This year marks 100 years that a ferry at McLure has serviced the residents and travellers 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, located about halfway between Kamloops and Barriere. It takes people and their vehicles from one side of the river to the other, from Highway 5 on the east to Westsyde Road on the west, and vice versa.
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 daily between 7 a.m. and noon and between 1 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. It carries a maximum of two cars and 12 passengers per trip.
The crossing is about 100 metres (330 feet) 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 in 1890 by farmers and ranchers in the area who needed a mode of transportation, not just for people, but for livestock and necessities.
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 still has a T-shirt that she purchased at the McLure Cafe in 1991. The shirt celebrates 100 years of the McLure ferry as of 1990. The slogan printed on it states: “Friends Of The McLure Ferry 1890-1990.”
“I did a little digging,” Lidstone said, noting she had been wondering about the date discrepancies between the T-shirt from 1990, which marked 100 years for the ferry, and 2019 being heralded as the 100th anniversary of the service.
Lidstone said she learned the original McLure ferry was operated by local farmers on both sides of the North Thompson from 1890 to 1919, at which time the government assumed control of the service.
“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,” Lidstone said. “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 devastating fire that started on July 31, 2003, the flames ran all the way to Barriere. More than 3,000 residents were evacuated from the area, including the entire town of Barriere.
The Yellowhead Highway (Highway 5) was closed, with the fire raging on both sides of the river.
For many people, the only way out was via the ferry. It was also the only way in for firefighters and equipment to battle the blaze.
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 the service, it would have been impossible for those fleeing the fires to escape or for the firefighters to access the area.
The Barriere and District Heritage Society is asking anyone who may have photographs of the ferry from times gone by, stories to share or keepsakes related to the ferry and its history to please contact the North Thompson Museum office by phone at 250-672-5583 or on the Barriere History Facebook Page.
The society is especially interested in information or photographs from the early years.