100th Anniversary of the Railroad Exhibit

Railway Exhibit

The arrival of the railway in Pemberton was a pivotal event in the history of the settlement. When the tracks were completed in 1914 the way of life for residents was completely changed. Bringing about this huge development was not an easy task; it took many years, and the efforts of countless people.

Pemberton’s first settlement was Port Pemberton at the head of Lillooet Lake which was established as a stopping house on the Douglas Trail.  Other stopping houses included Port Douglas, 29 mile, Poole Creek, Flushing (Anderson Lake), Wapping (Seton) and many others.  The Douglas Trail was the first road constructed on the mainland under the newly formed colony of British Columbia.  Immediately upon claiming the mainland as British territory, Governor Douglas, with the Royal Engineers, built a route for the gold rushers seeking access to the interior gold fields at Lillooet in 1858. The route was funded by a head tax that could be paid or dedicated to work on the trail.  Gold rushers who passed through this area, marveled at the fertile meadows and some returned to the area to pre-empt lands and settle.  However, the isolation and difficult conditions of the flood plain meant settlement was slow to take root.

Railway Dreams

The residents of the Pemberton Valley were eager to see a railway built into the area for a number of reasons. Being connected to the coast by a train meant that farmers would be able to make money selling their crops, access to goods and services would be far easier, and more settlers would arrive in the area guaranteeing that a school would be built. Another benefit of the railway was that it would allow for the transport of heavy equipment needed to build dikes and canals. The streams and rivers in the area have always been prone to flooding and during the early days of Pemberton the yearly floods had been known to drive some settlers out of the valley.

Business people from Vancouver and beyond were eager to see a railway built to Pemberton because of the profit that could be made off the crops grown in the fertile Pemberton Valley. They were also interested in buying and selling land; pre-railway land was very inexpensive ($18 per acre), but once the Pemberton Valley was connected to the coast land significantly increased in value ($100 per acre).  Today, the average listing price for a home in Pemberton is $470,000.

Surveys and Speculators

The first substantial step towards building the railway came in 1907 when the Howe Sound, Pemberton Valley and Northern Railway Company (H.S.P.V.&N) was incorporated. James Cavers Gill, Arthur McEvoy, J.W. McFarland, E. Burns, and J.C. Keith served as the first board members. In 1909 they laid the first tracks heading from Squamish to Pemberton; however, they only completed 12 miles of the almost 60 mile route. As well as starting to build the railway, this company, which eventually became known as the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company, bought and subdivided substantial amounts of land in Newport (Squamish) and Agerton (Pemberton). Agerton centered around the corner where Pemberton Farm Road joins the main road linking the upper and lower valley. Included in the lands that they bought were all the tidewater land in Squamish, and in Pemberton, the Neill ranch and the Miller property in Pemberton. The land that the company bought in the Pemberton Valley was subdivided into farm sized lots and sold for a great profit. Eustace Bubb was the land agent in Pemberton.

The Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company was not the only group that invested in lands in the hope of being able to sell them for a higher price when the railway arrived. Other groups of speculators bought lands in the Pemberton Meadows expecting that the train would turn and go over the Hurley pass instead of going to Lillooet. There was even a platform built for a train station in the meadows. Tracks were never laid in that area though and the speculators didn't make any money.  

The 1911 Declaration

It was during this time, in 1911, that the Declaration of the Lillooet Tribe was signed in Spences Bridge on May 10, 1911 by a committee of sixteen chiefs of the St'at'imc peoples.  It is an assertion of sovereignty over traditional territories as well as a protest against alienations of land by settlers at Seton Portage due to railway prospects, surveys and construction.  It remains an important document in the history of relations between First Nations and the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia and it continues to influence land use decisions in the province to this day.

Railway Construction

The Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company, although they owned a great deal of land around the railway, only built a small part of the tracks connecting Pemberton to the Coast. Several companies competed for the Government funding that would be needed to complete the project, and in 1912 the newly formed Pacific Great Eastern Railway Company (PGE) was awarded the funding.  The principals in this company were Foley, Welch and Stewart.  Timothy Foley of St. Paul Minnesota, Patrick Welch of Spokane Washington and John William Stewart of Vancouver BC were the leading railway and heavy construction contractors on the continent.  D’arcy Tate was their solicitor and counsel and became the Vice President of the PGE. The station at D’arcy was named in his honour when railway construction reached this point in 1914.

Finally, after two years of construction, the PGE completed the tracks to Pemberton. On October 29, 1914, the first train pulled into the Pemberton station. The arrival of the train in Pemberton immediately improved the lives of residents in the valley. It cut down the travel time from Pemberton to Vancouver from several days to only nine hours and brought about a whole new way of life for the farmers that lived here. The rail link to the coast gave them access to increased services of all kinds and also guaranteed an increased income.  The railway construction period and the subsequent operation of the railway also provided jobs to Pemberton and area residents.

Finally a Quick Trip to the City!

The railway that was completed in 1914 only went as far south as Squamish, or Newport as it was called at the time. The rest of the journey between Pemberton and Vancouver was completed by boat via the Union Steamship and the trip took a minimum of nine hours, though it could be much longer due to weather, slides, tides and general mishaps. The train reached Lillooet in January of 1915, and Quesnel in 1918.  It was not until 1956 that the railway went all the way to North Vancouver, and north to Prince George.  Pemberton folks were excited to host the Inaugural Train Celebration in 1956 downtown which saw W.A.C. Bennett, the Premier of the Province, arrive in an executive car with his delegates as they travelled the new route.  This reduced the journey south to Vancouver to three hours. Eight years later, in 1966, the road between Pemberton and Vancouver, which is today Highway 99, was finally completed.

In 1972 the PGE became BC Rail.  In 2004 the provincial government sold the railway to CN.  After 88 years, passenger rail service ended on October 31st, 2002. Today, the railway is owned by The Canadian National Railway Company (CN) that serves Canada and the Midwestern and Southern United States. CN was a Crown corporation from its founding until privatized in 1995.  Bill Gates was the largest single shareholder of CN stock in 2011. CN is the largest railway in Canada and today owns about 20,400 route miles (32,831 km) of track in eight provinces. 

Below is a collection of photos of Port Pemberton, surveyors, and trains and early stations from the era of HSPV&N, PGE, and BC railways.  There are several images of the celebration that took place when the first train from North Vancouver arrived in 1956. The images appear in chronological order by year.  the last photo was recently donated and is of a steam excursion train that passed through Pemberton in the 1980s.

Join us August 23rd from 11am-4pm to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Railway!  Come and see our Transportation Exhibit that is in development.