COLUMBIA & WESTERN HISTORY
RAILROAD CONSTRUCTION NELSON TO CASTLEGAR
Railroad construction on the Boundary Subdivision began in 1890 when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) chartered the Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Navigation Company (C&K). The C&K started building from Sproats Landing and was the first segment of what became the Southern mainline. (Across the Columbia River from present day Castlegar) Completion of this line provided transportation of ore from Nelson north on paddle wheelers over the Arrow Lakes and Columbia River to the CPR mainline at Revelstoke. A short extension of the C&K from Sproats Landing to Robson allowed for the construction of a rail barge slip. Robson became the terminus of the active C&K railway. Barges at first joined the C&K and C&W railways between Robson and West Robson. The Bridge across the Columbia River was completed in 1902 completing the last link in a continuous rail line between Nelson and Midway. This line was renamed the Boundary Subdivision in 1910. Grade revisions were made in the early 1940’s and late 1960’s to accommodate the construction of the dams at Brilliant and Labarthe (Hugh L Keenleyside Dam).
RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION CASTLEGAR TO MIDWAY
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 railroad 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.
Trackage was added to West Midway following the abandonment of the Carmi Subdivision (Kettle River Railway) in 1978.
CONSTRUCTION OF BRANCH LINE FROM GRAND FORKS TO REPUBLIC
The Kettle River Valley Railway (KRVR) extended its service south from Grand Forks to the copper mining areas of Republic, Washington in 1902. This line was followed later that year by Great Northern Vancouver Victoria & Eastern railway (VV&E) and the Washington & Great Northern Railway (W&GN), which also built to Republic. After Great Northern controlled lines connected Republic with the Granby Smelter, the KRVR lost most of its market to the much larger GN. Fierce rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian railroads included considerable legal maneuvering and occasional skirmishes between construction crews such as the “Battle of Midway”.
The W&GN and VV&E railways eventually completed an international route through Midway, Bridesville, Oroville, Keremeos, and Princeton to Brookmere. From Brookmere, trackage rights over CPR’s Kettle Valley Railway and Canadian Northern Railway (now Canadian National Railway) formed a route to Great Northern Fraser Valley network which terminated at Vancouver. Burlington Northern passenger trains from Spokane began to pass through Grand Forks in 1909. Many of the lines west of Curlew were abandoned during the 1930’s and passenger service on GN between Republic and Grand Forks was discontinued in 1938.
Although the vast copper deposits at Phoenix were discovered in 1891, it was not until CPR’s Columbia & Western Railway entered the Boundary District in 1899 that development became feasible. Only with the construction of the Granby Company’s large smelter at Grand Forks, and the construction of CPR’s branch into Phoenix, could the ore be extracted and refined economically. Phoenix Branch construction began from Eholt on CPR’s Boundary Section in 1899. Many crews were employed to work on this construction. One of these crews, working under J.V.Welsh, consisted of 125 men. The last spike on this branch was driven at Phoenix on May 23, 1900. The Grand Forks Smelter was completed by August of that year and several spurs were added later to serve other mines. One of these spurs led to the Smelter Lake Dam, the remains of which are visible today.
CPR’S Shay-type geared locomotives were transferred from the Rossland Branch for use on the steep grades of the Phoenix Branch. These engines were withdrawn after a spectacular runaway accident (Dead-man’s Wreck) which destroyed a CPR engine in 1904. By 1905, the VV&E was also operating a line into the mining areas of Phoenix and GN opened its line later that year. With easier grades than CPR’s Phoenix Branch from Eholt, GN was able to handle heavier trains and soon became the major carrier of Phoenix ores to the Grand Forks smelter. In 1913, the CPR allowed the KRVR to use its Grand Forks round-house in exchange for CPR’s use of Kettle River Valley Railway’s downtown station.
BEGINNINGS OF A LINE NORTH FROM GRAND FORKS
In 1904, the Kettle River Valley Railway (KRVR) received permission to build north from Grand Forks on a route projected to run through Vernon to the coal fields of the Nicola area. Construction was slow and by 1907 the line had stalled at Lynch Creek, only 20 miles north of Cuprum. The following year, negotiations began with the CPR, resulting in a 1910 agreement between the CPR and KRVR charter and in 1911 the name was officially simplified to Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). When the line was leased to the CPR in 1913, the KVR became the seed which allowed the CPR to complete its southern route westward from Midway.
CONSTRUCTION OF SPUR FROM GREENWOOD TO MOTHER LODE
A branch line was constructed by the CPR from Greenwood to Deadwood Camp and the Mother Lode Mine during 1900. Also called the Deadwood Spur, the line opened the copper-rich Deadwood Ridge area for mining development. The B.C. Copper Company Smelter was completed in 1901 on the spur above Greenwood and shortly thereafter employed 400 men. The company built a smelter at Grand Forks that, in 1900, was connected to the mines at Phoenix by a branch of the CPR. The first ore was shipped in July of that year and the smelter blown in on August 21. By 1905 more than 1,995,800 tonnes of ore had been shipped and the Granby smelter became the largest copper smelter in the British Empire and the second largest in the world. In 1910 most of the ore bodies at Phoenix were under control of the Granby Company. However some remained in the hands of the B.C. Copper Company and the New Dominion Copper Company which shipped ore to their smelters at Greenwood and Boundary Falls.
After the completion of the Kettle Valley Railway linking Midway to Hope through Penticton and Princeton and over the Coquilhalla Pass in 1915, Nelson had become only a day’s travel by passenger train from Vancouver and ten hours from Penticton. Trade and commerce in the Kootenays, which was once dependent upon Great Northern and Spokane in the United States, came under British Columbia’s control. Trade in southern B.C. had all but ceased to flow across the border to the U.S.
Following World War 1, copper prices fell and the copper mines and the Granby and Greenwood smelters closed. Between 1918 and 1920 every copper smelter in the Boundary District closed down, effectively destroying CPR’s hopes that Boundary copper traffic would be redirected to Vancouver on their Kettle Valley Railway. The Phoenix spur from Eholt was closed in 1919 and abandoned in 1921. The Mother Lode spur from Greenwood was abandoned in 1919.
Daily passenger service which included eastbound Train #11 (Kootenay Express) and west-bound Train #12 (Kettle Valley Express) was continued throughout most of the railroad’s operating history. After the war, the railroad also experienced an increase in local freight traffic. The three biggest local traffic commodities during post-war years were coal, lumber and fruit. When the highways and airlines stripped the KVR of its passenger trade and its lucrative freight traffic, the railway’s steep grades became uncompetitive relative to the lesser grades of CPR’s mainline. Another factor leading to the demise of the KVR was the opening of the Hope-Princeton highway in 1951. The remaining bulk commodity traffic required longer and heavier trains.