Tag Archives: Canadian Pacific Railway

Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park

So after a fun morning in Moraine Lake, we went to Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen for lunch.  That place is amazing and if you are ever driving by Lake Louise, make sure you stop there for something.

Instead of turning back towards the Johnston Canyon Campground or Banff, I went west towards British Columbia and we spent the rest of the day in Yoho National Park where the plan was to see Takakkaw Falls.  Soon after heading across the border into B.C. and the park, I saw the sign for the Spiral Tunnels.  The inner nerd in me forced me to turn out as we checked them out.

Spiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National Park

Quick nerd break to explain why this was so cool. 

To complete the Pacific railway as quickly as possible, a decision was made to delay blasting a lengthy 1,400 feet (430 m) tunnel through Mount Stephen and instead build a temporary 8-mile (13 km) line over it. Instead of the desired 2.2% grade (116 feet to the mile) a steep 4.5% (some sources say 4.4%) grade was built in 1884. This was one of the steepest railway lines anywhere. It descended from Wapta Lake to the base of Mount Stephen, along the Kicking Horse River to a point just west of Field, then rose again to meet the original route.

Three safety switches were built to protect against runaway trains. These switches led to short spurs with a sharp reverse upgrade and they were kept in the uphill position until the operator was satisfied that the train descending the grade towards him was not out of control. Speed was restricted to eight miles per hour (13 km/h) for passenger trains and six (10 km/h) for freight, and elaborate brake testing was required of trains prior to descending the hill. Nevertheless, disasters occurred with dismaying frequency.

Field was created solely to accommodate the CPR’s need for additional locomotives to be added to trains about to tackle the Big Hill. Here a stone roundhouse with turntable was built at what was first known simply as Third Siding. In December 1884 the CPR renamed it Field after C.W. Field, a Chicago businessman who, the company hoped, might invest in the region after he had visited on a special train they had provided for him.

At that time, standard steam locomotives were 4-4-0s, capable enough for the prairies and elsewhere, but of little use on the Big Hill. Baldwin Locomotive Works was called upon to build two 2-8-0s for use as Field Hill pusher engines in 1884. At the time they were the most powerful locomotives built. Two more followed in June 1886. The CPR began building its own 2-8-0s in August 1887, and over the years hundreds more were built or bought.

The Big Hill “temporary” line was to remain the main line for twenty-five years, until the famous Spiral Tunnels were opened on September 1, 1909.

The improvement project was started in 1906, under the supervision of John Edward Schwitzer, the senior engineer of CPR’s western lines. The first proposal had been to extend the length of the climb, and thus reduce the gradient, by bypassing the town of Field at a higher level, on the south side of the Kicking Horse river valley. This idea had quickly been abandoned because of the severe risk of avalanches and landslips on the valley side. Also under consideration was the extension of the route in a loop northwards, using both sides of the valley of the Yoho river to increase the distance, but again the valley sides were found to be prone to avalanches. It was the experience of severe disruption and delay caused by avalanches on other parts of the line (such as at the Rogers Pass station, which was destroyed by an avalanche in 1899) that persuaded Schwitzer that the expensive solution of digging spiral tunnels was the only practical way forward.

The route decided upon called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. The higher tunnel, “number one,” was about one thousand yards in length and ran under Cathedral Mountain, to the south of the original track. When the new line emerged from this tunnel it had doubled back, running beneath itself and 50 feet (15 m) lower. It then descended the valley side in almost the opposite direction to its previous course before crossing the Kicking Horse River and entering Mount Ogden to the north. This lower tunnel, “number two,” was a few yards shorter than “number one” and the descent was again about fifty feet. From the exit of this tunnel the line continued down the valley in the original direction, towards Field. The constructions and extra track would effectively double the length of the climb and reduce the ruling gradient to 2.2%. The new distance between Field and Wapta Lake, where the track levels out, is 11.5 miles (18.5 km).

The contract was awarded to the Vancouver engineering firm of MacDonnell, Gzowski and Company and work started in 1907. The labor force amounted to about a thousand and the cost was about 1.5 million Canadian dollars.

Even after the opening of the spiral tunnels, Field Hill remained a significant challenge and it was necessary to retain the powerful locomotives at Field locomotive depot.

Even though the Spiral Tunnels eliminated the Big Hill, the mountains remained and so too did the Field Hill. The Ottertail revision of 1902 and the five-mile (26,518 feet or 8.083 kilometres) long double track Connaught Tunnel of 1916 were other improvements made to the original line in British Columbia. It was not until the late 20th century when a major new project of 20 miles (32 km) including the 9.1-mile (14.6 km) Mount Macdonald Tunnel reduced the grade to a very manageable average of 0.82%, (maximum 1%) opened in December 1988.

There is a hike along there that we did not take but I intend to next year that should be a lot of fun.

Castle Mountain

After hiking up to Silverton Falls, we drove further down the Bow Valley Parkway until we got to the base of Castle Mountain and stopped at the site of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp used in World War I.  It’s not a proud part of Canada’s past.

Castle Mountain Internment Camp in Banff National Park

Life at the camp was brutal.  Rations were poor, abuse was widespread and some froze to death during the winters.  They were essentially used as slave labor to build the Banff National Park infrastructure.

From there we checked out the Castle Mountain lookout which had a Canadian Pacific rail line go by it.

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

I am not sure what happened here but both Mark and Oliver just stared for ages at Castle Mountain.  For Mark it was almost a spiritual experience.  Finally he goes, “So this is why you love the mountains.” 

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Then as we were talking, you could hear the familiar sound of a eastbound Canadian Pacific train coming in the distance.

A Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon Campground

Well we are back from vacation in Banff National Park and later Yoho National Park.   It was a great week but once that almost didn’t happen.  A few weeks ago they took me off my antibiotics because they thought they had killed the infection (again) and of course we know what happened.  In three days I was overwhelmed with fevers and extremely sick just before the holidays.  So I was back on my medication but it takes weeks for it to catch up to the infection.

The day  before we were to leave, I was really sick.  It had gotten worse and I was really suffering.  I went to be knowing that all I wanted was to sleep for the next week.

I got up early last Sunday and felt even worse.  I talked to Wendy and said that her and the boys should go without me.

They loaded the car and went to leave.  I had gotten some sleep and felt a little better. I didn’t feel strong enough to go but I had some food and talked it over with Wendy and decided to go.  I did warn her that I may do nothing more than sleep all week.  She was okay with that.

We had intended to leave Saskatoon, contact some friends and grab some coffee as we passed through town.  Now we left Saskatoon really late and it was going to be a rush to get to the campground before nightfall.

Sadly we were very  early onto a horrible motorcycle crash.  Guy on a road bike, wet highway, looks like he lost control.  When we got there, he was lying on the highway and being held down.  It was a horrible sight but ambulance was on route and First Responders were already there.

We rolled in Johnston Canyon Campground around 9:00 p.m. and Mark and I rushed to set up the tents.

This was Wendy’s and mine tent.  I know it’s massive.  It is an eight person tent that I picked up at Walmart a few years ago.  I am not a big fan of Walmart tents but I bought some Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof and applied it.  The SolarProof protects the tent from UV radiation at higher altitudes while making it waterproof.  We did get some heavy rain a few days and nights and we never had a leak all week.  Several times I found myself laying in it and going, “this should be leaking” but it wasn’t.

Our tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

The tent doesn’t come with a ground sheet.  So I decided to pick up some tarps.  I measured the tent spent $3 on tarps from Dollarama and used Gorilla Tape to fasten them together created one.  The ground sheet saves the bottom of the tent and acts as a bit of a vapor barrier between the tent and the ground.

A five person tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

We had some tents already but my brother Lee gave this tent to the boys when he upgraded.  The 8 person tent served as home for Wendy and I while Mark and Oliver lived in the smaller five person tent.  It’s a three season tent with a big vestibule.  They loved having their own space.  The fact that it came from their uncle and aunt made it even cooler for them.

The only complaint was we never had a night where I felt 100% confident that we would not get rain.  Oliver really wanted to “sleep under the stars”.  Either that or he really wanted to see what else was going on while he slept in the tent.

An eight person tent is too big for two people but one can stand up in it and there was room for our queen sized air mattress.  Since I had a dog sleeping in my arms every single night, all of the space we could get was needed.

I had purchased Wendy a hammock for Mother’s Day.  I gave strict orders to the boys that this was Wendy’s hammock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had my hammock as well.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

According to this, I was late giving the edict that this was MY hammock.  By the time I went to lay in it, it had already been infested.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

You have no idea how hard it was to get them out of this tent.  There was one of them in it the entire time we were there.  Mark called it a Bear Taco.

This is Wendy getting everything set up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Something is wrong with this photo.  There are only three lawn chairs.  Obviously they were packed when I wasn’t planning to come out.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Wendy had some help from Marley in setting things up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

This is the view from the back of the campsite.  Just through the trees is the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway which thrilled all of us when it rolled through between five and ten times a day/night.  Some might have found it bothersome but we loved it.  The railway were such a big part of the story of Banff National Park, it was cool to hear them roll through, even if it didn’t make for the best alarm clock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had originally wanted to stay in the Castle Mountain Campground because of it’s location but you can’t reserve there.  In hindsight staying in a place with a hot shower was the right decision.

There were only four showers for 100+ campsites but it was enough.  There was a bit of a lineup in the evenings but most people took really quick showers (although Wendy waited as a women took a 40 minute shower one morning).  The one oddity of the campground was there was two plugins in each washroom which were always being used as people charged everything from laptops computer to cameras and phones.

Parks Canada staff kept the washrooms immaculate although one of them said, “It’s not that hard, people are really good here.”  I’ll take her word for it but the fact remains those washrooms were the cleanest of any campground we had ever seen.

The campground wasn’t that large and was extremely quiet.  We were surrounded by Americans and Europeans for most of it.  It was hectic in the morning as everyone got up and got going, then it was silent for for most of the day as everyone was gone.  It got slightly busier at night but mostly people flaked out after a long day of hiking.  There were two cycling clubs there who were working out together in the mountains all day long.  Most of the noise was people slowly cycling by.  If you are looking for a nice campground, this is it.

Canadian Pacific Railway Train Bridge at East Coulee, Alberta

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The wooden C.P.R. ”Howe Truss” bridge over the Red Deer River at East Coulee was built in 1936 and destroyed by heavy flooding and ice flows in April 1948. It was rebuilt soon thereafter. It was already an old-fashioned design when it was built, as wooden Howe Truss bridges were primarily used in the 19th century.

By 2014 it had several rotten beams and locals had placed down timber and plywood to help one get across.  If that wasn’t scary enough, there are rattlesnakes that are living in the soft timber and dirt on the bridge.