Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Glacier National Park

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.

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