Train ride offers unique look at Kootenay Lake

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(Top) The East Shore mountains as seen from the west side of Kootenay Lake. (Middle) The CP Holiday Train leaves the trestle at the south end of Kootenay Lake.(Above) The CP Holiday Train enters one of several tunnels along the shore of Kootenay Lake.

(Top) The East Shore mountains as seen from the west side of Kootenay Lake. (Middle) The CP Holiday Train leaves the trestle at the south end of Kootenay Lake.(Above) The CP Holiday Train enters one of several tunnels along the shore of Kootenay Lake.

In December, Mayor Ron Toyota offered me a ticket to ride the CP Holiday Train from Creston to Nelson. He felt it would be a good thing for me, as manager of the Creston Museum. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. There is a lot of history tied up in the railway and its route along the south and west shores of Kootenay Lake, and that was, of course, a powerful incentive. But mostly, I was just excited at the prospect of being able to take a very unique journey and see the region I grew up in from a new perspective.

So, armed with a borrowed camera and a list of photographs to take for friends who were not lucky enough to snag a ticket, I showed up at Millennium Park in time to take in the entertainment and board the train. The interior of the coach was decorated for Christmas, and judging from the continuous babble of voices, I wasn’t the only one excited about this trip.

Fortunately, the day was beautiful, with bright sunshine the whole way, and the scenery was stunning. The train track makes some pretty sharp turns as it hugs the lakeshore on its way north, so we could very often see all but one of the cars ahead of us. It made for some great photos of the train snaking along only a few feet from the water’s edge.

There were many times when I wished we could have stopped the train, especially when I just missed a great photo because I wasn’t quite fast enough with the camera. One could-have-been-great photo op in particular came just before one of the five or six tunnels along the west shore. I could see the engines, bright red in full sun, standing out beautifully against the black entrance to the tunnel, and contrasting dramatically with the brilliant blue of the lake and sky — but I was a split second too late in taking the picture. In my photo, the engines and tunnel are almost completely hidden by a tree.

I actually discovered a previously unsuspected talent for taking photos with trees in the middle of them. It took me half-a-dozen attempts before I got a shot of the old lighthouse at Pilot Bay, and even then the lighthouse only shows up as a tiny, almost-indistinguishable white speck, because in the space between trees I had time to either zoom in, or snap the photo, but not both. In fact, far fewer than half the photos I took were any good, because the trees kept getting in the way.

Looking across the lake was fascinating. You just don’t realize how rugged and dramatic the mountains are when you’re driving along the highway at their base. The history of the region kept forcing itself on my thoughts (I can’t help it — it’s one of the hazards of working in a museum) and as I looked at the snow-capped peaks, the deep, twisting valleys of the creeks, and the sheer distances between communities, I felt a new respect for the pioneers who carved their livelihoods out of what must have been — and in many ways still is — a forbidding wilderness.

As we rounded the point at Procter and began the last leg of the journey along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, the train tracks moved farther inland. Hemmed in by trees, there was less to see, at least until we got within a few miles of Nelson. Again, the difference between what we see when we drive on one side of the lake, and what I could see from the opposite side, was startling. Growing up in Balfour, I always thought of Blaylock Mansion as huge and special, a landmark to watch for on the drive out from town. From my vantage point on the train, though, I had a hard time even finding it. Only its extensive grounds set it apart from the many monstrous homes that now line the lakeshore.

The journey took a full four hours. In places, the train travelled at a pretty good speed, about 50 or 60 km/h, I would guess. In others, it crawled along so slowly it felt almost as though walking would be faster. But regardless of the speed of the train, those four hours on it flew by — definitely a highlight of the year for me.

For more photos from the journey, visit the photo album at the museum’s website.

— BY TAMMY HARDWICK