a mudslide brought them down


June 18, 2020

One spring day in 1972 was far more eventful than the rest.

On March 23, around 4:45 a.m., a huge mudslide caused by winter runoff tore a gaping hole in a section of Highway 97 just north of Oyama, and covered 200 feet of railway track below in debris.

Unfourtunately, the Okanagan Telephone communication link was broken during the slide, and there was no way of halting the Canadian National freight train that was hurtling south from Vernon towards the scene. 

The nine-car train was running parallel to Kalamalka Lake when it reached the slide area; what should have been track was instead mud, rock, and upended railway ties. The train conductor had also been battling heavy morning fog, and could not see the damage until it was too late. The diesel engine was forced off the rails and into the shallow, icy waters of the lake.





Thankfully, the four-man crew escaped without injury and used their emergency phones to notify the dispatcher’s office of the accident. RCMP from Kelowna and Vernon converged on the area, and a CPR engine was sent to collect the undamaged train cars and freight them back to Vernon.

Meanwhile, the highways department had another issue to deal with: the massive portion of the highway that was now lying all over the tracks. Flagmen directed single-lane traffic through the slide area, with vehicles moving at a crawl over pavement laced with long, spidery cracks. Okanagan Telephone Company crews were sent out to repair the broken telephone lines, while a track crew managed the damaged railway ties. It would take months of work to repair all the destruction caused by this force of nature. 

The 1972 mudslide was just one of several that contributed to the decision to widen and improve Highway 97 over the course of the subsequent years. 

Gwyn Evans