Nakusp Sets Historic Rail Line in Motion with Authentic Exhibit
A whistle blows in the distance and the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive transports you back in time. As you shake yourself out of a dream-like haze, the evidence remains in piles of old railroad ties, spikes, and telegraph poles by the old track bed.
You’re on the former site of the Nakusp and Slocan Railway, an integral part of the region’s history. The Nakusp Rail Society preserves and presents this history on a downtown property close to where the original railroad operated. When Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) donated a 1977 caboose and a 1921 snow plow to the Village of Nakusp in 2016, the Society formed to act as stewards of the historical equipment.
In 2019, the Society received a 1913 Jordan Spreader from the Revelstoke Railway Museum. The dedicated group of volunteers used the three pieces to develop a rail car display celebrating the community’s heavily rail-influenced past. The multi-year project to move, restore, and paint CP Rail cars was funded in part by the Trust’s Built Heritage Grant.
“Nakusp wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for CP Rail,” explains Society Chair Tracy Fetters. “They first came in to bring the ore out of the mines and then in later years ran fruit and the (BC Hydro) poles from the pole yard.”
As mining boomed in the area during the 1890s, the 65 km line ran between Nakusp, New Denver and Sandon. The line was extended to Kaslo with the purchase of the Kaslo and Slocan Railway in 1912, but the connection between New Denver and Kaslo was severed in the 1950s due to a mudslide and the rails were removed from Kaslo in the 1970s. Eventually, decreasing traffic, high maintenance costs, and railway deregulation meant services—including a Slocan Lake steamship service that connected to the railway—were completely abandoned by 1988.
Parts of the old rail bed have been converted into trails by the Nakusp and Area Community Trails Society, including a popular hike through which Fetters and her husband Paul originally traced the historic rail line. It was on one of these hiking holidays that the former Cariboo residents laughed about one day retiring in Nakusp; now they devote their time to preserving the region’s rail history.
“Paul is a retired millwright and is enthralled with the power of steam. He’d like to eventually get a steam locomotive,” says Fetters. “He and I both love history, which is what drew us to the area.”
With the Village of Nakusp and the community rallying behind the Nakusp Rail Society, members have spent the past few years relocating, restoring and authenticating the three CP Rail rolling units. The 100-year-old wedge-shaped snow plow is a model reserved for mountainous runs that CP Rail still uses today. The 1913 Jordan Spreader is a utility vehicle that was hitched behind a snow plow to clear multiple tracks or used for spreading ballast (rocks) and cleaning the ditches, while the 1977 Canadian Pacific caboose was traditionally used as a multifunctional last car on the train, now no longer necessary due to changes in labour laws and technological advances.
The units are housed near Nakusps’ downtown public beach and include the relocated Brouse station, a former flag stop donated by the Krivsky and Christie families and restored by the group. Rail fans across the country are intrigued by the community’s display.
“These units wouldn’t be here without the dedication of the volunteers and the funding the Trust provided,” adds Fetters.
The Society also used the heritage funding for planning and conservation assessment to ensure restoration work is accurate and authentic. This attention to detail has drawn interest from CP Rail’s heritage division and has earned notation in the esteemed Canadian Trackside Guide. The Society has scheduled a dedication to the Brouse building for the May long weekend, and has created a commemorative pin for the snow plow’s 100th birthday. If COVID-19 restrictions allow, a birthday party for the plow held in conjunction with Canada Day will also take place.
The rail display is a work in progress, as new projects or further historical treasures are uncovered. The group is currently preserving a hand-painted ‘Brouse’ sign, developing a CP Rail employee display, and reseating the snow plow with an authentic tongue-and-groove wooden seat.
Volunteer time topped over 700 hours in 2020, and the work isn’t slowing down. The Society is busy with a variety of projects, including maintaining the units, converting axles into benches and fine-tuning site details. As elements are added and refined, the historical site further captures the founding history of communities like Nakusp and celebrates one of Canada’s greatest engineering feats.
Photos provided by Ken Williams, Vice President of the Nakusp Rail Society and the Nakusp Rail Society.