In the year 1887 an exodus of American treasure seekers flocked north of the border to cash in on the discovery of silver ore in the Kootenay district of British Columbia. The new provincial government watched in despair as B.C.’s wealth was easily shipped south on the American Great Northern Railway. Cut off from the rest of the province, this southerly pocket of B.C. had no means of transporting her new-found riches, and so began a frenzied building of railways that continued into the early 20th century.
Vying for control of the industry were Canada’s CPR and the American Great Northern Line, and before long, many short lines connected B.C.’s new mining towns. However, this proved insufficient as what was really needed was a link to the rest of the province; a link to the CPR’s main line. Thus, the Kettle Valley Railway was born.
Summiting three mountain ranges and descending into two deep valleys, the Kettle Valley Railway was an incredible feat engineered by Andrew McCulloch between the years 1910 and 1916. Spanning 525 kilometres from Hope to Midway, the two lines of steel provided freight and passenger access to the rest of the province as they clung to steep canyon walls and traversed gorges, never exceeding a grade of 2.2 per cent. Arguably, the railway’s most scenic stretch is through Myra Canyon, 18 kilometres south east of Kelowna, where a continuous line of wood frame trestles conform to the shape of the canyon wall, thousands of feet above its base. Greatly reducing the amount of rock excavation required to construct a railway line through the gorge, Myra Canyon’s 13-kilometre stretch of track has 16 trestles, the largest of which, at 750 feet long and 182 feet high, completes a turn of almost 90 degrees over West Canyon Creek. Indeed, this portion of track is an excellent example of early 20th century railway construction.
With the mid-1900s came highways, trucking companies and personal vehicles, all contributing to the declining need for rail travel. As is became less and less economically feasible to keep the railway running, portions of track were systematically removed until the last passenger train made its final run between Merritt and Nelson in 1964. In 1989 freight service ended in the Kettle Valley for good.
One might assume that Myra Canyon’s historic trestles have since fallen to disrepair and closed to the public due to safety hazards. There is, however, more than the transportation of silver and the decline of a railway, to the tale of the Kettle Valley.
In 1990 the province purchased the 525-kilometre corridor that wound its way through some of B.C.’s most stunning natural scenery and the newly established Myra Canyon Trail Restoration Society worked hard to ensure that the route was made safe for the public. The result was a long, multi-use trail that attracted over 50,000 hikers, walkers and bikers to the area every year. Although hardcore mountain bikers may scoff at the gentle grades, there is no denying the thrill of riding across the valley’s deep gorges on narrow, wooden trestles, descending into cool, dark tunnels and taking in vistas of orchards and vineyards whose lush green contrast nicely against the sparkling backdrop of Okanagan Lake. In January of 2003, Myra Canyon was declared a National Historic Site and the route was made a vital link in the Trans Canada Trail.