6.0 Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada
The Selkirk range of the Columbia Mountains was the last obstacle in realizing Canada’s “National Dream” – completing the transcontinental railway linking east to west. Finding a pass through the mountains, then building and operating a railway, is a story of hardship and determination. The Canadian Pacific Railway hired Major A. B. Rogers, an experienced American railway engineer, to help lay out a rail line to the Pacific Ocean. In 1881 Rogers began his trek through the difficult and largely unexplored terrain of the Selkirks. He returned the following year through the Beaver River Valley and confirmed the route over Rogers Pass was practical. Practical, but not easy at an elevation of 1,300 m where annual average snowfalls of 9.6 m are common. The CPR prevailed and the first transcontinental train from Montreal arrived in Port Moody, B.C. in 1886. The route through Rogers Pass connected east to west and maintained Canadian sovereignty of British Columbia.
If building a railway through Rogers Pass was tough, operating it turned out to be worse. Steep grades and the severe climate continued to challenge the railway. Deep snow and frequent avalanches required immediate investment in snowsheds and other defences. After an exceptionally severe avalanche in 1910, the company decided to stop fighting the pass and build a tunnel. The Connaught Tunnel opened in 1917 and the CPR abandoned the old route over the summit.
To avoid the effort of hauling heavy dining cars over the pass, the CPR set up a dining room at Glacier Station where passengers took their meals. This facility grew into a large hotel, known as Glacier House. The Connaught Tunnel eliminated the need for Glacier House and the hotel closed in 1925. The buildings were demolished a few years later.
Many tangible reminders of the era remain. Visitors can still trace sections of the original railbed. Masonry piers at Loop Brook are a testament to the technical achievement involved in overcoming the steep gradients when approaching the pass from the west. Stone arch bridges at Cascade Creek and Illecillewaet River are fine examples of masonry used to replace the original timber bridges. Timber snow sheds illustrate early construction techniques used to manage the continual threat of avalanches. Parks Canada and the Revelstoke Railway Museum have collections of historic objects, artifacts and documents. The challenge is to preserve and protect these resources, while at the same time presenting the artifacts and their story locally and to visitors.
The federal government recognized the national significance of Rogers Pass by declaring it a national historic site in 1971. Rogers Pass was designated a national historic site because of the role of the pass in the construction and development of the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway into a major national transportation route, 1881-1917. In particular the designation incorporates the following components:
- The search for a route through the Selkirk mountain range following the decision of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 to adopt the southern route for its main line;
- The role of A.B. Rogers in exploring and identifying the pass as a suitable route;
- Overcoming of the obstacles in constructing the railway through this difficult terrain; and
- The role of the pass as part of the CPR main line, 1886-1917, in a formative era of Canada’s national transportation system.
6.1 Current Situation
Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada lies entirely within the boundary of Glacier National Park. The site is a prominent part of the parks’ and site heritage presentation program. The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre was built in 1984 as a result of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recommendation and presents a balance of national historic site and national park messages. The Discovery Centre national historic site interpretive exhibits have been upgraded, and the national historic site plaque is now prominently displayed. In addition, a new self-guided trail has been established on the 1885 rail bed.
Rogers Pass National Historic Site is in an area subject to major snow and rock avalanches as well as flash floods and rapid vegetation growth. These factors were major obstacles during construction and operation of the original rail line through the pass and eventually caused the CPR to abandon the line. These same conditions remain the greatest challenge in protecting and preserving site resources. Vegetation removal programs are regularly conducted on the 1885 rail bed, snow shed remains, and around significant features and viewscapes. Water erosion problems are addressed through the removal of debris and culvert installation. Moist conditions have led to rot in some cultural resources, including snowsheds, culverts and Hermit Hut. The significant resources of the site, Cascade Creek bridge, Loop Brook pillars, Glacier House ruins, Illecillewaet stone culvert and Glacier Station have undergone extensive stabilization. Heritage recording has been undertaken on many of these resources and will continue until completed.
The 1997 State of the Parks Report, the recently completed Archaeological Resource Description and Analysis and the 2002 Commerative Integrity Evaluation outline the site's cultural resources and indicate where work is required. As a result, the objectives and actions listed in sections 6.2.2 and 6.2.3 were formulated.
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