4 Unseen Engineering Marvels in BC

Hollywood Bowl engineering structure on Highway 1

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.

cantilever structure, built out over a bend in the Kicking Horse River

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?

cantilever structure, built out over a bend in the Kicking Horse River

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.

Park Bridge across Kicking Horse Canyon stretch of Highway 1, near Golden4. 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.

Kinsol Trestle in Cowichan on Vancouver Island

Do you have a favourite unseen engineering marvel in BC? Let us know in the comments below.

Page 1 of 54 comments on “4 Unseen Engineering Marvels in BC”

Leave a Reply to Rees.davidson@gov.bc.ca Cancel reply

    • 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.

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  1. 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.

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    • 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.

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  2. 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!

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    • 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.

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  3. 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!

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    • Thanks for letting us know how much you enjoyed the Kinsol Trestle, Ann. Wishing you safe travels wherever you go!

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  4. 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.

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    • Keyo,

      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.

      Safe travels!

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  5. 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.

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  6. 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.

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    • 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.

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  7. 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.

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    • Hi Stuart,

      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.

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  8. 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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • Hi Ian,

          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.

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    • Hi Helen,

      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!

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  9. 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.

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    • 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.

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  10. 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?

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    • Hi Tyler,

      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.

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    • 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.

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    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for sharing the video of the BC Forest Service Crew It certainly looks like a challenging project in a remote place.

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    • Hi Lori,

      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.

      Reply
    • Hi Debra,
      We are currently working to improve the reading experience of TranBC for visitors across all devices. Thank you so much for your feedback.

      Reply
  11. Great examples. There are so many more engineering and construction wonders that are often left unnoticed.

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  12. 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!

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    • 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”. 🙂

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    • Hi Robbie,
      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.

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    • 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.

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    • —– SPOILER
      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).

      Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply