Field, British Columbia

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Location of Field, British Columbia
Front entrance to the townsite
Field viewed from Mount Burgess
The train station in 1935

Field is an unincorporated community of approximately 169 people located in the Kicking Horse River valley of southeastern British Columbia, Canada, within the confines of Yoho National Park. It is 27 km (17 mi) west of Lake Louise along the Trans-Canada Highway which provides the only road access to the town.

History[edit]

The Canadian Pacific Railway formally established the town of Field, originally known as "Third Siding", in 1883 as a work camp. The camp was needed for the local operations preparing the railway line from Laggan (Lake Louise, AB) over the Kicking Horse Pass and down the Kicking Horse river valley toward where Field stands today[1].

The Kicking Horse Pass, also known as the “Big Hill”, was one of the most challenging obstacles along the mainline of the railway because of its intensive grade. For reason of economy, the government allowed the CPR to build the railway line stretch between Wapta Lake (Hector Siding) and Field (Third Siding) with a 4.4% grade. Seen as a temporary solution, this grade was twice the percentage normally allowed for a downhill train track. The first construction train to go down the pass ran away off the hill to land in the Kicking Horse river, killing three[2]. The CPR soon added three safety switches (runaways) on the way down to help to control the train speed and avoid accident. Between 1907 and 1909, two spiral tunnels were built into Cathedral Mountain and Mount Ogden to reduce the hill’s grade to 2.2%.

The railway reached Third Siding in 1884 at an exorbitant cost. Going through financial difficulties, the CPR searched for private investors. Donald A. Smith (one of the original financiers of the railway syndicate) and William Cornelius Van Horne (then vice-president of the CPR) got a hold of Cyrus West Field (a wealthy Chicago business man and promoter of the trans-Atlantic cable) to encourage him to invest in the CPR. When Cyrus West Field came to visit the area in 1884[3], Van Horne named both the little town and a mountain after him. However, Mr. Field did not take the bait; he went back to Chicago without writing any cheques. Thus, ironically, the town and the mountain got their name after a man who, in the end, had no involvement with the CPR.

The railway route through Canada was completed on November 7, 1885 near Craigallachie, BC and Van Horne sees tourism in the Rockies as the best way to generate revenue and reduce the burden of their debts. So, as an important divisional point and engine servicing area[4], Field was the first town to be chosen (in 1886) to have a luxurious hotel – the Mount Stephen House[5] – to welcome weary travellers. Also, a restaurant[6] was needed as it was impossible for the steam locomotives to carry a heavy dinning car up the 4.4% hill. The Mount Stephen House was the focal point from which visitors set out in horse drawn carriages to view the wonders of the Yoho Valley and Emerald Lake.

From 1883, it was known that the area had potential for mining and logging activities. If Field was the main town, two smaller sister locales existed until the 1950s & 60s; the town of Monarch and Kicking Horse Mines and Amiskwi Village.

Former Sister Locales[edit]

The Town of Monarch and Kicking Horse Mines[edit]

An early guide in the area, Tom Wilson was the first, in 1882, to stake a claim which he later sold for $21,000. His claim became the largest mining operation in the area – the Monarch Mines on Mount Stephen. The operations began in 1894. Lead, zinc, silver and small traces of gold, silica and sulphur were extracted from Mount Stephen. In 1906, the Canadian Concentrating and Smelting Co. built a 525 foot high aerial tramway to access the Monarch mine’s portals[7]. In 1910, Kicking Horse Mine on Mount Field started its operations. Mostly zinc was claimed on. On the site of the actual Monarch campground, the Kicking Horse mine had also its tramway to access portals. The mines used Hydro-electricity produced by the Monarch Creek[8].

The mines were quite solicited in times of war, especially during the WWI. Great West Mines Co. took over the mining operations in 1916. After 1918, the mines were sold and the operations went on and off for many years. In 1930, the Dominion government took control over mining activity from the B.C. government. No more permits were issued for Yoho. Finally in 1968, the mines closed for good.

At the base of the mining operations, we could find mine buildings, stores, and tramways to access the mine portals. On the actual site of Kicking Horse Campground, several nice homes were built for head people of the mines. Mining portals and remnants of ladders and mining activity are still visible today on both Mount Stephen and Mount Field. Today, the former town site of the mines hosts Parks Canada's Kicking Horse and Monarch campgrounds.\

Amiskwi Village[edit]

Amiskwi Village survived into the early 60’s as a wood mill operation with a school, store, church, curling and skating rinks. Several families lived there.

1884-1886

  • First timber berths permitted in Yoho, easily renewed
  • Timber used in construction of both railway and town

1906

  • B.C. forest law passes, protecting some forests

1915

  • The government forbade cutting green timber and any logging that would spoil the scenery

1930

  • National Park eliminated logging except for one logging berth remaining in Amiskwi Valley. It was not used until a month before it was to expire.

1952

  • A mill was built at Amiskwi and operated on and off until 1968 when all logging in the park ceased.

Yoho National Park[edit]

In 1886, the fairly small (26 square km/10 square mile) Mount Stephen Reserve was created around Field. In 1901, the Mount Stephen Reserve experienced a name change to Yoho Park Reserve and increased in size to 2138 sq. km (825 sq. mi.). In 1911, the Park gained national park status. In 1927, the first road - Kicking Horse trail - was opened between Lake Louise and Golden. The same year, the Park reduced its size due to pressure from logging and mining lobbyists. In 1930, the National Parks Act froze the park boundary at 1313 sq. km. Mining and logging was prohibited with the exception of existing operations that were allowed to continue until the resources were exhausted.

Town Site Administration[edit]

Field’s land is either owned by the Crown or the Canadian Pacific Railway with the border between the two jurisdictions being Stephen Avenue. The CPR originally purchased the land by the train tracks to be relieved of squatters and prostitutes. In charge of the water and electricity supply for the town until the 1950s, the CPR slowly put these responsibilities into the hands of the Government. Today, the town site is managed by Parks Canada. Residential leases are given to locals, who have a need to reside, with a term of 42 years.

The Burgess Shale[edit]

It was CPR train track workers in Field who discovered the fossils of the Burgess Shale locality. Commonly called by the workers ‘the stone bugs’, the very first fossils were discovered on Mt. Stephen[9]. In 1909, Charles D. Walcott discovered the Walcott Quarry on the slope of Mt. Field.

References[edit]

  1. ^ W. F. Lothian, A History of Canada’s National Parks, Vol. III, Ministry of Supply and Services Canada, 1979. p. 35
  2. ^ Graeme Pole, The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: A Canadian Railway Adventure. Canmore : Altitude Publishing, 2000, p. 50
  3. ^ W. F. Lothian, A History of Canada’s National Parks, Vol. III, Ministry of Supply and Services Canada, 1979. p. 36
  4. ^ [1600 class locomotive at railway yard in Field, B.C.] - http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/1600-class-locomotive-at-railway-yard-in-field-b-c;rad
  5. ^ Mt. Stephen House and mountain, Field, B.C. - http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/mt-stephen-house-and-mountain-field-b-c;rad
  6. ^ Dining room, Mount Stephen House, Field, BC, 1887 - http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=VIEW-1658&Lang=1&imageID=157079
  7. ^ Graeme Pole, The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: A Canadian Railway Adventure. Canmore : Altitude Publishing, 2000, p. 88
  8. ^ Graeme Pole, The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: A Canadian Railway Adventure. Canmore : Altitude Publishing, 2000, p. 88
  9. ^ Richard McConnell, of the Geological Survey of Canada, was mapping the geology around the railway line in September 1886, and was pointed to the Mount Stephen trilobite beds by a construction worker. Source : a b c Collins, D. (Aug 2009). "Misadventures in the Burgess Shale". Nature 460 (7258): 952. doi:10.1038/460952a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19693066

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°23′48″N 116°29′9″W / 51.39667°N 116.48583°W / 51.39667; -116.48583