The E&N Railroad: Obstacles & Challenges Still Visible Today
Our November 10 guest presenter, Mike Bonkowski, treated us to a great slideshow of selected sections of the now overgrown and silent Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) railway negotiated mountain ranges, rivers, hills, gullies and road crossings. He discussed both the main rail line, from Victoria to Courtenay, and the rail line running from Parksville to Port Alberni. Mike has spent many years walking in railway history, photographing and video documenting the Island rail lines. You can watch his presentation here:
On April 30th 1884 construction began on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway. It took over two years to complete this 115 kilometer section, initiated by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. On August 13, 1886, Prime Minister Sir John A. McDonald drove the last spike for the E&N, but construction continued as crews expanded the tracks north, south and west. The following year saw an extension built to Robert Dunsmuir’s coal mine in Wellington and into downtown Victoria in 1888.
Following the 1905 sale of the Dunsmuir family’s E&N to the Canadian Pacific Railway, extensions west to Port Alberni opened in 1911 and to Lake Cowichan in 1912, then north as far as Courtenay in 1914. Plans for a further extension to Campbell River were never realized. Surveyors first staked out a route for the railway, then construction crews cleared for and built a level railroad bed, dynamiting the route through undulating topography. They laid track over swampland, across rivers and around mountains, and built massive steel bridges and wooden trestles to bridge canyons and river valleys. Economically the corridor started going off the rails at the turn of the 21st century as freight and passenger services went into decline and the tracks became derelict by 2011, with the exception of the still operational 10-kilometer North Nanaimo spur servicing the Superior Propane distribution terminal.