Transportation In

Twin Peaks “landing field,” 1952-1953.

During the construction years, boat and airplane were the primary means to transport workers to various job sites along the Project.  A junker flew workers and equipment into West Tahtsa Lake camp, and Sikorsky and Bell helicopters were put into constant service wherever needed, especially for moving equipment, men, and materials into the tunnel camps and along the transmission line.  When a tubular aluminum tower failed, a Sikorsky was there as Adam Charneski recalls:

“The helicopters played a very key role at tower 123 when we had two can sections fail, one up above and one at ground level and it was winter time.  I don’t recall exactly how I discovered this problem but I used to make my little sorties and visit these critical towers on my own.  I think I went up there and I saw this one-inch gap at the bottom of the leg…  So the first thing we did was tie the tower down so it didn’t open up wider and get pushed or pulled over in a high wind situation.  So we changed those two cans in the middle of the winter –and I’ll never forget…using the S55 helicopter.  It was a Sikorsky.  It has a lift of 1,000 pounds.  Pilots never slung too much material with those helicopters…  So on this 123 job, we lifted these aluminum cans up there, which weighed about 800 to 900 pounds, and flying underneath the wire – the helicopter pilot at that time was Don Jakes, a very good pilot – brought in all the material to us on this little ledge and it was sunny every day for about the 30 days it took us to do this job. I still look back on how lucky we were to have a sunny, frosty day every day.  The weather didn’t come in and then as soon as we were finished the job it did come in and we had to abandon our material and get it out the next summer.  (Adam Charneski)

Adam also reminisced about one helicopter ride he will never forget:

The first replacement pilot that we got…I guess 1955/56, came off our aircraft carrier the Bonaventure.  The pilot’s name was Dave Copley…  In those days those navy pilots came in well equipped.  They had their big knife on the side of their arm, and all their emergency gear strapped onto them, including a 357 Magnum revolver on their leg, and that’s how they were flying.  “This is wild country,” they’d say.  They were daredevil pilots.  Dave said to me, “Were you every afraid to fly in a helicopter?”  And I said, “No.”  Well as we’re flying over Kildala Pass he just brings that helicopter and points that nose down.  I said, “There’s the catenary.” And he went under the right hand side of the catenary system, down into Camp 9 – glacier creek bowl – and hit the Kemano River and then flew along the Kemano River at about five feet above the water.  The river doesn’t flow in a straight line,  It zigzags all over the place, and there are trees sticking out of the banks that are undermined, and I could see these trees coming up and he just jumps over them and keeps on going at about 80 miles an hour and by this time I’m hanging on, my feet are just about going through the floorboards, and well, you’re afraid now – that was a great ride.

The Union Steamships Limited, Queen Charlotte Airlines Limited later Pacific Western Airlines, and the Canadian Pacific steamships Princess Norah and Princess Patricia all included Kitimat in their regular runs up and down the B.C. coast.  Kitimat Constructors purchased the MV Nechako in 1952 for transporting construction personnel between Butedale, Prince Rupert, and Kitimat.  In 1954 the motor vessel, skippered by Captain Bill Cogswell, began regular trips ferrying construction personnel and freight between Kitimat, Kemano, and Kildala:

…we used the Nechako on a couple of occasions in the dead of night to get into Kildala with a crew, so that was another experience.  Of course Captain Bill Cogswell who was running the Nechako at that time had a tugboat in Kitimat.  I made quite a few night trips on the tug boat and barges crashing through ice and didn’t really know where I was going.  (Adam Charneski)

M.V. Nechako, 1956

Bill Cogswell transported people and equipment both on the Nechako and his tugboat:

Captain Bill Cogswell, he had a very fast boat with two Cadillac engines in it called the Highballer.  I used to charter that Highballer for transportation out of Kildala or Kemano quite a few times… It was harrowing trips in the nighttime with no radar.  Of course Bill Cogswell knows these waters pretty good – traveled by compass course.  One time with the tugboat, he says, “Take over the wheel and keep it on this course.”  …I didn’t have a clue where I’m going, but we just stuck to the compass and that’s when I started to trust a compass, I learned my navigation skills…  [Bill] was a young, outgoing person.  He was just about born on boats.  He did a lot of off-shore fishing, and when he took on this job with Alcan to run the MV Nechako in those early days of 54, I guess it came into play.  There was a lot of harrowing trips, rough conditions, the boat was icing up and he was a master of that boat operation.  He had a very good crew…  (Adam Charneski)

Personnel and visitors also arrived by airplane:

I came up for a visit, and I think it must have been ’53, I think, early because I had a CN pass, I worked for CN in Winnipeg, and came up to see my sister and family, and came up on that funny looking plane [Canso].  And that was quite the trip because I had never flown before.  There was myself and one other lady and all the rest were workmen.  My brother-in-law was quite indignant that they had sent a paying passenger –that was me, the others were all employed or I can remember there was a Rose, she was coming up to join her husband, Jerry something.  We could see daylight [through the floor] – I’d never flown before so it didn’t bother me, I didn’t know enough to be scared.  Rose and I were pretty cold so they were wrapping our legs in newspapers to keep us warm, to get up to Kitimat.  (Betty Moore) 


Kitimat CN Station, circa 1955-1956

In 1951, Alcan began negotiations with CN to create a branch line to Kitimat.  CN stated Alcan had to guarantee a million-dollar revenue per year for ten years.  Alcan’s position: We are prepared to spend five hundred million dollars.  Isn't that guarantee enough?  An agreement was finally reached and in 1955, the first scheduled train arrived.

The train made the trip a couple of times a day back and forth.  In those days work was a little more relaxed:

This fellow on the train – an engineer – he is fishing across one of the rivers that went into Lakelse Lake.  There was one bridge that the train went across, across Lakelse River and the salmon used to come up the river and go to there spawning bed.  He would have a static line there, and the salmon happen to bite on that…and now he has a salmon… And maybe on the next trip going the other way, maybe another salmon.  (A.E. “Dutch” Vrooman)

There was great excitement the day the railroad went through. …We went down to the station. And then after that we all took a trip on the train to Terrace to celebrate. Of course we had to stay there all day.,..(Margaret Kinnear)


The Honorable “Flying” Phil Gaglardi, Minister of Highways watches the construction of the Hirsch Creek highway section.  View is looking toward Terrace. 

Construction of Highway 25, linking Kitimat to Terrace, began in 1955 and opened in November 1957 – two years of fast-paced earth moving and bridge building.  Gaglardi, Minister of Highways, cut the ribbon and commented, “I don’t know any people in B.C. who can give me orders in such short time than the people of Kitimat and Terrace.”

The road came about a year or two later. But I remember the day the road was open, Mr. Gaglardi, who was the then Minister of Highways and Mr. Bennett came up. The road wasn’t even open. They had to drag the car the last 5 or 6 miles with a D-9 cat. But the road was officially opened. You couldn’t use it for a while. But that was the other excitement. The only way you get get on the road, the initial part, was with 4 by 4 vehicles. But they did say the road was open. (Mike Kinnear)

When …the road came in then more people went to shop at Terrace…When it originally went in, the valley hadn’t been logged and it was just a road through the trees. It was almost like driving through a tunnel you know…you couldn’t see the mountains on either side. [Logging] opened it up. You could see the mountain ranges … I think it was quite an improvement.  Russ McKone

We bought a car, a second hand Chevy.  We had to drive it to Terrace and put it on the train to get it into Kitimat.  There was no road, between Terrace and Kitimat, so the darn car sat there for six months, while they were building the road.  And finally, the road was finished.  You should have seen that!  It was solid cars…the women all had to get out.  They had to get out.  It wasn’t a necessity.  It was a positive necessity.  They had to get out of town. Could you imagine shopping in Smithers or Prince Rupert?  This was different.  It was marvelous.  They weren’t the same store…  (A.E. “Dutch” Vrooman)