Parks / British
Columbia / Glacier
In 1881, Cornelius Van Horne,
General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway,
was desperate to find a route through the Columbia
Mountains. How else was Canada to have its land
and peoples connected from coast to coast? The
job was entrusted to Major A.B. Rogers, engineer-in-chief
for the CPR. Rogers had studied the reports
made by earlier surveyors, Walter Moberly and
Albert Perry, so he was reasonably assured of
success. But neither of his predecessors had
actually achieved the pass, and it was difficult
to complete a survey during the brief summer
months. Rogers was promised a $5,000 bonus and
immortality on the map of Canada.
He didn't actually go
through the pass that year. His crew was out
of food and had to make the long trek back to
the Columbia River. But he knew he had found
a route through the Selkirks and returned the
following year to complete the survey from the
Beaver River Valley in the east. The CPR paid
him his bonus and named the route Rogers Pass.
Major Rogers never cashed the cheque.
Finding the pass was only
the beginning. Constructing a rail line through
some of the most unforgiving terrain imaginable
was a feat of engineering that required not
only major bridges but also creative planning
to reduce the steep grades of the mountains.
To compound their problems, they also had to
deal with the Selkirks' legendary snow.
No sooner was the line completed than an avalanche
buried it. Snowsheds were constructed over 6.5
km of the most dangerous sections of track.
Amazingly, the railway was
up and running within five years of Rogers'
initial discovery. The first passenger train
service began in June of 1886, and tourists
could see first hand the splendour of the mountains.
By 1916, the Connaught Tunnel under the pass
at Mt. Macdonald, made the journey much safer.