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Railway heritage
reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley) June 14, 2010 and Central Alberta Life June 17, 2010

Lots of train history here in Central Alberta, say enthusiasts

Model railroader - Gerling photo Advocate

Paul Pettypiece: fascinated by trains

Photo by Jerry Gerling, Red Deer Advocate


Like many who have set down roots in Red Deer, the area's natural beauty was a major draw for Paul Pettypiece.

But there was something else that caught his eye when he moved to the city in 1973 from Manitoba, after discovering he hated (the traffic congestion of) his intended destination of Calgary.

"I was really fascinated by the railway heritage," he said. "It's always been somewhat of an interest, but it really peaked when I came here."

For train enthusiasts, Red Deer offers a gold mine of relatively obscure rail history. No fewer than four railroads have served the area over the last century.

Remnants of that history are scattered about. The old rail bridge over the river near Riverside Meadows, the bridge abutment next to Taylor Drive for the long-defunct Alberta Central Railway, and a 97-year-old Mintlaw trestle for the same railway company over the Red Deer River in the county. Of course, the most visible reminder of the city's past rail glory is the well-preserved train station that still sits at the head of Ross Street, now converted into office space.

"They're kind of disconnected and people don't really understand how they are connected," he said.

When the city began taking a serious look at the potential for the downtown area a few years ago, Pettypiece and others with an interest in rail and transportation history saw an opportunity to present their own vision.

A proposal was submitted that has since been refined into a more elaborate and ambitious project billed as the Forth Junction Project.

At the heart of the project would be The Crossing, which is envisioned as "Canada's only trail-rail-transit family entertainment-retail-heritage tourist and community attraction." It would feature indoor gathering area, perhaps echoing a roundhouse theme, retail, indoor theme park, ground transportation heritage centre, and an observation restaurant modelled on the Prairies' once-ubiquitous grain elevators.

Initial plans propose centres showcasing wagon, rail and transit heritage and a space devoted to the future of transportation, which could feature an example of high-speed rail technology. A model railway display would also be a prime attraction, said Pettypiece, who is an avid model railway fan with 40 locomotives and 500 cars in his N-scale collection.

A replica could also be created of the Jubilee 3001 "The Chinook" engine that sped between Edmonton and Calgary and was one of the fastest engines of its day. Only five were built and none survived.

Pettypiece said the Forth Junction Heritage Society wants to make a mark with the project. "We want it to be a landmark building that says Red Deer and is widely recognized as a Red Deer icon."

The group is looking beyond Red Deer however. A heritage railway station, overnight accommodation village and family nature park, with a miniature steam train and examples of historic rail stations, is proposed for Red Deer County just outside the city.

Long-term, shuttle links could be established to tie in the two areas and perhaps provide connections to other historical rail attractions such as the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions out of Stettler.

The society sees it all as a long-term project that could take 20 years to unfold. "It will happen in stages. We'd like to see something on the ground within five years."

In the meantime, Pettypiece and other members of the society, including local historian Michael Dawe, Steve Parkin, transportation enthusiast and the owner of a historic full-sized transit bus, and railway buff Darcy Colenutt, plan to stoke interest in the project.

For information go to

News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society (more below):
       News article: World-class destination centre still in the works (Innisfail Province Nov.2013)
       Editorial: Praise today's big dream
(Innisfail Province Jan.2012)
       Editorial: Railway concept captures region's uniqueness (Olds Albertan Jan.2012)
       Feature article: Forth Junction targets county
(Mountain View Gazette Dec.2011)
       News article: Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
(Red Deer Advocate Dec.2011)

News articles related to ACR/CPR Mintlaw bridge mentioning the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
       News article: Plans for Mintlaw Bridge waiting on public feedback
(Mountain View Gazette Feb.2012)
       News article: Opposition comes forward to Mintlaw Bridge preservation
(Mountain View Gazette May 2011)
       News article: RD County antes up for Mintlaw Bridge repairs
(Mountain View Gazette Nov.2010)
       News article: Bridging gap between history and disrepair
(Red Deer Advocate Nov.2010)

News article related to regional model and miniature railways mentioning the Forth Junction Project:

       News article: Trains still roll for some
(Red Deer Advocate Nov.2012)

News articles related to historic downtown Red Deer redevelopment mentioning the Forth Junction Project
(the original vision of the Forth Junction Heritage Society included an attraction in the new downtown
Riverlands but this vision was modified to have one destination close to the city and active rail line):

       News article: Railyards: Open house on a 20-year plan for downtown
(Red Deer Advocate June 2011)
       News article: Riverlands: Strong turnout for open house
(Red Deer Advocate March 2011)
       Commentary: Red Deer could use more bold visionary landmark designers
(Red Deer Express Sep.2010)

Michael Dawe articles related to regional railway heritage mentioning the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
       Region celebrating century of railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)
       Mintlaw Bridge essential to region's railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)


 News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
World-class destination centre still in the works 11/13       Praise today's big dream 01/12       Forth Junction targets county 12/11 
Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
12/11        A volunteer on the right track 12/10        Tourism board supports rail project 10/10
Forth Junction rail project seeking charitable status
10/10        Rail tourist attraction idea gets rolling 07/10        Railway heritage 06/10
New idea for Riverlands worth an Olympic cheer 02/10       Happy to hear more talk on large-scale attractions 02/10
One-time opportunity 02/10       Tourism proposal facing obstacles 02/10       World-class attraction proposed for Riverlands 02/10

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