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.
Building the KVR
Work in the KVR began in June 1910. It was built to connect mines in the Kootenay Mountains with the West Coast. Andrew 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:
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 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.
Railway Completion Dates
Midway to Penticton – Completed Oct 2, 1914
Princeton to Penticton – Completed April 23rd 1915
Hope to Princeton – Completed July 31st 1916
Penticton and the Kettle Valley Railway
Penticton was once a very important railway town, and was the head quarters of the Kettle Valley Railway. It boasted two railway stations, a wharf connecting with the steam ships, and its own luxury railway hotel (the Incola Hotel – intended to rival the grandeur of the Banff Springs). Hundreds of railway workers were employed here at the peak of the KVR.
- The railway line to Penticton was completed in 1915, and the first train arrived on May 30, 1915.
- 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
A key benefit offered by Penticton, was its connection to the lake. From here passengers and cargo could travel easily by water, avoiding the barrier presented by the mountains. Connections were available from the Penticton to Vernon, with 14 stops. From the Okanagan Landing train station 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.
Did you know?
- 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 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.
- 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 .
- 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.
- Many of the steam trains changed to Diesel in the 1950’s. The Naramata was coal powered however, up until her retirement in 1967.
- The president of the KVR (Warren) chose to stay on in Penticton after construction finished, and built his retirement home at 434 Lakeshore Dr, where it still stands today.
The End of An Era – Closing Down the Kettle Valley Railway.
- The Kettle Valley Railway became the Kettle Valley Division of CPR on December 31st 1930. The Penticton to Osoyoos branch line was completed in 1944.
- Due to the high snow fall in the Coquihalla Pass, the section from Hope to Brodie was abandoned in 1961, and traffic was routed through Spences Bridge.
- Penticton to Midway trains ceased operations in 1971. Spences Bridge to Penticton was discontinued in 1990.
- Rail was moved from Midway to Penticton in the late 70’s. Tracks from Spences bridge to Penticton were removed in 1992, save for a small section of track in Summerland, on which the Kettle Valley Steam Railway now operates.
- The abandoned track ways have now been incorporated as part of the Trans Canada Trail.
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:
MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 31. Bridget Trainor claims the first train left Midway on May 31, 1915 traveling westward.
MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 45.
Bridget Trainor, “The Kettle Valley Railway: The Little Track That ‘did’,” West Life:The B.C. Magazine (July 1988): 8.
MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 17.