The year 2019 marks 100 years that a ferry at McLure has serviced the residents and travelers of the North Thompson Valley under the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The McLure Ferry is a cable ferry on the North Thompson River and is situated approximately halfway between Kamloops and Barriere where it takes travelers from the east side of the river (Highway 5) to the west side, and onto Westsyde Road.
This ferry is a reaction ferry, meaning it is propelled by the current of the water. An overhead cable is suspended from towers anchored on either bank of the river, and a “traveller” is installed on the cable, with the ferry being attached to the traveller by a bridle cable. A one-man crew operates the ferry by using rudders to keep the ferry’s pontoons angled into the current, thus causing the force of the current to move the ferry across the river.
The ferry is free to its users and runs on demand between 7 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. daily. It carries a maximum of two cars and 12 passengers at a time. The crossing is about 100 metres (330 ft) in length, and takes five minutes, but the ferry cannot operate at times of high water or winter freeze up.
The ferry was originally started up in 1890 by farmers and ranchers in the area who needed a mode of transportation, not just for people but also livestock and necessities. Then in 1909 the town of McLure was named after John McClure, an early rancher in the area.
Although the railway came to the North Thompson in 1916 it was the McLure ferry that held the communities of the Lower North Thompson together.
McLure resident Sherry Lidstone says she still has a t-shirt that she purchased at the McLure Cafe in 1991 which celebrates 100 years of the McLure Ferry running at that time. The slogan printed on it says “Friends Of The McLure Ferry 1890-1990”.
“I did a little digging,” said Lidstone, noting she had been wondering about the date discrepancies between the t-shirt from 1990 which was marking 100 years for the ferry, and now 2019 is also marking 100 years for the ferry?
Lidstone says her investigations showed that the original McLure ferry, was operated by local farmers on both sides of the North Thompson from 1890 to 1990 when the government took over the running of the ferry.
“The “Friends of the McLure Ferry” t-shirts were made to call attention to the fact that the ferry was going to be taken out of service forever at that time,” said Lidstone, “I assume enough people spoke up and it was kept. If I remember correctly the ferry was also in danger of closing until its value was proved over and over again during the McLure Wildfire of 2003.”
During the McLure Wildfire that started on July 31, 2003, the firestorm ran all the way to Barriere. Over 3,000 residents were evacuated from the area, including the town of Barriere. The Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 5) was closed, with the fire being on both sides of the river, and for many people the only way out was via the ferry. It was also the only way in for firefighters and equipment to get to the fire. In a 24 hour period at the height of the evacuations, some 125 trips across the North Thompson River were successfully completed by the McLure Ferry and its crew. Without them it would have been impossible for those fleeing the fires to escape, or for the brave firefighters to access the area.
There is much to the history of the McLure Ferry, and as this is a year of celebration for the history and tradition for one of British Columbia’s last reaction ferries, the Barriere and District Heritage Society is asking anyone who may have photographs of the ferry from times gone by, stories to share, or even keepsakes related to the McLure Ferry and its history, to please contact them. They are especially interested in information or photographs from the early years.