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CANFOR Canal Flats

All photographs by the author: Phil Mason

5638_309x with empty bulkhead flats on way freight. 1991

Canadian Forest Products has announced they will permanently close their Canal Flats BC saw mill at the end of October 2015, causing 75 poeple to lose their jobs. CFP cites a lack of nearby harvestable timber and a downturn in the economy for the decision to close the mill. CFL is the only employer in this south eastern BC community. Along with several other long established forest product communities around BC, Canal Flats was predominantly Francophone. (Lumby BC is another, as is the Malliardville district of Coquitlam BC).

The mill was Crestbrook Forest Industies in the 1970's (Creston-Cranbrook), and owned an ex-CP HS-5 diesel hydraulic switcher. Along with another HS-5 from the Coleman coal mine in Alberta, this locomotive has found its way to the Fort Steele historic park in the hopes that between the two of them, an operable locomotive can be made. Good luck.

Canal Flats is located in the "Rocky Mountain Trench", a huge glacial valley which contains the headwaters of the Columbia River. A 19th century entrepreneur constructed a short canal between Columbia Lake south into the headwaters of the Kootenay River. It is unclear how many vessels passed through the canal.

The CP Windermere Sub. was chartered as the Kootenay Central, and is a north-south line connecting the main line at Golden BC to Colvalli BC on CP's route across southern BC.

Until the late 1960's, this was a quiet, light rail branch line. Way freight service was operated two times a week, Colvalli to Lake Windermere one day, and Lake Windermere to Golden the next. A number of sawmills along this 150 mile long sub kept. the wayfreight busy.

When Kaiser Resources decided the re-open the Balmer Pit at Sparwood BC in the late 1960's, the decision was made to upgrade the CP Windermere Sub. At the same time, the creation of Lake Koocanusa behind the Libby Dam required the relocation of portions of the CP Cranbrook Sub. As a result, the junction between the Windermere and Cranbrook Subs was relocated to Fort Steele BC. Also in this time frame, Crestbrook Forest Products located a major pulp mill at Skoocumchuck BC, on the Windermere Sub.

At that time, the train operations on the Windermere Sub. settled into a pattern that would persist for decades.

The coal trains were operated by unassigned train and engine crews based at Cranbrook who operated the coal trains between Fort Steele and Golden, with an away from home terminal at Golden.

The general merchandise freight from Cranbrook to Golden and west to Vancouver on the main line for decades was the KCN and KCS (Kootenay Central North or South).

Between Golden and Skookumchuck or later Fort Steele, this operated as a seven day a week way freight with two assigned crews. A road switcher between Skookumchuck and Cranbrook for many years handled the general merchandise south and east, and the wayfreights terminated at Skookumchuck. During traffic fluctuations, the way freights continued south to Fort Steele or even Cranbrook.

At sometime in the past, a log loading yard was established at Parson BC south of Golden , where logs for the Canal Flats sawmill were loaded onto a fleet of Crestbrook Forest Industry flat cars for delivery to the Canal Flats mill.

This log shuttle became a duty carried out by the Windermere Sub way freights. Sometime in the 1990's, the Parson load out was closed in favour of highway trucks.

The Canal Flats mill was located on the east side of the valley, and the Windermere Sub. was on the west side, meaning a mile long spur was required to access the mill. This spur crossed BC Highway 95 and a paralell logging road en route to the mill.
There were several yard tracks at the mill. Sometimes, the entire way freight would clear the CP siding and main at Canal Flats.

After cabooseless operations were established, a former CP caboose was stationed at Canal Flats to act as a riding platform while backing the train along the mile long spur and over Highway 93/95 and logging road crossings.

Once the mill closes, a part of the spur will be retained for gypsum loading.

A couple of years ago, the way freights were eliminated in favour of having unassigned crews do the work, and the old KCN and KCS symbol was replaced by 500 numbers.

While the way freights operated, they were reliable day time freights on the "Windy" so many photographs exist of them.
I did work the Windy way freights in the 1970's as a trainman. Phil Mason

These images are all of the way freight working at Canal Flats.

3081 with way freight crossing logging main 1999

Empty logging flat cars part of above train with engine 3081. 1999

Loads of logs on the way freight. 1995





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