A welder works on an oil pipeline suspended over the Coquihalla River.

A welder works on an oil pipeline suspended over the Coquihalla River.

Barrels of oil flow through Hope

Local pipelines play an important role in the economy

Kimberly Campbell and Inge Wilson

Contributors

As discussions about proposed pipelines in Canada grow louder, about 260,700 barrels of oil quietly flow under and through Hope every single day. Most residents don’t think about this or the two large tanks that are located between Old Hope Princeton Way and Highways 3 and 5 .

It was in November 1951, that British Columbia Premier Byron Johnson announced that the Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline Company would be responsible for building a 1,116-kilometre (693-mile) pipeline that would transport oil from Edmonton, across the Rockies, through the Coquihalla Valley and Hope, and on to a tank farm in Burnaby. The $82-million project, Johnson said, would be “the biggest thing that has ever happened to B.C.” The project, initially scheduled to be capable of transporting 75,000 barrels a day, was to be constructed of a single, 24-inch diameter pipe with two pumping stations.

Hope received great economic benefit from the construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline as over 150 pipeline workers soon flooded the area. While the workers were housed in large car trailers along the pipeline right-of-way, their families were responsible for finding their own housing in or near the community. The resident engineer for the project, Mr. H. Argoe, moved to Hope with his family in July 1951 in preparation for the project.

In 1953, Trans-Mountain approved a housing plan after concerns were raised over the availability of appropriate housing for workers stationed in outlying places, including Hope. Through this plan, Trans-Mountain took on the building of homes – one standard type for supervisors and another for “occupational” staff. The properties would be owned by Trans Mountain Housing Limited and leased to company employees.

In April 1952, pipeline crews cleared a 3,000-foot long by 50-foot wide stretch of pipeline right-of-way west of Silver Creek and in early May crews were clearing through the downtown section of Hope. Once the right-of-way was clear, ditching crews moved in with a “mucker” – an enormous machine that dug ditches at approximately three kilometres per hour – in preparation for the pipe laying that began in July.

The construction of the pipeline around Hope was arduous given the steep grades and narrow canyon of the Coquihalla River. The Coquihalla Valley provided the steepest “chute” along the pipeline route – a drop of 1,109 meters (3,640 feet) in just 45 kilometres (28 miles). Also complicating construction was the presence of the Kettle Valley branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In order to carve a trench, install, weld, and backfill the pipe, workers had to suspend themselves above rushing waters and tunnel below them. One C.P.R. worker made national news when he said the pipeliners were “damn fools.”

Meanwhile, construction west of Hope also had challenging moments, particularly when 10,000 cubic yards of rock and debris slid down the hillside burying both the road and railway five kilometres out of town and blocking transportation for 15 hours.

Despite the difficulties and minor delays, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline was formally opened on Oct. 15, 1953 – over two months ahead of the original completion date. Premier W.A.C. Bennett called the new pipeline “a milestone in economic progress…(comparable) to the pushing of the first railway line across the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific.”

In recent years Kinder Morgan, the owner of the Trans-Mountain line, has increased the capacity by twinning sections of it. Now in light of the Northern Gateway proposal, questions have been raised about potentially twinning more of the Trans-Mountain route in order to further increase capacity.

In 1955, two years after the Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline first started operating, Westcoast Transmission received approval to construct a 1,046-kilometre natural gas pipeline from Taylor, in Northeast B.C., to the Canada-U.S. border at Huntingdon. This 30-inch pipeline was also to be constructed through the Coquihalla Valley and Hope. It was to be the first “big inch” pipeline in Canada and when construction began it gave another boost to the Hope economy.

In 2001, Westcoast Energy proposed to construct 89 kilometres of 42-inch pipeline to increase natural gas availability – including just over 11 kilometres of new pipeline running from the Compresser Station located on Othello Road to just west of Hope at Flood.

This 42-inch pipeline would replace the old 30-inch pipe, and would run parallel to the 36-inch pipeline also operated by Westcoast Energy. This proposal was approved and work was completed in 2003.

The gas pipeline company has been known as Westcoast Transmission, Westcoast Energy, Duke Energy, and, currently, Spectra Energy. Whatever its name, though, one of the most recognizable features of the pipeline locally is the large, red and white “barber-pole” suspended above the Fraser River just west of Hope.

Today, both of the pipeline companies continue to have permanent maintenance crews stationed in Hope and they remain important corporate members of the community.

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