Quesnel Railway history recalled

Railway historian Barrie Sanford lead a dedicated group of train enthusiasts on a tour of old railway grades

Andy Motherwell

Friday night Quesnel City Council Chambers resounded with tales of corruption, graft and greed!  No, we’re not talking 2012, we’re talking 1912 and the construction of British Columbia’s Pacific Great Eastern Railway!

Barry Sanford regaled the audience with stories of how the railroad was finally built; along the way it took down two ruling political parties and made many people rich.  Naturally, the ones who got rich weren’t the ones who actually worked on the railway, but the politicians.  Hence our title, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sanford was the Heritage speaker and special guest of Quesnel Museum and Archives as we celebrated the “plaquing”(new word) of the BC Rail Station in Quesnel. As you may, or may not, know Quesnel Museum plaques two heritage buildings a year.

The Commission’s decision to present two new plaques a year to heritage homes or sites is based on financial considerations.

If people wish to purchase their own plaque, we would certainly never turn them down! And we would present more than two  a year.

If any one lives in a heritage home and wish to have it plaqued, let us know and bring your cheque book.

Back to the story at hand…people were amazed to hear just where the railway ran around Quesnel (Plywood Hill, for one). A slide show showed just where the ‘grades’ were situated.  The Cottonwood Bridge was one of the biggest challenges construction engineers faced, although the Cariboo gumbo they encountered often impeded any progress they made.

Andy Motherwell was instrumental in making certain this talk and its accompanying walk actually happened.  After the talk on Friday night, the speaker invited questions from the audience and plans were made for Saturday’s walk.

Saturday, under menacing skies, the brave, and/or foolhardy, gathered at the BC Rail station for the plaquing and the cavalcade set off for an afternoon of driving and hiking as they went in search of the ‘grades’ and rails and wheels and…all the remnants of the railroad in and around Quesnel.

Barry Sanford has written several books on the history of the railway in British Columbia.

He was the bus supervisor for School District 28 in Quesnel until his retirement several years ago.  He now pursues his passion for railways and writing.

Be certain to look for another in the Heritage Speaker series as the summer progresses.

Hope to see you as you “pass time” at the Museum.

And remember…Patience is bitter, but its fruits sweet. – J.J. Rousseau

Honey Affleck is chair of the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives museum commission.

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