Crowsnest Railway Lands

The legislation granting the charter for the British Columbia Southern Railway authorized a land grant of 20,000 acres for each mile (5 029 ha/km) of completed railway, to assist in the construction of the railway. The total authorized was 3,755,733 acres (1 519 945 ha).

Land grants were to provide security for loans, a source of revenue through land sales, resources for development which could produce traffic for the railway, timber for bridges and railway ties, and an incentive to encourage the railway to promote settlement and development along the railway. However, by the late 1890s, the granting of lands to railways by both the federal, (then called the dominion government) and the provincial governments was discontinued in favour of cash subsidies. The governments found that the land grants did not encourage settlement to the extent hoped and that they often created taxation difficulties. The Canadian Pacific had found that settling its vast land grant properties in the west an enormous challenge in the early years before the great boom in immigration in the early 1900s. Moreover, there was often opposition to what appeared to be a give-away to the railways.(1)

Railway land grants and other grants of "Crown" lands were made with little reference to the traditional use of land by British Columbia First Nations. Indian Reserves were established that usually reflected areas around villages and some fishing sites but normally did not include any of the areas that produced much of the food and other resources needed by the people of the villages. The vast lands of the province were generally seen as being unused and awaiting development for industry and agriculture.

As part of the Crows Nest Pass Agreement of 1897 (An Act to authorize a Subsidy for a Railway through the Crow's Nest Pass) between the Canadian Pacific and the federal government, the B.C. Southern turned over 50,000 acres (20 235 ha) of coal lands, from the provincial land grant, to the dominion government. The CPR made other concessions and received, in return, a cash subsidy of $11,000 a mile ($6,837 a km) for the railway. This property was considered insurance by the government that there would not be a monopoly producer of coal in the Crowsnest district. As part of the Canadian Pacific's agreement with the original owners of the B.C. Southern charter, the CPR turned over about 200,000 acres (80 940 ha) of coal lands to the Kootenay Coal Company (soon renamed the Crow's Nest Pass Coal Company). At that time, the CPR company was more concerned with having the coal readily available than with commercially mining and producing the coal and coke itself. Later, the CPR was to develop a smaller section of coal lands that it retained at Hosmer. This was on an area of six square miles (3,840 acres/1 554 ha).

In 1912, the provincial government of Sir Richard McBride introduced legislation (An Act respecting the Repurchase by the Crown of certain Railway Subsidy Lands) for a new railway policy that provided for the purchase of most of the CPR's railway land grant lands in the Crowsnest Pass region. The agreement also included the repurchase of lands granted to the Columbia & Western Railway. These lands were granted to the Columbia & Western to build a railway between Trail, Robson West (Castlegar) and Midway.

A total of 4,065,334 acres (1 645 136 ha) were repurchased by the government at a price of 40 cents an acre for a total of $1,626,133.

From the Crowsnest grants, the Canadian Pacific retained areas it deemed necessary for tie production and other requirements of the railway. These tie reserves were at Bull River (261,055 acres/ 105 648 ha), Jaffray (17,103 acres/6 922 ha), Cotton Creek (8,950 acres/3622 ha), Bark Shanty Creek (3,380 acres/1 368 ha), Ryan (24,750 acres/10 016 ha), Yahk (26,649 acres/10 785 ha), Skookumchuck (57,633 acres/23 324 ha), Matthew Creek (9,412 acres/3 809 ha), Mark Creek (60,880 acres/24 638 ha), Moyie River No. 1 (32,899 acres/13 314 ha), Moyie River No. 2 (6,120 acres/2 476 ha) and Goatfell (34,695 acres/14 041 ha). In total, from the Crowsnest land grants, the CPR sold back to the government approximately 2,542,307 acres (1 028 871 ha).

Large areas of the original grants of the Columbia & Western Railway had been retained by F. Augustus Heinze as part of the agreement when he sold the Columbia & Western to the CPR. Some additional properties had been sold or alienated in other ways. The total of C&W lands repurchased by the government was about 1,514,832 acres (613 052 ha).

This purchase was part of a broader agreement between the government and the Canadian Pacific to provide funds for the construction of the Kettle Valley Railway between Midway and the main line of the Canadian Pacific near Hope. The act also authorized the takeover and operation of the old narrow-gauge Kaslo & Slocan Railway between Kaslo and Sandon by the Canadian Pacific, and the little railway's reconstruction to standard gauge. The agreement also provided for the repayment to the province of advances made for the payment of interest on the bonds of the CPR-controlled Shuswap & Okanagan Railway which had been part of that railway's charter documents.

1. For excellent studies of railway lands in British Columbia and western Canada, see Cail, Robert E. 1974. Land, Man and the Law, The Disposal of Crown Lands in British Columbia, 1871-1913. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, B.C. and Hedges, James B. 1939 (republished 1971) Building the Canadian West. The Land and Colonization Policies of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Russell & Russell, New York, NY.