About the Kettle Valley Railway

KVR Train at Penticton Station - Archive - Old Photo

The Penticton Railway station, on the waterfront. The wharf and lake boats were right along side. (This photo is shared courtesy of the City of Penticton Museum and Archives. (#PMA0798)

The History of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR)

The Kettle Valley Railway was is one of the most remarkable sections of railway ever built in North America. Completed in July 1916, it stretched from Mid-Way to Hope, Via Penticton. The route was carved out of the most rugged terrain, and was more that once called an impossible undertaking. The completion of the railway was a testament to the engineering genius of Andrew McCulloch, and the strength a perseverance of the thousands of men worked to lay the tracks.

 Constructing the KVR

  • Work in the KVR began in June 1910. It was built to connect mines in the Kootenay Mountains with the West Coast.
  • Warren was the president of the KVR and McCulloch was responsible for the construction of the railroad.
  • McCulloch was commissioned to survey the possible areas where the tracks could be laid. In the survey he found that there were 5 natural sections of terrain:[4]  The first section was uphill from Midway to the Hydrolic Creek Summit (76 miles). The second was from the Hydrolic Creek Summit to Penticton (58 miles down-hill). The third section was from Penticton to Osprey Lake (39 miles up-hill ). The fourth section was 65 miles of varied terrain from Osprey Lake to Cold Water Summit. The fifth and final stretch was for 30 miles downhill from Cold Water Summit to Merritt
  • Construction started in Midway heading westward and in Merritt heading eastward[5] The railways were completed in July 1916.
  • Conditions were treacherous for the construction crews, and there were many injuries and fatalities. One of their greatest problems was an abundance of rattlesnakes who were blasted out of their homes in the rocks above Naramata.
  • The route of the KVR was carved out of the most rugged sections of the mountains and was more that once called an impossible undertaking. The engineering genius of Andrew  McCulloch and the muscles of thousands of workmen allowed the rail to be laid and the region opened up to development.

See the Kettle Valley Railway in Miniature

Did you know? An immense scale model of the Kettle Valley Railway covers much of the cargo deck on the SS Sicamous. It is the first thing you see as you come in the front entrance of the ship.The model railway is cared for by the Penticton Kettle Valley Model Railway Club, and has taken over 10,000 hours to build.

Model train at the SS Sicamous, Penticton in the Okanagan Valley.

Visit the SS Sicamous Museum


The KVR Train Service in Penticton

President Warren and Engineer Andrew McCulloch met with the Penticton town council on June 21, 1910 to discuss KVR coming to Penticton[3]  . The town council decided to pass a by-law to raise $25, 000 in order to give the KVR a section a lake-shore property that extended from the mouth of Penticton Creek to the foot of Martin Street. This would be the site of the wharf and depot. KVR headquarters were to be based in Penticton.

Penticton became the centre of the line and provided a very important divisional point employing hundreds of workers at its peak. There were actually two train stations in Penticton – one at the lake, where the sternwheelers and barges would meet the trains, and one at the south end of town. The train would enter Penticton from the south, back down to the lake, and then go south again to the station, where it would begin its ascent onto the benches in Summerland. A new station was built in South Penticton and opened in December 1941.

  • The railway line to Penticton was completed in 1915, and the first train arrived on May 30, 1915.[6]
  • The line was in full operation after World War 1. The first service was a tri-weekly mixed train
  • Train would reach Penticton late in the afternoon and met a similar train from Midway. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the train would head to Merritt and Midway
KVR Railway Station Penticton Wharf Train Kettle Valley

View of the Penticton Railway Station, from the bow of a stern wheeler. A KVR train with cars is pulling into the station, and a baggage cart is ready for the passengers. Photo is from the City of Penticton Museum and Archives (#PMA0610)

The Kettle Valley Railway and the Lake Boats

Connections were available from the Penticton Wharf by steam boat (Including the S.S. Sicamous and the S.S. Okanagan) between Penticton and Vernon, where passengers could connect with the Trans-Continental railway. Produce of the valley was brought on barges and transported by Tug Boats to reach the railway station at the North of the lake, from there produce would travel the rails to the hungry markets of the west coast or the prairies. The railway, together with the steamboats, were vital to the development of the Okanagan valley.

The SS Sicamous and the KVR

Tug Boats and the KVR

Did you know?

  • Many of the retaining walls along the railway are mortar less.
  • Trout Creek in Summerland has the largest steel girder bridge of its kind on North America (619 feet long and 241 feet high).
  • The average speed of a passenger train was limited to 26 miles per hour.
  • Snow often amounted to 500” in the Coquihalla Valley. Despite the appalling conditions, the line maintained one of the best records on the continent.

The End of the Kettle Valley Railway

  • Despite the benefits that the railways brought to the communities of the interior, the Kettle Valley Railway never actually made a profit. Construction costs of $20 million were never repaid.
  • The only year it operated with a small net income was in 1926, when there was a mild winter.
  • KVR was originally a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway. CPR took complete ownership of the Kettle Valley Railway  on December 31, 1930[1] .
  • When this happened, many of the wooden bridges were changed to steel structures or filled in. Many portals were also changed from wood to concrete. Heavier rails were laid at this time.
  • Steam changed to Diesel in the 1950’s.
  • Warren chose to stay in Penticton, and built his retirement home at 434 Lakeshore Dr, where it still stands today.

Hiking and Biking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Although the Trains have stopped running, you can still explore the old routes, and see the stunning views for your self. The rails have now been lifted and turned into a linear park with flat trails suitable for hiking and biking.

Click here to learn more:

   The Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Map of the Full Kettle Valley Railway Route

From Hope to Midway, British ColumbiaFull Map of the Kettle Valley Railway Route - From Hope BC to Midway

[1]Ibid: 9.


[3]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 31. Bridget Trainor claims the first train left Midway on May 31, 1915 traveling westward.

[4]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 45.

[5]Bridget Trainor, “The Kettle Valley Railway: The Little Track That ‘did’,” West Life:The B.C. Magazine (July 1988): 8.

[6]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 17.


The Kettle Valley Model Railway Club

The Kettle Valley Model Railway Club held its first meeting on March 20th 1988. It is dedicated to capturing the spirit and atmosphere of the KVR. Work on the layout began in the fall of 1989 and it was completed by December 1993.

The 46’ x 14’ layout is constructed in HO scale, on board the cargo deck of the S.S. Sicamous, now landlocked on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Most of the buildings were scratch built by members. The trestles, bridges and two boats and all the trees were handmade. There is approximately 500 feet pf track, and members have invested well over 6,000 hours in the construction.

Hiking and Biking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Click here to learn more:

The Kettle Valley Railway Trail