Tuesday 2 February 2021

Cambie, B.C.

Our understanding of Bertha M. Ingle’s visits to British Columbia has been expanded lately. Two paintings have recently come to light of which we were previously unaware, both almost certainly painted in BC (see the posting “There lies your way, due west”). That same line of enquiry has borne additional fruit in more recent days.

Bertha's first visits to BC took place in the three summers and/or early autumns of 1913-15. It’s interesting to note that they fall within Tom Thomson’s Algonquin Park years (1912-17), and correspond to the period when the artists who in 1920 would become the Group of Seven were just beginning to formulate their characteristic approach to painting nature in Canada’s northern regions. Bertha M. Ingle, too, was discovering and painting the Canadian wilderness and finding new styles of her own.

We have inherited several photos of Bertha and other members of her family that are identified on their reverse sides as being taken at “Cambie, B.C.”. One is dated “about 1915”, and they all appear likely to be from the same visit.

Bertha standing on a stump at "Cambie, B.C. about 1915"

Cambie is a name well-known in Vancouver, extensively represented in the City and its environs. Most notable perhaps is Cambie Village in the heart of the City, centred on Cambie Street, a major arterial road. These (and many other places) are named for Henry John Cambie (1836-1928), an Irish-born civil engineer who became chief surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the years when the railway was being completed through the Rocky Mountains. Once that work was finished, the last spike ceremonially driven in 1885, Henry Cambie built a house in 1887-88 at a location he referred to then as being “out into the country” from the newly-incorporated City of Vancouver, but is now among the country’s busiest urban areas, very near Stanley Park. He became a prominent and highly esteemed citizen of the growing City, to which he contributed extensively. He continued working for the CPR, before retiring in 1921.

However, Bertha’s snapshots are clearly not from 1915 Vancouver. They are from a wilder and more mountainous locale along the railway. Exactly where this railway “Cambie” was to be found, and what it was like, are questions we’ve only recently been able to answer, thanks in large part to a website created by a company in Edmonton AB called Webpraxis Consulting Ltd. The website draws together a wide range of materials from various Canadian archives, all relating to railway history in Canada. One of the pages is dedicated to the rather elusive “Cambie Station”.

A few kilometres west of Glacier, BC, the original pre-1900 route of the CPR included an unusual configuration of track in an area that came to be known as “The Loops” or “Four Tracks”. For a westbound traveller, after progressing along the southern edge of a narrow valley, the single-track line made a wide 180-degree turn and ran eastward, crossed a couple of bridges over water, and then, after another wide turn, continued westward again along the northern edge of the same valley. The wide turns were called The Loops. The name Four Tracks came from the fact that for an observer facing east in the central part of The Loops at its first bridge, there was a simultaneous view of four parts of this circuitous route: one in the far distance below the distant peak of Avalanche Mountain, the second to the right (south) as the westbound line approached the first of the loops, the third being the eastbound track itself, and the fourth to the left (north) as the line continued westbound again.

View (facing east) of "The Loops" or "Four Tracks" and Avalanche Mountain, west of Glacier, BC

That remarkable view was much-photographed and often used as an image for postcards. Photos from the 1890s (like the one above) showed one or two small trackside buildings at the east end of the first bridge, which was at that time a wooden trestle construction. The buildings were placed there to accommodate the CPR watchman whose task was to monitor the safe progress of trains through The Loops.

Originally the location had no name, but somewhere between 1904 and 1912 it became designated (and was added to maps) as Cambie Station, named for Henry John Cambie. In about the same period the wooden trestle bridge was replaced by a steel-span bridge supported on several stone pillars. I believe the route of the main track must have been shifted slightly to the south at that time to allow the addition of sidings on the north side of the main track, beyond the east end of the bridge. More buildings were added as well, including a Station on the south side of the tracks and what might have been a house a little further east of that, on the south slope.

Bertha’s snapshots from about 1915, this one for example, show some of these developments (the siding tracks and the new Station buildings).

Bertha, Gladys (wife of John Ingle), and Mary Ingle at Cambie, BC, with Avalanche Mountain beyond

Another photo of Bertha was taken when she had hiked to the summit of nearby Mount Abbott; she appears understandably delighted at her accomplishment. She later described this ascent in a letter to her friend Emil Heiring:

“I actually climbed one of the mountains to the very top. I am not boasting -- it was really a modest climb with a made trail all the way – but still quite an achievement for me who am not athletic. The mountain was nine thousand feet high. I do not know at what altitude we started but it took all day from early morning until after dark to make it. How I enjoyed that day. I am sure nature intended me for an outdoor life.”

Bertha (wearing glasses) atop Mount Abbott, BC

At the time of Bertha’s visit to Cambie, it was in its final months of operation. Work was by then nearly complete on an alternative CPR route that included the Connaught Tunnel, put into service in 1916. A major incentive for that challenging project was to lessen the risk to the railway, and to human lives, of the frequent avalanches in the higher mountains. From 1916 forward, The Loops were no longer used, and there was no need for the facilities at Cambie Station.

Oddly enough, however, the name “Cambie Station” was not completely lost. According to a listing of CPR station names and numbers published in 1924, the station a little way east of Sicamous that had earlier been called Bowie (roughly mid-way between Solsqua and Malakwa), was re-named Cambie. There are no longer stations called Solsqua or Cambie, but there is still a “Cambie Solsqua Road” in the area, east of Sicamous, running parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway for a few kilometres.

Further east, the Trans-Canada Highway also runs directly through the location where The Loops and the older Cambie Station were.  The Highway is close enough to where the the stone-pillar-and-steel bridge was built that the pillars, still standing and an important element of a designated Heritage site, can be seen from the Highway. And of course that signature view of Avalanche Mountain is still there, too.

Bertha painted in all the places she visited in British Columbia. Photos like the ones above can show us what the camera saw and captured on film. But we also have her paintings to show us what she saw and felt through an artist’s eye, and expressed through an artist’s brushes and palette. Most notably, in the present context, we have this wonderful watercolour painting of the storied eastward view of Avalanche Mountain from Cambie Station. Just as much as the smile on her face at the summit of Mount Abbott, it shows us the depth of her enjoyment and connection with the natural world she loved so much.

Bertha M. Ingle:  Avalanche Mountain from Cambie, BC about 1915, watercolours on paper

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article, I really like the watercolour above, she was extremely talented.