May 24th, 2024

Former CP train conductor looking for boulder heroes

By James Tubb SOUTHERN ALBERTA NEWSPAPERS on December 4, 2021.

photo by John Cowan CP trainman John Cowan took this photo after a group of crew members and passengers moved a boulder that had fallen onto the tracks in Kicking Horse Canyon in B.C. on Oct. 29, 1978.


Anyone move any boulders in the ’70s?
John Cowan, a former Canadian Pacific conductor, has written a book about his years working on trains and is looking for a dozen passengers who were part of his favourite story. Those passengers helped move a boulder off of a CP track in Kicking Horse Canyon in B.C. on Oct. 29, 1978. Cowan, who was working on the train called ‘the Canadian,” said they received a call from a track patrol man that morning who discovered a large rock on the tracks.
After several phone calls for track maintenance went unanswered, Cowan, who was not the conductor but the trainman, along with other crew, nine men and a woman he described as a heavy-set farm girl from Saskatchewan, decided to remove the rock themselves.
After arranging a free breakfast for those who helped, Cowan says they all gave him their contact info to send them the photos he took. But, regrettably, he threw away their contact information not knowing he would be writing this book. That is why he is reaching out to look for those people now.
“I would definitely like to get them the book and let them know the book is there because their picture is in it,” Cowan said.
Cowan had a 35-year career with the Canadian Pacific Railway and was an avid photographer. In 2019 he wanted to digitize his collection and started uploading them to social media where he received a number of compliments from train enthusiasts.
He said that was the final push to put his photo collection into a book and he contacted Morning Sun Books, and sent them a written proposal which was accepted.
The story of the boulder on the tracks and other stories of his time with CPR can be found in the book, Canadian Pacific Trackside 1977-2012 with Conductor John Cowan.
Cowan said what those people did on the track that day wouldn’t happen now, and he’s glad no one was hurt.
“You wouldn’t dare try that in today’s world,” he said.
“It was pretty narrow between the train and the river where they were walking and I was thinking, ‘Geez I hope nobody gets hurt,'” Cowan said. “After 20 minutes we got the rock off, this girl was amazing. I took photos of the whole thing and I lined everybody up for a group photo before we left.”
He wants to get his story out there to share it but also reconnect with those he shared that unforgettable day with.
“I guarantee they would not forget that day,” Cowan said. “Think of it, you’re a passenger on a train and you stop in the middle of this rugged canyon, there’s a problem and you have an opportunity to go help resolve the situation in the middle of a spot that’s not accessible by highway … and to be part of that and have nothing (bad) happen, there’s just no way they would forget that.”
Cowan says anyone who helped move that boulder can reach out to him at and anyone that wants a book can buy one at
Editor’s Note: After this story appeared in the Medicine Hat News last week, Cowan contacted the Lethbridge Herald with an update. One of the passengers involved in moving the boulder off the tracks in 1978 has since been identified as Edwin Knox of Pincher Creek.

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