For centuries the Yellowhead Pass was an aboriginal trading route. The nineteenth century brought explorers, goldseekers and surveyors, and in 1872 Sir Sanford Fleming and his engineers began surveying to find railway routes through the pass. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company surveyed a railway route from the prairies west to the coast, and railway construction took place from 1911 to 1914 when the first passenger train went through to the new port of Prince Rupert.
The site of McBride was surveyed and established as a divisional point on the railway in 1912, and its first station was claimed, for a while, to be the largest between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert. The yards had eight miles of track in addition to a roundhouse, turntable, bunkhouse, two water towers, a dam and an ice house. The present station, opened in 1919, was built on the foundation of the original, destroyed by fire in 1918.
The Village of McBride was laid out in a standard Grand Trunk Pacific Railway design with a park behind the station to be planted with flowers for the enjoyment of the railway passengers. During and after construction this park between the station and the business section was a sea of mud. The easiest solution was to take the roundhouse cinders in a wheelbarrow and gradually build a path. The mud is gone, but the path remains beside the spruce trees and the sidewalk.
As a newly constructed railway town, the community was known as Mile 90, it being 90 miles from Summit at the boundary with Alberta. In 1913 it was named McBride after Richard McBride, the Premier of British Columbia.
During the summers of 1911 to 1913, sternwheelers brought people and materials up to Tete Jaune and down to Fort George. As part of railway construction, sawmills were set up, and at Tete Jaune balks of timber were cut to make scows. The scows had a one way trip down the Fraser River to Fort George with construction matrrrrrerials and other supplies. Main Street and Bridge Road in McBride lead to the site of the Fraser landing where sternwheelers, motor boats and scows tied up.
Along with the railway and sawmilling, farming was also established. Sawmills produced lumber for buildings, and poles and ties for the railway. Many railway workers took up land and stayed. The railway construction workers mostly came from Britain, central and eastern Canada, and Europe. Once the railway way was built, the railway company actively sought settlers for the community and the area. In the early part of the twentieth century people arrived by train to enjoy the hiking, big game hunting, and mountain climbing. Three main hotels and several rooming houses flourished, but when the automobile became popular, tourists rarely went to places where they could not drive. Although residents between Prince Rupert and Edmonton lobbied for decades for a through road, they had to wait until 1968 when the new road was opened and McBride found itself on Yellowhead Highway 16. By then the hotels had dwindled to one plus a small motel, but as the attractions of McBride and the valley became known, many choices of accommodation developed and people come by railway, road and air to enjoy the area.
Taken from McBride History by Marilyn Wheeler
McBride is located on Yellowhead Highway 16 in the heart of the Robson Valley. It is 208 km (125 mi) southeast of Prince George, 85 km (53 mi) northwest of Valemount.
In 1913, this railway town became the divisional point for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, and for a while it was touted as the largest station between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert. The current station with its picturesque style was completed in 1919 on the sturdy foundations of the original, after that was lost to a fire in 1918. The Canadian government designated the station a heritage building, and the Village of McBride purchased it in the early 1990s.
Much of the ground floor of the station has been renovated along 1920 lines with locally grown and milled wood. The station is again a gathering place, the home of the Visitor Information Centre and a new beanery. Local art is an attraction in the station's gallery, and Via Rail's year-round passenger trains continue over 90 years of service to McBride.
Horseshoe Lake, located on the southeast edge of McBride, boasts a variety of bird species such as northern harriers, ospreys, grebes, song sparrows, common yellowthroats, kingfishers, warblers, Canada Geese, coots, and a wide variety of duck species. Late spring and summer offer the best viewing times.
A popular picnic site for both highway travelers and local residents, Koeneman Park was established by the Regional District in 1981. Located just east of McBride, beside the Fraser River, this community park boasts a superbly crafted log house. This authentic structure was built in the late 1930s by Fred Koeneman to enable his children to attend school locally. The park also provides informal boat launching, picnic tables, toilets, and fire rings for day use only.
McBride Peak offers a panoramic view of the Robson Valley and the village of McBride. A fire lookout, built in 1937, is located near the peak and offers an opportunity to step back in time. Building materials were hauled up the steep mountainside by packhorse. Due to frequent cloud cover at this high elevation, it became necessary to build a second lookout cabin at the Halfway Viewpoint. Built by the industrious Fred Koeneman, this historic cabin still overlooks McBride. The site offers picnic tables, a toilet and fire rings maintained by the Ministry of Forests. Both of these legacies attract visitors and hikers today.
The Museum is operated by the Valley Museum & Archives Society, a group of local volunteers dedicated to preserving the history of the valley. Displays of both local artifacts and travelling shows are mounted in the Museum at the McBride & District Library, on Dominion Street, east of 2nd Avenue.
Located inside the historic McBride train station is the Whistle Stop Gallery featuring high quality work from area artists and crafters.
A grove of huge cedars, likely more than 1,000 years old, can be seen near Dome Creek, 8.7 km (5.5 mi) west of the Slim Creek Bridge on Highway 16. The huge trees cover some 20 hectares in a westerly direction.
Whether you want your hike easy or challenging, McBride has it all amidst spectacular mountain scenery. Explore unique pockets of inland rainforest, old growth, and ancient cedars. You can also enjoy a creekside stroll at any of the many rest areas along Highway 16.
The McBride area provides varied fishing opportunities. Many beautiful streams and creeks feed the Fraser River from both the Cariboo and the Rocky Mountain sides of the valley. There are many clear, deep pools, as well as numerous log jams that act as ideal homes for rainbow trout, Rocky Mountain whitefish, and dolly varden. These fish are attracted to any number of lure or fly patterns, especially red and white. Dolly Varden are catch and release only. Salmon are off-limits in the McBride area.
Get a bird's-eye view of some of the most spectacular sights the area has to offer. Towering mountain peaks, magnificent glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and secluded alpine meadows are some of the scenic treasures to be seen from above.
Enthusiasts of all experience levels are lured and challenged by the variety of road systems the McBride area has to offer. See the Ministry of Forests District Recreation Map for forest road information. Check out the availability of machine rentals and tours.
Varied and plentiful opportunities for bird-watching are available from the valley bottom up to the alpine. More than 170 species have been identified between Mount Robson and Dome Creek (checklists are available at the Visitor Centre). Be sure to visit the Horseshoe Lake observation platform.
The Fraser River and its numerous tributaries offer opportunities for novice to experienced paddlers. The mighty Fraser offers easy flat paddling while side rivers such as the Beaver, Morkill, and Raush have sections suitable for open boats. More kayaking is available in some of the other side streams, but is dependent upon water levels and level of expertise. LaSalle Lake, 30 minutes west of McBride, offers pleasant lake paddling (no motors) with access from the Forest Service site.
Set amidst breathtaking mountain views, the local 9-hole course lets you forget your everyday worries. For more family fun, there's a target range and mini-golf, too.
Novice to extreme riding opportunities are available in the area, accompanied by spectacular views. For the adventurous, there are many logging roads to choose from. Those looking for a steep challenge can gear down and tackle the Mount Lucille, Bell Mountain, or McBride Peak roads which climb to sub-alpine regions.
Launch from atop McBride Peak and descend to the valley below 4,000' below. Easy access to open alpine and a wide variety of launches for different winds. Bring your own gear.
August offers the spectacle of salmon viewing on the Holmes (Beaver) River, located just 5 minutes east of McBride. Watching the Chinook salmon navigate the Beaver Falls after their 600-mile journey from the Pacific Ocean is a breathtaking experience. Parking is available just off Highway 16 on the north side of the river, and a 10-minute hike up the trail takes you to Beaver Falls.
Class 3-5 guided rafting on the Holmes River, Class 3 and float trips on the Fraser. Don't forget to look up at the spectacular mountain backdrop to your wet adventure.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia