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Onderdonk Section
CPR Section

When British Columbia official joined Confederation (see Background) on July 20th, 1871, the survey crews were ready to head off into the mountains of new province to try to find a route for the railway the province had been promised.

Over the next 10 years, crews surveyed most of the southern half of the province looking for good routes. At one point, there were 7 routes in contention between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Besides trying to locate suitable passes through the mountains, the terminous on the Pacific Ocean had also to be decided.

Surveying in 1871
Surveying in 1872
Surveying in 1873
Surveying in 1874
Surveying in 1875
Surveying in 1876
Surveying in 1877
Surveying in 1878
Surveying in 1879
Animated Map


Main Article: Surveying in 1871

To begin their enormous task, the surveyors started with the routes already known from the fur trading and gold rush.

The Fraser Canyon and Thompson River route into the Kamloops area was well travelled, with the Cariboo Road completed in XXX to service the gold fields near Barkerville. From Kamloops, fur traders had north up the North Thompson River to the Yellowhead Pass through the Rocky Mountains. Also from Kamloops, a route was known through to the Columbia River via Eagle Pass and from the Columbia River, Howse Pass was known to exist through the Rocky Mountains.

To survey these routes for a railway, the region was divided into three regions:

  1. Northern Region, including the North Thompson River, the Yellowhead Pass and the Cariboo was under the direction of Roderick McLennan with two survey teams, 'Q' and 'R'.
  2. Eastern Region, including Eagle Pass, the Selkirk Mountains, and Howse Pass was under the direction of Walter Moberly with two survey teams, 'S' and 'T'.
  3. Southern Region, including the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and Shuswap Lake was under the direction of John Trutch with two survey teams, 'U' and 'V'.


Main Article: Surveying in 1872

For most of the year, the surveys initiated in 1871 continued their task. The survey crews 'R', 'Q', S', 'T' wintered in the wilderness and continued surveying as the snow melted. The remaining crews, 'U' and 'V' started from Victoria to continue surveys in the Southern Region.

Three new crews started surveying in 1872, 'W', 'X', and 'Y' all of which operated along Bute Inlet and the islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

In 1872, Sandford Fleming, the government's Chief Engineer for the railway and his companions travelled across the continent, including British Columbia. They entered the province through the Yellowhead Pass and travelled down the North Thompson River to Kamloops and down the Thompson River and Fraser River. The purpose of the trip was to allow the Chief Engineer to observe the possible route of the railway. This trip was written up in a popular book by George Grant called Grant (1873) - Ocean to Ocean.


Main Article: Surveying in 1873

Two survey crews surveyed from Howe Sound to Lillooet (the route chosen by BC Rail). M (E.W. Jarvis) surveyed from the east to Seton Lake as well as Bonaparte River towards the North Thompson. X (Gamsby) started from the Ocean and surveyed to Seton Lake.

Survey crew 'S'(Moberly) continued from the Yellowhead Pass west to the Fraser River. They then travelled back to Victoria by the end of the season, having completed over two years in the field.


Main Article: Surveying in 1874

Two crews surveyed the upper Fraser River between Tete Jaune Cache and Fort George (now Prince George). 'M' (E.W. Jarvis) started at Tete Jaune and worked west, while 'N' (Bell) worked east.

'X' (Gamsby) surveyed from the Chiloctin on the 1872 route from Bute Inlet north towards Fort George and connected with 'N's work. 'Y' (Joseph Hunter) surveyed from Hope to Burrard Inlet.

Early in the season, Joseph Hunter explored the Clearwater River, near what is today Wells Grey Park west of the North Thompson River. Charles Horetzky explored the north coast in the vicinity of Kitimat and later in the season, the Dean River. Cambie and John Trutch explored all the passes in the Coquihalla region.


Main Article: Surveying in 1875

The primary objective was to complete a trial location survey from Bute Inlet to Yellowhead Pass via the Homathko River, to Prince George, and the upper Fraser River. From north to south, the survey groups were 'N'(Bell), 'R'(Jennings), 'S'(Cambie), 'X'(Gamsby). The groups N and X started at the ends; N from Fort George, X from Bute Inlet. R and S started from near Tatla Lake and worked outward. The Fraser River portion was not completed. Late in the season, 'M' (George Keefer) started the trial location from the Yellowhead Pass down the Fraser River.

Crews 'V'(John Trutch) and 'Y' (Joseph Hunter) surveyed between Nanamio and Esquimalt in May. Then they surveyed between the ocean at Dean River and the Blackwater River.

During the winter, a small group led by E.W. Jarvis walked over the Smokey River Pass (north of the Yellowhead Pass) from Prince George to Edmonton.


Main Article: Surveying in 1876

The main tasks completed this season were the completion of the route from Fort George (now Prince George) to Tete Jaune Cache and the Yellowhead Pass. This was done by 'N'(Bell) and 'M'(George Keefer). Also a route was located up the Dean River and north to the Nechako River by 'R' (Jennings), 'S' (McMillan), and 'Y' (Joseph Hunter). At the end of the season, three survey crews ('M','S','Y') surveyed the Fraser Canyon between Chapman's Bar and Lytton.

'X' (Gamsby) explored in the vicinity of the Gardner Inlet (near Kitimat) as well as complete the location survey in the Homathko River started in 1875.



Surveying consisted of a revision to the line between Emory's Bar and Savona on Kamloops Lake. A location was idenified for a bridge across the Fraser River at what is now known as Cisco (Fleming (1879) - Report at 139).


Main Article: Surveying in 1879

At the beginning of 1879, Sandford Fleming had as much as decided on the route of the CPR through British Columbia - Fraser Canyon, Thompson River to Kamloops, then the North Thompson to the Yellowhead Pass (the Burrard Inlet route). To confirm this was the best route, several exploratory groups were sent to the northern part of the province to explore three routes starting at Port Simpson (near what is now Prince Report):

  1. via Peace River
  2. via Pine River Pass
  3. via the Yellowhead Pass

After the initial reports came in, the Canadian government officially approved the Burrard Inlet route on October 4th, and contracts were let for construction to begin in the Fraser Canyon (see the Onderdonk Sections).