Columbia and Western Railway began in 1896 to serve the mines at Red Mountain and Rossland and smelter at Trail. The CPR took it over along with its land grant of 10

Columbia and Western Railway began in 1896 to serve the mines at Red Mountain and Rossland and smelter at Trail. The CPR took it over along with its land grant of 10

One last holdup on B.C. railway tracks

B.C. government has settled a historic dispute with CP Rail, and taxpayers will pay $19 million to get it done

VICTORIA – “Hands up.” That famous command is attributed to Bill Miner, an American career criminal who is also credited with B.C.’s first train robbery, at Silverdale on the Mission border in 1910.

A more genteel, and of course perfectly legal, trackside transfer of wealth is underway in the B.C. legislature. It’s called the Canadian Pacific Railway (Stone and Timber) Settlement Act, and it provides for taxpayers to hand over $19 million to CP Rail to settle a lawsuit over historic logging, rock and gravel rights given to B.C.’s pioneering railway builders.

Students of B.C. history will know that while Bill Miner got the headlines, it was the early coal, lumber and railway barons who really made out like bandits. And CP Rail inherited some of this by 1912 when it took over three early railways that had been granted vast tracts of provincial Crown land.

Deputy Premier Rich Coleman revealed the settlement in the legislature this month. It seems that when CP Rail took over the B.C. Southern Railway Company, the Columbia and Kootenay Railway and Navigation Company and the Columbia and Western Railway Company, there were some clerical errors along the way.

“I am pleased that Canadian Pacific Railway and the province have recently reached an agreement regarding the disputed ownership and value of timber and stone rights on 145,000 hectares of Crown land and 68,000 hectares of private land in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions,” Coleman told the legislature.

“The province granted land to three railway companies between 1892 and 1908 to subsidize railway construction. These railway companies reserved timber and stone rights for their own use when they sold the land to third parties in the early 1900s. These reservations were not recognized in many subsequent land transactions, and many of them were not registered in the current land title system.”

These discrepancies came to light in the early 2000s. They involve some 1,600 properties, so you can imagine the lawyer fees that would be accumulated to sort through those in court. And Coleman’s statement suggests that the government has conceded its records are in error, rather than those of the railways.

Given the Wild West ways of B.C.’s early settlement and railway development, it’s not surprising there were some loose ends. For a fascinating look at this period, I recommend Barrie Sanford’s book Steel Rails and Iron Men (Whitecap Books, 1990).

Sanford recounts the fateful decision of the CPR to turn north at Medicine Hat and push Canada’s defining railway through the Kicking Horse Pass, leaving the mineral-rich Kootenay region open to competitors for rail freight service.

A key figure of those days is James Dunsmuir, who inherited his family coal fortune and served as B.C. premier from 1900 to 1902. He ended up owning a large part of Vancouver Island in exchange for building the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, which he sold to the CPR in 1905, the same year he locked out miners in his coal operations for their push to organize a union.

Dunsmuir’s hard line provided a boost for a rival, James Jerome Hill, who built the Great Northern Railway in the 1890s and later quit the CPR board in a bitter feud. Hill was happy to supply coal from Fernie.

Dunsmuir took a turn as B.C.’s eighth Lieutenant Governor, sold his coal business and retired to his estate, Hatley Castle, which is now part of Royal Roads University.

He is buried at Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery. As Halloween approaches, it’s easy to imagine a chuckle from his grave as the railway barons once again rake it in.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Two Lotto Max tickets sold on Vancouver Island were winners, though nobody won the $70-million jackpot in Tuesday’s draw. (BCLC image)
Lotto Max player in Nanaimo wins $500,000

Campbell River lotto player wins $1 million in the Tuesday, June 15 draw

An artist’s rendering of a proposed student housing complex at 326 Wakesiah Ave. (WA Architects Ltd. image)
Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-staff as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

Curl B.C. chairperson Teri Palynchuk is this year’s winner of the Janette Robbins Award for leadership. Palynchuk is pictured here with the Curling Canada Foundation Cup along with past chairperson Peter Muir, left, and Curl B.C. CEO Scott Braley. (Photo courtesy Curl B.C.)
Nanaimo curling exec wins Curl B.C. leadership award

Teri Palynchuk receives Janette Robbins Award

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Industry expert says it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Most Read