A look at the
Canadian Northern Railway
reprinted from Red Deer Express January 12, 2011
The origins of the Canadian
Northern Railway (later Canadian National) in Red Deer go back to
1908 when coalfields were discovered in the foothills, west of Rocky
A group of German investors created Brazeau Colleries and teamed up
with Mackenzie and Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway to exploit
this rich discovery.
Mackenzie and Mann were in a great rush to get started. They filed a
route map with the federal authorities in August 1910, even though
they had done virtually no surveying for the prospective rail line.
They were able to do this by borrowing heavily from the Alberta
Central Railway's surveys that had been made from the Red Deer area
to Rocky Mountain House the preceding winter.
Not surprisingly, the federal government balked at approving such
duplication. C.N. was directed to move its line farther north.
However, the company was in no mood to slow down.
They pushed their grade from the Stettler area to Blackfalds by the
fall of 1910.
Mackenzie and Mann also applied for a charter from the provincial
government to help resolve its dispute with Ottawa.
After some controversy, the province agreed to give a charter to a
newly-formed subsidiary, the Canadian Northern Western.
The people of Red Deer were concerned that the C.N.W.R. was going to
bypass the community. Pressure was consequently mounted to have a
branch line built to the fledgling Village of North Red Deer and
then on into Red Deer.
The C.N.W.R. was too far advanced to accommodate the requests.
However, Mackenzie and Mann did decide to construct another rail
line from Strathcona (South Edmonton) through Red Deer to Calgary.
At the beginning of 1911, a contract was awarded to the Northern
Construction Co. another firm which Mackenzie and Mann had
substantial interests. Northern Construction announced that most of
its energies would be devoted to the C.N.W.R. line.
However, contractor also stated that it would soon start work on the
portion of the new "S" line from the C.N.R.W. near Blackfalds to
North Red Deer and Red Deer.
In the late summer and early fall of 1911, Northern Construction set
up a large camp on the old Exhibition Grounds south of 45 St. and
another near the McBlane house in what is now the Pines subdivision.
Work began on the grade along the edge of the North Hill.
By June 1912, the C.N.W.R. was completed as far as Rocky Mountain
House, but the C.N.R. seemed to be losing interest in the "S" line.
While the company finished the rail link to Nordegg by August 1914,
very little progress had been made on the branch into North Red
Deer. One problem was a surprising amount of quicksand and the
frequent slippage of the hillside in North Red Deer.
The outbreak of the First World War was a huge setback to all major
construction projects. In 1915, the C.N.R. asked for major financial
concessions from the City of Red Deer, but the City wisely declined.
In August 1916, work began on a bridge across the Red Deer River
near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek. However, the bridge was badly
located and poorly built. Frequent reconstruction of the bridge
Moreover, eventually, the rail bed was largely shifted from the
shoulder of the North Hill to the flats closer to the river.
In 1917, the Canadian Northern went bankrupt and was taken over by
the federal government. In 1919, the new government-owned Canadian
National restarted work on the line into Red Deer. Mayor W.E. Lord
pushed to have the new C.N. terminal and stockyards built in North
Red Deer as that seemed to be more practical than continually
rebuilding the bridge across the river.
However, he was overruled by the rest of Council. The new station
yards were subsequently located where the Park Plaza Shopping Centre
is now located along 47 Avenue.
In 1920, the line into the Village of North Red Deer and the City of
Red Deer was finally completed. However, it was never heavily used.
In 1941, the C.N.R. abandoned its troublesome bridge. In 1960, all
of the line south of the river was abandoned and a new terminal and
railyards were constructed in the new Riverside Industrial Park.
A LOOK BACK - The new Canadian Northern Railway line
in North Red Deer, east of the current Riverside Industrial
Park, 1912. Across the river is what is now the Gaetz Lakes
courtesy of the Red Deer and District Archives Nancy Ross
Rail relocation project a first in Western
(Red Deer Advocate June 2010)
Recreation Park area a jewel in heart of city
(Red Deer Express Aug.2009)
Canadian Northern Railway in Central Alberta
- Camrose to Drumheller
Canadian Northern Western Railway Brazeau sub (CNR)
- Mirror to Red Deer and
Canadian National Railway operated in downtown Red Deer from 1920 to
Red Deer once had four railway stations
Canadian National Railway Stations in Central Alberta
Rise and Fall of Passenger Rail in the C&E Corridor
News article: Hanna society buys historic
(Drumheller Mail Dec.2013)
News article: Big Valley station banks on
(Stettler Independent Apr.2013)
Blog: Big Valley Canadian Northern Station
Celebrates 100 Years
News article: Slag piles give Nordegg mine an historic edge
(Red Deer Advocate May 2012)
Feature article: 6060 turns 66
(Red Deer Express Sept.2010)
News article: Clearwater County calls on
province for advice about trail
(Red Deer Advocate April 2008)