2 ½ -ton 1928 Plymouth Model TL-2 Locomotive used on a narrow-gauge railway in Jordan River in the 1940s. 1.4 x 3.2m. 2013.039.001.

The Railway and its Engines

The Jordan River railway was built in 1909 by the Vancouver Island Power Company, a subsidiary of BC Electric, when construction began on a dam and powerhouse. It was around 9km in length and ran alongside a flume from the Forebay Reservoir to the Diversion Dam 1,150 feet above sea level. A narrow-gauge railway of 3ft, this type of railway was common for industrial enterprises of the area, as they were less costly to build than a standard track.

Various steam and gas locomotives and speeders served the railway until 1940 when the 1928 Plymouth gasoline locomotive with a 32 HP Le Roi Engine to your right arrived from the Goldstream Power Station to serve the busy operation.

This engine has a multiple speed gear system, for the locomotive to navigate mountainous terrain like the Jordan River hillside. It was replaced with a Ford Flathead engine likely around the late 1930-40s.

The dam

The Vancouver Island Power Company’s (later B.C. Hydro) hydro-electric plant opened September 10, 1911 on the beach near the mouth of the Jordan River, supplying power to Victoriaand the lower Island area. It was a major project led by the Superintendent for the Company, the legendary D.I. Walker. From the artificial Forebay Reservoir, located 1,150 feet above the powerhouse, four penstocks carried rushing water down to the turbines. The Forebay Reservoir was linked to the engineering feats of the Diversion Dam and Reservoir, further up the river, through a wooden flume 8.5km in length, alongside of which ran the railway. The line, which ran all the way into Victoria, transported the power, supported by cedar poles. 

At the height of construction the operation employed more than a thousand workers and a bustling community developed, with sports facilities and an orchestra. The flume and railway operated from 1913 to 1971, when a new powerhouse was opened at Jordan River. In 1927 the wooden aqueduct was mostly rebuilt and was intact until the 1980s.

More on the journey of this locomotive to the Sooke Region Museum

By the 1970s the rail system had been long out of service and was to be dismantled and scrapped.

The Vancouver Island Production Manager at that time sought a way to preserve the locomotives and track. With the Mayor of Nanaimo’s assistance, they devised to install them as a tourist attraction on Newcastle Island in the Nanaimo Harbour. Arrangements were made to ship the locomotives to Nanaimo where they could by refurbished. However, before the initiative could get underway, the Provincial Government declared Newcastle Island as a Provincial Park, eliminating the possibility of fulfilling the dream of a narrow-gauge railway tourist attraction.

Arrangements were then made to store the two locomotives at the BC Forest Discovery Centre in North Cowichan. There were a few unsuccessful attempts to have them restored and suitably placed for public viewing.

The engines remained at the Centre until their relocation on November 21, 2013 to the Kaltasin works yard in Sooke. The move was initiated by Ted Olnyk of BC Hydro, who thought Sooke to be a better suited home for them, one closer to their original place of use. He contacted Bonnie Sprinkling, the District of Sooke’s Corporate Officer, who then turned over the project to DirectorLee Boyko at the Sooke Region Museum.

B.C. Hydro donated the engines and $5,000 towards their restoration at the Sooke Region Museum. On hand for the transport were museum members and Karla Louwers from BC Hydro. The intention was to have the engines non-operationally restored, have one displayed on the museum grounds, and the other in Jordan River. Brian Sorokan from RKM Crane Service provided a crane-lift truck that would lift the cars off and down, and maneuver them into the repair bay at the works yard. 

Museum Lead Hand Willy Webb and a team of several volunteers then got to work on refurbishing the engines at the works yard, a space provided by the District of Sooke, until 2019 when Vic City Crane Ltd. transported the engines and 4M Bobcat and Trucking Ltd. prepared the site.

After completion of the restoration, the 1928 Plymouth engine was moved to its new permanent home across from the Museum’s service building on June 2, 2019. Guy LeDrew, with the help of his sister Noella, the museum’s caretaker, built a sturdy shelter to help the railcar withstand the elements. Noella also designed an interpretive panel for the new artifact, printed by Tran Sign.

Clifford D. Banner, the author of “Power Pioneer”, who worked at Jordan River 1949-82, said of the project: “The BC Hydro Power Pioneers sincerely appreciate that these two legacy icons will serve to enlighten future generations. The Power Pioneers sincerely appreciate and wish to thank the BC Forest Discovery Centre, the BC Hydro managers who both originally conceived the restoration and then facilitated the arrangements, and finally the Sooke Region Museum for enabling it to happen.”

DSC_0247: The locomotive at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre, prior to it being shipped to Sooke.
BCE 4: Loading the locomotive at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan, B.C.
DSC_1664: Unloading the locomotive at the public works yard in Sooke.
DSC_1690: All ready for restoration at the public works yard in Sooke.