After reading a friend’s research project on the Kinsol Trestle, I was intrigued to go see it for myself. The trestle bridge, built in the early 1900s to carry logging trains across a canyon over the Koksilah River, is up for a 3.7-million-dollar restoration after a long debate about its historical value. I had to see what all the fuss was about.
We packed the kids in the van and drove along the north side of Shawnigan Lake to find the Cowichan Valley Trail parking lot. The trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail system, which itself is worth exploring sometime.
Radio Flyer wagon in tow, we headed down the gravel trail towards the bridge. With no cars and only one other couple to share the trail with in the hour we were there, it was a relief to let the kids run free. After a 20-minute walk, maybe a little longer as we waiting for little legs to catch up, we saw the old curved timber-frame structure ahead. It looked like a game of pick-up sticks: take out a bottom one and the whole thing would collapse.
“How are we going to cross the bridge?” my almost four-year-old asked. The bridge is in rough shape. When you look at it, broken and tired, it’s hard to imagine a train ever crossing it safely. I explained to her that the bridge will be fixed soon and we will cross it then.
Looking at it, I felt a mixture of awe and sadness. Awe because this mammoth structure was built by hand to support the weight of a steam train pulling heavy logs. Sadness because it was left to rot. I wondered how it would look now had it been cared for since the 1980s, when the line was no longer used (logs were no longer transported by rail). That most of it remains standing is a testament to the intricate design, the old-growth log beams, the men who built it, and the crew who maintained the bridge in its heyday.
It was way past supper time and the mosquitoes were the size of daddy-long legs, so we left, starving. Luckily on the drive home we found the West Arm Grill, a great little pub-style restaurant looking over the western tip of Shawnigan Lake. The owner, Cheryl, was especially kind to our tired, hungry children.
I’m glad we saw the Kinsol Trestle before it is restored. It will be amazing when it’s complete, but probably won’t make me feel as nostalgic.
UPDATE (Feb 23, 2011): Kinsol is moments away from re-opening. Yvonne McNab (the friend I refer to below) of Angle5 Productions was recently featured in the Citizen for her documentary on the restoration. To find out more about her amazing work, email Yvonne.
How to get there
The Kinsol Trestle website has a map with directions to the north and south ends of the bridge.