Lillooet mayor champions the return of the train

interview by Ray Kowalchuk

They used to come for the Gold Rush. Now, they come for the rush. – Old BC Rail slogan

Ray Kowalchuk: What inspired your “Bring Back the North Vancouver to Prince George Passenger Train” petition?

Margaret Lampman: I was contacted by the general chairman of Teamsters Canada – they are the union that represents all the railways – to talk this up again because of the lack of accessibility and tourism opportunities for, not only Lillooet, but for the province of BC.

RK: Tell us about the history of the rail line and how important it was in the region.

Mayor Margaret Lampman
Mayor Margaret Lampman of Lillooet

ML: When it [the Cariboo Prospector] was operating, it used to come into Lillooet three times a week and it gave tourists the opportunity to visit with us for three hours at a time, which was an immense influx of money into the small business community. And it helped them through the leaner times of the winter months. It also allowed our residents to take the train down to the Lower Mainland to access family and medical help or to go north to Prince George for work or social activities. The business community really took a huge blow when the train was deleted due to the lack of those tourists and activity, which is too bad because we like to support our local businesses and it also dropped our tourism in general, which affects your bottom line immensely. Let’s face it, tourists can become residents. That’s the cycle and how economics works. It was really hurtful for our residents who couldn’t get out of town if they didn’t have a vehicle. I keep saying, and will continue to say, we have no bus service in Lillooet.

RK: How did this hit the community?

ML: We had so many BC Rail employees living in the community that, when it was dispersed, quite a few of those employees, in order to keep working, had to be stationed in other areas. So it hit us hard by taking those families who were living here and supporting the businesses, our rec centre, medical facilities and schools. It was tough on the community as a whole. We felt the effects of it all down the line.

RK: How has the deletion of the passenger rail service and the sale of BC Rail in 2002 impacted you personally?

ML: On the personal side, it has hurt me because I have been involved in government for so long that I hear stories of people who have had to hire someone to take them down for medical treatment at a really high cost and that individual then has to decide whether or not to even get treatment. That should not be taking place.

RK: Why did tourists love the rail line?

ML: It has to be some of the most gorgeous scenery anywhere in the world. As you leave North Vancouver, alongside the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east, and coming into Whistler, you travel along rivers and lakes, cutting through mountains and then into the dry air of Lillooet. It drops down and you see our desert canyons – I call it Canada’s only Grand Canyon – and then heads north to some of the most spectacular ranchlands around, right up to Prince George. And the scenery all the way up there is just fantastic.

RK: What steps are you taking to bring the issue to the current government and what is planned for the future negotiations regarding passenger rail service?

ML: I started a letter writing campaign with all of the mayors, regional district chairs, First Nations communities as well as tourism operators from North Vancouver to Prince George. That resulted in a lot of letters of support going to the premier and Minister Stone. We have been working as a little group of cohorts to go to the next step. The response was overwhelming so I am working with the mayor of North Vancouver. He kindly offered his office to set up the meeting and through him we also have the support of the mayor of the district of West Vancouver as well as the MPs from down there, and so the request is in. If we do get that meeting, all the mayors will sit down with the minister, ask him and his staff to contact a private company, like Via Rail, asking for a them to provide a business proposal, then a business plan. That would be a huge win for us.

RK: How optimistic are you?

ML: I’m always an optimist and I think if we have a meeting and the minister looks around at that table and sees all of the support letters and mayors, it will be hard not to agree. I’m still waiting for more support letters to come in from different tourist agencies and businesses, international tourism operators and the teamsters. We will hopefully then have convinced him to give that directive to make it happen.

Ray Kowalchuk is a semi-retired carpenter and naturalist who moved from his home city of Burnaby seven years ago into the mountains of Seton Portage, BC. kowal@writeme.com

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1 thought on “Lillooet mayor champions the return of the train

  1. Actually the motto was for an excursion train that ran for a brief period of time along the BC Rail line called the Whistler Northwind but was discontinued along with the rest of passenger rail so that Liberal party donor Peter Armstrong could have another privately owned excursion train as a adjunct to his Rocky Mountaineer which now runs through Lillooet but does not stop.

    And it was, “They used to come for the rock, but now they come for the roll!” Rock of course referring to the Gold Rush and roll for the train rolling along on the tracks.

    I worked for Tourism BC at the time and used to book the train through the Supernatural BC call centre.

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