Standing among other hulks of railway history under the largest roundhouse in North America is the highlight of my trip to Three Valley Gap, just west of Revelstoke.
Entering the roundhouse, visitors are able to walk immediately through an old CP railcar, examining the nooks and crannies until a mild case of claustrophobia sets in.
Exiting the railcar, one comes across an array of train trivia — nine other cars to explore, each offering up a bonanza of ephemera.
However, as the eye scrolls along the massive oval room, there, standing at the head of a particular blue and white railcar with a distinctive red and white Canada flag, is Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The popular and polarizing prime minister, actually a life-size cutout thereof, is smiling as he surveys all that lies in front of him.
Of course, has this scene taken place exactly 30 years ago, Trudeau’s smile would have been replaced by a scowl and his famous Trudeau Salute, the one-fingered wave he gave to protesters in Salmon Arm as he and his sons crossed Canada in this very railcar that sits today in the Three Valley Gap roundhouse.
The train museum is just part of what makes Three Valley Gap such a unique destination.
It is attached to the popular heritage ghost town (complete with a working saloon) and the 200-room Three Valley Lake Chateau, which includes a restaurant with darned-good home-cooked fare, an indoor pool and hot tub, a billiards table (free to use), a cafeteria, indoor and outdoor gardens and a sandy beach on the impressive lake (though the beach was under water when we visited, thanks to the remnants of a soggy June.
The Bell family has spent decades building the now-famous resort, its’ trademark red-peaked roofs suddenly and impressively bursting from the valley as one rounds a final corner on Highway 1 from the west.
While the Trudeau railcar remains foremost in my memory, the ghost town is what attracts most — and, with 25 historic buildings with fascinating background, it’s easy to see why.
These include St. Stephen’s Church, built in 1886 in Field, B.C., and moved to the ghost town in 1965, where it was dedicated by then highways minister Phil Gaglardi.
There is also Trapper Joe’s Cabin, the rustic abode of a legendary trapper in the Eagle Pass area — and so much more.
One of the more fascinating structures is a replica of the CB Hume General Store, the original of which was built in 1892. Inside the store, there is ephemera a-plenty at which to marvel, from “crackers for 10 cents a pound” to magazine ads peddling rubber bathing suits that are “modest yet alluring.”
Also included is the ghost town is the antique auto museum, featuring 16 vehicles from 1902 to 1931, and the Monashee mine exhibit, featuring mining tools through generations.
And, there is a beautiful replicated opera house and the Transportation Building, which houses communications relics of days-gone-by.
My kids loved handling the old phones — even if they had no clue how to use a rotary model.
They loved the typewriters.
They loved those mysterious music devices that predate iPods.
“Dad! It’s a record player!” my daughter shouted as she came across the familiar (to me) turntable and needle.
“Is it working?” I asked from across the room.
“I don’t know,” she replied with a pause. “Can you show me how to use it?”
The hotel itself, the Three Valley Lake Chateau, is epic in its structure (and its maze of routes to and from rooms, the pool, the restaurant and the gardens will delight kids who like an adventure).
It is not fancy. It is not ultra-modern.
It is extremely clean (I have yet to find a comparable hotel bathroom as spotless) and it does fit in perfectly with the down-home theme the Bell family has successfully built amid some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on earth.
Three Valley Lake Chateau also operates Beardale Castle, west of the hotel in Craigellachie, of Last Spike fame. The castle is a meticulously sculpted miniature land, featuring areas devoted to Mother Goose nursery rhymes, a 1950s Canadian Prairie town, a medieval German town and more.