Setting the time machine back to August 1989, you’ll find me in Princeton BC looking at the remains of the old rail line that passed through here. Abandoned only months before my visit, all of the track remained in place as though waiting for a train to come. And the jewel of the site was the old train station, which say empty and boarded up. Fortunately it survives, although that comes with it’s own downside, it being clad in ugly siding and housing a fast food establishment (the humanity).
After working almost non-stop, six days a week or more for most of that year, I decided it was time for a road trip and took a month off, travelling aimlessly here and there across BC and Alberta. I brought along my trusty Yashica FR2 and set on my way, with the subject of this report being my first stop.
Although this line saw its last train earlier that year, all the infrastructure was still in place. Only after my visit would the tracks be torn up. Once a busy line, by the time it was abandoned only a few customers remained, including one sawmill in Princeton and trains operated a couple times a week. Trucks syphoned away business and it just become too unprofitable to operate the line – a common scenario for these types of lines.
The yard sat on the bench between the Similkameen River and town, butting up against a small hill in the west. There were lots of sidings here although they were so overgrown as to be hard to see. In addition, a balloon track circled the yard. This would be used to turn around a locomotive or perhaps snowplow. Off that track, by the river, one could see remains of the old Copper Mountain branch line and some old piers and signs of a grade could be seen. It formerly served the very large copper mine situated just west of Princeton. That track was torn up in the 1950s.
I recall as a kid in the 1970s, seeing long strings of wood chip hoppers or bulkhead flats (for lumber) sitting on the balloon track when passing through Princeton. The highway went above the yard, giving one a clear view of its layout. Back then business was much better and many rail cars could be seen – a stark contrast to the empty yard I photographed.
The track here was once part of the CPR Southern Mainline, a torturous and circuitous route that travelled from Medicine Hat Alberta to Vancouver. Once a busy section it slowly reverted to branch line status over time as sections of it were abandoned. Only parts in eastern BC remain, terminating at Trail BC. It was just too difficult a railway to run.
Located just west of the yard is a tunnel which ducks under the highway, before emerging on the other side by the Tulameen River. A date on it says 1961, which was when it was concrete lined not when it was built. It’s much older than that.
Today, this old grade has been converted to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, parts of which are also the Trans Canada Trail. It’s linear long distance recreation route encompassing many abandoned rail lines in the south central parts of BC. This is on my bucket list.
I enjoy shooting the old track (an odd subject I know) and wander about imagining busier days when trains travelled the line and this yard was busy. It’s easy to visualize a heavy freight heading out laden with forest products and ore from the various mines in the region. I also think about the times when passenger trains travelled the line, a service which ended in the 1960s. It must have been a spectacular trip, albeit a loooong slow one.
Heading away from the yard, I come across the train station looking forlorn and forgotten. This simple structure was originally built by the Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern Railway, a subsidiary the American Great Northern line, which came in from Washington State to tap the riches of the area. The station we see dates from 1909 and with the later arrival of the CPR in 1915, that company would share this building with it’s rival – along with the yard and other trackage in the area. These two rail companies would often be fierce competitors, yet at other time would cooperate like this. I WISH I had shot more pictures of this building.
For a time, the two railways coexisted, with the CPR taking over everything we see in this report, the rail yard and station, after the VV&E pulled out in the mid 1930s. That company slowly retrenched back to the US, its ambitions to usurp traffic from the CPR proving unsuccessful.
It’s assumed the station served as such until the closing of the line to passenger traffic in the mid 1960s. From that point on one can only guess what it may have been used for – for storage for materials, a bunkhouse for railway crews perhaps. Who knows?
By the time of my visit it was boarded up. Later, at some undetermined point, it was re-clad and now houses a Subway Restaurant (is calling that chain a restaurant a bit of a stretch?) and a Booster Juice. This is NOT a fitting role for such an historical building, which (IMO) should have been saved and restored to its former glory. It survives though, and I guess that’s good at least.
Looking at Google Earth today not much is left of the old yard. It’s long stripped of it tracks and some parts have been built over. I was so glad I had the chance to document it before it was obliterated – I wish I took more pictures though. This area is so full of history and I’d love to return.
These pictures were scanned from 35mm slides
On this same road trip I visited Rosebery BC to check out the isolated CPR Nakusp branch where trains were brought in by barge. To see that report, go here…
Rosebery BC railways barge slip.
To see some other railway archaeology themed posts, follow these links…
CPR’s BIG Hill revisited.
Unfinished Canadian Northern Railway line Fort MacLeod.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 1989
Location: Princeton, BC.