The Spences Bridge area
- a very modern brief history
(Click on the images below for larger views)

Spences Bridge slide 1

This overview of Spences Bridge shows the Canadian Pacific Railway on the east side of the Thompson River (top of the picture) and the Canadian National Railway on the west side.

The two bridges are clearly visible - the Trans-Canada Highway bridge is at the south end of town (the top of the picture). The large flat area near the highway bridge is where the 1905 slide blocked the river.

 

The route from the west coast of Canada to the east through the Fraser Valley, Fraser Canyon and up Thompson River requires two major river crossings. This has been the case since the Cariboo Wagon Road was built by the Royal Engineers between 1862 and 1865.

The Cariboo Wagon Road was built to gain access to the gold fields of the Cariboo, and secondarily, to open up the interior of the province.

This route started at Yale, near Hope, as it was the head of navigation on the Fraser River. It continued up the west side of the Fraser River to Alexandria, where it crossed to the east side of the river and continued onwards to Lytton.

At Lytton, the road followed above the south bank of the Thompson to Cook's Ferry, where it crossed to the north side and continued on to Ashcroft and points north.

In 1865, Thomas Spence built the first bridge across the river. Like the Alexandria bridge, it was a toll bridge. The area around the bridge became settled and was known as Spences Bridge. The First Nations band in the area still uses the Cook's Ferry name.

A few remnants of the old bridge can still be seen at extreme low water, before the spring runoff.

 

The view from the same spot as above, but looking due east towards Merritt. Highway 8 can be seen clearly winding up the Nicola River valley, but careful obvervation will reveal the now abandoned railbed following the valley as well (on the opposite side of the Nicola River). The rich farm lands are readily apparent. Spences Bridge slide 2

 

Spences Bridge became an important stop on the Cariboo Wagon Road, as the crossing effectively stopped traffic in both directions at that point. This remained the case until the railway came.

Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway took place at several spots simultaneously. It began in Spences Bridge in 1884. There was a bridge across the Nicola to build, and many miles of track to lay. A hospital was built at the construction camp, and many new buildings went up. The boom was short lived, however, as the new railway made the Cariboo Wagon Road obsolete. Spences Bridge was reduced to just a station on the route from Vancouver to Ashcroft, where freight was off-loaded for the trip north.

In the spring of 1894, a bad flood washed out the bridge. As there was little need for a new bridge at the time, the crossing was once again made by ferry.

On August 13, 1905, a great slide came down at the south end of town, blocking the Thompson River completely. The slide destroyed many buildings, including most of the First Nations village at the south end of town. Fortunately, it was a Sunday and church services had just ended, so many people were outside when the slide came down. There were 18 fatalities and many injuries. The tracks were destroyed, but fortunately, no train was lost.

Some of the injured were taken to Ashcroft by rail and many were treated in a makeshift hospital.

It took four hours of frantic work to create a small outlet for the water, which soon cut its way into a new channel. The remnants of the slide are still visible almost a hundred years later at the south end of town.

During 1905 and continuing until its completion in 1907, the Nicola Valley Railway was built from the Canadian Pacific line in Spences Bridge to Merritt, where it connected with the Kettle Valley Railway.

The Canadian National Railway was built through the area in 1915, on the opposite side of the Thompson River from the Canadian Pacific.

A new bridge was finally built by the Province in the early 1930s, just in time for the Depression. This bridge is still in use, connecting the two sides of the town.

A new Trans-Canada Highway was built in the 1960s, and with it a new bridge at the south end of town. It is this bridge that most travellers pass over now.

 

Spences Bridge slide 3 An overview of the countryside around Spences Bridge. Miles and miles of open spaces!

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