The #3 Crowsnest Highway runs from Hope at the east end of the Lower Mainland (Fraser Valley) snaking through several valleys just north of the Canada-US border to the British Columbia-Alberta border. It is nowadays considered the “Southern Route” of the Trans-Canada across BC and Alberta.

Highway 3 was built largely due to efforts of a young English engineer who arrived in Canada in 1859. Twenty-four-year-old Edgar Dewdney arrived in Victoria with a letter of introduction to Governor James Douglas, who gave him the job of surveyor for the Royal Engineers. The first part he built was the Dewdney Trunk Road on the north bank of the Fraser River, running from Port Moody to what is now Mission (and the community of Dewdney to the east).

In 1860, when gold was discovered in the Similkameen Valley, Governor Douglas ordered a trail be built to the Interior through British territory and awarded Edgar Dewdney and Walter Moberly the contract.

They completed the section from Fort Hope to Vermilion Forks, now Princeton, in 1861. A few years later, gold was discovered in Wild Horse Creek (east of Fort Steele), and Dewdney was given the job of ex the trail into the Kootenays. Fighting towering mountain ranges, wild rivers, and bottomless bogs, Dewdney and his crew completed the 366-mile-long (590-km) trail in seven months at a cost of a mere $75,000.

Dewdney’s hard work and ambition later served him well in provincial and federal politics. He became lieutenant-governor of British Columbia before he retired in 1897.

In 1890 gold and copper were discovered near Rossland, prompting the Columbia and Western Railway (the “C&W”) to be built to connect the smelter in Trail to Penticton, which was completed in 1897, via the Kettle Valley. By 1900 the railway was extended to Midway, with a branch line to the copper-rich area of Phoenix. This kept the mined metals of southeastern BC from being shipped south via American railways like Great Northern Railway in Washington State.

In 1961, the rail line of the Kettle Valley Railway (the “KVR”) was abandoned due to major damage by avalanches the previous winter. Many of the bridges quickly succumbed to the forces of nature and were also used for demolition practices of the Canadian Army. In 1978, the 131 miles of track between Penticton and Midway were abandoned. And in 1990 CPR removed the rails between Midway and Castlegar. These routes have since become part of the Trans-Canada Trail system for recreational use.

When the first paved roads were built in the province, the roads from the east connected from the Castle-Radium highway in Alberta down to Creston, running up a level stretch on the east side of Kootenay Lake to a ferry crossing between Balfour and Kootenay Bay (the lake is 150m deep and is ice-free year-round), and then connected to Nelson, Castlegar and Rossland to Grand Forks to the west on the way to Hope (and from there to Vancouver). The lake crossing avoided seriously avalanche-prone routes through mountain passes for year-round travel. The ferry still operates two boats in the summer and one during the winter.

The Salmo-Creston Highway (now part of Highway 3), which was constructed in the 1960s to bypass a much longer route from Salmo that required traveling north to Nelson and the Kootenay Lake ferry crossing. The Salmo-Creston Highway was connected eastbound to Alberta via Cranbrook and Fernie, and westbound to Osoyoos and Hope.

Kootenay Lake Ferries History

Ferries have been operated on Kootenay Lake since the 1890s and in 1930 the Canadian Pacific Railway added a ferry to connect rail links to Proctor and Kootenay landing on opposite banks of the Lake. Since 1947, the ferry is operated by the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and is free of tolls. The crossing is 8 km (5 mi) and takes 35 minutes. A new ferry, said to be “electric ready” will convert from diesel to electric power by 2030.