In BC’s earliest years, the most important early roads into the interior were need to expedite development and trade during the various gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s, which required wagon traffic. There was the Harrison-to-Lillooet “Cariboo wagon road”, and another from Yale to Barkerville, which was 5.5 m (18 feet) wide, and took 3 years to build. Next was a 49 km (25 miles) road from Hope to Skagit in 1861, up to the Rock Creek.
In 1866, another wagon road was built from Cache Creek to Savona, which provided access to the Columbia River goldfields around Revelstoke. The building of the CPR destroyed portions of the original Cariboo Road in the Fraser Canyon.
Some of the most difficult and expensive highway work in Canada was undertaken in this spectacular Fraser Canyon gorge, the same general route used by the Royal Engineers to build the Cariboo Highway in the 1800s.
After difficult and challenging work, the Fraser Canyon section of Highway 1 was completed in the late 1960s.
There are seven tunnels in all, ranging in length from 91 metres to 640 metres, the last two tunnels opening to traffic in 1966. Since that time, additional lanes have been built to improve safety and capacity.
The tunnels were cut through solid rock bluffs, given concrete-lined arch roofs, roadway surfaces that extend to 8.15 metres wide, plus sidewalks and lighting.
While the old road went around obstacles, the new one had to go through them to meet the required standard, though between Lytton and Spence’s Bridge, the old road was sandwiched in between the railway and the river forcing the contractors to move out into the river using retaining walls.
The new Alexandra Bridge over the Fraser River, opened in 1962, eliminated the 35,000-pound load limit on trucks, allowing legal loads to travel along this stretch of Highway 1.
Fraser Canyon Tunnels
There are 8 tunnels that make Highway 1 possible on the narrow ledges along this narrow canyon. They have names including China Bar, Hell’s Gate, and Saddle Rock.
Northeast of Lytton, and across the river from the highway, you can see several sheds above the rail lines to protect the railway tracks from rocks loosened by uneven erosion in the cliffs above.
The stretch east from Lytton to Kamloops was just as challenging, running parallel to the Thompson River. Between Kamloops and Savona, the river widens to form Kamloops Lake and is a ready source of irrigation for farms along its shore. At Savona the river narrows on its course down to the Fraser River. East of Spence’s Bridge, the highway runs on the north bank, and west of Spence’s Bridge, the highway runs on the south bank.
Construction was constrained because the railroad had already laid claim to the easiest route a century earlier.
The Trans-Canada was built on the north bank of the South Thompson River between Cache Creek and Savona. After crossing the river, The TransCanada follows the south shore of Kamloops Lake east to Kamloops.