Powell River's First Amusement Ride
Ambrose McKinnon worked at the Powell River Mill and was a skilled machinist. He built the miniature steam engine and car in the late 1930s in his own workshop. It made its first debut at the Riverside Oval in Townsite on Labor Day 1939. McKinnon named the train No. 76 of the Union International railway, '76' for the Pulp-Sulphite Union who provided money for the track, and 'Union International' as a tribute to the Local, which helped finance it. McKinnon later went on to become president of the local union.
After its initial debut in 1939 McKinnon kept it in storage during the war years, but it emerged once again in 1947 at the C-Side Shindig at Willingdon Beach on August 9th. With several improvements and additions including a new type of rail called duraluminum, imported from California, No. 76 and its 100 feet of track were the main attraction for the children at the beach-side event. The ride became so popular that it was run every weekend until Labor Day.
At an average speed of 8 m.p.h., with the engine boasting a capacity of 100 pounds of pressure, and smoke shooting 40 feet in the air, the locomotive and passenger car could take up to six small children at a time. The first load of passengers pulled out of the station at 2 p.m. and followed 100 feet of track, through a woodland route, before returning to the station for the next load.
Today this narrow gauge tradition continues up at the Farmer’s Market grounds thanks to the Powell River Forest Heritage Society and their Paradise Valley Railroad.