Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to publish several articles in the local newspapers on the history of Squamish and the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Here are a few of those articles.
Another story that tells a little about me. http://blog.traingeek.ca/2016/08/10-questions-for-trevor-mills.html
When the Train Came to Squamish November 1, 2016 The Squamish Reporter.
The steep sheer rock walls along Howe Sound rise straight out of the ocean and reach to the sky in most places between West Vancouver and Squamish. The railway contractors in the early 1900s said that to build a railway there would involve a large amount of costly work. A railway would finally make its mark on the land when on August 27, 1956 after 2 years of construction the first scheduled passenger train left North Vancouver for Squamish and points north.
Several railways were granted charters to build north from Vancouver through Squamish and points north. As early as 1905 the Vancouver Westminster and Yukon which was a division of the Great Northern in the United Sates had a charter to build a railway from Vancouver to northern BC. The VW&Y saw that the link between Vancouver and Squamish could be bridged by relatively inexpensive water transportation and planed for their railway to start in Squamish. The Howe Sound and Northern also decided to start at Squamish in 1910 and started laying track north to Cheakamus. The Pacific Great Eastern had a third charter to build from Squamish north. When PGE bought out the Howe Sound and Northern in October 1912, the water transportation system between Vancouver and Squamish was very well established and there was not enough traffic to offset the high cost of the difficult construction along Howe Sound.
Between 1914 and 1929 the PGE constructed and operated a commuter rail operation between North Vancouver and Whytecliff at Horseshoe Bay. With the onset of the Great Depression this operation was abandoned and the tracks taken up. For the next 26 years this part of the line was taken over by the neighbours and claimed as extensions to back yards and walking routes to go other places in West Vancouver. The more time that passed, the less they figured the railway would be back. Most people were under the impression that the line had been abandoned but to their horror plans were being drawn up to reactivate West Van section in the early 1950s.
W.A.C. Bennett became premier of BC in 1952 and stated that he would get the greatest satisfaction to transform the PGE from a joke into a sound financial company. The railway grew 12 times in volume of goods moved from 1941 to 1953. There was a desperate need to complete the line now as the barge service could no longer handle the increased traffic. It was estimated that by 1956 there would be 27,000 car loads moved on the railway. On March 24, 1954 the Bennett government went ahead with a proposal to construct the line at an estimated cost of $10 million. The PGE offered the shortest route to tap the rich resources of both northern BC and Alberta and move these resources to market. The construction of this southern link was the last piece of the route. It was also announced that a parallel highway would be built that would give access to Garibaldi Park which possessed immense possibilities as both a winter and summer playground. The Sea-to-Sky highway was opened in 1958 as the Seaview highway.
Construction was difficult as it was like carving a ledge out of the solid rock for the railway to run on. Where there was no place to cut the ledge a tunnel was put through. There were also many bridges over the fast flowing mountain creeks.
The task was completed on June 10 1956 and Bill Smetanuk drove the last spike at North Vancouver The next day the first work train made its way slowly north from North Van. Hugh Campbell was the engineer and he had to go slow as there was no ballast on the newly laid track yet. The train consisted of 2 locomotives, a rock car, an open observation car for officials and a caboose.
There was a celebration planned and on August 27 a ceremonial copper spike was driven and the first official passenger train left North Vancouver for Prince George. The copper for the spike was mined at Britannia mine. The PGE did not have enough of its own passenger cars so cars were borrowed from other railroads. There were cars from CP, CN, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Milwaukee and even a mighty full length dome car from the Union Pacific. The first train was delayed by a rock slide at mile 18 and did not arrive in Squamish until the following day. After 44 years of waiting, what was one more day.
Having the railway open to North Vancouver meant big changes to many of the towns along the line including Squamish. Locals were excited and a little nervous of these changes the new people and businesses would bring to their town that was no longer isolated at the head of Howe Sound.
The first official train to arrive from North Vancouver to Squamish on August 27, 1956. This was a heavy train and locomotive 580 was added as a helper between the baggage cars and the first coach for the trip up the Cheakamus Canyon. My dad was the engineer on the helper crew that day.
Article from Heritage Special of the Squamish Reporter November 15, 2015.