Burning Through BC – British Columbia, Trains and a Forest Fire!!

Updated: Dec 28, 2020


The Frazer Canyon as the Sun Sets

Beautiful British Columbia actually claims to be – and I quote – “The Best Place on Earth.”  It has an argument. But on this trip we passed right through a forest fire.


Receding Glaciers on the Western Rocky Mountains

60-70% of BC’s massive territory is mountainous. Its dignified capital, Victoria, is perched on the southern end of truly magnificent Vancouver Island. Vancouver is Canada’s crown jewel of a city and despite rain, ridiculously expensive housing and homelessness, it remains truly a world city. Mixing east and west, it is a model of green urban development, lifestyle and trans-pacific multiculturalism. Soon it may earn the designation “World’s Greenest City.”


A Grizzly Bear near Lake Louise (Alberta / BC Border)

The rest of the mighty province mixes wilderness, First Nations societies, elite lifestyle / resort developments and marginal resource-based communities. Nearly three times the size of France, BC can almost be too much to process in just one visit. There are between 120k – 150k black bears in BC, cougars, grizzlies, wolves, whales and trees … so many trees to hug as BC’s ubiquitous hippies will attest to!

On this trip I travelled the classic route from beautiful Banff in the Rockies, through Kamloops in BC’s arid interior and onto Vancouver.


Mid-afternoon sun through smoke

I travelled on the famous Rocky Mountaineer and we were delayed five hours due to a forest fire.

‘Interior BC’ is far too big to describe in one journey and there are so many ways to discover it’s environment. Since 1887 train travel not only united Canada into the somewhat improbable country it is today, but it resulted in a romantic connection between Canada’s wild west and rail.


Train Routes through BC

I have a long and troubled history on the Rocky Mountaineer. It was originally sold as the greatest rail journey on Earth (or something along those lines). It is not. But it can be a dream trip for those who love trains, a slow (really slow) pace and excellent service.

Since my first trip on the train some 15 years ago, the journey has become refined and the staff really excellent. I would not have claimed this years ago, but they work hard and are extremely attentive and respectful.


The Fire is / was up to 1500 Hectares

Unfortunately the pricy trip is often marred by long delays, mechanical problems and ‘heavy traffic’ on the train lines. Freight is far more important to the economy than a small tourist service and this is a simple fact. Via Rail – Canada’s public rail service is often even worse in the west. I do use via often in the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal corridor where it offers consistent service, but out west trains can pull into Vancouver or Winnipeg nearly a day late! What a torture.

Today’s delay was quite special. Just approaching the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers (a site well worth seeing), the train stopped as dark smoke filled our sky just beyond the small, predominantly First Nations community of Lytton.


The wildfire starting behind the village of Lytton at the confluence of the Thompson & Fraser Rivers

The delay was long and yes, absolutely I wish I were in a bus rather than the train. Nevertheless the 5 hour delay was entirely warranted, for when all the appropriate agencies allowed us passage, we quite literally rolled through a controlled portion of an active forest fire!

BC is the land of lumberjacks and forests remain important to the economy. A warm and dry winter has resulted in a heightened fire risk this year. To see a wild-fire close up is fascinating, scary and emotional.


I really do not like being stuck on trains ….

The landscapes of central BC are larger than life. I am always moved to travel through the Fraser Canyon and think of the gold seekers who made the arduous journey into the continent. BC should be explored, but not by train. Sadly in Western Canada, this form of transport remains too expensive, too slow and simply not worth the effort. There is so much to explore by car, bus, bike, float plane or on foot!

Once through the fire area, it was 5 1/2 hours onto Vancouver. We could have driven in 3.5 hours – with a stop.


When boredom sets in…

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