By Kathryn Gagnon, Curator/Manager, Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives
Completed in 1920, the Kinsol Trestle is the largest wooden railway bridge in the Commonwealth, offering a spectacular crossing of the Koksilah River. The trestle is notable for both its size and its unusual seven-degree curve.
Also known as the Koksilah River Bridge, the trestle reminds us of the once powerful forest industry and the ambition and ingenuity required to overcome substantial geographical challenges in the construction of railways.
The last train crossed the Kinsol Trestle in 1979, and by 2006 the deteriorating bridge was threatened with demolition. The regional government planned to replace it with a simpler, lower-cost structure in order to complete the Cowichan Valley section of the Trans Canada Trail.
After initiating an independent analysis of the trestle, Gordon Macdonald of Macdonald & Lawrence Timber Framing presented an alternative to demolition, demonstrating why and how the structure should be saved. Strong public support for the project fuelled the decision to rehabilitate the historical trestle.
At a sunrise ceremony at the newly restored Kinsol Trestle on July 28, 2011, CN Rail’s senior engineer Ralph Morris, was remembered for his expertise and 30 years of engineering records that contributed to the preservation of the Kinsol Trestle, his favourite of the more than 4,000 wooden trestle bridges in the Western and Mountain Division for which he was responsible. In 2020, the Kinsol Trestle is celebrated as part of Canada’s built heritage.
The Virtual Museum of Canada exhibit Abandoned, Then Embraced: The Kinsol Trestle was created by the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives and the Shawnigan Lake Museum in 2011.