A new book about the men who built the majestic Myra Canyon trestles on B.C.’s Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) will launch next week, just in time for the reopening of the famous trestles destroyed by wildfire in 2003.
Myra’s Men, written by Maurice Williams, Associate Professor of History at UBC Okanagan, chronicles the building of the KVR from Myra Canyon near Kelowna to Penticton.
Williams has focused his historian’s eye not only on the visionary engineers who oversaw the work, but also on the everyday lives of the immigrant labourers — the “navvies” — who blasted the tunnels, laid the tracks and built the soaring trestles on a spectacular rail line that has become one of Canada’s most scenic historic treasures.
“This is a social history about the construction of the Myra Canyon – the men, who they were, what the camps were like, and what the men did in their non-working time,” says Williams. “You get a good overview of what life was like for immigrant labourers. They were the grunts who built the railway, they were at the bottom of the scale and were exploited, but they had their dreams.”
The book is published in paperback by the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society, which has guided the rebuilding of the historic trestles after they were destroyed by the Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire in the summer of 2003. The restored trestles will be officially opened to the public on Sunday, June 22, with a grand reopening celebration from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (details are online at http://www.myratrestles.com).
In the week leading up to the grand reopening at Myra Canyon, Myra’s Men will be launched in three separate events:
UBC Okanagan on-campus book launch
Tuesday, June 17, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Student Service Centre’s Okanagan Room
Myra’s Men will be introduced by Duane Thomson, UBC Okanagan Associate Professor Emeritus of History, at both the UBC Okanagan and Okanagan Heritage Museum events
Okanagan Heritage Museum book launch
Wednesday, June 18, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Kelowna’s Okanagan Heritage Museum
470 Queensway Avenue (corner of Ellis and Queensway)
Penticton’s Kettle Valley Railway Day
Saturday, June 21 from 10 to 10:45 am
Old KVR Station (Kinsman Building)
Hastings Street, Penticton
Over the past two summers, Williams and colleague Richard Garvin, UBC Okanagan Associate Professor of Anthropology, have established a field school at Myra Canyon. Researching the physical and historical evidence, the field school has conducted archeological digs for both university coursework and community education to study what remains of the immigrant labour camps dating back to 1912. Proceeds from book sales are being contributed to the Myra Canyon scholarship and research fund at UBC Okanagan.
While Myra’s Men has the academic attention to detail to serve as a textbook in Williams’ classes at UBC Okanagan, the author assures that the book is written for a general audience. “I tried to write for the lay-person interested in the Myra Canyon trestles and the Kettle Valley Railway,” says Williams. “The intention really is to give someone an overview of the KVR and what it was like to be working as a navvy in 1912, 1913 and 1914.”
The book is distributed to retailers by Sandhill Book Marketing of Kelowna and will be available at all Okanagan bookstores starting next week. A numbered, limited hardcover edition will also be available through the publisher. This summer, the book will be available in bookstores throughout B.C. as well as railway museums and railway hobby shops.
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