From the Beginning…

Field, British Columbia

The Canadian Pacific Railway formally established the village of Field, originally known as ‘Third Siding’, in 1883 as a work camp. The camp was needed for the local operations preparing the railway line from Laggan (Lake Louise, AB) over the Kicking Horse Pass and down the Kicking Horse river valley toward where Field stands today[1].

The Kicking Horse Pass, also known as the ‘Big Hill’, was one of the most challenging obstacles along the mainline of the railway because of its intensive grade. For reason of economy, the government allowed the CPR to build the railway line stretch between Wapta Lake (Hector Siding) and Field (Third Siding) with a 4.4% grade. Seen as a temporary solution, this grade was twice the percentage normally allowed for a downhill train track. The first construction train to go down the pass ran away off the hill to land in the Kicking Horse river, killing three[2]. The CPR soon added three safety switches (runaways) on the way down to help to control the train speed and avoid accident. Between 1907 and 1909, two spiral tunnels were built into Cathedral Mountain and Mount Ogden to reduce the hill’s grade to 2.2%.

The railway reached Third Siding in 1884 at an exorbitant cost. Going through financial difficulties, the CPR searched for private investors. Donald A. Smith (one of the original financiers of the railway syndicate) and William Cornelius Van Horne (then vice-president of the CPR) got a hold of Cyrus West Field (a wealthy Chicago business man and promoter of the trans-Atlantic cable) to encourage him to invest in the CPR. When Cyrus West Field came to visit the area in 1884[3], Van Horne named both the little town and a mountain after him. However, Mr. Field did not take the bait; he went back to Chicago without writing any cheques. Thus, ironically, the town and the mountain got their name after a man who, in the end, had no involvement with the CPR.

The railway route through Canada was completed on November 7, 1885 near Craigallachie, BC and Van Horne sees tourism in the Rockies as the best way to generate revenue and reduce the burden of their debts. So, as an important divisional point and engine servicing area[4], Field was the first town to be chosen (in 1886) to have a luxurious hotel – the Mount Stephen House[5] – to welcome weary travellers. Also, a restaurant[6] was needed as it was impossible for the steam locomotives to carry a heavy dinning car up the 4.4% hill. The Mount Stephen House was the focal point from which visitors set out in horse drawn carriages to view the wonders of the Yoho Valley and Emerald Lake.

From 1883, it was known that the area had potential for mining and logging activities. If Field was the main town, two smaller sister locales existed until the 1950s & 60s; the town of Monarch and Kicking Horse Mines and Amiskwi Village.

The Town of Monarch and Kicking Horse Mines

An early guide in the area, Tom Wilson was the first, in 1882, to stake a claim which he later sold for $21,000. His claim became the largest mining operation in the area – the Monarch Mines on Mount Stephen. The operations began in 1894. Lead, zinc, silver and small traces of gold, silica and sulphur were extracted from Mount Stephen. In 1906, the Canadian Concentrating and Smelting Co. built a 525 foot high aerial tramway to access the Monarch mine’s portals[7]. In 1910, Kicking Horse Mine on Mount Field started its operations. Mostly zinc was claimed on. On the site of the actual Monarch campground, the Kicking Horse mine had also its tramway to access portals. The mines used Hydro-electricity produced by the Monarch Creek[8].

The mines were quite solicited in times of war, especially during the WWI. Great West Mines Co. took over the mining operations in 1916. After 1918, the mines were sold and the operations went on and off for many years. In 1930, the Dominion government took control over mining activity from the B.C. government. No more permits were issued for Yoho. Finally in 1968, the mines closed for good.

At the base of the mining operations, we could find mine buildings, stores, and tramways to access the mine portals. On the actual site of Kicking Horse Campground, several nice homes were built for head people of the mines. Mining portals and remnants of ladders and mining activity are still visible today on both Mount Stephen and Mount Field. Today, the former town site of the mines hosts Parks Canada’s Kicking Horse and Monarch campgrounds.

Amiskwi Village

Amiskwi Village survived into the early 1960s as a wood mill operation with a school, store, church, curling and skating rinks. Several families lived there.

First timber berths permitted in Yoho, easily renewed. Timber used in construction of both railway and town.B.C. forest law passes, protecting some forests.The government forbade cutting green timber and any logging that would spoil the scenery.National Park eliminated logging except for one logging berth remaining in Amiskwi Valley. It was not used until a month before it was to expire.A mill was built at Amiskwi and operated on and off until 1968 when all logging in the park ceased.

Yoho National Park

In 1886, the fairly small (26 square km/10 square mile) Mount Stephen Reserve was created around Field. In 1901, the Mount Stephen Reserve experienced a name change to Yoho Park Reserve and increased in size to 2138 sq. km (825 sq. mi.). In 1911, the Park gained national park status. In 1927, the first road – Kicking Horse trail – was opened between Lake Louise and Golden. The same year, the Park reduced its size due to pressure from logging and mining lobbyists. In 1930, the National Parks Act froze the park boundary at 1313 sq. km. Mining and logging was prohibited with the exception of existing operations that were allowed to continue until the resources were exhausted.


[1] W. F. Lothian, A History of Canada’s National Parks, Vol. III, Ministry of Supply and Services Canada, 1979. p. 35.

[2] Graeme Pole, The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: A Canadian Railway Adventure. Canmore : Altitude Publishing, 2000, p. 50..

[3] W. F. Lothian, A History of Canada’s National Parks, Vol. III, Ministry of Supply and Services Canada, 1979. p. 36.

[4] 1600 class locomotive at railway yard in Field, B.C. –

[5] Mt. Stephen House and mountain, Field, B.C. (Original Size) –

[6] Dining room, Mount Stephen House, Field, BC, 1887 –

[7], [8] Graeme Pole, The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill: A Canadian Railway Adventure. Canmore : Altitude Publishing, 2000, p. 88.