assumed upon his arrival at the Camp that October 15th. The office that he and Cox set up there was the first Customs Service post established in B.C. outside the colonial capital of New Westminster.
        Encouraged by merchants in New Westminster who saw what should have been their profits from the new gold field trickling across the Boundary into the pockets of their competitors, Douglas determined to have a reliable road built to Rock Creek. Just that July he had contracted a young, Welsh-trained engineer, Edgar Dewdney, to make a pack trail out of the old foot trail from Fort Hope across the Hozameen Mountains to the Similkameen Valley, a task that he and his partner, Walter Moberly, were still doing. Because the trail to Rock Creek would be an extension of the Similkameen job, it likely seemed only logical to Douglas that he bestow it upon Dewdney. How much competition there was for the work is therefore questionable, but in any event, in January of 1861 Dewdney and Moberly won the £300/mile contract to extend their pack trail to Rock Creek. By the time Dewdney and Moberly drove their project into the Creek in August of 1861, the boom was bust and most of the 23 buildings that Cox had counted upon his arrival were abandoned, their inhabitants drawn to a new gold camp on Mission Creek in the Okanagan. Cox and Haynes had set up an outpost on the Similkameen by that time to tax the cattle herds that were being moved into the district, and Haynes was usually there. On March 11th of 1862, Cox was re-assigned to the Cariboo district and Haynes was left to close down the Rock Creek offices and centralize his operations in the Okanagan.
        For a few months in 1864 and 1865, however, traffic along Dewdney’s languishing trail increased substantially due to the gold strikes in the East Kootenays. Many passers-by dipped hopeful pans into the sands of Rock Creek, but discouraged by the meagre showings, soon moved on. Yet, for a while, anyway, gold enough could be dug from the Creek that a frugal, industrious man could live free of the tyranny of railroad foremen and still send money home to China. In 1886, the Laura Hydraulic Company of Vancouver decided that mechanization was the key to Rock Creek’s wealth and dragged its pumps to the creek to train high-pressure hoses on the gravel bars. Four years of effort succeeded in finding only enough gold to go broke. The Creek rewarded a similar assault mounted in 1900 by an outfit from Greenwood with the same success.
        A few kilometres eastward on the Highway from the Bridge and the yard and mill of Hilmoe Forest Products at its eastern approach, a re-alignment of the No. 3 has cut off the old section through Johnstone Creek ravine. Nestled in this nook now is a sixteen-site provincial campground populated by a mob of chipmunks bent on extorting picnics from visitors. Under the pines, a protesting hand-pump squeals out gushes of cool, clean water, providing a sweaty biker camping here with the only means of showering. Beyond Johnstone Creek, past ranchsteads and pastures of Black Anguses and Holsteins, the Highway tips over the edge of the Kettle River valley’s ‘scarp and whoops down into the unincorporated settlement of Rock Creek (612m).

        The Rock Creek gold camp whither Dewdney built his Trail in 1861 was not a compact community; rather it was strung out along the Creek where a miner usually squatted on his own claim—25 lineal feet of shore between the high and low water marks. When the rush played out and the Boomers moved on, the Creek’s natural floods and the hydraulic mining endeavours that began in the late 1880s soon washed away all traces of the abandoned campsites. The present community was formerly known as York Creek and is mostly on the right bank of the Kettle, strung out along the Highway which leaps the Creek on a shoulderless, short, 1950 bridge in the centre of the settlement. It is the leftovers from the town created by the hydraulic mining companies and the Kettle Valley Railway.
        Besides the hotel that the Madge family had opened in 1898, there was not a lot at Rock Creek when Hill spiked his Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern through the region during the summer of 1905. What few residents there were, however, must have suffered some disappointment when, anticipating the arrival of a railroad since 1900, they realized that the VV&E would build up Myers Creek, missing them completely and leaving them with but a shed for a station a couple of miles distant.
        The community languished on the fringes of the industrial world for only six more years, however. In 1910 the Kettle Valley Railway began building up the valley for which it is named, pushing its steel past Rock Creek on February 8th, 1911.
        Though the KVR ran up the opposite side of the River, a bridge soon connected the community to its new station. With ready access to markets, logging operations sprung up and the lode miners hiked the countryside, poking at the dolomites and limestones that constitute the escarpment. Finding little of interest in the neighbourhood, the miners soon disappeared up the Kettle past Beaverdell to Wallace Mountain where the ores looked promising, and once the easy trees had been “harvested,” the loggers, too, moved on. Only the upland ranchers and the few farming families who were lucky enough to pre-empt fertile acres on the valley bottom kept Rock Creek on the map.
        In Turner’s Steam on the Kettle Valley, there is a photo taken of the last passenger train to visit the Rock Creek station. It was a snowy Friday, January 17th, 1964, and, judging by the number of folks out to catch their last glimpse of a Budd RDC rolling through their settlement, it was recognized as a momentous occasion. Never again would travellers step off a train at Rock Creek. When the CPR ceased running all trains over the Highlands to Penticton in 1973, Rock Creek, at the tail end of what had essentially become a long spur reaching out from Castlegar, seemed to loose heart. It never did incorporate and in 2007 it is just beginning to perk up with overflow from the Okanagan valley. Across the River near the site of the KVR’s long-gone station, the Mighty White Dolomite Limited crushing plant boisterously blows boulders of magnesium carbonate out of the valley’s wall and reduces them to sparkling white gravel for decorative construction in the Okanagan. Along the Highway there are a few houses, a gas station and a couple of souvenir shops, the Edelweiss Motel and its Me and My Mom’s Café. Near the Edelweiss at the west end of the settlement, a “Tee” intersection peels highway 33 from the No. 3 and sends it north up the Kettle’s valley and over the Highlands to Kelowna some 125 kilometres away. On 33 by the Intersection, the barny-looking Rock Creek Hotel with its Prospector Pub vies with the Leland Hotel in Nakusp for the tile of Oldest Operating Hostelry in B.C.
The Kettle Valley Railway, Part I

        The amenities of the nearby Rock Creek Fairgrounds Campsite notwithstanding, on the right-hand side of highway 33 not six kilometres north from Rock Creek is one of the loveliest campgrounds in B.C., the Kettle River Provincial Recreation Area. At the entrance to the campground a few metres from the highway, the access road crosses the overgrown grade of the KVR, and glancing eastward along it, one can see an old bridge some hundred metres away. The 53 sites of the campground are laid out on the Kettle’s right bank, secluded in a sylvascape of Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines scattered upon saffron-yellow forest grass to comb the dusty sunlight into brassy shafts through which dandelion parachutes drift on the stilling evening’s airs. As at almost every other provincial campground along the Crowsnest Highway, there were no showers back in the ‘90s, but in July of 2014, the B B Hogendoorns informed me that this is no longer true, so sweaty cyclists can enjoy a good scrub-down, or risk a dip in the swift Kettle, known in Native times as the “Nehoialpitku.”
        Across the Kettle from the Campground, collapsing mine shafts burrow into the River’s left bank, their rotting timbers sagging, weathered signs warning “Danger—Keep Out.” These are the old Imperial group of mines—Badger, Imperial, Badger No. 1, Emeline, Lancashire and Imperial No. 1—and were last worked for their gold and silver ores in 1926. The next year the operators, the Hecla Mining Company of Wallace, Idaho, cleaned up the works, sending stock-piled or to the Trail smelter which yielded but 11 ounces of gold and 2100 of silver, not enough to warrant further investment.
        Bordering the campground, the KVR’s abandoned right-of-way is now but a gravelled path which leads an evening stroller down to the old steel through-truss bridge. The KVR installed this span in 1930 to replace the original wooden Howe truss structure, and CP found it too much trouble to remove when it lifted the rails of this subdivision 49 years later. Between its piers, the River rushes as if late for its appointment with the Columbia, some 100 snaky miles to the south-east. Swooping through the Bridge’s trusses and wheeling beneath its deck, snazzily attired Cliff Swallows carve complex manœuvres into the mosquito laden air above the heaving waters.
        The swallows, of course, don’t realize that every time they flit across the River they are actually changing physiographic regions. The west bank of the Kettle is the edge of the Okanagan Highland Range of the Interior Plateau; on the east bank begins the Columbia Mountain region, the first range rising being the Midways, part of the Monashees, a jumble of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock, noted by H.O. Slaymaker in his chapter, “Physiography and Hydrology of Six River Basins” in Studies in Canadian Geography; British Columbia, for their foliated gneisses. The Monashees extend across to the Columbia River.
        In the last few days of the Nineteenth Century the CPR completed the Columbia and Western Railway (C&W) to its western terminus at Midway, not 25 kilometres downstream from here. Though the C&W’s charter permitted its owner to build through to Penticton on Lake Okanagan, CP declined to push farther west. Its main goal, the treasure house of the western Kootenays, had been reached, and the Company, blanching at the record-breaking $40,000 per mile price of constructing the C&W, gladly shelved its permit and turned its attention elsewhere. Pioneer businessman Robert Wood and his associates in Greenwood and neighbouring Midway appreciated well the benefits which the Railway had brought to their district, and agreed that those benefits could only increase should a rail connection be laid to Lake Okanagan and onward to the Coast. That connection would put their towns not at the end of a spur line, but right in the middle of a through road. They could then do business both ways.
        Understanding that it might be years, if ever, before CP decided to build westward from Midway, Wood and his group—Ralph Smailes, James and Robert Kerr, Duncan McIntosh and Robert’s brother, Christopher Wood—managed to interest financier John Cain of New York City in the project. Forming the Midway and Vernon Railway Company, Limited (M&V) in New York with Cain as president, the group petitioned the province for a railway charter which was duly granted on May 11th, 1901. With a provincial subvention of $4,000 per mile, the New York-based Okanagan Construction Company was to build the M&V from Midway up the Kettle Valley and over the Okanagan Highlands to Vernon, at the head of Okanagan Lake, there to tie into CP’s Shuswap and Okanagan Railway.
        Chartering the M&V was much easier than arranging financing, especially since the line’s profits would ultimately depend on CP’s good will. Even when the provincial Conservative government of Richard McBride raised the subvention to $5,000 per mile, granted it a free right-of-way across crown lands and exempted it from taxation for ten years, few investors were willing to gamble, and though its grade from Midway a few miles toward Rock Creek was built in 1905, the M&V, derisively labelled the “Makeshift and Visionary,” was doomed to remain a paper railroad.
        By the year the M&V built its little piece of grade, however, most folks in the area could not have cared less what happened to it, or the CPR, for that matter. They had a new hero: James Jerome Hill.

        In April of 1901, Jim Hill’s Great Northern had finally acquired a controlling interest in the provincially chartered Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway. Hill envisioned the road as GN’s “third mainline” to the Coast, jogging back and forth across the Boundary from the Kootenays to Vancouver. The fact that he lacked the Dominion’s permission to connect the VV&E to any of his American holdings was a matter of small concern to the hard-driving railroader. Beginning that July, Hill began rolling his Washington and Great Northern Railway (WGN) up the Kettle’s valley from his Spokane Falls and Northern line at Marcus, Washington. When he came to the Boundary, he just began paying his crews with cheques drawn on the VV&E and kept on building up the valley. Hill’s immediate objective was the City of Phœnix and its mountain of copper lying between Greenwood and Grand Forks. Having defeated a CP lawsuit intended to bar him from the region, in the summer of 1905 he again began extending his “northern line.” Building up the Kettle from Curlew, Washington, Hill had his steel into Midway by September. Though he was briefly stalled there by the further antics of the CPR, by the fall of 1909 he had relieved Midway of its end-of-the-line status by pushing his line all the way across to Princeton. Complimenting his westward thrust, Hill had also been building the VV&E eastward along the south bank of the Fraser from Vancouver. His sights on the Cascades, Hill intended to have the western leg of the VV&E into the Coquihalla’s valley by the time his boring crews completed their Tunnel from the Tulameen valley west of Princeton.
        Hill’s deeds pricked the CPR into action. Thos. Geo. Shaughnessy, president of the CPR since June 12th, 1899, had been eyeing Hill’s progress with some concern. He had acquired personal interests in the region and had become quite interested in extending the Company’s Crow’s Nest Line through to the Coast.

        As it was laying its C&W in 1899, CP had sent a survey party westward from Midway to search out a right-of-way to the Fraser. The party’s findings were discouraging, and coupled with Edgar Dewdney’s pessimistic evaluation of routes through the Cascades in 1901, the Company’s board of directors, headed by Chairman Van Horne, had dismissed thoughts of continuing west from Midway. Hill’s activity, however, goaded Shaughnessy; he couldn’t abide the notion of being beaten out of south-western B.C., especially since he had an interest in a large “fruit ranching” tract on the western shores of Lake Okanagan. Despite the unsettled economics of the times, Shaughnessy had sent out a survey team in 1905 to map out likely routes between Midway and the proposed end of the Nicola, Kamloops and Similkameen line near Merritt. In the opinion of the chief surveyor, Henry Carry, building the line would be prohibitively expensive, and Shaughnessy shelved the project to attend to other matters. It wasn’t until he met a man of similar vision that he commanded the CPR to build west to the Coast.
        At href="">Grand Forks, forty miles down-river from the Bridge at the Kettle River Campground, Eastern interests in 1901-’02 built the Kettle River Valley Railway (KRVR), an unsuccessful shortline intended to haul copper ore from the mines at Republic, Washington, to the enormous Granby Consolidated smelter at Grand Forks. Jim Hill beat the commercial tar out of the little line when he ran his VV&E-WGN rails into the Grand Forks area in the autumn of 1902 and began serving the same markets. As the KRVR slowly withered, its owner, the Trusts and Guarantee Company, reorganised it as the Kettle Valley Lines (KVL) and sought to make it an attractive package in hopes of selling it to the CPR. To that end Trusts and Guarantee sent its managing director, J.J. (James) Warren, to Grand Forks in February, 1906, to see what he could do.
        Warren saw that the KVL was worth little. Hill had it in a death grip, its equipment was shoddy, its trackage poorly constructed. The only valuable items it possessed were its wide ranging charters which permitted it to build south into Spokane and north-westward to the coal-rich Nicola valley around Merritt, and a federal subsidy of $6,400 per mile for fifty miles of trackage. Warren reasoned that, if the KVL could fulfil its charters, it could make money by hauling the Nicola’s coal and connecting the C&W to CP’s Mainline at Spences Bridge. Though sorely short of money, Warren headed the KVL north from Grand Forks in July of 1906. Appreciating the KVL as a useful weapon in its fight with the Great Northern, the CPR made $10,000 available to Warren to buy land for his right-of-way. A year later, out of money and with only eighteen miles of rail on the ground, Warren again approached the CP’s directorate cap-in-hand. This time he was rebuffed. Shaughnessy, however, had not been present at the meetings, and when Warren learned that the president was planning a visit to England in April of 1908, he arranged passage on the same ship, the Empress of Britain, and personally button-holed Shaughnessy
        Eager to attack the GN and save southern B.C. for the CPR, Shaughnessy embraced Warren’s vision, and upon their return to Canada the two set to work to complete CP’s Southern Mainline. Henry Carry was dispatched to re-examine the Thompson Plateau and the Cascades for potential alignments. Warren had the old M&V grade west of Midway evaluated by engineer R.A. Henderson, and then commissioned him to explore the Okanagan Highlands for a feasible rail route to Penticton. On October 20th, 1909, with the proviso that they employ no Oriental labour, Shaughnessy and Warren obtained from Richard McBride’s provincial government a promise of a $5,000 per mile subsidy for a 150-mile portion of the project between Merritt and Penticton, a tax break, and a free right-of-way across crown lands. For its part, CP undertook to finance the KVL which in turn assumed the charter and debts of the moribund M&V and guaranteed that within four years it would spike down 350 difficult miles of rail to connect Midway and its C&W to the CPR Mainline in the Fraser’s valley. While Shaughnessy extracted approval for the project from the CPR’s directorate in the spring of 1910, Warren, now president of the enterprise that would be renamed the Kettle Valley Railway in 1911, applied for and was granted a federal extension to his company’s charter which gave it permission to build through the Coquihalla Pass. On March 10th of 1910 the B.C. Legislature ratified the KVL’s construction bill. On the following August 11th the KVL let the contract for grading and bridging west from Midway.
        Directed by the watchful Andrew McCulloch, construction soon started with a broken-down locomotive and a few scrappy flat-cars borrowed from the CPR. Eastward from the end of the NK&S at Merritt, east and west from Penticton, the KVR’s headquarters, and west from Midway crews set to work building against the province’s four-year completion deadline. Driving the first spike at Midway on the 4th of October, 1910, the KVR hammered rails onto the old M&V roadbed to its end near Rock Creek. From there, on his own grade, McCulloch hurried up the Kettle River, reaching the bridge site at the Kettle River Campground on February 28th, 1911. Having bolted together the wooden Howe truss structure, crews laid rail northward past Westbridge, where the Kettle and the West Kettle converge, and up the latter past old gold camps like Beaverdell and Carmi until winter halted work. CP never intended to build the line up to Vernon. Heading for Penticton, McCulloch and his staff picked their line into the Highlands around Little White Mountain, some fifty kilometres north of the campground bridge. Reaching Hydraulic Lake at the end of the 1913 season, the KVR established McCulloch Station as a service depot, to which a coach road soon extended twenty miles up Hydraulic Creek from Kelowna, bringing that town into the railway age. The next year, the spectacular canyons between Myra and Ruth at the top of the Highlands were conquered with eighteen bridges and trestles and two tunnels. On October 2nd, 1914, crews eastbound from Penticton up 27 miles of 2.2% grade—the longest, steepest unbroken railway grade in Canada—met their westbound comrades to drive the section’s last spike in the middle of the West Fork Canyon Creek Bridge. Exactly two weeks later, the first revenue service train rolled into Penticton.

        As the KVR was taking shape, CP signed a lease on July 1st, 1913, which gave it exclusive use of the line until 2912. Seeking to weave the line more securely into the Company’s operations, in 1919 J.J. Warren was made president of CP’s Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company subsidiary and a year later was replaced as KVR president by D’A.C. Coleman, CP’s vice-president of Western Lines. On January 28th, 1929, a disaster at Surprise Creek in the Rogers Pass blocked CP’s Mainline for the seventeen days. Thrown upon the resources of its Southern Mainline, the Company was forced to recognize the KVR’s limitations and, in the event that it might again need to rely upon it, decided to improve the Line. To make that easier, on January 1st, 1931, CP absorbed the KVR and combined it with its Columbia and Western to form the Kettle Valley Division. The rest of the Southern Mainline to the Alberta—B.C. border became the Kootenay Division.
        These changes streamlined operations considerably. The KVR had owned little of its own equipment since the days of its construction, leasing rolling stock and locomotives from CP. Typically, the Company released only older, worn units for use by the KVR. With integration, equipment could be merely assigned, and new, more powerful engines began to haul trains across the Southern Mainline. Most common, writes Robert D. Turner in his aforementioned Steam on the Kettle Valley, was the 2-8-0 “Consolidation” wheel arrangement which, in a sequence of classes over the years, increased in size and power. In 1932 2-8-2 “Mikado”s, a more modern class of locomotive which was capable of pulling much longer trains, began to appear in passenger service, and were soon a common sight on all assignments throughout the Division. Though a few of the first “Mikes” were oil-burning loaners from mainline service, the ones permanently assigned to the KVR were “hay burners”—coal-fired—until, with the stabilization of petroleum prices following W.W.II, CP began converting all of its locomotives to burn fuel oil in 1949. Struggling to economize, the KV Division was one of the first to receive the oil-burners.

        After the Coquihalla Section had at last been declared open on July 31st, 1916, CP totalled up the final bill of the KVR’s construction and found that it had cost $20 million. The investment would never be recouped for, over the years, the Line barely recovered its annual operating costs from its most lucrative traffic; coal, lumber and fruit. Ah, but it passed through wonderful scenery, did the KVR, an asset not overlooked by CP’s marketing department. On June 1st, 1919, two exclusive passenger trains running between Vancouver and Medicine Hat, the westbound No. 11 Kootenay Express and eastbound No. 12 Kettle River Express began operations.
        Despite the natural attractions, ridership never amounted to much on the KVR, and during the Depression of the 1930s and even into the 1940s, there were often as many crew members and pass holders aboard the trains as there were paying passengers. Only the Post Office’s contracts kept cash-flow steady. In 1947 Canadian Pacific Airlines began roaring its DC-3s and Lockheed Electras in and out of several southern Interior airfields,4 further reducing the number of travellers using its rail-bound sister service. In 1950, its first full year of operation, the Crowsnest Highway reduced the KVR’s income from passenger traffic by some 60% and diverted tons of freight away from the rails and onto the backs of trucks, many of them operated by CP. In an effort to cut costs, CP did away with its Kootenay Express and Kettle Valley Express and substituted a fleet of “Dayliners”, Budd RDCs (Rail Diesel Cars), between December of 1957 and March of 1958, running but one train daily each way between Lethbridge and Spences Bridge: No. 45 westbound and No. 46 east. Losses continued, and though the Company cut back service to twice weekly, the maintenance of passenger services on its Southern Mainline still cost CP more than a half-million dollars in 1962 alone. Application was made and duly granted to cancel the service, and on Friday, January 17th, 1964, passenger service on the Line ended.
        Though the passenger service ate up the KVR’s profits, after improvements were made in the ‘30s and the Great Depression died in the Second World War, freight revenues on the Line soared. According to R.D. Turner in Steam on the Kettle Valley, in the decade of the 1940s earnings tripled as the number of cars nearly doubled to 151,500. Convinced that these earnings could be further enhanced by modernizing the Line’s motive power, CP began buying diesel prime movers from Canada’s three main manufacturers—Montreal Locomotive Works, the Canadian Locomotive Company and General Motors. The 92 steam engines assigned to the B.C. portion of the Southern Mainline were replaced by 73 diesels by the end of September, 1953. By 1957 the Company had settled on GMs exclusively for yard service, while mainline duties were handled by CLC’s Fairbanks-Morse-designed C-Liners and Freight Masters.
        As it improved the reliability of its Mainline with tunnels and permanent snow sheds and realignments, CP eventually could no longer justify the expense of maintaining through services on the Southern Mainline. With its revenues steadily eroded by the trucking industry, the destruction of several stretches of roadbed by the Kettle River’s spring floods in 1972 proved to be the last straw for CP. After assisting Canadian Broadcasting Corporation crews in the filming of part of the adaptation of Pierre Burton’s book The National Dream on the dramatic Myra Canyon section in June of 1973, the Company de-activated its trackage between Penticton and Beaverdell, and on the 26th of January, 1979, won federal approval to abandon the entire Carmi Subdivision—Midway to Penticton, 133 miles. By the end of that summer the steel between Midway and Beaverdell had been lifted: the Southern Mainline was broken.
The Kettle Valley to Midway

        The morning sun, delayed by the mountains, arrives late at the Kettle Valley Campground near Rock Creek, but sets immediately to work dappling the riverside meadows with splotches of variegated green and highlighting exceptional blooms. Frogs croak a chorus to Apollo before retiring from the god’s glance; Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers5 and White-headed Woodpeckers tap a hollow tattoo as they chisel out wood grub breakfasts.
        Bikers and hikers, at least, have an alternative to the No. 33 to return to Rock Creek: the old KVR roadbed. Ninety-nine feet wide, the Southern Mainline’s right-of-way from Castlegar through to Hope is now one 644-kilometre long park, publicly owned and cared for by various “rail to trail” groups throughout the region. Unfortunately, in the valley of the Kettle, portions of the park have been fenced-off by neighbouring landowners who, twenty years ago, presumed a homesteader’s rights to the abandoned right-of-way and are now bothered by folks expecting to travel a continuous trail. Free access is disputed by some of the fence owners who reasonably fear that their gates will be left open allowing their livestock to wander away. It is useless to argue with a dog intent on guarding its turf, but accommodations with their owners are slowly being reached and eventually the fences will be realigned.
        Nearing Rock Creek, where the Kettle River bends sharply eastward, the right-of-way crosses the Kettle Valley South Road which bridges the Kettle on a 1991 concrete deck to a “Tee” intersection with the No. 33 just north of the old Rock Creek Hotel.

        Midway is only about twenty kilometres eastward down the Kettle River’s scenic valley from Rock Creek. Travellers with time and the inclination to wander a by-way or two can leave the Crowsnest Highway at Rock Creek, cross the River on Kettle Valley South Road and mosey on down the left bank of the Kettle for a few miles past the Mighty White crusher, the old saw mill with its rusting conical incinerator slowly subsiding into the grass, and the new West Boundary Elementary School. It is a pleasant ride on a bicycle along this narrow little road, paved with patched potholes, past the Rock Creek Fairgrounds and camping ground,6 looping for a couple of kilometres out around the edge of a well tilled and irrigated riverside bench, tracts of it tented with tightly-woven black mesh protecting tender ginseng plants from the scrutiny of the sun. Eventually the Road crosses the KVR grade and then the River on a utilitarian concrete-decked bridge which replaced the ancient green war-surplus Bailey bridge in 2001. A hundred metres on, in what desperately struggles to remain the settlement of Kettle Valley, the old single story, flat-roofed school, stands abandoned and boarded-up, forlorn and for sale. From the intersection at the corner of its yard Kettle Valley South arrows on southward a few hundred metres to the No. 3 while Kettle Valley East Road right-angles east to roll for a few more lazy miles past paddocks in which bored horses await their owners’ attentions and eye the sheep nibbling the roots of the grasses in neighbouring pastures. Here and there goats scamper and cows placidly munch. Plots of ginseng cower under their black parasols. Like its brother, Kettle Valley East Road ends at the Highway.
        Flat and heavier with traffic now that it has picked up No. 33’s load, the Highway accelerates away from Rock Creek. On the left a few miles down is a casual little landing field and the brand-new Kettle River RV Park and Campground, its rows of baby trees lining the driveways and pull-through campsites promising shade and shelter in twenty years. Proclaim its signs, the Kettle River is shower-equipped. Across the Highway, the nine fairways of the Kettle Valley Golf Club course have bent themselves around Douglas-firs and Cottonwoods since 1925.
        Not far east from the Golf Course, the Highway’s only bridge across the Kettle is guarded by a field-stone cairn listing the area men lost to the two world wars. The Ingram Bridge has served the No. 3 since 1950 and is shoulderless, barely wide enough for a cyclist to stop against its rail, lean over and see that the under-trussing is painted sulphur-yellow. Upstream the piers of its predecessor still battle the River’s hurrying current. Along the left bank runs the roadbed of the KVR, so the Bridge does double-duty as an over-pass.
        Edgar Dewdney, building the third leg of his famous trail up the Kettle in 1865, must have crossed the River somewhere in the vicinity of the Ingram Bridge, but because his trail was never legally surveyed and gazetted, scholars cannot exactly determine its course in areas where it has been erased by subsequent land use.


  1. According to Hal Reigger in The Kettle Valley and its Railways (Pacific Fast Mail Press, Everett, WA, n.d.), the first work train arrived at Molson on September 20th, 1906, followed by the first passenger train on Saturday evening, November 10th. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  2. Brian Titley in his study, The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney (University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1999) identified the Beame as “Beaur.” Another version of the story has it that Beaur/Beame was a “color Sergeant” in a cavalry regiment of the U.S. Army who, with a companion, was travelling in B.C. to avoid encountering hostile Yakima Indians farther south. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  3. Mapping the Frontier—Charles Wilson’s Diary (ed. Geo. F.G. Stanley, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1970). !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  4. Rock Creek played some small part in this revolution in transportation, having been designated, according to T.M. McGrath in his aforementioned History of Canadian Airports - Second Edition, as a secondary airfield on the Trans-Canada Airway set up by the federal Department of Transport in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Presumably the field was east of the settlement, on the broad prairies south of the Kettle. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  5. Fine. You’re right. In the All the Birds of North America (HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc., New York, 1997), the field guide of the American Bird Conservancy as copyrighted by the author, Jack L. Griggs states unequivocally that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not range into the western cordillera of North America. I don’t care. I didn’t have the Guide with me at the time, but I feel sure that it was sapsuckers that I was looking at in the Kettle Valley Campground. Mm; maybe Red-breasted Sapsucker. Not Red-naped. Definitely had yellow on its belly, though. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  6. Redone in the early 2000s with showers for a “loonie” (the Canadian dollar coin {note also, “two-nie” or “doubloon”, the two-dollar coin}) in the new men’s and women’s washrooms. Laid out under the cottonwoods along the Kettle, there are no designated sites, just a general camping grounds. It’s also called Jim Blaine Park. And there is a discount for cyclists because the good folks of Rock Creek recognise that bikies are “low impact” guests, environmentally speaking. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

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