If you’re a long time resident of Kelowna, you might remember the sights and sounds of the trains that once ran along the KVR line that wound its way through the hills high above the Okanagan Valley.
This land is Ours!
During the later part of the nineteenth century, other than a very long boat ride or a circuitous trek through the US, all that connected Vancouver to the rest of Canada was a thin ribbon of railroad. The Southern Interior of British Columbia was still very isolated and when silver and gold was discovered in the Boundary country in 1887, the southern part of BC was flooded with American miners. Before long, southern BC had become a commercial annex of the US and most of the mining revenues from the region were heading south of the border. In order to service the area better and exert Canadian sovereignty, plans were made to build a branch line of the CPR from Hope to Midway to connect the many mining communities that had sprung up around the Kootenays.
Railway Engineering at its Finest
The route selected for the rail line wound its way through two mountain ranges and required some of the most expensive railroad construction ever undertaken in North America. The KVR cost almost $20 million to build, a fortune in those days, and when it opened in 1916, it provided daily passenger and freight service between Vancouver and Nelson for the first time. From Hope, the KVR headed north through the Coquihalla Canyon and on to Merritt and Spence’s Bridge. A fork in the line at Brodie branched eastward through Princeton, Summerland, Penticton, Beaverdell, and finally on to Midway for a total of 525 kilometers.
Have you ever Wondered why. . . ?
Portia, Othello, Hamlet – if you’ve ever wondered about the Shakespearean names that you see along the Coquihalla highway, you can thank Andrew McCulloch, Chief Engineer of the KVR for that. He was an avid fan of Shakespeare and as the Coquihalla subdivision of the railway was being built, he named landmarks like the Othello – Quintette Tunnels after characters from Shakespeare’s writings.
Trestles, lots of Trestles!
There are many stunning sights – both natural and man made along the route of the KVR. One of the most remarkable is the section of 18 trestles that forms a horseshoe around Myra Canyon in the hills above Kelowna. On a map it looks like a minor little blip, but when they were completed, the Myra Canyon Trestles were one of North America’s greatest railway engineering achievements. Some of the massive wooden trestles, strong enough to support the weight of trains, soared hundreds of feet above the rocky canyon floor below. Originally there were two train stations in the hills above Kelowna – one at Myra, and one further along the line at Ruth above June Springs. Freight and passengers were picked up or dropped off at the stations and made the trip from Kelowna in wagons, or later in trucks.
With the construction of Highway 3 – the Hope Princeton in 1949, rail traffic along the KVR began to decline. The Coquihalla section of the railway was closed down in 1959 after part of it was destroyed by a washout. In 1973, the last train ran along the Midway to Penticton stretch of the KVR and the line was abandoned. The rails were removed in 1979. Even before the rails had been removed, the old line became popular with hikers, bikers, and offroad enthusiasts because of the gentle grade, smooth rail bed, magnificent trestles, and stunning views of the city and lake below.
Repair and Recognition
The trestles gradually fell into disrepair and after there was a fatal accident involving a cyclist on one of the trestles, a petition was circulated asking the Government to make the trestles safer. The trestles were repaired and wood decking and hand railings were installed. In 2002, the Myra Canyon section was designated as a National Historic Site. Sadly, during the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003, flames raced up Myra Canyon and destroyed 12 of the 18 Myra Canyon trestles.
Thanks to help from all levels of government and countless hours of volunteer labour, the trestles were rebuilt following the original plans. Today, the Myra Canyon section of the KVR is one of the most popular and breathtaking day trips for residents and tourists alike in the Okanagan Valley.
How to Get There
Fall is an ideal time to visit the Myra Canyon trestles. People come from all over the world to ride their bikes along the smooth and gently sloped rail bed and over the trestles. The Myra trestles are a short drive from Kelowna. Take KLO Road to McCulloch Rd. and then follow McCulloch Rd. past Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Course. A few kilometers past Gallagher’s Canyon, follow the Myra Forest Service Rd. eight kilometers to the parking lot at Myra. The dirt road is well maintained but it can be dusty and there are sections of washboard. Take plenty of water and snacks, and leave yourself lots of time to sit back and enjoy the amazing views.
A Short Trip that Seems much Farther
If you’re looking for a day trip that’s just a short drive from Kelowna and is steeped in history and beautiful scenery, look no further than the spectacular Myra Canyon Trestles. Don’t forget to take your bikes.
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