Saturday, February 7, 2009

Red Pass Junction, British Columbia

Port Townsend, today. Now I’ve never been to Red Pass Junction, but the genesis of the Prince Rupert Extension began at that far flung wilderness outpost located in the shadow of Mount Robinson, as I like to say, “about a mile and a half from the end of the earth!”

The Fraser River flows out of the western end of Moose Lake, 44 miles west of Jasper on its 800-mile journey to the Strait of Georgia. Here, at Red Pass Junction, the Grand Trunk mainline divides into separate routes to the ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver. At one time, there was a double spouted steel water tank standing between the diverging tracks, well positioned to service steam locomotives from either side.

Canada’s first transcontinental railroad was the Canadian Pacific Railway. And although it eventually ended up in Vancouver, there had been discussion, and indeed a route explored out to Port Simpson, a deep water port in northern BC, close aboard Prince Rupert at the mouth of the Skeena River.

It was an American, Charles Melville Hays, General Manager of the Grand Trunk Railway, who envisioned competing against the Canadian Pacific for the rich harvests of the interior provinces, and constructing his line to a location roughly at the mouth of the Skeena River, or as an alternate, Kitimat. Both locations providing extraordinary sheltered deep water, ice free ports, just a few miles inland from the North Pacific. And following great circle plots, some 500 miles closer to the Orient than Vancouver.

After much politicking and finagling, the final terminus was staked out on Kaien Island, the township named Prince Rupert, and construction begun in 1907. It is indeed a part of the larger tragedy surrounding the April 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, that one of the First Class Passengers who perished was Charles Melville Hays. Fortunately his wife and daughter survived the disaster.

Construction crews labored through total wilderness, crossing northern British Columbia for more than 700 miles.

Construction camps were spaced out about every ten miles, and certainly resembled “wild west towns.” And they had all the “social” problems associated there with!

Mail brought in by dog teams.

Day in and day out, the track laying machines worked year after year, steadily advancing toward the hook up point.

After seven years of construction, crews working from the east and west joined up with a big ceremony in the absolute middle of nowhere, a mile or so west of station Fort Fraser. The President of the Grand Trunk Pacific, Edson J. Chamberlain drove the last spike. There was no special spike, just an ordinary black spike – driven into the tie almost 2 years to the day, April 7th, 1914 following the death of visionary Charles Melville Hays.

Several landmarks at Prince Rupert are named in Mr. Hays’ memory, including Mt. Hays overlooking the town site and Hays secondary school “replacing the antiquated Booth Memorial Secondary …” of which I was a student!

The Prince Rupert Extension, subsequently named the Smithers Division, totaled 715.3 miles, divided into six subdivisions:

- Tete Jaune Subdivision, Red Pass Junction to McBride, 63.6 miles
- Fraser Subdivision, McBride to Prince George, 146.1 miles
- Nechako Subdivision, Prince George to Endako, 115.4 (Fort Fraser – Last Spike MP94.3)
- Telkwa Subdivision, Endako to Smithers, 125.2 miles
- Bulkley Subdivision, Smithers to Pacific, 107.1 miles
- Skeena Subdivision, Pacific to Prince Rupert, 119.4 miles.

After diverging at Red Pass Junction, the Vancouver and Prince Rupert legs parallel each other westbound at different elevations for about 20 miles. And then the Vancouver line takes a decided left turn heading south, while the Prince Rupert line strikes out into the vast empty wilderness and spectacular scenery of northern British Columbia.

3 Comments - Click here:

RandyN said...

My grandfather, Francis Appleyard, worked at Red Pass Junction as a station agent, I beleive. My mother recalls the station between the north and southbound tracks. This would have been in the 1930's or early 40's. He also worked at Lucerne, Blue River, Prince George, Smithers and Chilliwack. It is nice to see some information on a forgotten place.

gary sargeant said...

My dad was station agent at redpass jct from nov 1`950 until 1954 he replaced tjhe operator pulled out of service after the passenger and troup trains head on at canoe river. we lived up stairs in the station I rememeber the water tower power house the store owned by williams,and I went to school there in grade 1.My mom made sandwichs for the ho bows lots of times. I remember the RCMP barracks by the river. the wye

Bob McLeod said...

We lived in RedPass from 64-69. Dad was the station agent and we bought the general store from the Williams and ran it until 1969. The B.C. Parks and recreation destroyed the buildings as they didn't want any commercial entities in the park. The Chalet up at Berg Lake went the same way.

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