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History of the Clearwater Valley Railway Co.

Disclaimer: The Clearwater Valley Railroad and everything about it is factious and a product of my imagination. All persons have been made up and any referral to any real person or people is purely coincidental. Please note that modern history for the Clearwater Valley Railway is 1928.

The history of the Clearwater Valley Railway really started in 1901 when Frederick Brown and Alexander Smith, from Montreal, Duncan McCloud and Alfred McDougall from Cornwall went west to seek their fortune. This group had a run in with the law over some shady dealings and deciding to lay low for awhile and boarded the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) transcontinental May 19, 1901 from Montreal, Quebec and arrived in Port Moody, British Columbia (B.C.) on May 25.

Now this group of men was not above stretching the truth a little or telling people what they wanted to hear. Seeing the vast forests and possible minerals that could be located in the mostly unexplored mountains, they were convinced that there was easy money to be made. Frederick Brown was the brains behind the operations and Duncan McLeod who was called “Flash” by his friends and something else by the people whom he had dealing with was the pitch man. One day while sitting and scheming at a local watering hole they came up with a plan. They would market and build a transportation system to extract the riches from the mountains.

The group felt that the Americans would be very interested in the lumber that was available but there was no route presently available to bring the product to the states. Building a north south route to the states would be a relatively easy build as there were no mountain ranges to cross; the railway could be built between the mountain ranges. It was with this premise that the Seattle, Kamloops and Northern Railway was incorporated.

At the time eastern railways were having great success raising funds in Britain so our intrepid group made their way oversees to pitch the railway and raise funds to build it. They had pamphlets, maps and a business plan printed to help with the fund raising efforts. Unfortunately for our group, the British were not interested in backing a railway that was to be built in a largely unpopulated and unexplored part of the country. Add the fact that the main purpose of the line was to ship goods to the states made the railway a hard sell.

Now this setback did not deter our intrepid group and on the boat trip back decided that the best way to raise the funds required to build the railway was to pitch their idea to the Americans, so back to the west coast they went. Unfortunately for our group, the Americans were not interested in the line either, as there was more than enough lumber for them in the western states as well. Having no luck in promoting the railway the group decided to give up on the idea and headed back east.

Frederick Brown was good at feeling the “pulse of the nation” and he was hearing grumblings about the CPR’s transportation monopoly out west. He developed another plan and gathered the “Group of Four”. Instead of building a north south railway line to the states, why not build another east west line to provide competition to the CPR. Everyone knows that competition is healthy for everyone. On paper, the group was going to be ambitious and the Vancouver, Winnipeg and Eastern Railway was incorporated on November 12, 1902, with the goal of building a line from Vancouver, British Columbia to Winnipeg, Manitoba and continues eastwards to connect with the Grand Trunk Railway in Ontario.

They figured that they could build the line through the Yellowhead Pass to get through the mountains. This route was first proposed to the CPR but it was rejected for a more southerly route. This idea was pitched and in the spring of 1903, money was raised to send a team of surveyors out west to find a route from the Yellowhead Pass to Vancouver as this was felt to be the most difficult of the project. The preliminary route that the surveyors came back with had the line going through the Yellowhead Pass then south through the Thompson and Okanagan valleys and then west to Vancouver.

The winter of 1903-1904 the group was busy raising funds to build the first portion of the line between Vancouver B.C. to Edmonton, Alberta. With the Government of Canada and the province of British Columbia in favour of another competing line securing funds was easier and bonds were issued to get construction started. The group managed to raise 2 million dollars and in the spring of 1904 bids were asked to build the first portion of the line between Winnipeg, Manitoba to Edmonton, Alberta.

History reveals that the line was never built. When the bids were due there was no one to take them as the “group of four” had suddenly left town with the money. Needless to say, this caused quite a scandal at the time and warrants were issued for the arrest of the “group of four” but they were never caught.

Meanwhile, in Kamloops, Ebenezer Stewart was making a small fortune lumbering in the area and was buying up woodlots in the Thompson and Okanagan Valley for future harvesting. Ebenezer Stewart was a British immigrant that came to Canada as it was getting harder to operate a profitable sawmill in Britain as the trees that were a good size to cut was getting scarce. When he heard of the abundance of the forests in Canada he made his way here and started the Okanagan Valley Lumber Company.

By 1914 Ebenezer was ready to expand his operations to the Okanagan Valley but he needed a transportation system to transport the lumber to market. At this time the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) was building a line through the mountains to Vancouver through the Yellowhead Pass and the line would pass near the timber limits of the Okanagan Valley Lumber Co. Talks with the CNoR revealed that the railway had no interest at the time to build a branch line to Mr. Steward’s timber limits but if someone else wanted to build a line from the timber limits to the CNoR mainline a deal could be worked out to transport lumber and goods out of the valley.
Mr. Stewart was willing to build a line but wanted to be sure that the line would be profitable and wanted the support of local business men for this venture. He got the support from business men in Mara, Clearwater and Lac La Hache. Now all he had to do was figure out how to build the line.

Everyone knew about the scandal with the Vancouver, Winnipeg and Eastern Railway and Ebenezer was able to buy the line from its creditors for 1 cent on the dollar, so for $200,000.00, he had the rights to the line and was also able to gets the building grants from the Government of Canada and the province of British Columbia that was originally promised to the railway.

A contract was given to Thompson Brothers Construction to construct the line between the Okanagan Lumber Company’s Mill on Adam Lake to the CNoR’s mainline at Mosquito Flats and construction started in the summer of 1915. It was hoped that this portion of the line would be completed before winter and to get construction started as soon as possible, the railway would provide the material and the contractor would supply the labour. Due to a shortage of material and mismanagement this did not happen. The main buyer for the railway thought that embezzling the company was a better way of making a living and left the contractor and railway high and dry.
Work did continue in the spring of 1916 on the line and a new contract was negotiated between the railway and contractor. This time the contractor would supply both labour and material. The first train ran from the Okanagan Lumber Company’s mill to Mosquito Flats on October 15. Fifteen years after incorporation a train finally ran on the Vancouver, Winnipeg and Eastern Railway.

Now Ebenezer didn’t have a grand a vision of building a line from Vancouver to Winnipeg, although he did eventually build to Margaret Bay. At first he felt that a third east-west line was folly and would be doomed to fail and was not going to throw away his hard earned cash. With that in mind the line was renamed and incorporated as the Clearwater Valley Railway Company on April 1, 1916.

During the winter of 1917 the citizens of Mara approached the railway about extending the line to Mara. Mara was starting to boom due to the Lacroix Hardware Company opening up shop there. To sweeten the pot the town council promised the railway land to build a yard and engine facilities the railway needed. A deal was stuck and the railway started to extend the line from Mosquito Flats to Mara in the spring of 1918 and was completed in the fall of that year. This expansion doubled the size of the railway.

Further expansion happened in 1919 when the railway built west from Mosquito Flats towards Lac La Hache. Lac La Hache served the forestry industry and needed reliable and cost effective transportation to bring in supplies and ship out products. Construction started in the fall and went as far as Little Fort that year before winter came. Construction continued in the spring of 1920 by building west to Forest Grove and finally terminating in Lac La Hache in the fall of 1921.

The final part of the line was built between 1925 and 1828. Wanting to ship lumber to Asia and the western United States and not wanting to pay the rate that the CNoR wanted, Ebenezer decided to take a gamble and extend his line to the Pacific Ocean. This bold move almost shut down the railway, as getting through the mountains was not an easy task as the best routes through the passes were already spoken for. One advantage that the CVRy had was that only being 30” between the rails allowed for tighter curves. The population between Lac La Hache and Margaret Bay is sparse with very few towns along the way which meant that getting men and supplies to the railhead turned out to be a logistical nightmare. In order to facilitate working in the mountains the railroad established towns on Big Creek and Tatlayoko Lake. The first train arrived at Margaret Bay on September 21, 1928.

Another advantage to building the line to Margaret bay was the crossing of the British Columbia and Alaska Railway at Margaret Bay. This gave the railway another market in Alaska and along the cost to exchange goods with. Once the railway was in town Margaret Bay began to grow and prosper with the building of a cannery and other fishing related industries.

Today the Clearwater Valley Railway serves the communities between Margaret Bay and Mara. It is a leanly run operation with the maintenance shop modifying and or repairing the equipment as the need arises. The employees are a proud group who pride themselves and keeping the railway running with little resources and little money.

(Note: history revised June 16, 2011)

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