The Fraser Canyon is a stretch of the mighty Fraser River where the rock formations try to conquer the water. A few kilometres north from Hell’s Gate along Highway 1, the narrowest section of the Canyon, my wife and I reached Boston Bar and sister village North Bend. Both of these communities are engaging stops to explore the more recent history of the Fraser Canyon.
I am a railway enthusiast so I like to stop and explore the communities where rail was a driving force of development. Boston Bar even though it was constricted on high and narrow bench land far above the Fraser River is dominated by a wide railway yard, with several locomotives and trains awaiting new crews. When the Canadian Northern Railway was constructed here in 1917, the Boston Bar railway yard was the designated divisional point where train crews from Vancouver and Kamloops were changed for the onward journey.
The community of Boston Bar grew up around the railway on the east side of the river and continued to grow with the completion of Highway #1 in the late 1950’s.
North Bend, located on the west side of the Fraser River was also divisional point on the Canadian Pacific railway and was established in the 1880’s. Until 1940 there was no connection between the two communities. Then an aerial cable ferry was built that could carry one car at a time; it has been saved and can be seen in Francis Harrington Park in Boston Bar. North Bend today is part of the general Boston Bar-area community and shares community services with it.
As we drove across the two lane bridge, which was built in 1985 to replace the aerial cable ferry, we were greeted with magnificent vistas of the river both downstream and upstream! North Bend was an unexpected find with remains of several of the original buildings established when the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed in 1884-5. Bunkhouses, a hotel and restaurants were constructed for the crews and passengers. This was considered a great railway getaway location before the highway was upgraded.
From North Bend you can follow the Fraser River along West Side Road and explore the beautiful Nahatlach River valley as well as the pastoral farmland here right in the heart of this deep gorge. West Side Road leads 11 miles (18 km) upriver from North Bend to the Nahatlatch River Bridge. Short trails descend to the river on both sides of the bridge. If you explore the south side of Nahatlatch below the bridge, you’ll find open spots for fishing and backwater pools for swimming. Our drive and frequent stops were a peaceful interlude off the busy Highway 1.
As we headed back to Highway 1 we noticed that that the forest was quite different from the coastal areas due to receiving substantially less rainfall than further down the canyon. This section of the Fraser valley is the beginning of a rain shadow created by the Coastal Mountain range.
Back at North Bend we headed over the bridge to Boston Bar to rejoin Highway 1 and continued our travels north. I noticed we were definitely entering a much drier climate that showed a marked change as we headed north east – the trees changed to Ponderosa Pines, typical of dryer warmer climates, and the Fraser valley becomes almost semi-desert as we approach Lytton.