In the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 1965, five people in three vehicles travelling west from Princeton to Hope were brought to a halt by a small landslide across Highway 3 at the base of Johnson Peak. Although they had no way of knowing it, the small slide was the precursor of what is now known as the Hope Slide, when a massive slab of rock nearly 4,000 feet high and 2,600 feet wide let go from the top of Johnson Peak and swept across the highway.
On Jan. 9, 2020—55 years after the event—B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure released nearly three dozen photographs taken in the hours and days after the slide, most of which have not previously been made publicly available.
The slide left 47 million cubic metres of debris across a three kilometre stretch of highway, with the road buried to a depth of 200 feet. Hay truck driver Thomas Starchuck, and three friends travelling in a convertible—Bernie Lloyd Beck, Dennis Arlitt, and Mary Kalmakoff—were at the site when the slide occurred. Oil tanker driver Norm “Steph” Stephanishin—unable to turn his rig around—opted to walk back to Sumallo Lodge to try to alert authorities to the situation, and was the only one of the five to survive. The bodies of Starchuck and Beck were later recovered, as were parts of Starchuck and Steph’s trucks. Arlitt, Kalmakoff, and their car have never been found.
Highways Minister “Flying” Phil Gaglardi was at the site immediately after the slide, along with search and rescue units from the area (Princeton Search and Rescue promptly requisitioned Gaglardi’s helicopter). Realizing the importance of the Hope-Princeton route—which in those pre-Coquihalla days was the main highway connecting the Lower Mainland to the Okanagan—Gaglardi had initially hoped that a temporary road could be in place within 48 hours.
However, as engineers got a better look at the site and made their assessments, it was clear that it would be much longer than that before the highway could be rebuilt. It is a testament to those involved that three weeks after the slide, a road had been pushed through the debris and the highway was reopened.
Although it is not the most deadly slide in Canada’s history (the Frank Slide in Alberta in 1903 killed between 70 and 90 people), the Hope Slide remains the largest recorded landslide in the country’s history.
Highway 3 has been re-routed through the site since it was rebuilt in 1965, but a pullout with views of the slide’s debris field tells the story of the Hope Slide.
To see a gallery of the recently released pictures, go to http://bit.ly/2TFiEko.