Hope BC's Main Street, just metres from the Wide Fraser River
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.

Fraser-Hope Slide-sliver
Fraser-Hope Slide-sliver

Jackass Summit view down to Fraser River

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  original Cariboo Wagon Road, which was also known as the Queen’s Highway, built in the 1860s to connect New Westminster and the Lower Mainland with the various gold fields during the gold rushes.

When the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built through the Fraser Canyon,  parts of the Cariboo Road were destroyed in the 1880s.

The term Cariboo Highway originally applied to the reconstructed route from Hope through the Fraser Canyon to Cache Creek and Prince George. In 1924-25, the BC government built a new gravel toll highway in 1926, giving road access to canyon communities cut off.

In 1953, the Highway 5 designation was moved to designate Princeton-Merritt-Kamloops Highway (which is today Highway 5A). It connected with Highway 3 in the south and roads along the Thompson and Shuswap Rivers to Shuswap Lake, and further north up the Cariboo Trail to various mining towns in BC’s north.

The first of the long and extremely difficult work on the Fraser Canyon section of Highway 1 was completed in the late 1960s. It was difficult and challenging work (often having to build on the side of the canyon not used by the railroads). The final two tunnels through the rock bluffs were opened to traffic in 1966,and rock scaling project was  completed in 1974 and 1975 at Hells Gate.

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.
Yale Tunnel, seen from the North
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.

Hell’s Gate & Alexandra Bridge

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.

Thompson River near Spences Bridge -sliver
Thompson River near Spences Bridge -sliver

Slide Sheds

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.

South Of Bridge with Thompson River

Thomson River

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.

Tobiano Golf Course ovrlooking Kamloops LakeConstruction 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.