The railway service on Vancouver Island has had an important and lasting influence on the island’s history. Initially known as the E and N Railway, or, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, it was incorporated in September of 1883 by Victoria’s coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the owner and builder of Victoria’s popular tourist site, Craigdarroch Castle. Although Vancouver Island’s passenger train service is now no longer in use, the impressive Kinsol Trestle in particular testifies to the legacy of the railway.
The train service impacted the island by facilitating the transportation of goods and thus supporting the local economy; it also greatly facilitated personal travel. The railway’s original purpose was to serve the coal and lumber industries and the navy, which was based in Esquimalt, but it also became an important passenger service.
Initially, the railway only stretched the 115 kilometres between Esquimalt and Nanaimo, but in 1888 it extended to Victoria. In 1911, the railway added an extension of the route westward to Port Alberni. Further expansions brought service to Parksville and Courtenay in 1914. In March of 2011, the passenger service on the island was discontinued due to the poor state of the tracks. Now only limited freight services continue.
The iconic Kinsol Trestle, completed in 1920, was, and continues to be, one of the railway’s most impressive feats, and the trestle continues to be a lasting monument. Not only is it by far the largest of the eight trestles in the Cowichan Valley, it is also the largest wooden trestle in the Commonwealth. The Kinsol Trestle is, in fact, one of the tallest free-standing timber rail trestles in the world, towering 44 metres above the Koksilah River, and stretching 187 metres in length. Today, the trestle’s impressive vistas can still be enjoyed––the trestle has been converted into a pedestrian bridge for hikers, cyclists, or equestrians.