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  CPR station and park Red Deer 1911 - RD Archives

Forth Junction Project
Calgary and Edmonton Railway
now Canadian Pacific

Forth Junction Project Vision Sharing Historical Perspective Ground Transportation
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Railways of Central Alberta

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Calgary & Edmonton Railway

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Lacombe & Blindman Valley

The Calgary and Edmonton Railway
built 1890-91; leased (short term) to Canadian Pacific Railway 1891;
leased (long term) by Canadian Pacific Railway as subsidiary 1904 (Red Deer & Leduc subdivisions 1908-present)

Revised April 2022

Photo descriptions and credits at bottom of page.

When the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Calgary in 1883, land quickly opened up along the line for development and for a relatively economical way to move agricultural products. But there were still vast areas for potential settlement beyond the 10-20 mile range that the new railway served. There were also other communities in the west that were not served by the railway, including Fort Edmonton. Branch lines would be essential for the railway to prosper.
Drawing of Calgary Edmonton Trail stagecoach - RD Museum
Meanwhile, the Calgary and Edmonton Trail quickly gained major significance as the north-south stagecoach route between Calgary and Edmonton, carrying freight, passengers and mail. It wasn't long before the value of a railway joining Alberta's two major population centres became obvious.

In 1885, a charter was granted to the Alberta and Athabasca Railway Company to run a rail line from Calgary to Edmonton and on to Athabasca Landing. Construction was to start in the summer of 1887, run east from Calgary to Drumheller (due to potential oil and coal fields) and north along the west side of Buffalo Lake to Edmonton (later adopted by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway).

When the company had trouble financing the project and oil was not found at Drumheller, a revised new charter was to take the railway near the proposed Alberta Lumber Company facilities (built in 1887) near Innisfail, owned by the same principals as the railway. Grading commenced in 1887 but stopped after a month due to continued financial problems.
Calgary Edmonton Trail - C&ER map - Mark Anderako
The charter was revised again with a new proposed route that would cross the Red Deer River near the mouth of the Blindman River (a few miles northeast of the current city of Red Deer). Again, financial problems caused the charter to be extended with a new name, the Alberta and Great Northwestern Railway. In early 1890, interests were sold to a new venture, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company.

The new company was incorporated by the federal government to build a railway from Calgary north to a point at or near Edmonton (about 190 miles) and from Calgary south to Fort McLeod and on to the international boundary. It was also given the right to extend northward toward the Peace River area. For each mile of railway constructed, the company would receive a land grant of 2560 hectares (6400 acres). Selling and managing these lands was the Calgary and Edmonton Land Co., incorporated in 1891.

James RossThe primary stockholders of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company were James Ross, William Mackenzie, Donald Mann and Herbert Holt, all very familiar with building railways. Mackenzie and Mann were later to create and build the Canadian Northern Railway, a subsidiary of which was the Canadian Northern Western Railway that competed with the Alberta Central Railway. James Ross, the supervising engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had supervised several railway construction projects including the transcontinental from Moose Jaw through the Rocky Mountains, contracted his partners in the venture, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, to construct the C & E line. Holt became Superintendent of Construction.

The C & E Railway was an independent company but it never intended to run trains. Its intention was to lease or sell the line to another operator, specifically the Canadian Pacific Railway.
early train on the Calgary Edmonton Railway near Red Deer - RD Archives
Much of the line from Calgary toward Red Deer was surveyed in April and May of 1890. The route more or less followed the Calgary-Edmonton Trail but major adjustments needed to be made for reasonable grades and curves. In addition, there was a significant challenge in crossing the valleys of the Red Deer and Blindman Rivers, roughly half way between Calgary and Edmonton. Three crossings of the Red Deer River had been surveyed -- one near Innisfail, one at the Red Deer Crossing settlement and another at the mouth of the Blindman River which would enable the crossing of both rivers simultaneously.

The official sod turning occurred in Calgary on July 21, 1890. During that same month, Mr. Ross met with landowner Rev. Leonard Gaetz on his land at the Red Deer River. The historic meeting resulted in the abandonment of all three previously surveyed river crossings in favour of a new one at the Gaetz homestead.
(The C&E Railway at Red Deer)

downtown originates with coming of the railway - RD ArchivesRev. Leonard Gaetz was one of the largest landowners near the river downstream from the Crossing and was local agent for the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company. He had a great deal of political influence and was one of the principle promoters of the region in his travels to Calgary and eastern Canada. When Rev. Gaetz offered to Mr. Ross on behalf of the railway an undivided half interest in his 1200-acre farm if the railway built the river crossing and new townsite on his property, Mr. Ross gladly accepted. It also benefited the financial position of Rev. Gaetz.

Tracklaying reached the new Red Deer townsite in November 1890 -- a hundred miles in four months. That month, the first passenger train ran from south of Red Deer (near present-day Springbrook) to Calgary, as the four bridges needed to cross the meandering Waskasoo Creek had yet to be constructed.

Red Deer C&ER timber bridge 1892 - Alberta Archives B2852During the winter of 1890-91, a wooden railway bridge was built crossing the Red Deer River near the Gaetz homestead. Construction of the line continued north toward Strathcona during 1891 with completion occurring in July. Numbered sidings were established about every 9 miles. The line did not cross the North Saskatchewan River into Edmonton until several years later due to the high cost of building a bridge.

early train meet at Innisfail - Glenbow ArchivesOnce construction of the line was completed, the Canadian Pacific Railway initially signed a renewable 6-year lease and officially took over operations of the railway in August 1891, named all the numbered stations along the route, took an active role in the design of structures along the route, built a telegraph line and started carrying the mail, taking it away from the stage coaches along the C & E Trail. Regular scheduled passenger service between the two major centres was in place by 1892, reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train. This effectively put an end to the C & E Trail stagecoach service.

Innisfail CPR (C&ER) station 1890s - Glenbow ArchivesDuring 1891, virtually identical combination stations and freight house were built in about three weeks at every even numbered siding. Any settlers at intermediate sidings had to be satisfied with a temporary station, usually a boxcar, for about 10-12 years. Larger communities developed around the first stations built.

Red Deer develops with the railway incl Dominion elevator- RDA P3550From Calgary to Red Deer, communities with combination stations included Airdrie (named after town in Scotland, Siding 2), Carstairs (named after village in England, Siding 4), Olds (named after CPR traffic manager, Siding 6), Innisfail (named after Celtic name for Ireland, originally Poplar Grove, Siding 8) and Red Deer.

Intermediate sidings with temporary stations included Beddington, Crossfield (named after CPR engineer), Didsbury (named after village in England) and Bowden (named after village in England). Additional passing sidings were at Burnson, Balzac, Wessex, Rosebud, Neetook and Tuttle.

C&ER Lacombe station 1910 - Lacombe Historical SocietyFrom Red Deer to South Edmonton, communities with combination stations included Lacombe (named after Father Albert Lacombe, Siding 12), Ponoka (Blackfoot word for elk or wapiti, Siding 14), Wetaskiwin (Cree word for Peace Hills), Leduc (named after Father Leduc, originally Telford) and Strathcona (named after Lord Strathcona, Donald A. Smith, originally South Edmonton and now part of Edmonton).

Intermediate sidings with temporary stations included Blackfalds (named after area in Scotland, originally Waghorn, Siding 11), Hobbema (named after Dutch painter, now called Maskwacis, Cree word for Bear Hills), and Millet (named after canoeist for Father Lacombe). Passing sidings were at Labuma, Morningside, Menaik, Navarre, Bigstone, Kavanaugh, Nisku and Ellerslie.

The Calgary to Fort Macleod leg was also surveyed in 1890 and construction reached Mekastoe/Haneyville (three miles north of Fort Macleod) in 1892. In 1898, a short link with the Crowsnest Pass line was completed.

C&ER Okotoks station 1909 - Okotoks Museum & ArchivesSouth of Calgary, communities with combination stations included De Winton, Okotoks, High River, Nanton and Claresholm. Intermediate sidings with temporary stations included Midnapore, Aldersyde, Cayley, Stavely and Granum. Additional passing sidings were at Turner, Academy, Sandstone, Azure, Connemara, Durward, Pulteney, Woodhouse and Nolan.

With almost 300 miles of construction complete, the C & E Railway received a total land grant of 1.8 million acres.

By the turn of the century, Mackenzie and Mann were buying up small railway companies and creating others with the intention of building a new transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway in direct competition with Canadian Pacific. One of these small railway companies was the Edmonton Yukon and Pacific Railway chartered in 1902 in part to link downtown Edmonton with the CPR in Strathcona, creating a threat to the Canadian Pacific's influence in the area.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie and Mann were also eyeing the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, which they had built, for absorption into their Canadian Northern. After the original 6-year lease, Canadian Pacific had been renewing annually. As CP had first option to lease or buy the Calgary & Edmonton Railway, CP signed a 999 year lease in 1904 to thwart any takeover move by the Canadian Northern and within the next few years purchased all remaining stock to make the C & E Railway a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CPR.
First train on High Level Bridge Edmonton June 1913 - Alberta Archives
In June 1903 Canadian Pacific received authority to construct a high level bridge across the North Saskatchewan River to link Strathcona with Edmonton as well as two branchlines to extend 100 miles east of the C & E at Wetaskiwin and Lacombe.

The CPR also started constructing new stations at all the intermediate sidings. Within a few more years, Canadian Pacific started plans to replace some of the stations built in 1891 with larger ones at significant junctions.
Lacombe CPR station 1916 - CP Archives
In 1905, the branch from Lacombe to Alix was opened and extended to Stettler the following year. The line was further extended to Castor in 1910, to Consort in 1912 and to Kerrobert in 1914. Meanwhile the branch line from Wetaskiwin east to Camrose also opened in 1905 and extended to Hardisty the following year. The line was completed to Saskatoon by 1910 and became the main line between Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Residents of Strathcona became concerned that the future construction of the High Level Bridge could diminish the town's importance. In 1906, Canadian Pacific made an agreement with the town that it would remain the main divisional point for northern Alberta including the branchline between Wetaskiwin and Winnipeg in return for a land grant from the town and tax concessions. A new chateau-style station was built at Strathcona in 1907.

railway station, park and coal chutesIn 1908, Red Deer also became a divisional point and the wooden bridge across the Red Deer River was replaced with steel. In 1910 a new chateau-style station was built at Red Deer similar to the one at Strathcona. New stations were also built at Wetaskiwin in 1907, Lacombe in 1911 and Leduc in 1914, all of which replaced the original combination stations which were relocated and converted to freight sheds.

Construction of the High Level Bridge commenced in 1910 and opened for traffic in June 1913. The bridge was unusual in that it was used for the railway and municipal streetcars on the top deck with vehicle traffic on the lower deck.

Most expansions effectively came to an end with the start of the First World War and considerable focus was placed on moving military personnel and supplies. After the war, the railway stayed fairly stable until the early 1930s when the Great Depression and drought on the prairies reduced the amount of traffic on most railways in the West. However, Canadian Pacific used the time to prepare for increased business once things turned back to normal.
Jubilee 3001 the Chinook at Calgary 1939 - Otto Perry
In 1936, CPR introduced a fast passenger train on the C & E called 'The Chinook'. It was headed by a specially-designed locomotive for fast inter-city service, the 4-4-4 Jubilee no. 3001. Only five of its class were ever built and none were preserved. Except during the Second World War years, the 'Chinook' 5-hour service between Calgary and Edmonton ran in addition to the daily 'Eskimo/Stampeder' trains and two other intercity trains until 1955.

Dayliner at Innisfail late 60s - Canadian Pacific ArchivesThe first freight diesel ran on the line in 1949 and the 'The Chinook' was replaced by a 'Dayliner' Budd Rail Diesel Car in 1955, cutting the five-hour trip by one and a half hours. Shortly afterwards, the other passenger trains were also replaced by 'Dayliners'. The 3-per-day Dayliners reached their peak in 1969 with 80,000 passengers carried. Gradually, the number of Dayliner runs dwindled to one per day.

Passenger service ceased across the High Level Bridge in 1972 when Strathcona again became the northern terminus. In 1985, passenger service came to a complete end with the 'Dayliner' making its final run on the C & E after 94 years of continuous service. Proposals for new passenger service surfaced that included new-generation LRC locomotives operated by VIA Rail on CP or even a high-speed service, neither of which has so far become a reality.

Remnants of the steam era no longer used by the railway include the High Level Bridge in Edmonton still used for vehicle traffic and some tourist streetcar excursions, the Red Deer River bridge at Red Deer used as part of the Trans Canada Trail and restored railway stations at Strathcona, Red Deer and Didsbury. The Bowden station has been relocated to the Innisfail Historical Village. A scaled-down replica of the Wetaskiwin station is located at the Alberta Central Railway Museum 16 km southeast of Wetaskiwin. Other replications of stations are at Penhold, Lacombe and Strathcona.

Photo descriptions and credits:
Header: Red Deer CPR 1910 station, park and C&ER 1891 combination station as freight house 1911
     (Red Deer Archives P3202);
Illustrative Map of Calgary Edmonton Trail and Calgary & Edmonton Railway
     (Historic Trails Alberta by Mark Anderako 1985, Lone Pine Publishing Edmonton with permission);
Illustration of Calgary Edmonton Trail stagecoach
     (The Little Village That Grew: A History of North Red Deer by Red Deer & District Museum Society 1987);
James Ross photo (source unknown);
Early 1900s train on C&E near Red Deer (Red Deer Archives); 
Early Red Deer c1891 (Red Deer Archives);
Red Deer C&ER timber bridge 1892 (Provincial Archives of Alberta B2852);
CPR train meet Innisfail c1900 (Glenbow Archives NA-103-4);
Innisfail C & E Railway 1891 combination station 1890s (Glenbow Archives NA-1709-71; Red Deer Archives);
Red Deer yard including Dominion elevator (Red Deer Archives P3550; date unknown);
Lacombe C & E Railway 1891 combination station 1910 (Lacombe & District Historical Society);
Okotoks C & E Railway 1892 combination station 1909 (Okotoks Museum & Archives);
First train to cross the High Level Bridge Edmonton June 1913 (Provincial Archives of Alberta);
Lacombe replacement CPR woodframe station 1916 (Canadian Pacific Archives);
Red Deer station and garden c1919 (Glenbow Archives na-3705-9; Red Deer Archives);
CPR Jubilee 4-4-4 3001 in Calgary August 1938 (Otto Perry);
Dayliner at Innisfail late 1960s (Canadian Pacific Archives, via Canadian Pacific in the Rockies Vol. 3 BRMNA)

Photos courtesy of Red Deer Archives, Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canadian Pacific Archives, Glenbow Archives,
     Red Deer & District Museum Society, Lacombe & District Historical Society, Mark Anderako and Paul Pettypiece.



Trails, Transit, Trains
Trails and Trains Overview
Trains and Transit Overview

Milestones 1910-13
Calgary Edmonton Trail
Transit in Central Alberta
Red Deer Transit

Jubilee 3001 Chinook
Locomotives Central Alberta
Rise and Fall of Passenger Rail

The Railways of Central Alberta
Calgary & Edmonton Railway
C & E Railway at Red Deer
Alberta Central Railway
Canadian Northern Railway
Canadian Northern Western RR
Canadian National Railway in RD
Grand Trunk Pacific Central Alberta
Lacombe & Blindman Valley RR
Timetable Excerpts
Railway Stations of the Region
C & ER Combination Stations
Portable Stations
Red Deer CPR 1910 Station
Role of Railway Stations
Red Deer's 4 Stations
CPR Stations in Central Alberta
CNR Stations in Central Alberta
Multiple Station Communities
Station Plans

Bridges, Structures, Heritage
Rail Structures of Region
Central Alberta Rail Bridges

Mintlaw Trestle
Alberta's Railway Bridges
Western Canada Rail Bridges



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