The Slocan Valley has a rich industrial history, told by the 261 documented mine sites still in existence throughout the region.
The forest industry and farming also played an important role in the economy of the valley and still do so today, though to a lesser extent. Throughout the Slocan Valley there are abundant signs of Aboriginal occupation and ancient forests dating back thousands of years.
Massive railroad development flourished in the Slocan Valley region through the 1880s and 1890s as the drive to access huge deposits of gold, silver, lead and copper drove competing rail companies to jockey for the prime positions. Rivalries persisted along the rail routes and American Daniel Corbin – who built the Spokane Falls and Northern (SF&N) Railway in 1890, just 24 kilometres south of the Canada/US border at the Columbia River- intensified competition by building his railroad further north into Canada. In 1893, Corbin’s trail was completed with the Nelson and Fort Sheppard (N&FS) Railway, created an uninterrupted rail line from Nelson to Spokane and allowed American interests to take the rich ore out of British Columbia.
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reacted swiftly by obtaining charters for several railways, to enable ore to be taken out of the Kootenays to the main line of the CPR which lay to the north. One of these charters established the Columbia & Kootenay Railway which was designed to take the rich ore north from Nelson to Slocan city where it would be barged to Rosebery. From there, the Nakusp & Slocan Railway would carry the ore to a smelter in Revelstoke.
Unfortunately, the smelter could not be maintained and was eventually closed. This made the railway ineffective in reversing the flow of ore to the United States and resulted in the CPR’s acquisition of the Kootenays to Coast Railway via among others – the famed Kettle Valley Railway. The Columbia and Kootenay Railway soon became known as “a railroad from nowhere to nowhere”. The last train travelled the Slocan Valley rail line on September 14, 1993.
Slocan Valley Rail Trail Society
The Slocan Valley Rail Trail Society (SVHTS) , formerly the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society) was formed in 1994, even before the CPR officially applied to abandon the line. Our organization recognized that this was truly a rich resource that should benefit the entire community.
Creating this Rail Trail was not an easy process. Two community surveys were done which established that there was overwhelming community support for making this a non-motorized recreational corridor. After several years of effort and with the support of multiple levels of federal and provincial government as well as the Trans Canada Trail, the CPR right-of-way was gifted to the TCT in 1999, who turned it over the following year to the Province of British Columbia and the Ministry of Tourism. In 2002, our organization entered a 10 year stewardship agreement with Tourism, to act as managers of the rail trail on their behalf. Then the heavy work began.
When the CPR abandoned the line, they had to remove the rails and ties, as well as dismantle bridges. The trail had to be built from the bottom up. Over the next several years, with the help of the province and federal funding, the rail trail began to take shape – which included rebuilding 4 bridges, grading the trail, putting down hundreds of truckloads of surface material, building trailheads, parking lots, kiosk signage etc. Most recently, in 2017, funding from the Columbia Basin Trust, BikeBC and the Regional District of Central Kootenay saw the southernmost 4 km of the Rail Trail being developed into a paved community “Greenway”. The process of upgrading the rail trail continues until this day, with every year bringing more challenges and even more people coming in to discover the rich resource we all have created.
Ownership of the Slocan Valley Rail Trail was transferred to the Ministry of Forests and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) in 2010 and is now operated through their department Rec Sites and Trails BC. Our Society continues to act as Trail stewards, managing the Trail in partnership with them.