Engineers are a creative bunch by nature.
When faced with a challenging situation, their desire to find a solution is second only to the creativity and analysis they use to overcome that obstacle. The terrain of British Columbia has no shortage of dramatic and difficult terrain for our highway engineers and they are full of innovative solutions.
Engineers envision highways carved out of mountainsides and bridges that span awe inspiring gulches and make those visions a reality. Some of their engineering feats are visible to everyone (think of the iconic Lions Gate Bridge or the impressive Squamish Pedestrian Overpass). Then there are other marvels that give you the safety and support you need, without you even knowing they are there.
Here are four of our favourite unseen engineering feats on or near BC highways:
1. Known unofficially as the “Hollywood Bowl”, this huge concrete supporting structure (seen above) was built in the 1960s during the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway. Check out the person standing at the bottom of the bowl for scale. Impressive, isn’t it? From the highway there is no indication that you are travelling over this bowl; the only hint of what lies below is where our typical concrete roadside barrier changes to cast-in-place concrete barrier as you cross over.
2. Speaking of magnificent landscapes, the Kicking Horse Canyon portion of the Trans-Canada Highway (located between Golden, BC and Lake Louise, Alberta) passes through some of the most breathtaking scenery in Canada. A part of the Highway 1 Four-Laning Program, this stretch of road provided engineers with a big selection of topographical challenges, some of which you might just cruise right by without even noticing.
For example, this innovative cantilever structure, built out over a bend in the Kicking Horse River eliminated the need for two separate bridges at the site. Cool stuff, don’t you think?
3. From down low to up on high, the beautiful Park Bridge feeds motorists through “the cut” in the Kicking Horse Canyon stretch of Highway 1, near Golden. This lofty structure is awe inspiring to say the least and the route is so seamless, you might not even notice what’s below, while you’re travelling it.
4. Just off the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island is the historic Kinsol Trestle. Completed in 1920, this is one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. At 187 metres in length and standing 44 metres above the Koksilah River, the Kinsol is truly an incredible structure. We worked with the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the federal government to rehabilitate the structure in 2011. It’s now a key part of the Trans-Canada Trail on Southern Vancouver Island and a thrill for everyone to experience.
Do you have a favourite unseen engineering marvel in BC? Let us know in the comments below.
Page 1 of 72 comments on “4 Unseen Engineering Marvels in BC”
I watch weekly Highway thru Hell and love this season of repairing the Coquihala, amazing engineering! And just last month Jamie Davis Towing was on the Canyon highway. Even an experienced driver like Jamie was nervous on some of those temp bridges. I don’t know the names of all the bridges and new areas but the whole rebuild is amazing. Especially the one where the whole mountainside came down, taking the bridge and hwy. Wow!
Thanks for commenting, Deb. Crews have done an amazing job out there and work is still underway.
thank you for sharing this article, now
l w ill share this to
Awesome engineering, thanks for sharing, looking forward to seeing more! Like how about that 20 Billion dollar concrete toboggan they’re building at site C?
Walk the Kettle Valley Railway from above Kelowna down to Neramata (Penticton). Now that’s some impressive engineering if ever there was. Actually, just about any stretch of the KVR is overwhelming in its engineering.
1. Big Qualicum River bridge is a beautiful example of an open spandrel concrete arch bridge – very slender and graceful (and designed by my former engineering company in the 1990s).
2. Dry Gulch bridge on the Coquihalla is also beautiful arch bridge made of steel. Neither of these can be seen from the road, you need to pull over to see them.
Hi Ron – thanks for your additions. We think you will like this blog, outlining the types of bridges in BC: https://www.tranbc.ca/2015/06/23/6-types-of-bc-bridges-identified/
BritishColumbia needs more of their infrastructures program and projects…Action speaks louder!
Thanks Anonymous. We work to be intentional and strategic when choosing projects and programs. Is there a particular type of infrastructure you are a fan? Or a reason it’s needed?
Where is the “bowl”?
Hi there Anonymous – thanks for your comment. We are unable to reveal the exact location of the bowl due to safety reasons. Hope you understand! Safe travels.
Hello, I worked on RG16 years ago (Rail Grinder 16 from a Minnesota company) Revelstoke to Ontario in the early 90s. We spent days through the Spiral Tunnels, Golden BC, a along the Kicking Horse, and areas around these paces. There was one world famous engineering part of the tracks that you can’t see from the road- this part of the tracks run over a deep valley with a waterfall. Very high up, very deep pass, long waterfall. What pass is this? The Via rail train just whipped through it and we spent about 2-3 days grinding at 3 miles/hr on this overhead pass.
Hi Angela – thanks for sharing this with us. We love hearing from people who have worked on or near these hidden marvels. Regarding your question, we can’t say for sure. You might want to ask VIA rail if they know or perhaps someone else reading this might know and jump in and let you know. Safe travels.
Via hasn’t run on the CP mainline from Kamloops to Calgary except in unusual circumstances since 1992.
Coqahalla is marvelous
Hey there Anonymous – it is a pretty impressive highway – we agree!
Hard to see many “marvels” along BC highways as so many places to pull off are blocked with an ever-increasing line of concrete barriers and so many off highway roads are gated. Tourists, come to BC but don’t count on stopping along the way to enjoy the vistas! Drive along Hwy 1 and you’ll encounter tens-of-miles of needless barriers!
Thanks for the comment, Stuart. As the blog title suggests, these “unseen” marvels are designed for practical purposes. There are many viewpoints and other opportunities to enjoy the beauty of BC, but the barriers have to stay as they are important for safety.
About the barriers. I have been driving BC Interior highways regularly since 1985 and have noticed that barriers are often added after fatal accidents in those area so saying they are needless may be not accurate.
Yes, there were lovely lookouts over Moyie Lake that made a break in the trip to Creston is there a viewpoint any longer?
When we moved to BC from Ontario in 2015 we spent four months on Vancouver Island. We saw many wonderful things during that time, but the trestle was awe-inspiring. What a fantastic thing it must have been to all who saw it being built. We worried we had somehow missed it as we were on what seemed like a lane to get to it, but WOW it was worth the effort! Thank you so much for the memories!
Thanks for letting us know how much you enjoyed the Kinsol Trestle, Ann. Wishing you safe travels wherever you go!
When are they going to come up with an amazing feat to address The Malahat highway on Vancouver Island thru Goldstream park. Would love to see a double decker thru there!!
The engineers are amazing, we all these structures. I would be curious as to what they would come up with. Thank you for sharing these amazing structures. I walk the Kinsol frequently.
Thanks for your comments about the Malahat Highway, which I will forward to our people responsible for that area in Goldstream Provincial Park.
Glad to hear you enjoy using the Kinsol Trestle.
Slocan Bluffs on Highway 6. 120m high rock cut, I worked on that project in late 1980’s. Might be one of the highest rock cuts in the province, sorry don’t have photos.
My husband and I built a home on red mountain rd. 15 k. south of the ‘Bluff’,
Early 80 ‘.
before they enlarged the road .
That what they called a highway was SICK ´
Thanks for this lovely feature! You might want also to feature the Myra Canyon tunnels and trestles above Kelowna – also part of the Trans-Can trail.
Thanks for the kudos Pete – we appreciate hearing from you. While the Myra Canyon Tunnels are a wonderful engineering feat – we focussed only on those marvels which the ministry are responsible for.
Why does BC keep barricading off all the pullouts in the Fraser and Thompson Canyons? Great vieeing spots no more in a province so reliant on tourism! SMART MOVE.
Thanks for your question about barricades at the pullouts along the Fraser and Thompson Canyons.
There could be a variety of reasons that a pullout is blocked. It could be a seasonal closure during winter while pullout space is utilized as snow storage. The pullout might be closed permanently due to rock fall hazards above the pullout, or the area may have become prone to vandalism on public or private properties.
The closures could also be due to a variety of other reasons, generally related to public safety and/or ministry operational needs. Should you wish to provide details of a specific location/pullout that is blocked, we would be willing to seek further information about that.
I will start taking pictures and noting locations.
I love the old Alexandra Bridge on the Fraser, every time I go by I try and stop and take a walk down.
It is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? But we might be partial 😉
I was born in the mid 50’s and lived in the Interior. With grandparents on the Gulf islands we traveled “The Canyon” regularly during the Gaglardi road building years. Years that are still cast in the retaining walls, abutments and tunnel portals that modernised the route. Those concrete monuments were the cutting-edge engineering of the day but are rapidly reaching the end of their lifespan.
As a child I watched the 1960’s engineers punch holes through mountains to create a modern marvel. In the 1980’s I watched the technology of that age slice hours off the trip to the coast by slicing through the Coquihalla and most recently witnessed the great advances on the Sea to Sky and Kicking Horse.
With the increasing issues we are seeing on the Coquihalla when can we expect see a modernisation of the Fraser Canyon and lower Thompson? There must be an acknowledgment that The Canyon can’t handle the traffic volumes that divert from the Coq during its increasingly frequent winter closures and for that matter the commercial volume that use that route daily.
Hi Ian and thank you for your comment. We take the safety of the travelling public very seriously and are aware of increased traffic volumes over much of the province, including the Coquihalla. When closures happen on Highway 5, the Fraser Canyon is an alternate, however Highway 3 also serves as an alternate to the Fraser Canyon Route. That being said, there are no significant improvements on the radar for the Fraser Canyon at this time.
I just came across this reply to my question from 2018. The question is all the more relevant as spring looms on the horizon after the numerous Hwy closures of the past winter.
Is the Ministry now acknowledging that the three southern corridors to the interior no longer can assure safe passage for the volume of traffic that plies its trade on these roads?
I specifically refer to the 21st of December 2020 when Hwy 3 and 5 closed diverting all their volume into The Canyon. I don’t know if lives were lost that evening but I personally witnessed what happened between Boston Bar and Hells Gate. The full brunt of all commercial trucking was funneled into The Canyon that was then hit with a major snowfall. Traffic was so choked that as trucks inched along the conditions degraded to the point that operators needing to chain up were confronted with full chain up points or were stuck in the middle of the Hwy and forced to chain up where they sat in the middle of the road.
The ensuing mayhem slowed and soon closed Hwy 1 for about 4 hrs.
I was lucky, I had a full tank, food, water, sleeping bag, candles, and thankfully had just emerged from Ferrabee Tunnel before all traffic stopped and we were all left to wait it out.
This was not an isolated event, on that night it affected hundreds of vehicles. with many more hundreds of travelers. The increasing frequency of these multi-hr closures has become a regular element of winter travel to the interior.
And yet the question remains, What data is being collated to quantify and analyze these issues, and what are we doing to address them.
We are unaware of any fatality occurring during the Dec. 21, 2020 snow storm. The province was certainly hit hard with snow in all areas of southern BC. For example, the storm brought almost 80 cm of snow to Highway 3 over a short period.
The Coquihalla Highway has the snow shed protocol in place to ensure commercial vehicles are chained up and travelling in groups to limit the number of spin outs that occur. Similarly on Highway 3, heavy tow and traffic control are placed on standby to assure any minor incidences are dealt with quickly. The Highway 3 closure at that time occurred due to downed powerlines across the road and while the motor vehicle incidences were cleared in a timely manner, the ministry had to coordinate with utilities to help open the road.
Highway 1 Fraser Canyon is a vital corridor and Yellowhead Road and Bridge and Emil Anderson highway maintenance contractors work in sync to ensure highway conditions are safe for travellers. This coordination certainly happened during the December 21 event. The ministry continues to perform pre-winter audits to ensure we are able to provide the best service to the travelling public during winter storms.
Our Shift into Winter campaign and overhead dynamic message signs regularly advise travellers to travel prepared for winter, especially while driving in high elevations, because conditions can change and delays occur. This includes commercial vehicle drivers who must carry chains and use them when required to do so, and members of the public who must have their vehicles equipped with winter tires, and who we advise to dress for the weather and carry a winter emergency kit.
The problem with highway 3 is that it really requires significant skill to use the road efficiently. Things slow down significantly when the 3 is full of Albertans and other tourists who are unconfident in the mountains and go significantly below the speed limit especially around corners that locals usually drive around at over the limit. Id like to see more pullouts along the 3 with traffic moving below the speed limit being expected to pull off and let others pass like some of the Washington state highways have.
Thanks for you comments, Anonymous, I will share them forward with our traffic engineering folks.
Hi Anonymous, I have forwarded your comments to our engineering and operations people along Highway 3, for their consideration.
Paulson Bridge on Hwy 3. How did they do that?
The Paulson Bridge is a steel girder span constructed by the Dominion Bridge Co and opened in 1962. We will keep our eyes peeled for photographs of it during construction for you!
I’d like to see some impressive engineering feats completed on the Telegraph Creek Road, which I travel several times throughout the year, in all seasons.
Hi Hazel, thanks for connecting with us and letting us know. Is there anything specifically you are concerned about? We can share forward with the local area office.
I wonder if the KVR trestle behind Summerland would fall into this category. I believe it is one of the largest (highest?) in North America?
Great suggestion. The Kettle Valley Railway trestles were some of the highest when they were built. Some of them were burned during the fire of 2003 but have been rebuilt and can be biked on today.
The Trout Creek crossing in Summerland is spanned by a bridge, not a trestle. Many people use “trestle” to describe, or perhaps differentiate a standard bridge from.one used by a railway/railroad.
Easy way to know which is which: Bridge carries the whole load, a Trestle does not. See the Kinsol Trestle above. At any time, the load is being carried to the ground at all times.
All construction to cross a gap are bridges, but not all bridges are trestles.
The Othello Tunnels & Bridges outside of Hope Adjacent to Hwy 5, an amazing engineering feat in its day.
Agreed – thanks for the feedback Jay. Here is a link to some historical photos of the construction of those tunnels: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tranbc/albums/72157630871221916
Hope you enjoy!
Hi, thank you so much for posting the link for the photos of the construction of BC tunnels, bridges and roadways. Amazing to see how they were constructed back in the day. They show the hard work and dedication of the men of those times. We live in a beautiful and wonderful province. Thank you for sharing. 😀
Thanks for your positive feedback Lin – we appreciate hearing from you!
Nass river Bridge. Constructed entirely of wood (though the guard rails are now steel)by the BC Forest Service.
BC Forest service documentary here:
Thanks for sharing the video of the BC Forest Service Crew It certainly looks like a challenging project in a remote place.
the Kinsol Trestle was started in 1911 but not completed until 1920.
Thanks for pointing out the distinction between the bridge being “built in 1911” as the blog stated, and the bridge being completed — which did not actually happen until 1920. I have changed the blog to read that the bridge was completed in 1920. Hope you’re having a great summer season at the Shawnigan Lake Museum.
You need to fix your website so it is mobile friendly
We are currently working to improve the reading experience of TranBC for visitors across all devices. Thank you so much for your feedback.
Great examples. There are so many more engineering and construction wonders that are often left unnoticed.
I would also recommend the William R Bennett Floating Bridge across Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. One of only a small number of floating bridges in the world and I’m sure many tourist cross the bridge without realizing that it is a floating structure.
Additionally, I would also add the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, with the down-slope construction of numerous cantilevered sections of highway…many unseen by motorists. A beautiful drive!
Thanks Grant, for your recommendations of other engineering marvels to be recognized. The William R Bennett Bridge is indeed an engineering marvel — and a beautiful structure too! That and the Sea-to-Sky Highway are great subjects, perhaps for a blog for next year’s National Engineering Month, i.e. “More Unseen Engineering Marvels in BC”. 🙂
The Bennett Bridge is indeed fantastic….but for cyclists not so much. Cars and trucks get a great smooth ride but the multi-use path surface on the south side of the bridge provides one of the roughest rides in the Kelowna area cycling network. I have raised the issue with the bridge maintenance contractor but no action is foreseen. It needs to be ground smooth or resurfaced.
Hi Stephen – thanks for connecting with us here to share your concern. We encourage you to connect with our staff in the Kelowna area office to discuss this further. Here is their contact info:
Okanagan Shuswap District
#300 – 1358 St. Paul Street
Kelowna, BC V1Y 2E1
Telephone: 250 712-3660
Where is the bowl and why was it constructed?
We aren’t revealing the location of the bowl for safety’s sake.
🙁 Sorry about that.
It was constructed in the 1960’s as a part of the Trans Canada Highway. Band shell construction like this was very popular during the day but this is a one of a kind structure on BC Highways.
As kids we investigated Hollywood Bowl with my dad. It was one of the most amazing things I have seen and as I grew older, and realized what an engineering feat it was, I was awestruck.
Safety reasons?!? That’s a joke… there’s a well built trail with steps built in leading down to the base of the bowl. TransBC just wants to cover their but for liability sake (damn nerfed world!). Of course there are steep slopes, rocks, brush, mosquitoes, etc nearby so it is possible for someone to get hurt (you might also get hurt next time you get up to go pee).
Sorry to disagree but safety concerns are no joke.
We take them pretty seriously. (and please be safe the next time you go pee, you have us worried)
Rosemond Bridge past Jordan river. Its a rare wooden arch only one I know of especially here in B.C.
by far my favorite structure.
Thanks for the tip Rees, we’ll be sure to check it out next time we are in Jordan River.
Rees would know, he’s seen about every bridge in BC – many times.