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1903-1907::The Shawnigan Lake Suburban Train

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

For only a few years, a special E&N train carried passengers to Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia.

1903::Esquimalt & Nanaimo Train

"The E&N Train"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1904) Victoria, British Columbia

For almost a decade, Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island was known as the halfway point between Nanaimo and Victoria on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) rail line. Such wasn't actually the case, however, as the distance between Shawnigan Lake and Nanaimo was almost twice that from Shawnigan Lake to Victoria. Nonetheless, it felt like the halfway point as it marked the end of a hard climb for a train coming from the south as compared to a train on the easygoing and relatively flat route on the north side of the lake. For this reason, the developing area of Shawnigan Lake had become the halfway rallying point for island passengers travelling from either termini, and eventually, with time, it became a favourite summertime destination.

1904::A favourite summertime destination.

"Summertime at Shawnigan Lake"

Photo Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1904) Victoria, British Columbia

In 1902, it was public opinion that too much effort was being put into attracting off-island tourists to fill the beautiful Vancouver Island resorts. Many Victorians felt that these tourists had a great advantage over Victorians themselves when it came to securing an ideal summertime destination for their families. The growing city was beginning to see their favourite summer camping spots completely overwhelmed, and in response, the E&N decided to help by hosting occasional train excursions to destinations up the island. This somewhat relieved the camping overflow at local sites, but taxed the excursion trains to maximum capacity. Something had to be done.

1903::New Shawnigan Lake Daily Suburban Train

"The New Suburban Train"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1903)

Victoria, British Columbia

The following summer, in 1903, E&N launched a daily 'Suburban Train' to Shawnigan Lake. The train would leave downtown Victoria at 6pm and return the following morning at 8:30am. It was an ideal situation, especially with a significant reduction in fare (only 50 cents for a return trip, one hour each way). The Suburban Train allowed office workers in Victoria to catch a train after work and enjoy a summer evening with their vacationing family at Shawnigan Lake. They could then return to work by train the following morning. The idea was a hit. Soon summering settlements with little country cottages began to appear along the E&N rail line, and Shawnigan Lake with its warm lake water and fresh mountainous air became the most popular destination of all.

1903::Suburban Train Shawnigan Lake

"1903::The Suburban Train Arriving at Shawnigan Lake"

Photo: BC Archives (H-02392)

The Suburban Train was an enormous success from the start. Trains were packed with passengers and small communities began to spring up along the route between Victoria and the Lake.

1906::A push for the Suburban Train to offer daily service to Duncan, BC.

"A Push to Duncan."

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1906)

Victoria, British Columbia

Seeing the enormous success of the Shawnigan Lake Suburban Train, destinations further up the line were begging for the Suburban Train to extend further north. In 1906, Duncan got their wish.

1907::The Last Suburban Train to Shawnigan Lake

"The Last Suburban Train"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1907)

Victoria, British Columbia

The Suburban Train ran for four more summers before the E&N changed up their schedule and cancelled the beloved Shawnigan Lake Suburban Train for good. The very last Suburban Train to run to Shawnigan Lake left Victoria at 6 am on September 14, 1907. It had been running since June 1st, 1903.

1908::Concerned Citizens about the cancellation of the Suburban Train

"Concerned Citizens and Collapsing Property Values"

Clip: Victoria Daily Times (1908)

Victoria, British Columbia

The last paragraph of the story above explains that the E&N had changed up their service. They introduced a Double Daily Service to replace the Suburban Train, believing it would better serve the area and island. This did not go over well. Dunsmuir had long since sold out the E&N to CPR in 1905, and change was in the air. Automobiles had been introduced to islanders at the same time as the Suburban Train was introduced. They were quickly becoming the transport of choice for those who could afford it, and development of the Malahat Highway got underway at the same time as the Suburban Train was cancelled. Local residents who had spent years vacationing and later residing in Shawnigan Lake were at a loss. The Suburban Train was never reinstated.

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