Othello Tunnels expected to reopen next year

Repairs continue on the famous tunnels, and Hope's mayor hopes they open next summer.

Damage at the Othello Tunnels after the 2021 floods. 📷️ BC Parks Blog

Rebuilding the Othello Tunnels will be a “multi-year process,” provincial officials say. But Hope’s Mayor hopes the park will reopen next summer.

Nearly two years have passed since the massive flooding in the Coquihalla Canyon thrashed Othello’s bridges and tunnels.

Work to shore up the tunnels and repair broken bridges has taken place throughout the last year, starting with an engineering report that was completed last spring. Mayor Victor Smith said conversations with BC Parks staff haven’t deterred his hopes for the park to reopen in 2024.

“We're hoping that it will happen for next year, it's our number one thing here,” Smith said. “It's definitely badly missed.”

The Othello Tunnels are a major tourist attraction for Hope and a large part of the town’s history. But after floods sent muddy water and masses of debris slamming through the park two years ago, extensive repairs are needed for the tunnels and paths to be suitable and safe for visitors again. The road leading up to the park was damaged in the storm as well.

An engineering report completed last spring identified 30 different places that needed repairs. While major debris has been taken out of the tunnels, the structures within them need repairs, as do several bridges.

Rebuilding will be completed in a “climate-resistant way” to avoid further damage from increasingly severe storms and floods, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment said.

Storms and rockfall hazards have repeatedly closed the park in the decades since Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park was created in 1997. The tunnels were closed in 2005, 2008 and 2015 for rockfall concerns or safety upgrades. In 2020, just a year before 2021’s floods, they were closed after an avalanche.

While more than seven million cars roll through Hope every year on highways to every corner of the province, the Othello Tunnels makes the town a “stop point,” Smith said, citing the large number of tourists who visit the site from across the Lower Mainland.

The tunnels have been a tourist attraction for a century, if not longer. One writer in 1916 “prophesied” that the tunnels would soon be “a favourite spot for residents and tourists for picnic parties and sport.”

In addition to being a major tourist attraction, the tunnels are also an important piece of Hope’s history. Smith remembers his amazement the first time he saw them—not just the size of them, but the work it took to build them during that time.

“They didn’t have the helicopters that Rambo flew in with,” he said. While the action-movie star who made a name for himself leaping from the canyon’s cliffs had (relatively) modern technology, the workers who built the tunnels in the canyon with dynamite did not. Many perished in the efforts.

Repairing the tunnels with an eye to the future and keeping that history accessible to locals and tourists for years to come, even while storms grow worse, is necessary, Smith said.

“They’re a big part of the history for this area,” he said.

While BC Parks is working “as quickly as possible” to re-open the park to visitors, staff said more engineering assessments are still needed and the park won’t open this year. Whether or not the hopes of Smith—and the tourists and residents who want to see the tunnels open next year—will be fulfilled remains to be seen.

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