The #3 Crowsnest Highway is a southern route for the Trans-Canada, running east-west but closer to the US-Canada border than the main #1 route. This route connects mid-sized communities including Lethbridge, AB, Cranbrook BC, Osoyoos (in the south end of the Okanagan), with Hope, and Vancouver. It stretches 1,161 km (721 mi) across the southern portions of both provinces, between Hope and Medicine Hat. In British Columbia, the route is mostly mountainous. In Alberta the route quickly exits the mountains and is most lightly hilled prairie. In the prairies, the highway forms part of the Red Coat Trail which continues east of Lethbridge into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The route passes through the Crowsnest Pass, named for its beautiful Crowsnest Mountain, just east of the Alberta/British Columbia border, which rises to 2485m (8152 ft) to the north of the highway. The Crowsnest Pass itself, on the Alberta-BC border, rises to an elevation of 1358 m (4455 ft) above sea level.
Hope, BC is a major transportation connection point for #1 north up the Fraser River canyon, the #8 Coquihalla Highway express route to Kamloops, and the #3 Crowsnest east to the Okanagan, and the #7 Lougheed highway on the north bank of the Lower Fraser River, and the #1 TransCanada west along the south bank of the Lower Fraser River into the Greater Vancouver area.
Early History of the Crowsnest Pass
Although the pass was known to the Kootenai Indians, this pass was ignored by early explorers. The first white man to use it was Michael Phillips, who crossed from west to east in 1873 and had cut a pack trail through the pass by 1879.
After the Canadian Pacific Railway built their route through the Kicking Horse Pass in 1884, the parts of British Columbia south of that were loosely serviced by the American railroad, the Great Northern Railway, which the Canadian government saw as a threat to its national sovereignty. Through the 1890s, the CPR was still strapped for cash, though in 1897 the Canadian government granted the CPR the funds to build a railroad from Medicine Hat through Fort MacLeod to Nelson, BC. Track-laying commenced by July 1897, reaching just shy of the BC border that year, and Kootenay Landing (north of Creston) by the end on 1898, with paddlewheeled steamer service on Kootenay Lake to Nelson. The new route enabled the railway to exploit the coal deposits found in theis reagion of Alberta and B.C.
In 1903 the Frank Slide not only buried the village of Frank (now part of the municipality of Crowsnest Pass), a mine located there, but a good stretch of the railway track, which took 7 months to dig out and repair. In B.C., the stretch from Dunmore to Hope was via the Kettle Valley Railway, which completed their route in 1906. The final stretch, between Dunmore and Kootenay Landing, was completed in 1930 which completed rail service via the Crowsnest Route.
As traffic grew, the original route from Lethbridge southwards across the St. Mary River, and then northwestwards to Fort Macleod became a bottle-neck. By 1908 the a high level bridge spanning 5,328 feet across the Old Man River just west of Lethbridge was completed , which allowed the route to travel from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge to Fort MacLeodmore directly. The first trains travelled this new route in late 1909.