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  piers for ACR bridge over C&E Railway 1985 - Pettypiece

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The Alberta Central Railway
built 1910-14
(Alberta Central subdivision of Canadian Pacific Railway 1912-1981)
  Revised May 2022

Photo descriptions and credits at bottom of page.

Red Deer became a booming community in the early part of the twentieth century. In May 1901, the Alberta Central Railway was incorporated by an Act of Parliament to run a rail line east and west from Red Deer with Red Deer as its headquarters.

Indications are that the original investors (including MLA John T. Moore) envisioned it as the first phase of a major route across Western Canada. From Red Deer it would extend east to Saskatoon, splitting there with a southern route through Moose Jaw (linking with Canadian Pacific) and south to the U.S. and a northern route to Fort Churchill. To the west it would extend past Rocky Mountain House to the Brazeau coal fields, head north and run parallel with the Grand Trunk Pacific through the Yellowhead Pass where it would link to another railroad to Vancouver.

Wilfred Laurier drives 1st spike for ACR 1910 - Glenbow ArchivesThe initial charter was for a line 25 miles east of Red Deer to the coal banks of the Red Deer River (near Nevis/Content Bridge/Tail Creek) and 50 miles west to Rocky Mountain House with expectations to extend the line to the coal banks west of Rocky Mountain House near Nordegg.

A federal grant wasn't approved until 1908 so surveying didn't start until that year but due to financial challenges, construction wouldn't start for another couple of years.

On August 10, 1910, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada, and railways minister George Graham, visited Red Deer to drive the 'first spike' east of Gaetz Avenue a couple of blocks north of the present Sheraton Hotel.

Construction at and west of Red Deer started in 1910. The ACR crossed the Canadian Pacific Railway (C & E Railway) and Waskasoo Creek where one of the bridge abutments still stands today along Taylor Drive. The railway headed west through the present day Westpark subdivision and southwest near the current Red Deer County Centre.
ACR piers at Red Deer CPR south prior to relocation 1985 - Pettypiece
To the east, the line was constructed across Piper Creek (through the present Kin Kanyon) on a wooden trestle in 1911. A small station and yards were built near where the current Mountview School is located behind the fire hall on 32 Street.

original ACR Red Deer station now used as residence 2009 - PettypieceThe line was graded to north of Pine Lake but tracks were never laid east of the Red Deer station grounds.

South of the ACR bridge over the Canadian Pacific, the new railway connected with the CPR at Forth junction (near 32 St.) until 1962. At that time, the junction was moved further south to Tuttle, west of present-day Gasoline Alley.

Alberta Central Railway Mintlaw bridge under construction 1911In 1911, farther southwest, the railway started construction of a grand steel trestle across the Red Deer River, the second longest CPR bridge of its kind in Alberta (second only to the one in Lethbridge) at Mintlaw, a very small community long gone, but with a small station and grain elevator. The bridge, 2,112 ft. long and 110 ft. high, was completed in the fall of 1912.

Unfortunately, in its quest to build a high quality rail line, the Alberta Central Railway went bankrupt. After a short period when Canadian Pacific Railway leased the line, the CPR took over the ACR as a wholly-owned subsidiary in 1912. The CPR finished construction west to Sylvan Lake and Benalto late in the same year and ultimately to Rocky Mountain House by 1914 where a 725' bridge had already been constructed crossing the North Saskatchewan River. During construction, much of Cygnet (Burnt) Lake was drained by deepening the outlet south of Sylvan Lake.

Small stations were originally located at Red Deer, Mintlaw, Cygnet, Sylvan Lake, Kootuk (Eckville), Hespero, Condor, Alhambra and Lochearn (Rocky Mountain House). New larger stations were constructed later at Rocky Mountain House (1920), Sylvan Lake (1924) and Benalto (1928).
Canadian Northern locomotive 1914 Hanna 1st train - Glenbow Archives
The competing Canadian Northern Western Railway also built a line at the same time west from near Stettler, north of Red Deer west to Rocky Mountain House, much of the line parallel with the ACR but at a lower standard of construction. There were many stories of fights and acts of sabotage that broke out between the two construction crews in their quest to get to the Brazeau coal fields first.

The Canadian Northern Western reached Rocky Mountain House in 1912 before the Alberta Central. However, the Alberta Central/Canadian Pacific had already built a good-quality bridge across the North Saskatchewan River. The CPR also controlled two miles of track on each side of it between Otway and Ullin and had established a temporary station at Lochearn where the new relocated Rocky Mountain House post office and townsite was located.
ACR North Saskatchewan River bridge near Rocky Mountain House - Red Deer Archives
Rather than build a separate bridge across the river, the Canadian Northern Western (later part of Canadian National) made an arrangement with Canadian Pacific to have running rights on that 4-1/2 mile section of track, in part necessary as the CNWR could not get federal permission to build another bridge. In return, the Canadian Pacific would have running rights to the Brazeau coal fields.

Canadian Pacific didn't likely exercise those rights at first as they had no customers west of Rocky Mountain House and the mines at Nordegg were owned by the same principals as the CNWR. However, during the First World War, after the Canadian government took over ownership of the mines, and especially when the Brazeau Colleries started manufacturing briquettes in 1937, there are reports that those rights were exercised to some degree although not documented. There are also reports that, for a time in the early 1950s, both railways offered ticket services at the Nordegg station and the station was labeled both 'Nordegg' and 'Brazeau', again not documented.
Lochearn CP/CN station Rocky Mountain House 1921
The Lochearn station at Rocky Mountain House was used by both railways (the current Lochearn industrial siding is about two miles west of the river). A new station was built in 1920 and shared by both railways with ticket booths for each. For a time, one side of the station was labeled 'Lochearn' for the CPR and the other side labeled 'Rocky Mountain House' for the CNR. Eventually, both sides were labeled 'Rocky Mountain House'. The station was closed in 1966, sold and burned down in 1967.

When Canadian Pacific abandoned the Alberta Central subdivision between Benalto and Rocky Mountain House in 1980, the bridge across the North Saskatchewan River was leased and later sold to the CNR.

The building boom of 1911-1914 came to an abrupt end with the beginning of the First World War. Canadian Pacific had no interest in extending the originally planned eastern leg of the railway and the tracks to the Mountview station and yards were torn out east of the north-south main line in 1913. The trestle across Kin Kanyon was torn down in 1917. The bridge across the CPR and Waskasoo Creek was removed but the two concrete piers remained until the construction of Taylor Drive in 1991 when one was demolished.

In 1957, the Alberta Central Railway was dissolved and its assets transferred to the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was in the same year that the thrice-weekly mixed passenger train service was discontinued.
Last train on CPR ACR sub at Benalto 1981 - Lorne Neilson
In 1961, the Department of Highways purchased a strip of land at Tuttle west of what is now Gasoline Alley between Highway 2A and C & E Trail to reroute the line away from West Park in order to avoid building an overpass over the new four-lane Highway 2 which was under construction. The new route was activated in 1962.

Although the ACR opened up west Central Alberta to settlement, served a variety of communities and light industries, and for a time, received a limited amount of coal and briquettes from the Brazeau fields (either directly or transferred), the line was never a major traffic generator.
The Alberta Central Railway steel trestle across the Red Deer River - Pettypiece
Canadian Pacific continued to refer to the line as the Alberta Central subdivision until the line was abandoned in 1983 (the last train ran in 1981). The rails were torn up but much of the right of way is still intact. The town of Sylvan Lake has developed much of that rail corridor within the community into a natural linear park.

The Mintlaw steel trestle over the Red Deer River still stands as a monument to the Red Deer region's development during the days when the city became the transportation hub of Central Alberta. In 2009, Red Deer County purchased the bridge and much of the former ACR right-of-way between Gasoline Alley and Benalto, excluding Sylvan Lake, from CPR for $1 as a heritage resource.
ACR concrete pier Taylor Drive Red Deer 2007 - Pettypiece
There are few other structures of the ACR that have been preserved except for that lonely pillar along Taylor Drive in Red Deer that once supported the bridge used by the ACR to cross over the CPR. In late 2008, a large sign with a mural was attached to the concrete pier.

Two former stations have been relocated and converted for residential use including the original Red Deer station that was once located in Mountview. The Benalto station, removed from the hamlet in 1971 for use as a residence, has been donated and relocated back to Benalto for a future community centre.

Photo descriptions and credits:
Header: ACR piers at Red Deer CPR south near 32 St. prior to relocation (Paul Pettypiece 1985);
Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier drives 1st spike for ACR construction 1910 (Glenbow Archives NA-404-1);
Alberta Central Railway piers at Red Deer CPR south near 32 St. prior to relocation (Paul Pettypiece 1985);
Alberta Central Railway station originally located in Red Deer currently rural residence (Paul Pettypiece 2009);
ACR Mintlaw trestle under construction 1911 (Red Deer Archives P2631);
Canadian Northern Railway 1st train at Hanna 1914 (Glenbow Archives NA3596-24);
ACR bridge over North Saskatchewan River at Rocky Mountain House 1940 (Red Deer Archives);
Rocky Mountain House/Lochearn CPR joint-use station 1921 (source unknown);
Last train at Benalto ACR sub 1981 (Lorne Neilson via McLoughlin);
Aerial view of ACR Mintlaw trestle northeast (Paul Pettypiece 2007);
Single remaining ACR concrete pier along Taylor Drive Red Deer (Paul Pettypiece 2007)

Historic Mintlaw Steel Trestle page
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