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The Editor’s Desk: The road less travelled

Taking time out of a trip just to stop and explore can lead to some fascinating finds
There are no reports of the Highline Houses in North Bend being haunted, but they look like a suitable place for ghosts to roam. There were originally eight houses on Highline Road, built by CP in 1913 to house railway employees and their families, but only two remain (just about) standing. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Did you know that there is a museum in North Bend?

Neither did I, so discovering it earlier this month was a very pleasant surprise. Its official name is the Joan Blakeborough Museum, at 48854 Chaumox Road, and as someone who prides herself on having her finger on the pulse of history in this area I had to ask myself how I had never heard of it until I drove past it and saw the sign.

How I came to discover it is a useful illustration of why we should sometimes take the road less travelled. I’ve driven the Fraser Canyon highway many times since my first trip up it in 1971, but prior to July 29 of this year had been in North Bend precisely twice: in 1986, when I passed through on my way from Toronto to Vancouver on Via Rail, and in 2003, when I was on a steam train excursion from Agassiz to Ashcroft and the train paused in North Bend.

The community, across the Fraser River from Boston Bar, has been an important link in the Canadian Pacific rail network since 1885. At one time it featured a massive roundhouse in addition to the train station, two luxury hotels for travellers, and a good-sized cluster of houses, many built by CP. These included a row of eight houses on Highline Road, which were built for railway employees and their families in 1913 and dubbed the Highline Houses.

With the decline in passenger train travel the importance of North Bend dwindled, and the fact that until 1986 the only road access was via an aerial ferry across the Fraser that could carry one vehicle at a time meant that it was a hard place to casually drop in on for some sightseeing. Even when the ferry was replaced by a bridge, travellers (including me) are usually intent on getting from Point A to Point B, with no time to explore in between.

On July 29, however, I was travelling back from the First Fish Ceremony at Alexandra Bridge Park, and as I passed through Boston Bar and saw the sign for North Bend I decided on a whim to go over and see the Highline Houses — or at least the two which remain — for myself. They weren’t hard to track down, and it was sad to see them in such a dilapidated state. “At least they’re still (barely) standing,” I thought to myself as I snapped some pictures.

The following Saturday I decided that my husband and I would go for a day trip down the canyon to North Bend, as he had never been there and it would give us a chance to poke around a bit more. We found what I assume to have been the site of the roundhouse, long since vanished, and stopped by the Highline Houses again, and prowled slowly along some of the roads, looking for historic buildings, and that was how we found the museum. A lit sign in the window said “OPEN”, and a card on the door said the hours were noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. A quick look at my watch showed the time to be 2:25 p.m. so — congratulating ourselves on the serendipity of discovering the museum during the one three-hour window it’s open each week — we ventured inside.

I am happy to report that the Joan Blakeborough Museum is well worth a visit if you are at all interested in the history of North Bend, Boston Bar, the Fraser Canyon, the railroads that run through it, and myriad other subjects. We spent a very pleasant time poking around the exhibits, and the binders full of old newspaper and magazine articles and photographs, and I was very pleased to pick up a booklet about North Bend to add to my reference library (after saying only that morning that I wished I had more info about North Bend). The road less travelled might not always get you where you’re going, but sometimes it takes you where you’re supposed to be.

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Barbara Roden

About the Author: Barbara Roden

I joined Black Press in 2012 working the Circulation desk of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and edited the paper during the summers until February 2016.
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