Iron Road West whistle blows B.C. railway history

Copies are available at Nuthatch Books on Birch Avenue

Derek Hayes, a British Columbian-based writer from England published his latest book, Iron Road West, this month.

Iron Road West, Hayes’ 16th book, is about the development and growth of British Columbia through railways and the role they played in making the province what it is now.

“Railways were essential to the development of British Columbia, so anybody who is interested in the history of British Columbia is likely to find this book interesting,” said Hayes. “The whole sort of premise is that in British Columbia the people generally wanted to travel from east to west but the mountain ranges all run from north to south. So what you have got is a series of attempts to get around that, [or] to cross the mountains or find a way through them or tunnel under them.”

Canada’s most westerly province was far behind the rest of the western world in terms of building railways.

Of his 16 books, three of them are about railroads including The Historical Atlas of Early Railways, where he explored the beginnings of the modern railroads including the first steam locomotive railways, such as the Penydarren locomotive used to haul iron from Merthyr Tydfil and Abercynon in Wales.

In comparison, the first railroad in B.C. was the Seton Portage built in 1861 between the Seton and Anderson Lakes, allowing minors to get to one lake to the other while portaging their equipment. It is unknown if the railroad was made of steel or wood, but Hayes expects it was originally made from wood.

In 1836, the first public railway in Canada opened in Quebec, with a 16-mile run from La Prairie to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

It is now part of the Canadian National Railway (CN).

The first steam locomotion was built in 1863 in Nanaimo for the coal mines.

“By 1863, back in Europe and the Eastern United States and even Eastern Canada, railways were well established and yet were just beginning to get going,” said Hayes.

100 Mile House had its own part in the history of railroads in British Columbia. BC Rail had a stop on Exeter but halted passenger service in 2002. Two years later, the railway which was originally known as the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, was leased to CN for 990 years. Now only freight trains run through Exeter.

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In fact, the only passenger service available on the line runs from D’Arcy to Lillooet, as per BC Rail’s prior deal with the First Nations People of that area.

Hayes, who grew up in England, moved to Canada in 1969. He was always interested railways and used to go to the local railway station back in Sussex to watch the trains. He calls White Rock home now and coincidentally, lives just a couple blocks away from a train station.

Originally working for the City of Vancouver in the Vancouver City Planning Department, Hayes published his first books in 1999 (The Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean and The Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest).

“The previous books that were called historical atlases were actually history books that used contemporary maps as illustrations and that was sort of my niche in the market. It was to write history illustrated with maps which very few people have done before and historians typically don’t use maps to their full advantage,” said Hayes.

He also does the layout and design of the books on his own, which he calls an artistic endeavour. It took him a year and a half to write the book, but he said he has no idea how long it actually took to complete because of the years spent collecting information, maps and other materials to write the book.

The book is available online at Amazon, Indigo and other outlets. It should also be available in local bookstores around the province, including at Nuthatch Books on Birch Avenue.

“It [the book] at a thing called the Train Expo PNE and it sold very, very well.”

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