A  feisty woman

The Spiral Tunnel Viewpoints are an interesting place to stop along the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1) between Lake Louise, Alberta and Field, British Columbia.  

This is a story that involves the first train ride across Canada in 1886, before the construction of the Spiral Tunnels.   The Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and his wife, Lady Agnes Macdonald, inaugurated the newly constructed Canadian Pacific Railway by riding a train all the way to Vancouver.

They took a break at Laggan Station (today's Lake Louise).  During that break, Lady Macdonald hiked to the lake that now bears her name, Lake Agnes.  These days the ascent to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is one of  the most popular hikes in the Lake Louise area. 

As the train was about to set out from Laggan Station to resume its journey, Lady Macdonald insisted on sitting on the cow catcher so that she could take full advantage of the scenery.  She improvised an outdoor seat for herself by asking the brakeman to tie an empty candle box onto the buffer beam.  The engineer was very uncomfortable at the extra burden of responsibility that this placed on him.  But Lady Macdonald refused to change her mind, so the engineer had little option but to set out for Field against his better judgement.

What had the engineer so concerned was the Big Hill through the Kicking Horse Pass, east of Field, British Columbia.  Whereas the specifications for the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks had called for a maximum gradient of 2.2%, the steepness of the Kicking Horse Pass had necessitated an exception.  The gradient on the Big Hill was 4.5%.  Of course that was before the construction of the Spiral Tunnels that subsequently reduced the gradient to the specified 2.2%.

Reports of  the day state that Lady Macdonald laughed with delight as the train plunged down the Big Hill, and the engineer heaved a sigh of relief as the train straightened out onto the flats beyond Field.