Restored Kinsol Trestle

Restored Kinsol Trestle now open for biking and hiking

Last week I was attending a meeting in Victoria in connection with the provincial government’s decision two years ago to take away the right for Adult Arts Groups to apply for Community Gaming Grants. Readers of this blog are well aware of my opinions regarding this shortsighted decision. However, after attending last week’s meeting I’m tepidly optimistic that the government may see the error of their ways (especially if an election is pending) and reinstate access to gaming funds for community based arts groups. We shall see.

After the meeting I threaded my way through the daily  “Colwood Crawl” out of Victoria to the Malahat, turning left off the highway to Shawnigan Lake. I’d brought along my bike so I could take a short ride on the Trans-Canada Trail that now occupies the old CNR right-of-way north of the lake. I wanted to view one of the most spectacular sights on the old rail grade - the Kinsol trestle which spans the Koksilah River. The bridge, at 615 feet long and 125 feet high, is today the largest Howe truss, bent pile wooden trestle left in the world. Peddling up the Trans-Canada Trail I reached the trestle just before sunset. I managed to get several photos of the majestic trestle which I’ve included in this blog. 

When most Vancouver Islanders think of an island railroad it’s usually the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway on the east coast that runs from Victoria to Courtenay with a branch line running from Parksville to Port Alberni. This railway, as folks in this part of world are aware, is still in existence albeit somewhat rusty and worn. Currently the passenger train service is in limbo anticipating some government funding to get the roadbed up to snuff. The only thing presently rolling on E&N trackage is a few slow order freight trains in the central island area and the Alberni Pacific Railway tourist train running from Port Alberni to McLean Mill. 

However, many decades ago there was another railroad beside the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway. This railway started out as the Canadian Northern Pacific. Construction on this line began in 1911. It was projected to run from Victoria to Port Alberni. The route chosen ran westward from Victoria to Metchosin, then turned northward along the Sooke River, passed Shawnigan Lake on its west bank to Deerholme, to Lake Cowichan and Youbou, and then continuing northward to the Alberni Inlet. 

However, by 1917 the Canadian Northern was bankrupt and the Canadian Government assumed control over the railway making it part of the Canadian National Railway network. It wasn’t until 1928 that the rails were laid as far as Kissinger at the northern tip of Lake Cowichan. Beyond Kissinger a subgrade had been completed and had reached a point on the Alberni Inlet only 4 miles short of Port Alberni. Evidence of the grade can still be seen west of Port Alberni along the shoreline of the Alberni Inlet. Rails were never laid by the CNR on this section of the grade. However, years later the forest company Bloedel Stewart and Welch used sections of the abandoned grade for their Franklin River Logging Railway operation. 

As I mentioned above, the Trans-Canada Trail now follows this CNP/CNR route on the south island. Until this summer cyclists had to make a long detour around the Koksilah River Canyon in order to travel from Victoria to Duncan. The Kinsol Trestle across the river was literally rotted through and set to collapse. The last train to cross the trestle was on June 20, 1979. The rails were removed in 1983. In the early 1980’s, advocates of the trestle tried to have it restored and designated as a heritage structure but were unsuccessful. Unsuccessful too were vandals who on several occasions attempted to burn down the structure. Finally, after years of campaigns to save the trestle, rehabilitation work (budgeted at $7.5 million with donations from the Federal & Provincial Governments, Western Forest Products, many Duncan and Mill Bay businesses, area Service Clubs and countless Vancouver island individuals) began in 2010. The official reopening of the trestle took place this July 28.

I encourage any of you traveling to or from Victoria to take the time to see this spectacular bridge. You can walk in from the nearby parking lot. Go online at to find directions to the newly restored Kinsol Trestle.

Sproat Lake Summer

The traditional baking heat of summertime waited until August was rolling into September before making its appearance at our Sproat Lake abode. My first summers spent at Sproat Lake were family holidays during the 1940’s at a resort called Bothwell’s Camp (now the Fish & Duck Pub). One warm and sunny morning after Labour Day I cruised the shoreline of the lake looking for memories of those summers spent at this beautiful place. 

The photo above shows Klitsa Point at the convergence of the arms of Sproat Lake which are Two Rivers Arm, Taylor Arm, Stirling Arm, and the main part of the lake (sometimes called Kleecoot Arm). The point has a fascinating history having been the location of Klitsa Lodge which was established in 1919. In its heyday the lodge attracted many famous guests including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Mae West, Gracie Fields, Walt Disney, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and John Wayne, to name a few. Since 1960 the property has change hands several times and been sub-divided. Today the main lodge building is a refurbished summer residence.

During the 1920’s several rustic cottages were built on the Klitsa Lodge property and rented to guests for $12.50 per day. The photo at left is the only remaining cottage still standing. It was named simply the “Cedar Cottage”. I recall staying in the cottage when I was about 10 years old with a family that were friends of my mother and father.

Today the most famous residents of Sproat Lake are the Martin Mars Water Bombers. Arriving in the spring of 1960, these converted US Navy World War II flying boats have been fighting fires throughout North America. I never tire of watching the huge aircraft making their landing approach to the lake at what seems like only a few feet above our home. The dishes in our kitchen cupboards threaten to vibrate out of the cupboards every time the iconic aircraft throttle back their roaring quartet of engines as they gracefully drop downwards to the lake’s surface.

Vanderbilt Island (Above) - The following information comes from a 2008 released paperback entitled Sproat Lake Reflections compiled and edited by a number of Alberni Valley citizens calling themselves the Sproat Lake History Book Committee. Contributing researchers were Barrie Forbes, Marilynn Forbes, Peggy Hess, Rick Lord, Harold Bishop, Art Skipsey and Frank Holm. The chapter reflecting Vanderbilt Island chronicles that the first recorded owner of the island was Sir Richard McBride, premier of British Columbia from 1913 to 1915. In 1920 Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. and his new wife Rachel were on a motoring tour of the west coast and purchased the island from McBride’s widow Christina for $200.  The Vanderbilt’s constructed a lodge on the island in 1921. During their summertime stays, locals were upset with the owner’s practice of flying an American flag over the island. 

However, the Vanderbilt’s marriage didn’t last long and Rachel was deeded the island as part of the divorce settlement. In 1927 Rachel sold the island to Katherine Cooper who was married to Dr. Charles Cooper, the head surgeon for the Matson Steamship Lines in Honolulu. After Dr. Cooper died in the late 1930’s, his wife continued to come to the island, eventually transferring title to her daughter Frances Wood of Pennsylvania in 1947. James Campbell of Seattle purchased the island from Frances in 1954 and being a pilot and owning his own plane (a Seabee) made good use of the island. 

In 1973 Campbell sold the island to a group of seven American couples that time-shared their summers on the property. In the 1990’s two Alberni Valley couples purchased two of the shares, placing at least a portion of the island’s ownership back in Canadian hands.

Photo above: Two Rivers Arm

Photo (above): Our float is activity central during the summer.

The black & white photo above was taken sometime in the late 1940’s. That’s me rowing the clinker-built rowboat with my brother Terry seated in the stern. The location is in front of Bothwell’s Camp (now the Fish & Duck Pub). In the background are the petroglyphs with the Beaufort Range beyond. 

Fast forward to 2010. My brother and I restaged the photo in the same spot approximately six decades later. Yikes! 

The above photo below replaces the two old guys with our grandchildren Nathan and Matthew. 

Photo above: Our old lake house deck at Sproat Lake was rotting and ready to fall apart. Our son Brock and his friend Greg constructed us this new one during July. The cedar wood finish is so beautiful I hate to scuff it up by walking on it.  

Sproat Lake, from my first encounter as a young child, thru the decades to the present day, has given me countless memories and continues to do so. The unsurpassed scenery, the migrating salmon, the swimming and the boating, the family dinners with our children and grandchildren, all make Pat and I feel truly blessed to possess our little piece of paradise.