I didn’t realize how impressive The Othello Tunnels were until I stood at the tunnels’ entrance. The Othello Tunnels is in the picturesque setting of the Coquihalla Canyon and Coquihalla Gorge, just east of Hope. This construction is truly a marvelous feat of engineering. In 1914, five rock faces of solid granite were sliced straight through almost entirely by hand through the mountainous Fraser Canyon. This construction enabled the Kootenay Rockies region of British Columbia to be linked to the coast by rail. The tunnels’ name was given by Canadian Pacific Railway engineer, Andrew McCullough who loved reading Shakespeare.
The greatest construction challenge that McCullough faced was the Coquihalla Gorge that stood in the way of the railway. It was a 300-foot channel of solid granite. Despite suggestions from other engineers, he decided to build the railway through it. He surveyed the canyon while hanging from a wicker basket. Ladders, bridges and ropes allowed the crew to complete this impossible task.
On July 31, 1916, The Kettle Valley Railway was open for business to carry freight and passengers between Vancouver and Nelson. Unfortunately, the rugged mountain terrain caused numerous high maintenance rockslides, which interfered with the operation. On a fateful November day in 1959, a 400-foot washout at the north end of the tunnel finally closed the railway route forever. Thankfully for visitors, in 1998, the surrounding area of the tunnels officially became a provincial park.
I entered the pitch black tunnel without a flashlight. I walked very slowly over the gravel, dodging puddles of water. As I stared straight ahead, the light at the end of the tunnel was contrastingly bright for my eyes. People’s voice echoed throughout the tunnel and the kids especially had fun hearing their voices bounce back. As I walked through the long tunnel, it was hard to imagine men slicing through 300 feet of sold granite mostly by hand and the sheer height of it was astounding. What’s great is that this 3.5km (0.62 mile) round trip is easy and wheelchair accessible.
Not only were the tunnels impressive but the views one saw coming out of the tunnels were spectacular. There were bridges that hung over the deep river canyon, surrounded by the lush coastal forest. The steep rock faces towered over the tunnels and stretched up towards the sky. Not surprisingly, many movies where shot here including, First Blood (Rambo). Far From Home, and Shoot to Kill, just to name a few.
Today, visitors can enjoy walking on the route where the Kettle Valley Railway used to operate. In its time, this stretch of track is said to be the world’s most expensive mile of railway track, costing a whooping $300,000 back in 1914! This popular tourist attraction also offers hiking trails, fishing and picnic areas. This attraction is open from April to October.
(located in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park)
Off Highway # 5,
north of Hope,
1 (604) 986-9371 www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/coquihalla_cyn