Barrie Sanford, a long time resident of Brookmere, avid historian, and prolific author, has recently released his seventh book, ‘Tales of the KVR, The Kettle Valley Railway Remembered’, a topic that could be considered his life’s work.
“I was interested in trains for as long as I can remember, actually longer than that,” said Sanford.
“My mother said that whenever the train went by our house I stood up in my crib and held onto the rail and jumped up and down with glee.”
Once he’d graduated from his crib, his fascination with trains and their operators only grew.
“I grew up in White Rock and in those days the real estate was relatively inexpensive and there were a lot of retired railroaders living in the town, so I would go out and talk with them,” Sanford reminisced.
“When I was about six years old my mother asked where are you going? And I said, I’m going to Mr. Webster’s, who lived a couple of houses away, I’m going to listen to his train stories of him. And my mother said, well why are you taking a pencil and paper, you don’t know how to read and write.”
Even then, young Sanford knew the historical importance of the stories he was hearing, and wanted to record them for posterity. Undeterred by the fact that he could not, in fact, read or write as his mother de el had so clearly reminded him, he made do with the numbers one to ten, which he did know. He would listen to the railroaders’ stories and dutifully make note of the engine numbers they related, for example, the Kamloops locomotive number was 2141. He still has a notebook of these numbers, although the stories associated with each have been forgotten these many decades later.
It was the contents of several of these notebooks, and the COVID-19 pandemic, that inspired Sanford to once again take up his pen.
“With the lockdown, I call it house arrest, I decided one day going through my stuff that I had to sort some of this out, I thought I have to downsize some things,” Sanford explained.
“So, I started going through some things and I came across half a dozen scribblers where I had written stories that old railroaders had told me 50 years ago. I mentioned it to Nancy Wise at Sandhill Books and she saw some of the stories and she said you have to turn this into a book, it’s utterly fascinating. So, I did.”
Adding to the lexicon of historical railway lore that has captivated Sanford all his life.
Indeed, Sanford’s interest in trains was so strong that he moved in 1999 from the Lower Mainland to Brookmere, which boasts the last water tower still standing on the KVR, and the former railbed cutting through town as part of the Trans Canada Trail.
At that time a home in Brookmere was not expensive, particularly a fixer-upper as Sanford purchased. This was likely also due in part, as noted in ‘Tales of the KVR’, to the fact that Brookmere was often disparagingly referred to by railway employees as “Siberia”. It was known for long, cold winters with plenty of snow, and its isolation; until 1925 it was accessible only by rail, until a rough road was punched through to Aspen Grove. Brookmere was not connected to Kingsvale and what we now call Coldwater Rd. until 1953. Even this road remained unpaved until the 2000s.
Unfortunately, Sanford’s home did sustain some damage in the flooding of Nov. 2021, when Brook Creek raged through the small hamlet, but Sanford and his wife are cleaning up the mess and are in no hurry to quit the area.
Reflecting on his favorite stories from the book, Sanford speaks about the chapter on Lota Alice Foss, who may very well have been BC’s first female civil engineer, and the first woman to be enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Faculty of Civil Engineering. In 1905, at the age of 25, Ross secured a position checking the design plans of truss bridges constructed on the KVR line.
Another of his favorites is the chapter titled ‘A Trestle is like Your Wife’.
“The bridge men would go out and stand under the tracks and wait for a train to come over,” Sanford explained.
“They would say they would listen to what the trestle had to say to them, and a trestle is like your wife. If she nags and moans and complains, you know that everything is normal. If you get the silent treatment you know that you should worry.”
On a wooden trestle, if the bridge was sound the timbers would creak and groan beneath the weight and movement of a passing train. However, if the trestle was more or less silent when the train went over, that meant that there was rot around the bolts stifling the noise. If there was little or no sound, it meant it was time to perform repairs or replace the trestle entirely.
“That’s the definition of high tech,” Sanford joked.
Of particular interest to Merrittonians may be the story of Joseph Guichon’s grand Qulichena Hotel. Guichon constructed the elaborate hotel in speculation of the railway route passing along the shores of Nicola Lake, much as Hwy 5A does today, and providing a steady, booming business. However, the route chosen instead bypassed Guichon’s ranch and hotel, traveling through the Coldwater Valley – Coquihalla Pass.
Still, the KVR played an important role for the growing city of Merritt.
“There was a link initially between the railway and coal, of course coal was needed for old fashioned steam locomotives, so that was the motive that prompted the CPR to build a rail line from Spences Bridge on the main line, into Merritt,” said Sanford.
Ranchers were also dependent on the railway, which they used to transport their cattle to market in the days after cattle drives. Cattle were shipped live on railcars in the early 20th century, as refrigeration was limited.
Cattle trains then took top priority on the tracks as it was the railway’s responsibility to feed and water the livestock as long as they were in their care. Those costs could add up quickly, cutting into the railroad’s profits. Undoubtedly, the Nicola Valley would not have been as economically viable as a ranching and cattle production hub without the railway.
All of Sanford’s seven books, including his enduring railroad classic McCulloch’s Wonder, published in 1977, are available for sale at the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives, which has also been a tremendous help and played an instrumental role in the research and provision of necessary resources. to take a historical book from an idea to a finished product.
The Museum is located at 1675 Tutill Ct.