I’ve driven to the Lower Mainland more times than I can possibly recall. Along the route are historical sites to stop and visit, and seldomly do I do that – just stop and visit, until now.
On a recent mini road trip, we stopped at the Othello Tunnels in the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park near Hope. Built in 1914 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was to link Nelson in the Kootenays to the Lower Mainland, an incredible feat! Built through solid granite, they contain the most expensive mile (at the time), $30,000 to complete one mile, well over 7 million dollars today! Chinese labourers were often given the most difficult and dangerous jobs, and many were killed using explosives to blast through sections of the mountains. Rope ladders hanging from sheer granite cliffs, and suspension bridges were used in the construction of the tunnels.
The Kettle Valley Railway was officially opened on July 13, 1916 and operated freight and passenger services just as it had been planned – Nelson to Vancouver. This section of tunnels was named by Andrew McCulloch, the chief engineer on the project who was an avid Shakespeare fan. There are three major trails that converge nearby – the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade trail, the Dewdney trail and the Hope-Nicola Valley trail, which is still used by hikers today.
There is a series of 5 tunnels chiselled and blasted from the granite, each displaying original blasting holes, original rail foundations, and bridges. One tunnel even has “windows” that allow light to enter in. The scenery is incredibly beautiful with lush forests, waterfalls, the sometimes-raging Coquihalla River, and even some local wildlife. Couple that with remarkable engineering of the tunnels and you have a must-stop and see site to visit.
There’s parking for around 50-60 cars and it’s an easy 3.5 km return walk on a flat, gravel “road” that once was the railway. If you have more time on your hands, instead of heading straight to the tunnels, you can wind yourself through the woods and loop back through the tunnels.
There are information displays along the way also, that are great historical reads. I encourage you to stop and read them! Stop too to take pictures or just stand on the bridges or in the tunnels and take it all in.
A couple of the tunnels are a bit longer and do get quite dark – we did use our phone “flashlight” along with many others experiencing the tunnels. We encountered water dripping from the roof above us, and it’s a bit disconcerting that you don’t really know what you are stepping onto until you illuminate the path. It’s also a great reprieve from the heat as the tunnels are cool, dark, and damp!
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my visit to the Othello Tunnels, which I think is a good thing. In this instance I was more than pleasantly surprised! I loved this stopover – its beauty, its history, its incredible feat of engineering, and the extreme “this is really cool” factor.
Next time you’re anywhere near Hope, BC. Stop. Visit. You will not be disappointed!