The rain is coming down in thick sheets, but it isn’t about to dampen my mood.
Our helmets are doing their best to keep our noggins warm and dry, but the real lifesaver is our gloves. With wet but warm fingers, we grip our rubber bicycle handles and prepare to pedal along the torn-up, ripped-out railroad. It's a route which was once an integral part of the thriving industries that made Boundary Country a bouncing, prosperous, economically stable region in B.C.
But that was long before I arrived.
The Kettle Valley Rail Trail and the Trans Canada Trail
A Short History:
It was the promise of a trans-continental railway that secured the wavering colony of B.C.'s spot in a unified Canada. With the dream of a prosperous railroad in the front of everyone’s minds, the province joined Confederation in 1871. Fourteen years later, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) finally got its kick-off in British Columbia. An alliance with the CPR brought the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) to life.
While the CPR was completed in 1885, survey work for the KVR didn’t begin until 1910. The KVR would run from Hope through Penticton to Midway (Mile 0). The CPR continued east towards Grand Forks, connecting the country. Instead of sticking to low valleys and following river beds, this railroad would cross mountains. Builders and supplies were brought from Australia, Italy, Germany, Sweden and China. They faced horrid weather, including massive snowfall and bitter winters, amongst other odds.
Although some doubted the KVR would ever actually be built, others were convinced that this subsidiary of the CPR would be an economic blessing for Boundary region.
The KVR was completed in 1915. In the 1950s, the affordability and popularity of the automobile altered the future of Canada’s passenger trains—by almost forcing them into extinction. By 1961, parts of the KVR were being abandoned. By 1989, it was completely dismantled.
Today, the antiquity of Canada’s coast-to-coast railroad lives in the multi-purpose recreational path, the Trans Canada Trail (TCT). By 2017 (Canada’s 150th birthday and the 25th anniversary of the trail), the TCT aims to connect the entire country.
The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is a popular part of the TCT, which is enjoyed by cyclists, horseback riders, hikers, dirt bikers, ATVers and snowmobilers. Unfortunately, motorized vehicles are causing extensive damage to the trail. Without proper care, it may not last long enough for our kids-kids to enjoy it.
Cycling the TCT
The pelting rain forces me to squint as we traverse the trestles and maneuver the hills above Christina Lake. I try to envision what it would have been like, crossing Canada on an old-school locomotive. It isn’t long before I let out a tribute to the trains that once thundered through this part of British Columbia, and start “choo-chooing,” myself.
Without the prosperity of the railroad, the lure of the gold rush, the employment at Greenwood’s now-closed copper smelter and the influx of immigrants, the Boundary seems to be stuck in time. The buildings are old-fashioned, the community is close-knit and everything about it feels distinctly archaic. This “haunted” feeling is part of its allure, attractive to folks looking to escape city noises, tourist traps and bustling downtowns.
Cyclists are drawn to the TCT for journeys of relaxation and self-enlightenment; to “get back to nature” and to relive a forgotten part of Western Canada’s history. Waylaid cyclists and tourists slip into Grand Forks for a bowl of Dukhobor borscht at the Borscht Bowl and to stack up on fresh produce for the road at the bi-weekly Farmer’s Market. From Rock Creek to Midway to Christina Lake, the trail winds next to towns caught in time and steeped in history. Maybe, if you listen close enough, it’s even possible to hear the wailing of a ghost train still chugging along the tracks.
Have you cycled the TCT?
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