The making of Highway 3a Part 2

It took the better part of 1947 to complete the right of way through the pass at Yellow Lake for the new highway that was to provide an Okanagan – Similkameen link to the soon to be opened Hope-Princeton highway.  Once the roadbed was completed, a major regional paving program in 1948 turned Highway 3A and portions of Highway 97 ( then known as Highway 5) south of Penticton into paved roads for the first time in history.

A  major realignment of Highway 3A was taking place along several sections of the route, with  a last minute survey of the eastern section revealing no solution to “S” curves that took the highway down from the highlands of the Marron Valley to the Okanagan at Kaleden Junction.

Along the Keremeos – Yellow Lake section, a rough country road was being replaced with a modern highway alignment, the routing through this section pretty much pre-ordained by the valley topography. Prior to the 1947-48 work, many of the improvements in the route between the pioneer era and the Second World War came about through the efforts of the men employed at relief camps that once existed in the Marron Valley and at Yellow Lake.

At the height of the Great Depression, thousands of jobless men were shunted off to federal relief camps in the B.C. wilderness. In 1932, the federal government set relief camps for unemployed men. The workers cleared bush, and built and improved local roads in return for room, board, medical care and 20 cents a day.

Run by the Department of Defence, The men were paid one-tenth of what an employed labourer would make doing the same work.


Notes   in the Penticton Herald from  a February, 1930 issue noted that “The Yellow Lake Road, or Giant’s Pass  as it is being called, has been open all winter. Work on this road will probably reopen about April15.”

What work was being undertaken at the time is unknown, but the road around Yellow Lake had caused construction problems for many years.


An intrepid motorist made a circle trip to Hedley via the Yellow Lake and Richter Pass in the spring of 1931. He commented that the trip, 115 miles in total, used seven gallons of gas.

The best part of the road was beyond Yellow Lake, where the motorist ran out of the snow line. Referring to the route as a highway, the motorist described it as being of bare earth, further praising the Department of Highways for choosing the Yellow Lake pass instead of the Richter pass for the interprovincial highway.

By 1932, a work camp had been established near the junction of the present day Marron Valley Road and Highway 3A. In March of 1932 a problem with the camp’s water and sewage system resulted in a spill that contaminated Kaleden’s water supply.

The sewage system in the camp, which housed 100 men, had a natural drainage  towards Marron Lake. When a small dam that had been created to provide a reservoir of drinking water for the camp broke, the entire sewage lagoon was  washed into Marron Lake.

Kaleden sourced its water supply from Marron Lake at the time. Shortly after the dam burst, residents were complaining that the water was unfit for use, and for some time the village had to source water from Skaha Lake.

Arnott Constuction worked on the original Keremeos – Kaleden portion of the highway in 1948. Joe Detjen, now approaching 90,  and Ernest Pryce, (deceased) father of Keremeos resident Betty Borke were members of the construction team.

An August 1947 article in the Penticton Herald pondered whether or not the Keremeos road would be complete by the following year.

“Contracts let for balance of work on realigned route” was the sub headline of the story.

“Encouraging indications that the rebuilt Kaleden- Keremeos road will be ready for ‘next season’s travel’ have been issued by those connected with the reconstruction. However, it is pointed out these are contingent upon availability of scarce machinery and kindred factors.

Contracts have now been let for the completion of other road, the final routing having been selected. With the single exception of the Yellow Lake rock work, and elimination of this series of hills, the final choice of location follows closely that of the old road.

(As noted in the Part one, the original road passed through the hills to the north of Yellow Lake, the shoreline simply too formidible an obstacle prior to the late ‘40’s.)

It had been taken for granted this would be the case on the Yellow Lake – Keremeos end, where the road must follow the valley. Some hopes had been expressed, however, that an easier, valley floor route would be found for the Yellow Lake – Kaleden portion of the highway.

Eventually efforts to find such a route had to be abandoned, for while the lower route would be possible for a mile or two, this would only mean a shorter, but much steeper climb nearer the eastern end. No “other way out” which had been hoped for, was found feasible.

Consequently, the engineers have concentrated on realigning the present route to make iti conform to the new provincial standards. Similar action will also take place on the eastern end.

(It is uncertain today what the reporter meant by this description of another possible route from Yellow Lake to the junction of  Highway 97. Penticton historian Randy Manuel postulates that there may have once been a road alignment similar to what is now the driveway of the Red Rock Ranch that the reporter was referencing.)

“I spoke to my 90 year old bus driver friend, Carl Kickbush,” Manuel said. “He told me he did not think the road deviated at all from Bobcat Road up the long hill to Twin Lakes junction.

It may be that the news story was part speculation of  a proposed  location.”

The story continued:

R. Colby, district engineer, is confident the Yellow Lake rock cut section will  be finished this winter. It may even be open for traffic this fall.

As for a ‘time’ on the approximately 10 miles on the eastern end, this can be ‘ready for next season’s travel’ providing the contractors are able to obtain sufficient machinery. W.C. Arnott Co., who carried out the rock work, are the contractors for this sector.

It is stated that when completed the entire route will be a first class highway. To accomplish this, on the western, or Keremeos end, a considerable amount of re-alignment will be carried out.

In carrying out this part of the work Campbell Construction Co, will wipe out the last remaining portion of the old, winding wagon road, which followed in great measure, the trail used by the early Hudson Bay Company traders from their Keremeos station.”

Next week: New advancements in road construction technology and theory are applied to Highway 3A’s construction in 1948.