KAMLOOPS, British Columbia — I wouldn’t have thought about visiting Kamloops in western Canada if it hadn’t been for the railroad.
In this case, the rail company was the Rocky Mountaineer, which operates a number of tourist rail journeys in
Canada, plus one itinerary that goes to Seattle.
In the fall of last year, a friend and I joined the rail operator’s two-day trip from Vancouver to Banff, meaning the town inside Banff National Park in Alberta province.
En route, we overnighted in Kamloops, arriving a little before 5 p.m. on a sunny day, which gave us some time before dinner to walk around the small city (population: 85,000), which bills itself as Canada’s tournament capital.
We headed straight for the aptly named Riverside Park, which surprised us with a small Japanese garden, plus a rose garden.
We were greeted there by members of the Kamloops Mounted Patrol, an organization of local volunteers who have assigned themselves the task of welcoming out-of-towners. It was as if an information booth had sought us out.
In fact, the mounted greeters, wearing 10-gallon hats and other traditional western gear, had met our train, too.
Riverside Park faces the Thompson River, with low mountains on the opposite side. It was September, but we
found ourselves watching a water skier race up the river.
In fact, given its location on water, amid mountains and near countless lakes, Kamloops is a fine destination for vacationers looking for a variety of outdoor activities, which may include hiking, fishing (including through ice in winter), mountain biking and various water sports. Kamloops also offers First Nations experiences.
These options don’t even take into account the more than 115 tournaments that the city hosts each year.
Our visit was a one-night stand and, as a result, time was too limited for any of that.
We therefore took the sightseer’s course, with a Kamloops map in hand.
First, about the park: Its Japanese garden reflects Kamloops’ sister-city relationship with Uji in Japan.
We also spotted six boulders, atop a small knoll, covered with rock art that can be understood as a modern iteration of ancient rock-art traditions and forms. The boulders comprise a piece of art created in 2002 by artist Bill Vazan as part of a Kamloops Art Gallery sculpture project.
On leaving the park, we found our way to a few historic structures — a church, cigar factory, courthouse, railroad station and school. Another such site was the 1904 Bank of Commerce building, now home to the Brownstone Restaurant, the perfect spot for our sole Kamloops dinner.
Or so we thought. The restaurant was closed on Mondays despite the fact the Rocky Mountaineer brought a trainload of passengers/diners to town each Monday during its spring-to-autumn season. We were puzzled.
(An update: According to the restaurant’s website, it is now open for dinner daily.)
On the other hand, we were delighted to stumble onto an alley with a few very
detailed murals painted on the walls, the result of the city’s growing Back Alley Art Gallery project.
Finally, we were impressed by the look of a pedestrian bridge that passes over the town’s railroad tracks, and again amused, this time, by the sign that greeted us after we climbed its steps:
“Congratulations! You made it to the top.”