By John Jennings
We decided to stay at the Kumsheen Rafting Resort located a few kilometres east of Lytton in the scenic Thompson River canyon. Here we were well into BC’s semi-desert country with lofty ponderosa pines and tumbleweeds and the wonderful smell of sage. We chose the well-priced “yurt” – the best of both worlds, sleeping in a tent with comfortable bed and solid deck below. We had a fabulous meal on the patio of Cutting Board Restaurant and bonus – we could hear the westbound CPR trains just below the resort as well as the eastbound CNR trains across the canyon.
After a great breakfast we were heading east on the highway, again choosing to be safe by pulling over if we saw a train. Along this part of the Thompson River, the two railways continue to occupy opposite sides of the canyon – watch for very picturesque train scenes on the opposite side of the canyon. We came to the village of Spences Bridge where the CP line from Merritt, formerly the Kettle Valley Line joined the main line. A few kilometres further, at Martel, I found a pull off with a stop of interest where the last spike was completed in 1915 on the Canadian Northern which later became the CN. It is just east of here at Basque that the two railways actually run right beside each other and are joined by switches. This has proved very valuable when there is a closure of one line that required re-routing trains to keep traffic moving.
The highway climbs to the top of the canyon and leads away to Cache Creek. To follow the rail lines, make sure you turn right on Highway 1 toward Kamloops. A few kilometres along, we took the turnoff to Wallachin. This is down the hill again near the Thompson River. There remain a few wild fruit trees, remnants of what was a thriving community at the turn of the last century. When WW1 came along, nearly all male residents signed up and they were casualties of the conflict and this became a ghost town. Look up the hill and you may see remains of water flumes that supplied the orchards. Look down and you will see both rail lines on each side of the river in this spectacularly semi desert country.
We came to the foot of Kamloops Lake where it empties into the South Thompson River. The CN follows the north side to branch north towards Jasper at Kamloops. The highway is on the south side of the lake, with Savona being the only place to closely view passing trains. We arrived in the major centre of Kamloops, population of more than 80,000, and went down into the city and found the major CPR divisional rail yards and viewed several trains spotted to accommodate changing crews.
East of Kamloops, Highway 1 closely parallels the CPR line. At CPR posted “mile 114.5” is the site of the “Great Train Robbery”. Here Bill Miner held up a CPR train in 1906 and only recovered $15! He was later caught and spent many years in prison. He was made famous in the movie “The Grey Fox”. The highway follows the line to Chase and along Shuswap Lake.
We continue to parallel the CPR east from Salmon Arm then along the beautiful Shuswap Lake to Sicamous. Today this is the “Houseboat Capital of Canada”, with thousands of houseboats here to rent and explore the hundreds of miles of shoreline of this huge lake. Historically, this was an important point on the CPR, with a major branch line south to the Okanagan area. We checked out the railway bridge over the end of the lake and then visited the Eagle Valley Museum in town which has excellent displays covering the CPR history.
As we travelled eastward, we followed the Eagle River and entered Eagle Pass, so named by Walter Moberly when he was surveying the route for the CPR in 1865. Searching for a good route for the CPR west of Revelstoke, he followed several eagles flying west finding this relatively easy route for the railway.
30 kilometres east of Sicamous, we come to a perfect rail fan’s stop at Craigellachie where the last spike of the transcontinental railway was driven by Donald Smith, who later became Lord Strathcona, on November 7, 1885. Here is a great picnic site, historic marker and exhibits with a gift shop featuring railway memorabilia. As we ate a simple late lunch of cheese and fresh buns, we were rewarded with a seemingly endless westbound coal train heading for the port at Vancouver. After lunch we resumed our eastward journey still following the line along the Eagle River, past Griffen Lake to Three Valley Gap where we would spend our second night on this fun journey.
For more on train spotting in BC check out Train Spotting: Highway 1 Vancouver to Lytton, British Columbia.
Published: April 28, 2016
Born in Edmonton Alberta, John is a graduate of BC Institute of Technology in Hospitality Management and has enjoyed a successful 45 year career in Management of Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Destination Organizations in Canada and the UK and was the recipient of the William Van Horne Visionary Award for designing the coveted ‘SuperHost’ (now World Host) Program while with Expo ’86, where he travelled around North America speaking to all business opportunities. John is co-author of “Paralyzed without Warning”, is now semi-retired, performing occasional tourism & hospitality contracts and enjoys living on Vancouver Island with his wife Suzan and their SPCA rescue dog Lady.