Rogers Pass

From Academic Kids

Rogers Pass is the pass (elevation 1330 m) through the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia used by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans-Canada Highway. The pass is a shortcut across the bend of the Columbia River from Revelstoke at the west, to Donald, near Golden, British Columbia at the east. The pass was discovered on May 29, 1881 by Major Albert Bowman Rogers, a surveyor working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Rogers Pass is in the heart of Glacier National Park in the midst of mountains popular for ski mountaineering and mountain climbing ever since the region became accessible in 1886. The location has tourist services including a visitorís centre, hotels and National Park services.

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Rogers Pass and its Mountains


Rogers Pass is a narrow valley surrounded by a number of mountains. It is formed by the headwaters of the Illecillewaet River to the west and by Beaver River to the east. Both of these rivers are tributaries of the Columbia River, which loops about 240 km around to the north of the pass.

Rogers Pass is known for its winter snowfall, which amounts to about 10 m per year. Because of steep mountains, avalanches are very common in winter. When the railway first went over the pass, 31 snowsheds amounting to about 6.5 km were built to protect the railway from the avalanches. To keep the Trans-Canada Highway open during the winter, the military uses 105 mm howitzers to knock down the avalanches under controlled circumstances so traffic is not caught in unexpected avalanches.


During the 1870s when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being planned, the preferred route through the Rocky Mountains was the northerly Yellowhead Pass. When the railway construction project was turned over to a private company in 1881, the route was changed to the more southerly Kicking Horse Pass. As the railway was built across the prairies, the railway company had to find a pass over the unexplored Selkirk Mountains.

Major Rogers was hired in April 1881 by the railway company to find the pass with the promise of having the pass named after him and a $5000 bonus. Walter Moberly had discovered Eagle Pass, just to the west and based on suggestions in Moberly's reports, Rogers started out from what is now Revelstoke, up the Illecillewaet River. Running out of food, Rogers and his party almost reached the summit but turned back feeling reasonably confident that a pass existed. Rogers returned the following year, 1882, from the east and reached a point where he could see where he had stopped the previous season, confirming that the pass existed and was good enough for the railway rapidly approaching across the prairies. Rogers was reluctant to cash the $5000 cheque, and instead framed it for his wall until CPR General Manager Van Horne offered him a gold watch as an incentive.

Canadian Pacific Railway

When the railway was built through the pass in 1884, the eastern approach up the Beaver River required some of the largest bridges on the line, including the often-photographed Stoney Creek Bridge. A series of loops were used on the west side of the pass to deal with the steep hill and avoid the avalanche routes. After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in the fall of 1885, the railway was shutdown for the winter to observe the avalanches. In response, 31 snowsheds were built, with a total length of about 6.5 km.

Some major avalanches that came without warning caused the railway serious loss of life and property. In 1899, 8 people were killed when an avalanche destroyed the train station at the pass. In 1910, the CPR suffered its worst loss. A crew and rotary snowplow were working to clear an snow slide and a second slide from the opposite side of the valley came down, killing 62 people. To avoid the avalanches the 8 km (5 mile) Connaught Tunnel was completed under Rogers Pass in 1916. At the time, this was the longest railway tunnel in North America. Even with the tunnel, some of the CPR's largest locomotives and long helper districts were used to get trains up and over the pass. The Selkirk steam locomotive, one of the biggest, was named after the mountain range penetrated by this pass. In 1988, the Canadian Pacific Railway opened the 14.7 km (9.2 mile) Mount Macdonald Tunnel under the Pass to increase capacity and to decrease the grades on the approach from the east.

Trans-Canada Highway

The highway between Revelstoke and Golden followed the Columbia River around the 'big bend' to avoid crossing Rogers Pass. Between 1956 and 1962 the Trans-Canada was built over the pass to shorten the route. A number of snowsheds and earth dams are used to protect the highway from avalanches.

See also


  • The Last Spike The Great Railway 1881-1885 Pierre Berton McCelland and Stewart Limited Toronto/Montreal 1971 0-771001327-2
  • History of Rogers Pass ( Pass

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