Turning Back the Pages: Travel through Golden was made easy with rail and bus services

By Colleen Palumbo

In the past two months, I have had visits from two separate local men who read this column regularly and each asked me to write something about transportation in and out of the Columbia Valley.

The history begins with the movement of the Aboriginal people, who passed through Golden on their way to gather and hunt in the areas that surround us. Those first trips would have been on foot, but after the 1680 rebellion by the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, the Spaniards had to give up control of their horses, and before long, horses started to spread to the Northern U.S. and into Canada. We are not clear how long this took.

The first European travellers to this area came on foot, which was a difficult and arduous task. With the wind falls to climb over, and the stinging nettle and devils club to avoid, I can’t imagine the difficulty.

As more and more explorers came into the area, they started working on trails and soon horses walked the trails. The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway changed everything because now there were two trains a day going through Golden, one east and one west. All the goods that stocked the shelves in the stores came by train, as did settlers, doctors, tradesmen, and tourists.

In 1886, Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong, a slight man with a background in ships on the inland waterways of Canada, built the first riverboat called the Duchess. You could catch the Duchess at the Columbia River Lumber Company’s docks, located on the Columbia River near the present day sewer lagoon. The riverboats could take you on a north to south journey with Golden being at the far end of the north and Columbia Lake being on the far end of the south.

We were finally covered in and out of Golden in all directions. Soon after, the old wagon roads that ran alongside the Columbia River were improved and the Kootenay Central Railway was built, which made going north and south much easier. The Kootenay Central was completed in 1913 and it opened up the south for settlement. Many of the people settling in that area came to Golden by the CP Rail trains into Golden.

The Kootenay Central and better roads to the south brought an end to the riverboat era, which lasted from 1886 to 1920. In 1927 the road called the Kicking Horse Trail was completed from Banff to Golden and this offered people the opportunity to drive their cars into Golden, at least during the summer. In the winter vehicles still had to be shipped by the CPR from Calgary up over the mountain passes to Revelstoke because the old Big Bend Highway was not accessible for much of the winter.

With the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway in 1962, all those problems were almost ended. They still had some winter closures due to snow slides and bad weather, but with a little patience you could drive all the way across Canada from one side to the other, either in your own vehicle or by train or Greyhound bus, which started in B.C. in 1929.

Today, our options are limited. We lost via rail service to Golden when the company ceased passenger service in 1986 and now we are losing Greyhound as well. Losing the train was bad enough, but the loss of the Greyhound service will most certainly touch a lot of people. Particularly people who need to travel to Calgary or Kelowna for medical appointments. Many of them are seniors, but it will also impact people with low incomes who had no other option but to ride the bus. What happens to them now?

It seems that every time a void opens something fills it within a reasonable amount of time, so here’s hoping that another business will figure out how to make a bus system work for the residents of British Columbia.

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