Upon completion of the Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental rail line in November of 1885, only two trains crossed the Selkirk Mountain Range through Rogers Pass before the line was shut down and abandoned for the winter. The reason: there had not been time to build snow sheds through the pass and without them the pass was not crossable in winter. The CPR took he winter to study the avalanche patterns in the pass and determine where snow sheds were required. In all 31 snow shed had to be built to protect the line from avalanches.

Snow sheds in Rogers Pass

Source: http://archives.vancouver.ca/snow-sheds-on-mountainside-rogers-pass-b-c

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Snow sheds in Rogers Pass.

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The Selkirk range is the first barrier of considerable height encountered by prevailing winds off the Pacific Ocean to the west. In summer, the extremely heavy precipitation turns the range into the equivalent of a rain forest. Indeed, it is considered to be the only inland rain forest in the world. In winter it entombs it in snow and ice.


In Rogers Pass the average yearly snowfall is some thirty-five feet. In the winter of 1898-99 it reached a total of forty-four feet. Snowfall in the month of January alone was nine feet two inches. The accumulation at higher elevations would be much greater, mountain peaks in the pass being as much as 6,000 feet, more than a mile, higher than the pass itself.


Great slabs of rock pushed up to almost vertical positions formed the Selkirk Mountains. Through the pass and to both the east and the west these slopes are too steep for the heavy snows to repose on the mountains, particularly during the spring melt when the snow can reach as much as 50 pound per cubic foot. Very little is required to start a deadly avalanche that can sweep down the mountainside at more than 100 mile per hour.


On February 19th, 1885 James Ross, the engineer in charge of Rogers Pass construction, wrote his boss in Ottawa, William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the following:

Snow sheds snaking up Bear Creek (Connaught Creek) Valley east of Rogers Pass.

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In the spring of 1886, after the long winter closure, one hundred and fifty carpenters and axe men began the construction of snow sheds. In total, from six miles east of Rogers Pass summit to twenty-five miles to the west, fifty-four snow sheds were built totaling six miles in length. Thirty-one of these sheds were within six miles to either side of the summit.


The snow sheds were of five basic types.  Where the slope next to the track was steep, the up-hill side of the snow shed consisted of a retaining crib of cedar logs. This crib at one end supported the rafters and the other end the rafter were supported by a framed bent or cross frame.

Type 1 snow shed with complete cribbing.

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See also: Construction of snow shed on the C.P.R., Glacier Park, British Columbia, 1887, copied ca.1902 (McCord Museum, Montreal. 


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When the slope was flatter the crib was only carried up half way, and a framework of posts and rafters built on top.

Type 2

snow shed with cribbing. only half way up.

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See also: Snow sheds. Summer and winter tracks of C.P.R. Summit of (Selkirks) (City of Vancouver Archives. Note summer and winter track, and the Illecillewaet Glacier (top left) and Glacier Station (center right) in the distance. 


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A third design of snow shed had no cribbing at all.

Type 3 snow shed with no cribbing.

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See also: Snow shed and tunnel, Illecillewaet Canyon, Selkirk Mts. (City of Vancouver Archives.


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A fourth, known as the valley type, had cribs on both sides and the rafters laid directly across and was used where slides may be expected from either side.

The fifth type is used in deep side-hill rock cuts or places where the slide must fall nearly vertically on the shed. In this case, the rafters are in effect trussed, and the sheds more strongly built than usual.

See: Snow sheds near Glacier Station, Selkirk Mountains, BC, about 1890 (McCord Museum, Montreal.


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If slides were expected from both sides of the track, cribbing was built on both sides and the rafters laid directly across.


As the sheds were prone to fires started by passing trains or encroaching forest fires, the sheds were often split into short lengths separated by fire-breaks. Heavy V-shaped cribs, were placed above the ends of the sheds to guide a slide over the adjacent sheds. The sheds also had piping and water available to put out any fires. Watchmen were stationed year round to inspect the sheds before and after a train passed and ensure their safety.


Van Horne had summer tracks built past some of the snow sheds so that summer travellers could enjoy the breathtaking views of the upper Illecillewaet Valley and Glacier. This also reduced the risk of fires.

Summer track bypassing snow shed #19 with Mount Abbott in the distance.

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See:Railway track and snow shed #17, Rocky Mountains, BC, about 1887 ((McCord Museum, Montreal.


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Glacier Snow Shed, Summit of Selkirk Mountains, BC, about 1887 (McCord Museum, Montreal. Note the summer track to the right of the snow shed and the Illecillewaet Glacier in the distance.


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Todays Rogers Pass Discovery (Tourist) Centre is modelled after the long since vanished snow sheds. Outside sits two Howitzers, the type of gun used to start controlled avalanches above the Trans Canada Highway which now follows the route of the railway through Rogers Pass (east-bound trains use the 5.0 mile (8.1 km) long Connaught Tunnel while west-bound trains use the 9.1 mile (14.7 km) long Macdonald Tunnel).




Glacier House Rediscovered, 1991. David Finch, Hignell Printing Limited.


Gravity, Steam and Steel: An Illustrated Railway History of Rogers Pass. 2009. Graeme Pole, Fitzhenry and Whiteside.


The Selkirk Range. 1905. A. O. Wheeler, Ottawa Printing Bureau.


Rails and Killer Snows: The Saga of Rogers Pass, 1997. J. D. McDonald, Rossland Historical Museum, Hall Printing, Trail, BC.



September 18, 2016

September 18, 2016

Snow Sheds in Rogers Pass

I find that the snow-slides on the Selkirks are much more serious than I anticipated, and I think are quite beyond your ideas of their magnitude and of the danger to the line.


I can see quite plainly that the present location of the line will not be safe - more particularly so on the west slope where the slides already aggregate more than two miles [3.2 km] in width. At one point within this distance, ten slips came down within six days, piling the snow 50 feet (15 m) deep and 1,800 feet (550 m) in length along the located line.



The effect of the wind during the progress of the slide is something terrific, wrecking trees over two feet (0.6 m) in diameter and scattering small timber and brush for a height of three hundred feet (92 m) up the opposite side of the mountain.


“No train would be safe if caught in such a tornado” is the expressed opinion of all the engineers who have been near the slides as they occurred. I could hardly believe the effect to be so great, if  I had not seen it myself in the Rocky Mountains.


    Glacier House Rediscovered

See: Hermit Range and snow sheds (City of Vancouver Archives


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