In the early days of construction the highway was built by hand. (Photo is courtesy the Beaver Valley and Pend d’Oreille Historical Society)

Blasting through the West Kootenay

80 years ago; ‘Pretty near all the people from Fruitvale were working on it’

Sometimes it can be very heartening to look at daunting challenges from the past to remind us to be grateful for what we do have in the present.

Case in point are two photographs recently sent in to the Trail Times showing rugged pioneers building a highway that many buzz up and down daily without giving its origins a second thought.

April marks 80 years since construction began on a section of Highway 3B referred to nowadays as the “Montrose cut-off,” though it really is the “Fruitvale cut-off” says local historian Craig Horsland.

Read more: Warfield elementary school celebrates 70 years

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“Montrose didn’t exist (when it was built),” he pointed out. “So, it’s not the ‘Montrose cut-off.’”

To commemorate this historic milestone, Horsland sent the black-and-white images of days long past to the Times, which depict men building the highway that today, is still the main artery connecting the Beaver Valley to Trail, and vice versa.

“This past fall the Beaver Valley and Pend d’Oreille Historical Society received a number of photographs showing construction work on the Fruitvale cut-off,” said Horsland, a long-standing society member.

Dated April 15, 1940, the pictures show explosions with debris flying (scroll down), while the other captures men, their equipment, and their wooden ladders leaning on the bluff.

Unfortunately none of the workers are named.

Horsland, however, was able to provide quotes from some of those who remember the road in its earlier days. Those memories were taken from an oral history book published by the society in 1997.

The following excerpt is words from Kelly Grieve, dated July 14 and July 21, 1978.

“We got this road through here [the main highway] in about 1924-25. It [the cutoff] was carved out of the side of the mountain, all by hand,” Grieve recalled.

“Pretty near all the people from Fruitvale were working on it. They got tired of going way around by Columbia Gardens into Trail.”

Another worker who shared his memories with the historical society was Fred Haines, dated Aug. 9, 1978.

“We have pictures of our cars being towed so the men could get to work, before the highway was blacktopped. The roads were bad. People would have to go out and push, there was so much mud,” Haines recounted. “And one time we had a strike out here; we refused to go to work, the roads were too bad.

“Cominco hired four big buses to come and take the men out – and that day there were 22 trucks working on the road,” Haines said.

“Cominco hired all the trucks for days. It used to be terrible. From the top of the cut-off to Fruitvale it was just a bog.”

The pictures were donated to the society by Willard and Merle Wagner, and came from the estate of Adam and Bernice Wagner.

For more information on the Beaver Valley and Pend d’Oreille Historical Society call 250.367.9218.

New members are welcome to join this group of community members dedicated to preserving and sharing the heritage of the area.



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Early days of blasting the Highway 3B cut-off. (Photo is courtesy the Beaver Valley and Pend d’Oreille Historical Society)

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