Book Review: When Trains Ruled the Kootenays

Terry Gainer has done it again with another great story of trains in British Columbia. This time he focused on southeastern BC and the fight between CP and the Great Northern Railway for control of the area.

British Columbia always felt isolated at the west end of the continent as a colony of the Empire. After a visit from the American Secretary of State in 1869, proposing an economic alliance between B.C. and the western states and Alaska, the pro-Confederation movement in B.C. kicked into high gear. They hammered out an agreement to join the new country of Canada, with one term committing the federal government to connecting the new province to the rest of Canada via a new transcontinental railway.

We all know that Canadian Pacific Railway, helmed by William Van Horne, accomplished this feat. However, American incursions into BC continued by the Great Northern Railway, headed by James J. Hill, and several railways spearheaded by Daniel Corbin, including the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway. There was fierce competition through the mountain valleys and many lakes of the Kootenays between the companies, and this book brings their struggles to life.

The author tells the story of the three main protagonists, how their railways and steamship companies fought for control of southeastern railways, and the eventual victory of the Canadian Pacific (spoiler alert). Terry Gainer takes a fairly dry subject and brings it alive in this book, published by Rocky Mountain Books.

There’s no lack of scholarship in this book, as Terry has done the research and uncovered many facts. I had a very small part to play in this book by supplying a period timetable or two to Terry. He used various timetables to illustrate how the various scheduled trains and sternwheelers worked together to take passengers through the area. This was some fine detail work!

I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed his previous book, When Trains Ruled the Rockies. You may like it too!

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You can read an excerpt from When Trains Ruled the Kootenays here.

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