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.
The Dreams and Trials of Railways in Squamish
TREVOR MILLS APRIL 15, 2020 The Pacific Great Eastern Railway was started in 1912 to run north of Squamish into the hills where there was endless tracts of forest. Later there would be dreams of grain from the north and coal from central BC. Through the next 108 years there were the good times and the bad times but the railway survived. It is not until you strip everything away that you realize that it can no longer exist. This is what has happened to the railway between Squamish and Williams Lake. The founders had visions of big trees being brought out one section of log per car to the tidewater at Squamish where they would be boomed and towed to the sawmills in the city. This dream changed quickly as sawmills started to be built along the newly constructed line and processed lumber started to be shipped out on flat cars and in box cars. Mining began to be a customer for the railway as people travelled up the line and began prospecting. Gold was found at the Pioneer mine at Bralorne and the mine shipped all the ore out and equipment was brought in by the railway. During the Great Depression the business from the pioneer mine kept the railway alive as all other industries had dropped off. The railway saw the need to move people not only for work but tourism as many lodges had opened along the line. A passenger service was started right at the beginning of operation of the railway and was kept busy moving people not only from the big centres to outlaying areas but servicing all the small inaccessible locations along the line with mail service and supply runs. In the times up to the 1950s the railway struggled with two issues. It stopped at Squamish with no connection to Vancouver other than the rail barge and at the north end the line stopped at Quesnel because it was deemed to expensive to build the bridge over the Cottonwood Canyon. This all changed when in 1952 the link to Prince George was completed and in 1956 when the link to North Vancouver was pushed through. The dreams were back on and the push to transport the grain harvest to market was on. The endless tracts of forest all along the line that the founders envisioned were now finally accessible and the railway did its best to accommodate the movement of these products. The traffic volume increased year over year until the railway was so busy that it was borrowing equipment from other railways just to keep up. The transition from steam power to diesel power was happening at the same time and the newer diesel locomotives were able to pull the longer heavier trains. The railway’s adaption to this new busy environment meant that it could not always use its own cars and would let other company cars on the line and just charge for hauling them around. The dream of coal being shipped down the line and loaded onto ships at Squamish began in the 1960s. When an agreement was reached to mine coal at Tumbler Ridge in the early 1980s it was found to be easier to ship the coal to Prince Rupert and load onto ships there. It is now 2020 and in the last 30 years the principles of running a railway have changed and the ideas of operating for the needs of the small customers has been overshadowed by the ease of operating trains that carry one product per train. This ensures less employee time making up trains and switching cars into industries. The line from Squamish to Williams Lake is now closed and we shall see if there is enough need for it to be opened again in the future.
Confessions of a Train Geek Monday, August 15, 201610 Questions for Trevor Mills This series is modelled after the "Interesting Railfan" series in Railroad magazine from years ago. I'm asking each railfan 10 questions, some standard and some customized for the particular person. I hope you enjoy it.
Trevor Mills at "work" I put 10 questions to Trevor Mills, who is heavily involved with the West Coast Railway Association in Squamish, BC and recently purchased Great Northern lounge observation car #1090 to restore it.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. I was born in Squamish, British Columbia Canada. My father was an engineer on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and mom stayed at home and looked after me.
I tried to hire on as a conductor hoping to work my way up to be an engineer but the 20/20 vision rule with no corrective devices was still in place so that was out.
I tried applied to be an apprentice machinist just as BC Rail was getting rid of their apprenticeship programs. I have had many jobs around including truck driving and long shoring.
I have worked various jobs at the museum over the years including archivist, guest services and on restoration projects. I am currently master mechanic looking after 4 operating heritage locomotives and the operating coaches we use to carry people for events.
2. Why do you like trains? I think the main reason I like trains is they have been part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Many of dad and mom's friends in part had something to do with trains ranging from fellow employees on the full size railways to friends with model railways.
Our place was a weekend hangout for people that came from afar to see the British Columbia Railway. Dave Wilkie and Pat Hind would venture over from Victoria, park their camper in our driveway and we would all go off and spend a weekend photographing whatever was running.
Mom was part of the team and would usually have a wonderful dinner ready when we got home. Evenings were usually spent around the slide projector catching up on each other's adventures since the last time we were together.
3. Are you a railway modeller? Yes! I have built or assisted with many models in various scales from N scale to live steam. I prefer the larger sizes because it is easier to get better detail. I guess my favourite size would be gauge 1. It is a larger size and there are not many models out there which leaves lots of opportunity for scratch building.
4. What is your favourite railway to see/photograph? The Royal Hudson #2860 I love railways that run steam. The Royal Hudson came to town every summer while I was growing up and it had a great influence on my photography.
I am also a scenic photographer and love rail lines that go through the mountains and valleys. The only time I take roster shots is if there is something I want to model.
I have an overflowing box of photos of stuff I want to make models of in the future. This will be a great retirement project if I ever get to old to work on the full size stuff.
5. How did you get involved with the West Coast Railway Heritage Park? I was invited by one of dad's friends to a meeting of the WCRA in Vancouver. It was in 1988. The slide presentation that night was on the current progress of the restoration of the colonist car 2514. I was amazed by the wood framing in the car and wanted to learn more about it.
There was also talk of building a museum and one location was Squamish. I do not think I missed a meeting after that for the next 2 years hoping to hear more. When the decision was made in 1989 I was at the table when we signed the lease for the land where the Heritage Park is now and have been a part of its growth ever since.
6. What are some of the challenges in restoring railway cars? One of the biggest challenges is getting everyone to agree on what a piece should be restored to. It is unbelievable how much time is wasted arguing how it should be done. After that the metal work, wood work and painting are easy.
7. Which restoration are you most proud of? I have worked on or assisted with over 25 and I think my favourites are PGE 561, CPR 4069 and of course the Royal Hudson.
8. How did you end up owning a railcar? The WCRA has cleaned out their collection several times over the past 20 years and several great cars have gone to the scrapper. When this round of thinning came along I just could let a car from my childhood get cut up.
The car I acquired is the Great Northern lounge observation 1090. When I was young dad had a model of the GN Oriental Limited on his railway pulled by a P-2 and the observation car was a car just like the 1090.
Trevor's car, GN #1090 I jumped on the opportunity to save a classic both from my own life and the history of travel in western North America. I have a plan for the restoration based on experience gained from my past work at the Heritage Park. Oh, and there will be no argument on the colour I will be painting it. The car has given me a beautiful sample of the Pullman Green.
9. Who would you say is your inspiration? First would be my dad for his encouragement. Next I would say all his friends from his coworkers to his fellow modellers who never said no and were always there if I had a question. There are way too many to list here.
10. How can people help preserve Canada's railway history? One of the biggest ways is to write down family stories. Dad died when I was 9 and I never got to ask him many questions about his railway life.
This is another reason why I like trains - to find out more about my father who left us way too soon. These stories tell of a way of life that contributed to the development of the great country we live in.
Another way is to come out and help by sharing a talent like wood work, metalwork and record keeping in the archives to work toward upkeep of a collection near you.
Reprinted from the website: Confessions of a Train Geek www.traingeek.ca
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.