A Walk In The Past Trail Follow the footsteps of rail workers that forged a nation one rail at a time.

The Proper Function

All Aboard 

Your ticket on this Proper Function will lead you into the heart of Canadian history as you take a walk in the past! Know that each step you take is a step into the year of 1871 when Canada launched a dream. That dream was led by William Cornelius Van Horne who was to construct a railroad and connect a nation sea to sea. While standing at the trailhead, appreciate that this once served as the camp for the Canadian Pacific Railway. With little imagination, you can still see the area lined with canvas tents as the scent of beef stew blows past your face. On a quiet night you can still hear the gruff voices of rail workers.


As in life, the rail workers faced many challenges. One of the greatest challenges occured on this function; crossing the steep Kicking Horse Pass and ascending the 4.5% grade mountain known as the “Big Hill”. Evidence of this challenge becomes very clear when you visit the wreckage of an 1800’s steam locomotive.


This Baldwin steam engine helped excavate two tunnels which solved the problem of the “Big Hill”. It took 1,000 men, 75 rail cars of dynamite and $1.5 million to build the marvel called Spiral Tunnels. When the spiral tunnels were completed in 1908, this Baldwin steam engine was left behind. And in Proper Function, appreciate this wreckage as a memorial to the iron men that forged this rail.

“The biggest things are the easiest to do because there is no competition”

– William Corneilus Van Horne

A Walk In The Past

The area is often closed between the months of October and June, so please check with Parks Canada before visiting. At the backside of Kicking Horse camp area, you will see a large “A Walk In The Past” sign that offers brochures for a self-guided hike into history. The brochures many not be availble, so I recommend you download a copy here and take it with you!


The trail will initially pass a fallen tree with ‘Walk In The Past’ carved in its faded side. Know that this is no ordinary hike, each step you take is the same step the rail workers took when constructing the railroad. Imagine boots stomping, dynamite explosing up the hill as thick black smoke clouds above you. Imagine doing this kind of work for $2 a day! You will start with a gradual ascent and you’ll want to keep an eye out for the numbered markers and refer to the brochure for some historical context. Soon a large bridge will reveal itself and you must be prepared for trains passing underneathe as the trail crosses the tracks.


Your walk will continue into a thick lush forest as the sound of the TransCanada Highway begins to fade. Upon reaching marker 5 & 6, you will be walking down a dirt road which once served as the original rail line. Keep an eye out for the trail on your left which will lead you over a small stream on a plank bridge. Welcome to the highlight of this function: A wrecked Baldwin steam locomotive and coal hauler.


The Boy In The Photo



A discovery formed by this Proper Function relates to the photograph of ‘The Last Spike’ that completed the railroad. What got my attention was a young boy amongst all these grown men. His name is Edward Mallandaine. He left school at the age of 14 and began working for the pony express delivery service. Edward wanted to see this historic event and hopped aboard an open flat-car to endure the rugged ride. It was November 7, 1885 when he arrived at the event and crawled his way to the front to land within this now famous photograph. Later, he would return home to attend school where he later became an architect and surveyor. He became a successful land developer and was co-founder of Creston, B.C. He passed away in 1949 at the age of 82.

How many last spike moments can you recall in your own life? Those moments that pivoted your life and made you who you are today.

Bake OvenChinese WorkersReferences

1WideAbout 100 yard before you meet the trailhead, on the right-side of the road you will see a historic back oven from the former rail camp. The old bake oven was built in 1884 and were used primarily for baking bread. A fire was built inside and after it burns down, the coals are raked out. The oven floor is swept clean and sprinkled with corn meal or flour. The loaves are then placed inside and the door is sealed for baking. The entire process takes about two hours, but only about 15 minutes of baking time at 450 degrees.

1WideOn May 27, 2005, Canadian Pacific Railway named a section after a Chinese worker Cheng Ging Butt. It honors the many Chinese workers who sacrificed their lives to build the railroad. Over 15,000 workers were involved and tragically over a 1,000 died while building the CPR.

  1. http://parkscanadahistory.com/brochures/kickinghorse/walk-in-the-past-c2010s.pdf
    2. http://hikingwithbarry.com/2014/07/03/walk-past-yoho-national-park-hiking-bc
    3. http://parkscanada.gc.ca/yoho
    4. http://sssicamous.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Canadian-Pacific-Rail-Childrens-Information-Pack-History.pdf
    5. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/top-business-stories/a-quiz-for-joe-oliver-how-many-died-building-cpr/article1357931/
This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
LocationYoho National Park
Coordinates51.424337°, -116.429367°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
Time2 Hours


Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.