A peek into the past aboard the Spirit of Kamloops

ALL ABOARD: The restored KHR 2141 steam engine at the station ready to whisk passengers away on a trip to Kamloops’ historical past. The steam engine winds through the train’s old route as passengers learn about the city’s western heritage and railway operations in the old days. Train robbers on horseback, people in early 1900s costume, real gold bars and a stop by St. Joseph’s Historic Church make the Spirit of Kamloops railtour a famous summer activity for tourists and locals alike. Photo contributed by the Kamloops Heritage Railway Society.

There’s something to be said for railway travel in the city. The Spirit of Kamloops train ride opens up a whole new dimension of Kamloops that’s not readily apparent from cruising the city’s roads in a car. It’s rather like hopping aboard Hogwarts Express, the steam train that transports students into a world of magic in the famous Harry Potter series.

While you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy a ride aboard the Spirit of Kamloops rail tour, chances are, you’ll get an appreciation of Kamloops’ rich historical past by the time the tour is over.

It all began with KHR 2141, also known as Spirit of Kamloops. The steam locomotive has come a long way since it was first built by the Canadian Locomotive Company in Ontario 99 years ago. After years of hauling freight the train escaped demolition when it was acquired by the City of Kamloops in 1961 and was used as a static display at Riverside Park. But after 33 years, just when people were starting to think that the hulking, rusty and vandalized 2141 had come to the end of its usefulness, it underwent another transformation—and this time it involved bringing the old engine out of retirement, and putting it back on the tracks.

The non-profit Kamloops Heritage Railtour Society was formed to breathe new life into the 2141. Many thought it wasn’t possible. Eight years of painstaking work and 80,000 volunteer hours later, the locomotive steam engine was reborn. Now, it’s the main highlight of a heritage rail tour that attracts people from all over.

“It’s really a wow experience and we’ve really stepped it up this year,” said Sally Berry-Magee, the Society’s general manager, of the tour.

Brace yourself to be taken back in time. People dressed in early 1900 period costumes, cowboys in a brawl and train robbers firing their guns on horseback are all part of the experience. If you’re lucky, you may even hold a real gold bar or listen to a live musical performance on board.

Of course, a rail tour isn’t complete without mention of Billy Miner. Close to the end of each tour, actors re-enact the famous heist that occurred just east of Kamloops.

Meg Davies, a Sun Peaks ski instructor and equestrian coach, is one of the actors. Her husband Charlie plays the title role of Billy Miner.

“Once the train comes to a full halt, we come galloping down right beside the train firing our guns with our bandannas on, yelling ‘Where’s the gold?’” said Davies, who said the passengers are always absolutely stoked when it comes to the action packed part of the tour. “You know what, some people haven’t even touched a horse. They love it. They hoot, they holler—it sounds like a hockey game, only we’re on the same team.”

Everything—from costume design, acting, live music and managing the gift shop to train maintenance—are all done by about 100 volunteers.

“When we first started, there were 10 volunteers and now it’s really increased. The excitement is really there,” said Berry-Magee.

After the tour, it’s back to the western town front for some picture taking with the actors and their horses—complete with props of cowboy hats and vests.

For an hour and a half, the Kamloops Heritage Railway tour offers history, sights and amusement. And there’s no better way to see it than on a restored relic of the past.

Tours are run four times a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) until the end of August. A guided walking tour exploring the history of the CN Rail station is also available five days a week.

For more information, call 250-374-2141 or visit www.kamrail.com.

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