John Cowans’ interesting article, The Carmi Sub., by Bicycle, in
the November 2002 issue of Branchline, provoked memories of my own four
encounters with the Carmi Subdivision over 30 years.
That I should have had so many memorable
experiences with one piece of railway that is well off the beaten track
the more unusual as I have been an Eastern Canadian all my life, never
closer than 3,800 km (2,400 miles) from
These encounters began in 1973 when I worked with Omer Lavallée as Special Projects Assistant in the Corporate Archives section of Canadian Pacific’s Public Relations Department. Our big project that year was to assist the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s production of The National Dream that was both based on Pierre Berton’s two-volume history on the building of the CPR and narrated by him.
role in this, as in much of the rest of my life, was to be the
logistics coordinator – to help find the older equipment that would be
the filming, to see that it was repaired and painted in an appropriate
frame, and then moved on its own wheels or aboard special flatcars to
various film locations on the prairies, in Ontario and in BC. As usual, that also meant staying behind in
Nevertheless, in the midst of all this, I was informed that I was going to BC - my second-ever trip there, and this time by two now fallen flags – Canadian Pacific Airlines, and Pacific Western Airlines, whose featured Stampeder Service included stewardesses in mini-skirts and cowboy boots! Except perhaps for my innate ability to interface between railway operating personnel and art directors, it was highly unusual that I should be present for the filming of the mountain construction sequences, but that is how I first came face-to-face with the Carmi.
those days, I didn’t yet appreciate how important maps are to me when
I first travel anywhere, in order to get my bearings, and when I
next day was my real introduction to the Carmi Subdivision and its
multiple bridges and trestles. For
several days, we travelled back and forth between
One of the most extraordinary film sequences shot there and later featured prominently in the series involved a senior CBC cameraman, likely Harry Makin.
In order to get an upward shot of Van Horne gazing down from the cab, Makin had to be suspended almost upside down outside the cab. As both his hands were required to hold and manipulate the substantial camera, that left only his feet to act as horizontal props against the lower steps of the cab ladder. As the engine proceeded at 5-10 mph across curving wooden trestles almost 100 feet above the valley floor, all that lay between him and eternity was the single sturdy leather strap of a safety harness.
If you are lucky enough to catch a rerun of that episode, you may want to pay particular attention to the creaking of the trestles in this and other sequences – the sounds are all authentic. What it must have been like on Van Horne’s real inspection trip of mountain construction in 1884 over far less substantial trestles one can only imagine.
footnote. The Carmi and
Princeton subdivisions were closed to rail traffic in May, 1973, a
the CBC filming; as such, the film train and CP 8509, the diesel pilot
ferry moves into and out of
second encounter with the Carmi occurred twenty years later and was
of a far different nature. Following up
on some research I was doing, I learned that the (then) Canadian
Agency (CTA) in
the 7,000+ plans were several dozen of the KVR, including those of
The second aspect is no less significant but only becomes obvious when McCulloch’s plans are compared to the thousands of others in the CTA files. Despite the fact that his 300-mile railway crossed three mountain summits and two deep valleys, there are very few revisions on file. This means that, unlike many of his contemporaries, McCulloch got it right the first time. As well, because the initial locating work was so carefully done, the KVR as constructed followed the location plans almost to the letter. While I didn’t do a scientific survey, it certainly appeared to me that the ‘As Constructed’ plans that had to be filed following the completion of construction were simply extra copies of the location plans, but with a new title. Of course, these were colour-washed as well. Coming upon any of these plans as I sorted through the collection was always a particular source of pleasure, and I fancy that they still radiated the satisfaction that McCulloch much have felt as he affixed his signature, as Chief Engineer, to each one.
to B.C. again, this time in late-summer 1995. This
trip is tied to Dawn’s (my wife)
business travel, to which we have added some down time.
The plan is to drive south from
night finds us in
mid-afternoon, we are ready to return to
Although the rails and ties are missing, I still sense the railway stretching out in both directions, and have an overwhelming feeling of coming home. Because the cinder ballast has been smoothed over and compacted by many rubber wheelsets, the ride is surprisingly good as we head east by railway direction. At Lorna, we pause briefly to survey what is left of the water tank footings. Dawn, who is not a rail aficionado, is constantly amazed that anyone has bothered to catalogue such information. For my part, still expecting that this little road may simply come to an end, I fail to mention that there are large bridges a short distance ahead.
All too soon, what stretches out before us is the crossing of Bellevue Creek, a massive, 182-foot high curved deck plate girder bridge whose steel side members project only 12 inches or so above the tops of the bridge ties that are now the road surface. At least one of those ties still has a tie plate firmly anchored to it by a single spike, likely driven into a knot and thereafter resistant to any and every effort to remove it. Caterpillar tracks cut into the ties indicate that the structure is still being used. Fortunately, neither one of us looks down too much and, after one of those infamous ‘husband-wife discussions’ in which I promise “not to do anything foolish”, we set out on the slowest 721 feet of our trip, me with my eyes wide open, Dawn with hers firmly shut.
As there is about a 6-inch gap between each pair of bridge ties, the ride is a tad bumpy as we move forward. Additionally, between each of the 12 or so bridge spans, the gap widens to about a foot to allow for a transverse bridge girder that is several inches lower than the top of the bridge ties. The bumps between the ties are bad enough, but feeling the front wheels drop into these wider depressions so high above the ground is stomach-tightening to say the least, especially so for the person who still has her eyes closed. About five hundred big and little bumps later, we reach the eastern end of the bridge and, as we regain terra firma, a group of hikers who have been standing and watching the slow progress of our Taurus wagon salute us with a round of applause.
A short while later, we find that the road leading back down to Kelowna is also the access road to the Myra Canyon walking trail. We both need to get out and stretch our legs, so we park and hike further along the right of way, this time crossing wooden trestles equipped with plank decking and sturdy, chest-high railings. A highlight is stopping for a break at a little rock outcropping with natural seating and a wonderful view. No sooner do we settle in than we are surrounded by a legion of chipmunks who, in the spirit of the CPR, make it very clear that no one travels this road for free, and that the price is a share of our snack. So if you hike the Trans-Canada Trail, remember that this highly recommended part remains a toll road!
most recent encounter with the Carmi was in December 2002 and was
once again far away from BC. No sooner
had my December Branchline been read that a much thicker document
landed on my
desk at Parks Canada, where I managed the flow of executive
documents. This time, it was a
recommendation from the
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) to designate a
the Carmi Subdivision a National Historic Site of Canada.
The site is defined as the 9.6 km (6 mile)
section of the former KVR right-of-way in the
* * * * *
I wrote this article in early summer 2003, Dawn and I knew that we
As summer wore on, however, circumstances changed. My daily Parks Canada issue-management conference calls always included an update on the forest fire situation in the west. Some fires were reported to be burning so hot that their smoke plumes rose more that 30,000 feet and created micro-climates which, in turn, spawned lightning storms that ignited more fires.
advent of a fire in
daily messages, often containing items lifted from the local
newspapers, expressed great public concern for the fate of the bridges. Towards the end of August, the reports took
on a more hopeful tone as the winds either dropped or shifted away, and
prevention strategies for the bridges, which are key elements of the
Canada Trail and bring 50,000 visitors to
on the night of Thursday September 4, conditions changed again. The next morning, the lead story and photo on
front page of the
estimates have set the cost of reconstruction in kind at
more than $30 million. While politicians
at all levels of government have indicated that replacement of the
trestles is essential,
it can be expected that issues of cost, low availability of skilled
survival of a few bridges in their original form and the ultimate
that much more modest structures will suffice for pedestrian traffic
likely result in bridges being replaced in some lesser form. Fundraising activities are currently under
way, details of which are available from the Okanagan Mountain
The Photo Gallery at this site also contains an
interesting selection of
past and present photos of the