Sometimes the best discoveries happen by accident. We were heading down the Coquilhalla Highway on our way to the west coast and Emily and I kept noticing small signs along the side of the road in the shape of steam engines. Naturally, some furious search engine action ensued and we soon learned that the names we had been seeing such as Portia, Shylock, and Juliet were all named for the Shakespearean characters and were originally railway stations located the canyon. Then Emily hit upon the most amazing discovery — the upcoming Othello Tunnels. Naturally, a detour was in order and we were venturing off the highway and on our way to Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.
We stopped at the north end and walked along the old Kettle Valley Railway right-of-way to the first tunnel. We were immediately awestruck with the surrounding area. There are a series of five tunnels with trestles connecting them over the river. The geography of the area makes it incredible to believe that they had the ability to survey and construct a railway through such terrain back in 1914 when the tunnels were built.
We would soon learn that the Coquihalla Highway is mainly built upon the old railbed first constructed by the Kettle Valley Railway. The KVR’s main engineer was Andrew McCulloch and he was the driving force behind the creation of these tunnels, and is also most often credited with the naming the stops along the way after Shakespearean characters.
The KVR used the line until 1959 when a series of major washouts rendered it inoperable. It was officially abandoned in 1961 and became part of the Provincial Park’s trail system in 1986. I’m sure this area must have been quite the playground for the area’s more adventurous youth before it was opened to the public.
We took the time to explore the first three tunnels before we needed to get back on the road. Like many of the places on the Scratch the Surface Tour, we were here just long enough to realize we need to come back with more time to explore further. I was very tempted to throw the drone up in the air but the steep canyon walls prevented me from getting a solid GPS signal lock and I wasn’t willing to risk losing the drone in the rushing water below should something go wrong. Still photos will have to do, I guess.