A BC Highways Perspective of the Hope Slide

Aerial view of the Hope Slide looking westward, January 1965
Aerial view of the Hope Slide looking westward, January 1965

It was the largest known landslide in Canadian history.

The Hope Slide forever changed the landscape of the Nicolum Valley in the Cascade Mountain Range, tragically taking the lives of four motorists who were on BC Highway 3 at the time.

We recently discovered a series of images documenting the incident itself, as well as search and rescue and reconstruction efforts following the slide. As far as we know, only one or two of these images have ever been shown to the public before now.

View the complete set of images on Flickr

Helicopter pilots flew supplies and materials in and out of the debris field in the days immediately following the slide.
Helicopter pilots flew supplies and materials in and out of the debris field in the days immediately following the slide.

A Timeline of the Slide Event

In the early morning hours of Saturday, January 9th, 1965, a snow avalanche blocked the Hope-Princeton Highway, in the Nicolum Valley, just outside of Hope. A queue of motorists on the Princeton side of the avalanche began to collect. Some of them chose to turn around and head back up the mountain, while others chose to wait for crews to clear the slide.

At approximately 7 am, a devastating rock slide occurred at the same location, when half of Johnson Peak collapsed and descended into the valley below. The slide filled the valley bottom with more than 47 million cubic metres of rock, mud, and debris – up to 500 ft deep in some locations. Outram Lake, which had been at the foot of the slide area, was completely displaced. The slide buried a car that had become stuck in the first slide, an oil tanker truck, and a loaded hay truck which had stopped behind the tanker.

The slide destroyed nearly three kilometres of Highway 3, the Hope-Princeton Highway, a vital connection between the Southern Interior and the South Coast regions of BC.
The slide destroyed nearly three kilometres of Highway 3,  a vital connection between the Southern Interior and the South Coast regions of BC. This image is taken from the Princeton side of the slide, looking west toward Hope.
Search and rescue workers, BC RCMP, volunteers and local Highways Department staff combed the site for days to recover victims of the slide.
Search and rescue workers, BC RCMP, volunteers and local Highways Department staff combed the site for days to recover victims of the slide.
Former British Columbia Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi (above with search and rescue canine), attended the scene to help assist with search and rescue efforts and to help direct the construction of a temporary road over the southern portion of the slide.
Former British Columbia Minister of Highways, Phil Gaglardi (above with search and rescue canine) attended the scene to help assist with search and rescue efforts and to help direct the construction of a temporary road over the southern portion of the slide.
Search and rescue workers at the slide site study a recovered object.
Search and rescue workers at the slide site study a recovered object.

Finally, with the assistance of a search dog, crews were able to recover the bodies of Thomas Starchuck, the driver of the hay truck and Bernie Lloyd Beck, the driver of the convertible. The two other victims of the slide, Dennis George Arlitt and Mary Kalmakoff, were never recovered.

BC RCMP attend the scene of the Hope Slide during recovery.
BC RCMP attend the scene of the Hope Slide during recovery.
A line of cars parked along BC Highway 3 at the western edge of the slide site and the vast scope of the debris field is revealed.
A line of cars parked along BC Highway 3 at the western edge of the slide site and the vast scope of the debris field is revealed.
Staff use snow on the hood of a truck to draw plans during recovery.
Staff use snow on the hood of a truck to draw up plans during recovery.
Ministry staff drilling to clear a new route through the slide site on BC Highway 3.
Ministry staff drilling to clear a new route through the slide site on BC Highway 3.
Long time construction partner, Emil Anderson Construction lends machinery and manpower to help clear a new path through the debris field.
Long time partner, Emil Anderson Construction lends machinery and manpower to help clear a new path through the debris field.
Construction equipment and crews working to carve out a new route and re-open the highway.
Construction equipment and crews working to carve out a new route and re-open the highway.

Department of Highways crews worked tirelessly to re-establish the highway connection and in 13 days a drive-able route had been established over the slide.

Construction equipment and crews working to carve out a new route and re-open the highway.
Construction equipment and crews working to carve out a new route and re-open the highway.
Ministry staff at the slide site in the days after the event occurred.
Ministry staff at the slide site in the days after the event occurred.
A viewpoint entrance sign was erected to allow visitors to see the slide site after the road re-opened.
A viewpoint entrance sign was erected to allow visitors to see the slide site after the road re-opened.

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Do you have any questions about this, or anything else the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does? Let us know in the comments below.

36 comments on “A BC Highways Perspective of the Hope Slide”

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  1. Not directly related to the Hope Slide, but maybe of some interest to younger readers.

    On August 23, 1966, an RCAF Grumman Albatross search-and-rescue aircraft with five air crew members and one passenger aboard was on a routine training flight from home base of Comox to Penticton, in British Columbia, when it became trapped in low clouds and crashed into Hope Slide (the site of a 1965 massive landslide), just east of Hope and about 140 km from Vancouver, British Columbia.
    The five Canadian airmen who perished in that accident were:
    RCAF Flight Lieutenant Philip Leonard MONTGOMERY,
    RCAF Squadron Leader James Leslie BRAIDEN (passenger),
    RCAF Flying Officer Christopher John CORMIER,
    RCAF Leading Aircraftman Robert Elwood MacNAUGHTON and
    RCAF Flight Lieutenant Peter SEMAK.
    Captain Robert Reid survived the crash

    Reply
    • I also wrote that story … the Albatross is just one of a number of aircraft that have got into trouble in that airspace and crashed on the face of the mountain. A couple of private pilots have met the same tragic end. I have met Capt. Reid.

      Reply
      • Hi Gerald,
        I frequently drive through there on my way to/from the coast and always find myself drawn to pull off and simply wonder at the unimaginable forces that reshaped that landscape in 1965.
        But further having been a pilot many years ago, the crash of the Albatross and the story told by Capt Reid of how he survived somehow and managed to make his way down in the condition he was in intrigues me to no end. I would love to hike up to the crash site in reverence to those airmen who lost their lives as well as perhaps get a sense of what it might have been like for Capt Reid. I have to presume that there is a trail up there and no doubt that adventurous individuals as myself have done that over the years but I’m unable to find information online giving at least the approximate location etc.
        Anyway, thank you for posting this photographic history of the slide.

        Reply
  2. Drove through this slide area a few times since the slide. These pictures are amazing. Thank you for showing these pictures. Quite a mess. Very interesting, This is historic and I will definitely save them.
    Thanks again

    Reply
  3. I wonder if you have any more photos of the construction crews? Family lore has it that my grampa was up there drilling and blasting rock for the road. Any photos that show him would be very treasured…

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your message. I can certainly have a look for you. Can I send them any images I find to you at the email address listed here?

      Reply
  4. Maybe the next one could be the Heather Mountain slide in Glacier National Park (though that bit of the Trans-Canada is federal under Parks Canada Management). It is where the mudslides happen and affect the highway most springs despite the catchment basins and culverts. You can only get a glimpse of it through the trees from the highway. Seen from above (or on satellite images) it is about a 2 km long scar of broken rock below an obvious fault line. Hope if it does go nobody is below it.

    Reply
  5. My father, John Harding, was BC Senior Traffic Engineer at the time and I believe his car is pictured in the one labelled “BC RCMP assisting with recovery.” A Pontiac stationwagon, and I would think he might have been there. There is a person walking nearby away from the camera that we think could be a family member. Remembered by many, being the main route to the eastern part of BC.
    Thanks for sharing these.

    Reply
  6. My dad was on the search team (RCMP constable pictured in the 6th photo examining debris). He took many slides of the site and we always stopped at the memorial when travelling by on family holidays .

    Reply
  7. The fifth photo from the top (Min Gagliardi with the dog) was printed with the negative backwards. Note the shoulder flash on the RCMP member.

    Reply
  8. I remember this very well. Arrived at 5:30 a.m. to do the morning news run at CHWK Radio in Chilliwack. Upon doing the regular RCMP detachment calls Hope RCMP reported they had sent a car to check out a slide up the Hope-Princeton Highway. Called back in a half hour to learn that the whole mountain had come down. Later in the day we had the only on tape interview with then Highways Minister Phil Gagliardi that we fed to news organizations across the country. I was a busy day with the technology of the day.

    Reply
    • Hello Gerald – thank you for this recount. We love hearing firsthand from people about this event. It makes it even more impactful and your memory contributes to the story itself. Again, thank you.

      Reply
  9. Went through there not long after and had to follow a lead car through. It might have still been oneway . What a sight for an 11 year old.

    Reply
    • You must mean the famous Norm Wells who was a dear friend and colleague of my Dad Walt Mercer .
      The Ministry staff member, second to last picture , looking at the camera is I believe Jim Dennison one of the senior engineers.

      Reply
  10. I remember this well. I wrote the first news reports of the slide that morning. Working news at CHWK Radio in Chilliwack I arrived at 5:30 a.m. and began the regular police checks throughout the valley. Hope RCMP reported a slide and had sent a car to investigate. Shortly afterwards we learned that the entire mountain had come down. Later in the day then Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi gave us an interview and explained the plan provide a temporary route. It was a busy time providing voice reports and copy — large format reel to reel tape and typewriters.

    Reply
  11. Was there a pullin picnic spot on the mountain side that got covered with the slide. We were out for a family drive two weeks before the slide and stopped and had lunch at the picnic tables. We have always thought that is where we were and would like to get that settled in our minds. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hello Dianne – unfortunately, we cannot confirm if there was a picnic table/rest area at this location prior to the slide. We have not found any mention of it in our research, but perhaps other local folks who read this comment might be able to chime in?

      Reply
  12. There’s another photo, not shown here, that says ‘am RCMP officer using a metal detector’. It’s not and RCMP officer as the forage cap has no gold band and is the wrong shape. The photos here do show RCMP officers with the right forage cap plus also with the beaver fur hats.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for this post and these photos!
    CBC News is interested in writing a story about them.
    Is someone available to talk about the discovery of the photos and the history of the slide?
    Thank you,
    Chad

    Reply
    • Hi Chad – thanks for connecting with us. We’d be happy to talk to you about the photos and the history of the slide. We will respond to you via email with those details.

      Reply