UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The life of a navvy : a study of the relationship between ethnicity and status within railway work camps on the Kettle Valley line, 1910 to 1914 Toews, Carson


The majority of historical and archaeological studies of western Canadian railways have focused on nineteenth century Chinese immigrant workers. Alternatively, I examine the ethnicity and status of early twentieth century European immigrant railway workers in British Columbia by studying the men who constructed the Myra Canyon section of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) from 1910 to 1914. An important local historical landmark, the 12 km long Myra Canyon section of the KVR is located within the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park and is comprised of two rock tunnels and 18 wooden trestles through the rugged terrain south-east of the City of Kelowna. In January 2003, the Myra Canyon trestles were given a National Historic Sites and Monuments Board designation. Later that same year, a wildfire destroyed 12 of the 18 trestles in Myra Canyon and revealed the historic campsites of the construction crews that built the railway. I conducted a study, mapping and recording Huissi’s Camp, one of the KVR construction camps in the Myra Canyon subdivision named after the contractor of that particular section. This thesis was written through the lens of historical archaeology, thereby creating a discourse between the material remains at the site, the past and present literature of the KVR, and any relevant archival data found in the Penticton Museum and Archives. My research questions included: Who were the navvies that built the Myra Canyon section of the KVR? What did they do? What was life like for them? What were the relationships between the navvies and their bosses? Was class and status an important part of being a navvy, and what class structures were in place on the KVR? Was there segregation based on class or status going on at Huissi’s Camp or elsewhere on the KVR? And, can an historical archaeology project within a work camp in the Myra Canyon answer these questions? Results of this study demonstrate that the navvies led extremely difficult lives and ended up being largely forgotten. The lives of these men merits discussion, because without them the marvelous structures within Myra Canyon would never have been completed.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International