Politics has plagued railways for a very, very long time.
In fact, the one railway company that likes to boast about being Canada’s first trans-continental railway only became that way under political pressure.
It was back in 1881 when the CPR – Canadian Pacific Railway was incorporated. They built their ribbon of steel from eastern Canada to British Columbia between 1881 and 1885. British Columbia at the time was a separate colony when the CPR was formed.
In fact, the Colony of British Columbia was already 23 years old when the CPR came into existence. A series of gold rushes, which started in 1858 with the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, brought thousands of miners to the region known as New Caledonia. It was because of the influx of new ‘temporary’ residents that the mainland was designated as the Colony of British Columbia.
The Offer To Join Confederation
The first Prime Minister of Canada - Sir John A. MacDonald - figures prominently in the politics of BC’s railways.
July 1, 1867 was his official first day in office however, he had been working on something called ‘confederation’ as far back as 1864. In the years that followed the formation of Canada as a new entity, MacDonald embarked on drawing the Colony of British Columbia into the fold.
But he needed a good sales pitch.
The suggestion of becoming part of a vast land mass, that was mostly centred in what is now the territory from Ontario to the Maritimes, must have sounded unattractive to BC.
Then Sir John A. started to grease the wheels.
You see, the Prime Minister had a political dream. It was promoted as the National Dream and for a few tense months it fluctuated between being a national nightmare to a national daydream.
The issue was how to get British Columbia on board. Pressure was coming from Quebec and Ontario where manufacturing companies were sprouting up everywhere and wanted access to the raw materials that still existed – mostly undiscovered – under the surface of the ground in a place known as the Colony of British Columbia.
Sir John A. had an ally in Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt. He was the owner of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company. He had buckets and buckets of raw material he wanted to get out to Quebec and Ontario.
At the time, British Columbia was only joined to eastern Canada by a four-month long sea voyage. Galt insisted that a land transportation link between British Columbia and the rest of Canada be a condition for joining Confederation. Originally, Galt wanted a wagon road but since the CPR was already a few thousand miles of track closer to BC…the Federal government proposed a railway.
It sounded good on paper.
Then someone noticed that the Rocky Mountains were kinda rugged and kinda tall. The political wizards of the day felt the logical path of the Canadian National Rail line was through the American Midwest. However, as governments tend to do when they want things done, huge incentives started flowing along with the granting of massive pieces of land in the West.
Bribery and Scandal
It is interesting to note that at this time Canada’s first truly international railway was um, riding the rails of a political scandal.
It was in 1873 that the Conservative government was found to have awarded the construction contracts based on an interesting scale.
The biggest bribe offered got the contract.
And it should be no surprise to anyone that John A. MacDonald’s government was overthrown in office later that year – because of the system used to award contracts was a tad sneaky.
Enter Alexander Mackenzie’s Liberal party.
The actions of Sir John A’s government – accepting bribes for construction contracts - became known as the Pacific Scandal.
However, it was deemed okay to for the government to bribe the Colony of British Columbia with something called the National Dream.
Mining Forces The Need For More Rail Lines
By the 1880’s, Canada was finally united by a single railway. However, mining activity in British Columbia saw several smaller rail lines built. The Great Northern Railway was scooping a great deal of traffic and in 1896 CPR was forced – those are their words – to build a second rail line across BC, somewhat further south than their original line.
Enter the Kettle Valley Railway and more British Columbia railway politics.
Increasing mining activity in the province became the part of the supply and demand equation that turned some heads. The CPR route, completed in 1885 as a political promise – or a bribe – to bring British Columbia into Confederation in 1871, ran sort of through the lower midsection of the province. You know, below your beltline but not too low.
The heavy mining activity in BC at the time was quite a way below that belt line. CPR was missing out on some prime traffic and actually came under fire for not running their track along the Dewdney Trail.
The Path Of Least Resistance
Let’s look at that for a moment.
Dewdney and the Royal Engineers crossed the lower portion of BC on a path that was easy for foot traffic, pack horses and assorted other animals. You’d think that with a transportation route already established in the easiest location to go from ‘here to there’ that it was the most logical choice for a rail line.
Logic had nothing to do with it…it was all political.
After all, the fear when CPR ran steel into BC was that they were doing it to secure the territory in the name of Canada before anyone in the US caught wind of the gold rush activity in the Fraser and Similkameen.
Funny when you consider the majority of the miners heading to the Fraser and Similkameen were from The States to begin with. But there was no internet. There was no fax machine technology. The postal system was sketchy at best as was the quality of news reporting.
(Some things oddly have yet to change).
Keeping The Americans At Bay
Well, as soon as silver, and gold were discovered in southern BC, thousands of American prospectors flooded the region in 1887. The recently completed Northern Pacific Railway that ran down to Spokane was almost like a gift to these non-Canadian miners.
Politicians of the federal and provincial kind quickly agreed that a second railway was needed in order to halt the hemorrhaging and to assist in keeping Canadian sovereignty preserved.
It was called the Coast-to-Kootenay Railway. The terrain proved to be challenging so the CPR took on the task of what basically amounted to smaller local area railways that would eventually be joined together to make a single second British Columbia railway.
This, by the way, is the same methodology adopted by the push to create Canada’s first cross-country trail network. You may have heard of it, it’s had a few different names such as The Great Trail…the Trans-Canada Trail…you know, kinda like Sir John A’s National Dream, a ribbon of trails where the trains used to be.
Examples of the smaller rail lines CPR looked at connecting included the Nicola Valley Railway that connected Merritt to the CPR mainline at Spences Bridge. The Midway & Vernon Railway was proposed to join all points between the two locations to the westernmost CPR station at Midway.
It didn’t fly.
Then the Kettle Valley Railway was launched. It started in Hope and connected with Great Northern track through Brookmere, Tulameen and Princeton. It then followed CP track from Jura to Osprey Lake, to Summerland, Penticton, Beaverdell and ended at Midway.
The KVR opened in 1915 and added spur lines where needed such as from Princeton to Copper Mountain and from Oliver to Penticton.
Here’s the political part about the KVR – as if there hasn’t been enough. Most of the Kettle Valley line was constructed in response to the construction of the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway (the VV&E) which was owned by the Great Northern Railway.
The CPR and GNR had been in fierce competition in the Kootenays and the construction of the KVR sort of acted like a buffer, cooling the tension.
Although the KVR was a separate entity, it was a political football used by CPR senior management and was eventually taken over and fully controlled by the CPR in 1931.
In 1957 the Copper Mountain spur line became the first section of the KVR to be abandoned. The closure of the mine there brought an end to that section of line. In 1959 a large portion of the Coquihalla subdivision was abandoned. By 1978 the KVR was officially labeled as completely abandoned.
Since the track was removed several politicians in communities that once had rail track cutting through their neighbourhoods have struggled with finding the right solution for this lineal stretch of property that has no other practical use. In some communities it became a trail – of some kind.
Fast Forward To Present Day
The Trans-Canada Trail system was born in 1992. Princeton is mentioned as part of the route that cuts through British Columbia. Politics continues to plague the trail system, particularly the small section that falls within the municipal boundaries of the Town of Princeton.
That’s when local government got their turn to throw some more politics into the mix.
These are the people, by the way, that residents turn to to keep things on track.
At a time when rumours and speculation started to swirl - largely thanks to something called social media - a movement was born.
The section within the town boundaries was slated to be designated as a non-motorized trail.
Motorized vehicles were not going to be restricted, they were going to be completely banned.
For the first time in the 101 years since that railway cut through the region as a transportation route – designed specifically for vehicles propelled with locomotion – those vehicles responsible for leading the development of the region were now going to have to find somewhere else to go.
Motorized Vehicles Not Allowed
Town Council gives a bylaw to ban motorized use on the section of the KVR within town boundaries three readings.
A petition, a rally and a lot of noise ensues to fight the bylaw from going into effect.
More people attend a town council meeting than had collectively sat through one during the entire previous year.
The petition is presented to Town Council. They ignore it and Bylaw 925 is passed.
There was a slight back-pedal. The wording of the bylaw in its original state not only banned motorized vehicles on the section of the KVR that cuts through the town, it also read that if you had an ATV that you used to – for example – plow your driveway in winter – you weren’t allowed to do that.
That little wrinkle got corrected.
An Election Issue
Town Council eventually forms a committee to look at creating a bypass around the Town, on property that is mostly in Area H – which, by the way – the Town has no jurisdiction.
The committee spends more time spinning its wheels than actually moving forward.
True to the history of rail lines in British Columbia, the issue of the Bylaw becomes an election issue.
20 candidates file papers, 2 eventually drop out.
The end result?
The entire council is derailed.
The railways in BC have been political issues from the very first day when the CPR was offered up as a carrot to entice the Colony of British Columbia to join confederation...right up to the banning of motorized traffic on the one transportation route that opened up the West.
I hope you have enjoyed my presentation. I thank ATVBC, the Princeton ATV Club, Similkameen ATV Riders, sponsors and other partners for this weekend's event and for giving me an opportunity to share with you this story.
I wonder how many of you recognize the words of the title of this blog post? If you said it was from the song ‘Signs’ released by the Five Man Electrical Band in 1970, you’d be right. Those lyrics have some significance to part of one of the meetings I attended during this past month. April was just as busy as the previous months have been so far. My total meeting count this month was 11 meetings attended, one missed due to a conflict and another one was cancelled.
Town Council Meetings
There were a total of three public Town Council meetings this month. The two regular ones on April 1 and April 15 plus a Committee of the Whole meeting on April 10. It was during the first regular meeting this month that a design for new street signs was revealed (here’s the segue from the opening of this article). Town Council chose to follow the recommendations made by staff to pick white reflective lettering on black instead of black lettering on a white reflective background.
The mock-ups presented at that Town Council meeting included the Town of Princeton logo on each street sign. I found the logo hard to read and understand in such a small space that would be suspended about nine feet off the ground. So I suggested that the logo be replaced with block numbers to assist first responders. I noticed this was how street signs in Oliver appear and I liked the look. The suggestion was approved unanimously.
Our Committee of the Whole meeting, which was also open to the public, featured a presentation from Joel Short of Urban Systems. Town Council is exploring ways to implement development fees to help fund infrastructure improvements and the presentation gave us a lot of things to consider as well as options. Whatever path we choose, it will have an impact on future development in the community.
There were a number of the ‘usual’ meetings for me this past month related to my portfolio as well as a few extras that rounded out my schedule. Here is a quick breakdown:
April 2 – 1:00 PM - Meet ‘n’ Greet Weyerhaeuser CEO Devon Stockfish at Riverside Centre
April 2 – 7:00 PM – KVR Mixed Use Select Committee, Chamber building*
April 3 – Community Foundation South Okanagan Similkameen*
April 16 – 3:00 PM – Princeton Community Health Care Committee meeting, PGH
April 16 – 7:00 PM – PXA meeting, Princeton Fairgrounds office*
April 17 – 1:00 PM – Lower Similkameen Community Service facility tour, Keremeos
April 17 – 5:00 PM – Princeton Arts Council, Riverside Centre*
April 18 – Meeting with Princeton Recreation Department
(* Denotes meetings attended alone. All others included other members of Town Council)
The end of April will include an interesting event for me. From April 29 to May 3 I will be in attendance at the 2019 SILGA (Southern Interior Local Government Association) Convention in Penticton. I have signed up for several workshops that relate to my portfolio with a focus on economic development, downtown revitalization and involving local youth. I will be one of three Princeton delegates at SILGA and look forward to days of guest speakers, presentations and getting to know more local elected officials in our region and the rest of the Southern Interior.
When I used to sit opposite of Town Council in my radio and newspaper reporting days I often wondered one thing. I used to try to imagine the juggling act that a full-time employed person or business owner would have to perform in order to be an effective member of a local government. I am getting a quick education on the demands of elected officials just four months into this term.
What I have learned is that the workload of meetings has to be fit into a schedule that also allows for work, family and personal time. Nobody said it was going to be easy but early on, I can see why a lot of retired or semi-retired individuals tend to be nominated and elected to represent their community. For me, my schedule is pretty flexible but a few years ago it would not have been.
As I am a full-time work-from-home entrepreneur, I’m usually quite capable of fudging my timelines to squeeze in last minute meetings. I also have two days a week that I have purposely designated as being reserved for personal time. It gives me the opportunity to spend quality time with my wife and with friends. All of this is apart from my political life and has to be.
As for my daily workload, it really depends on the particular job I am working on. As a full-time freelance writer/ghostwriter, all of my work activities are exclusively dealt with online. I have different deadlines for each and every project. Thanks to my radio/newspaper past, deadlines are something I’m rather good at working with. So, my work is never disturbed as a result.
This past month has given me an opportunity to work on defining my timelines a little better and I think I have done rather well with them. Here’s a review of what March 2019 was like for me:
Town Council Meetings
There were two regular meetings of Princeton Town Council. Monday, March 4 and Monday, March 18. Probably the big news items to come out of those meetings were the awarding of the new Landfill Contract and Curbside Pick-Up Contract. As far as I’m concerned, the real news from this month was the appointment of Lyle Thomas as our CAO. He had been filling the position as an Interim CAO since October.
My total meeting count for this month is down from last month at 13, plus 2 I had to cancel out of due to other conflicts. However, on three dates I managed to squeeze in two different meetings and still hit my deadlines for freelance jobs I have been working on as well on those dates. I also attended a total of two out of town meetings. Here is the complete breakdown:
March 11 – Meet ‘n’ Greet with MLA Linda Larsen
March 11 – Special Meeting of Town Council
March 12 – Community to Community Meeting, USIB Head Office, Hedley
March 12 – KVR Select Mixed Use Trail Committee *
March 14 – School District 58 Meeting
March 14 – Chamber of Commerce AGM
March 19 – Princeton Health Care Steering Committee Meeting
March 20 – Princeton Arts Council *
March 21 – Princeton Museum AGM
March 22 – Princeton GSAR Meeting, Princeton Airport
March 27 – Tour of David E. Kampe Tower, Penticton Hospital *
(* - attended alone. All other meeting included other members of Town Council)
It’s not often that I can take my wife, Brenda along for a meeting or event. The Princeton Museum AGM provided a short social hour prior to the meeting where Brenda got to visit with a few close friends and casual acquaintances before the business portion of the meeting began. We tend to forget that our ‘partner’ is also part of our political life and I’m trying to include Bren in things I think she’ll find interesting and enjoy.
What I liked most about the Museum AGM was that I had an opportunity to speak briefly as the past President on a number of highlights from my less-than-a-year in the Chair prior to getting elected to Princeton Town Council. My first mention was the volunteers. I know the price they pay in our community working hard to keep their facility vibrant. I also got to conduct the Election of Officers. It was a great evening enjoyed by all in attendance.
My name is George Elliott. I have been in the Media Industry since 1978. I spent 23 years in Broadcasting and worked in a total of six different radio stations located in southern British Columbia Canada during my career. In 2000 I switched gears and moved into the Print Media Industry at a small town, local weekly community newspaper. In 2004 I bought the paper and operated it with my wife, Brenda until July 2016 when we closed it. I launched a freelance web content and article writing business from my home in January 2014.