YOU ASKED: Where did the Shakespearean influence come from in the numerous postings along the Coquihalla, one on this side of the old toll booth location and many more on the other? These markers range from Romeo to Shylock and are drawn from a number of Shakespeare's literary offerings.
-Ross Phelps, Kamloops
OUR ANSWER: Anyone who has driven the Coquihalla Highway (which is to say 99 per cent of the Kamloops population with a driver's licence) has probably wondered the same thing. What's the story behind all those Shakespearean names?
The geographical markers can be found along the Coquihalla's Summit-to-Hope portion - perhaps the most noticeable of these being the Portia interchange and Othello Road.
Much of the Coquihalla Highway is built upon the original rail bed of the Kettle Valley Railway, and this is where the Shakespearean references come from, although there appears to be a discrepancy among historical records as to who actually deserves credit for the names.
In the early 1900s, Canadian Pacific Railway built its Kettle Valley line to connect the B.C. coast with the Kootenay region.
According to B.C. Parks, CP Rail cut through three mountain ranges, creating several stations and five tunnels along the way. The tunnels are known as the Othello tunnels.
B.C. Parks says it was CP Rail's engineer, Andrew McColluch (1864-1945) who named the route's stations - Lear, Portia, Iago, Romeo and Juliet - because he was an avid reader of Shakespeare.
But the Provincial Archives of B.C. says it was Kettle Valley Railway president James J. Warren (1870-1939), a Toronto corporate lawyer and director, who came up with the names.
And yet a third source, a book called 1001 British Columbia Place Names, which was first published in 1969, states this: "... a daughter of James J. Warren, president of the Kettle Valley Railroad, persuaded her father to name the stations east of Hope after Shakespearean characters. ..."
So, we know the names originate from the laying of the Kettle Valley rail line. We just don't know for sure if it was the company's president, his daughter, or the engineer who actually got the idea to reference Shakespeare literature along the route.
In the end, we can thank all three of them for establishing the most lyrical and interesting geographical names found on any Canadian highway.