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The B.C. Coach Lines Story

A short history of an important acquisition by the new Coachways System.

    This article is reprinted from Volume 1, Number 1 of The Coachways Thunderbird, "a magazine for and by employees of the Coachways System", published in June-July 1966. The magazine was published every two months by the Coachways head office at 10040 - 104 Street in Edmonton, Alberta.

    The type of highway bus on the magazine cover, the "Canuck", was built by Western Flyer Coach between 1955 and 1968. This is probably a Canuck 500, a 35-37 passenger coach produced from 1964-67. It was powered by a Detroit Diesel 6V71N, with a Spicer 6454B transmission.

    The history of B.C. Coach Lines dates back to 1929, when R. V. Wilkinson and C. M. Blackwell, starting with a small truck and a seven-passenger car, undertook to offer a jitney service between Kamloops and Tranquille Sanatorium, a distance of 11 miles. A mail and freight service between Kamloops and Barnhartvale, l2 miles in the opposite direction, gave them an operating radius of about 12 miles covering the immediate vicinity of Kamloops with the first public carrier service.

    In 1930 they purchased the operating rights between Kamloops and Merritt, as well as the route eastward to Salmon Arm, and added the first motor coach to service interior points - a l6-passenger Dodge complete with wicker seats and a radio. The fleet was soon expanded to an imposing total of one bus, seven passenger cars with trailers, and two Chevrolet trucks. The small operation's office on Victoria Street served as a terminal, and the back alley served as garage, wash rack, loading bays and parking lot!

B.C. Coach Lines, 1932
A portion of the fleet and driver personnel of B.C. Coach Lines, in 1932.

    In 1932 R. G. Walker joined the firm as a taxi-truck driver and general office boy. Soon after that a service between Kamloops and Vernon was added and their freight trucks linked the Hub City with Cariboo points to Quesnel. The centre of operations moved to more palatial quarters at the corner of Fifth and Victoria Street.

B.C. Coach Lines, 1932
Vic Wilkinson (left), Norm Etson and Gerry Walker with Bus Number One, the first 16-passenger unit of the fleet, in 1932.

    Motor transportation was rapidly moving toward new and fertile fields. On the controversial Big Bend issue, which opened a new era of highway services between British Columbia and central Alberta, all carriers, including the newly incorporated B. C. Coach Lines Limited which had been formed from the partnership of Wilkinson & Blackwell Stages, were trying to get a toehold. After many a fight and many a ruling by the Public Utilities Comission, all points were amicably settled, with Greyhound Lines getting the passenger operating rights over the Big Bend.

    B.C. Coach's original connection with Banff's Brewster Transport was superceded by the mushrooming Calgary organization with the continent-wide symbol of the grey dog. But B.C. Coach Lines continued to maintain profitable connections with Greyhound through services at Vernon, Merritt, Revelstoke, Nakusp and Spences Bridge. At the same time the freight division was extended to include lines to Vernon, Merritt and Salmon Arm.

    The sale, in 1944, of the Kamloops-Williams Lake freight line signalled the first of a series of disposals that were to make B.C. Coach Lines mainly a terminal operating organization. The Cariboo line went to a Kamloops garage-man, the late C. R. Carfrae, who operated it as Kamloops Transport Co. Ltd. The Kamloops-Vernon-Salmon Arm truck services were purchased by the late Adam Pringle, operating as Kamloops-Okanagan Freight Lines. With the continuing expansion of Western Canadian Greyhound Lines throughout British Columbia, B. C. Coach Lines passenger service to Vernon and Salmon Arm became part of the Calgary-based operation.

    In 1946, following a re-organization, Vic Wilkinson bought out Charlie Blackwell's shares of the coach and terminal business and Mr. Blackwell moved to Vancouver and purchased Rainbow Transfer. His sudden death in 1947 brought to an end a colourful career in motor transportation.

B.C. Coach Lines Kamloops Terminal, 1947
Kamloops Terminal, 235 Lansdowne Street
    1947 started in a spanking new terminal and, besides the operation of such routes as remained together with an increasingly popular charter business, B.C. Coach Lines 1947 Ltd. emerged as an important dispatch and terminal point for Greyhound Lines, operating for them an up-to-date Tour and Travel Bureau.

    Vic Wilkinson's son Ronald joined the organization in June 1952 and became one of a number of employees who have stayed with the company through the developing years. Numbered among its "old timers" who are still with us are drivers Archie Smith, Clay Sargent, Ron Howard, Chuck Rhynard, Fred Cruickshank, and Ray McMorran, who worked for us many years ago and returned more recently to become senior agent in the new organization.

    The North River Stage Lines Ltd., owned by James Moustan and Findley North, was acquired in 1958 and was progressively pushed northward to Blue River as road conditions permitted. In 1961 the property of Civic Transportation Ltd., owned by Selby Irwin, was purchased and joined to our present North Kamloops-Brocklehurst-Tranquille service, providing a transit system worthy of note.

Mr. & Mrs. Vic Wilkinson at the Staff Retirement Party, B.C. Coach Lines
Mr. & Mrs. Vic Wilkinson at the Staff Retirement Party.
    The take-over by Canadian Coachways Ltd. in 1964 retired a businessman of the first order in the person of Vic Wilkinson, after a successful transportation career spanning 36 years. His place has been taken by his son, Ronald Wilkinson, who is named Divisional Manager of the newly-formed Kamloops Division of Coachways System. This, in turn, is now divided into a Transit Division and a Highway Division to facilitate the separation of these two distinct types of operation.

    The advent of Coachways System into this area signals another pioneering advance in the progressive history of one of B.C.'s most colourful motor transport organizations. And yet, the new super-highways, super-coaches and super-services of our industry would indicate that we are no longer pioneering, as we did in those nostalgic days of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, But do we ever graduate from being pioneers?

    We all welcome our new association with the Coachways System and look forward to working alongside "big business" as opposed to the restrictions and economies of a "small operation". Whatever is in store for B,C. Coach Lines Ltd., we are ready to roll with Coachways.

- - by R. G. Walker

Gerry Walker, B.C. Coach Lines and Canadian Coachways

    Gerry Walker, Kamloops writer for The THUNDERBIRD, came to Canada from England as a boy, and attended public school at Salmon Arm, B.C. He acquired additional education in the Canadian Army, where he served for five years (Major RCIC).

    Gerry has been a Traffic Manager with B.C. Coach Lines (Coachways Systems since 1965) for 15 years; and his total employment with the company dates back to 1932.

    He is now Assistant Division Manager at Kamloops.

    Gerry and his wife, Marian Agnes, have a daughter, Patricia Ann Bolden and a son, Robert Gerald, Junior. They reside at 717 - 10th Street, North Kamloops.

    Gerry takes a keen interest in all spectator sports, and enjoys fishing gardening and travel. He belongs to the Sons of England Lodge, The Royal Canadian Legion and the Chamber of Commerce.

Bus & Motorcoach History: Yukon & Northern British Columbia