Rich history at former rail settlements

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, as result of the historical significance the GTP had recognized two GTP-related sites.

  • Apr. 9, 2014 11:00 a.m.

The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, as result of the historical significance the GTP had on the development of the region, recognized two GTP-related sites. And in 2013, the regional district added sites within the former GTP railway communities of Dorreen and Pacific to its community heritage registry. Those sites were the GTP roundhouse at Pacific and the site of the former GTP station at Dorreen.

Pacific was a town located approximately 35 km northeast of Terrace on the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) Railway at mile 119.4 from Prince Rupert. Prior to the arrival of the GTP, it was locally known as Nicholl.  Pacific became an important point on the GTP when the company decided to make Pacific the first divisional point east of Prince Rupert and locate a roundhouse and rail yard on a 30 hectare piece of land next to the Skeena River.

In addition to the roundhouse, Pacific’s railway infrastructure included a substantial passenger station (CNR Plan 100-159), freight and baggage sheds, water tank, oil tank, and coaling and sanding facilities. The selection of a railway divisional point often spurred additional economic activity which resulted in the growth of the associated community.

Divisional points were typically only 110 to 140 miles apart due to the mechanical limitations of steam locomotives and rolling stock of the time. Early locomotives were smaller and slower and could only travel short distances before servicing was required.

Constructed in 1915, the roundhouse was built to the GTP standard plan (Plan 120-115) typical of its time. The roundhouse was a large quarter-circular-shaped building with tracks leading into 12 stalls, each with a below-grade maintenance pit used for the repair of locomotives and rolling stock.

A large turntable in front of the roundhouse was used to align the locomotives with the stalls and was connected to a railway wye, which in turn joined the mainline track. The contractor that built most of the buildings for the GTP was, Carter-Halls-Aldinger, from Winnipeg. It is not know for sure that they built the Pacific roundhouse but it is known that they did construct other GTP roundhouses in prairie towns such as Watrous and Biggar in Saskatchewan and Wainwright in Alberta.

Pacific did enjoy a short period of success after the GTP arrived. The land was subdivided and a townsite was created. It had a school, store, post office, a hotel and community hall but the population never boomed.

With increasing advances in locomotive technology from steam to diesel, railway operations became centralized, and as a result the Pacific roundhouse was demolished to its foundations in 1959. The divisional point was transferred to Terrace, and eventually all maintenance was relocated to Prince George, B.C. and Edmonton, Alberta.

Today there is not much to see at Pacific. Very few buildings remain and the only remains of the roundhouse is the moss covered foundation and a pile of red bricks. There was a brief interest in reviving Pacific in the 1970s when a former regional district planner, with an interest in ghost towns, envisioned a self-sufficient community of people living in Pacific. Though many people were attracted to the idea of Pacific and did buy lots, the idea never did take off and Pacific was not revived.

Dorreen is an isolated community located about 48 km northeast of Terrace. Named as a result of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) Railway, after a former GTP engineer Ernest J. Dorreen. The GTP located a station at this site, at Mile 125.5 from Prince Rupert.

The Dorreen railway station was constructed in 1913 according to the GTP Standard Design A plan (CNR Plan 100-152), the most common station design used by the GTP in western Canada. The station’s hipped roof with wide bellcast overhang, turret, and large banks of windows all contributed to the formal and aesthetic qualities of this standardized building type. The traditional location for GTP stations was on the north side of the railway tracks in order to take advantage of southern exposures. However, in Dorreen the tracks run north/south necessitating the siting of the station on the east side of the tracks. Its central location in Dorreen was typical of GTP standardized planning. The station included a waiting room, agent’s office, a freight or crew bunk area and living space for the agent and his family. The station was demolished by the CNR in 1971.

District Lot 2500, generally accepted as the community of Dorreen, was preempted by Charles Carpenter in 1911. With the arrival of the GTP, the community began to grow and the District Lot was subdivided into 5 and 10 acre lots. The community grew with not only the arrival of the railway but also as a result of local prospecting and mining operations. The town boosted a general store, community hall and school.  The general store was built by Thomas McCubbin in 1920, who also operated a store in nearby Pacific. The store was later sold to William and Florence Horwill in about 1935. The store also acted as the post office, mining records office, an office of the justice of the peace and a telegraph office. It operated until its closure in 1960.

The community’s population rarely exceeded 50 even with the opening of a mine on Knuass Mountain in 1949. The mine operated by Dorreen Mines Ltd only lasted until 1953. In addition to the railway and the mining, Dorreen was also an agricultural community and families such as the Horwills grew commercial gardens and shipped their produce by train to Prince Rupert.

Today, there are only a few permanent and part-time residents of Dorreen, the general store and a number of original buildings remain. The original train station is long gone but the residents maintain a small building near the site of the original station that acts as their station.

To learn more about the GTP communities of Dorreen and Pacific, visit the heritage section of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine website at www.rdks.bc.ca.

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