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News articles about Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) heritage
in East Central Alberta

including Big Valley, Stettler, Hanna and Alberta Prairie Tourist Railway:



May 4, 2019, Red Deer Advocate, & May 9, 2019, Central Alberta Life (Paul Cowley)
Locomotive lovers continue to build up
a head of steam

Gillespie  
For Don Gillespie, there's no sound like the train whistle from No. 41.
  
"It's got that melancholy. It sounds like you're coming down a mountain grade. Yeah, it's nice."
   Only a year shy of becoming a centenarian, the Pennsylvania-built steam engine has taken tens of thousands of passengers back in time at Alberta Prairie Railway.
   This season will mark the 30th anniversary for the Stettler-based company that boasts it offers the only regularly scheduled steam trips on working rail lines in the country.
   Gillespie has been on the steam train business journey since the beginning. No. 41 came to Stettler from Alabama when it was purchased by a local steam train enthusiast.
  "He was a dedicated railroader and he just had to have a steam engine," said Gillespie.
  
Unfortunately, when the true cost of owning and operating a steam engine became apparent, it was clear the money was not there to run it and it was all set to be sent back to Alabama.
   That's when Gillespie, who owned a local grocery store, and other local business people stepped in.
  
"It intrigued me that maybe this was something central Alberta could handle. There was no other tourism at the time in central Alberta, and if it ever got out of here, of course it was not coming back, because of the cost."
  
So Gillespie and his group bought the engine and helped finance the purchase by selling shares.
  
The first trips took place the following summer with only two passenger cars.
  
But this isn't one of those the-rest-is-history success stories. There have been plenty of challenges.
  Gillespie rhymes them off: "Learning the business. The tourism business, the railroad business.
  
"You had to have the people with the proper credentials to operate the locomotives," he says, adding the engines, especially the steam engines, have to pass rigorous annual inspections.
  
"There are very few people around who understand steam and the properties of steam and how dangerous it is if you don't do due diligence and handle it properly."
   If spare parts are needed, you have to make them.
   "That's because there are only a few steam engines around and the parts are just not there.
   "It was an extremely costly situation."
   Starting with only two cars -- nowhere near enough to carry enough passengers to cover costs -- within several years, they had lined up 10 passenger cars.
   The oldest car dates back to 1919. It spent its life as a passenger and mail car running from Jasper to Blue River in the days before roads.
   "They all had to be refurbished and gone through. We've done all of our cars over the years at an approximate cost of $80,000 to $90,000 per car."
   When the steam tours first started, the company had access to Central Western-owned track from Camrose to Dinosaur Junction near Drumheller. Early trips went as far north as Edberg and south to Morrin.
   Ridership climbed steadily to almost 20,000, when the railway was dealt a setback.
   In the late 1990s, the rail company tore up and sold most of the track in a financial move. The tracks from Camrose to Stettler and Big Valley to Dinosaur Junction were gone.
   "It was a very big blow at the time. Everybody thought we were shutting down and our passengers we dropped by half.
   "We've been building back and building back, and last year, we were over 20,000 passengers."
   Track from Stettler to Big Valley remained, and that route has now been turned into a successful tourist attraction that draws passengers from around the world.
   "Every trip has international passengers," he says.
   Meanwhile, a group of dedicated volunteers has been fundraising to install about 30 kilometres of new track from Stettler to Donalda. They have reached the halfway point at Red Willow and the project continues.
   Over the years, they have added three diesel electric engines from the 1950s and No. 6060, a huge locomotive built in Montreal in 1944, which is currently under repair.
   Despite the passenger numbers, Alberta Prairie Railway would not have made it without the help of some canny diversification.
   More than a decade ago, Alberta Prairie Railway bought Central Western's remaining track in the Stettler area.
   They entered into a contract with CP to act as an interchange -- receiving products such as fertilizer and frac sand and storing it so it can be picked up by trucks for final transportation.
   The company also provides track space where train cars can be stored. Dozens of tank cars can be seen on the company's track next to the road to Botha.
   "Otherwise, we wouldn't have made the 30 years," he says. "We wouldn't have made it just on the tourism.
   "It created a job for quite a few people."
   In the summer, they employ 40, and off-season, about half that number work for the company.
   On the tourism side, Alberta Prairie Railway has added all sorts of spins on its rail journeys -- not the least of which are the regular holdups by horse-mounted train robbers. Murder mysteries, pumpkin fest trips and events geared to adults are all offered, and around Christmas, there's the popular one-hour Polar Express tours.
   Prairie Railway plans to celebrate its 30 years by offering reduced-price fares on every trip in June. Adults save $25 and youths and children save $10.
   As well, all adult riders this season can enter a draw to win a private coach for themselves and 29 friends and family on one of the 2020 trips.
   Gillespie says he can hardly believe his rail journey has now lasted 30 years.
   "Thirty years ago, if you told me I was going to be here, I would have told you you were crazy," he says with a laugh.
   For more information, go to www.absteamtrain.com.
Photo: Kelly Gillespie, of Alberta Prairie Railway, says there is nothing like being at the controls of a steam engine. It's like it's alive, he says. Photo by Paul Cowley, Red Deer Advocate


May 23, 2017, Red Deer Advocate, May 25, 2017, Central Alberta Life (Lana Michelin)
Stettler and Big Valley celebrate Canada's 150th birthday with steam trains
Alberta Prairie steam locomotive 41   Canada was shaped by railroads, so it's fitting a Rails and Tales steam train celebration is being planned for this nation's 150th birthday.
   Three vintage steam locomotives will be featured in special events from June 28 to July 5 in Big Valley and Stettler.
   The Rails and Tales activities -- to include Metis dancers, steam tractors and other early agricultural equipment, and a rail history display -- is being organized by the East Central Alberta Heritage Society and the Alberta Prairie Railway Company.
   Event spokesman Rich Graydon said train buffs from across North America and as far as the United Kingdom have already expressed interest.
   "We want to give people a sense of what life was like in the early 1900s," said Graydon, who noted steam trains drove community-building in this country. "We want to show how railroads influenced development."
   Two steam locomotives will be making regular runs between Stettler and Big Valley during the celebration. Graydon said several types of train trips are planned over eight days, including double-header, lunch and dinner excursions, a breakfast cruise, and a leisurely trip that stops at historical sites along the line (for more information, please visit absteamtrain.com.
   One of the two featured working locomotives is a 1913 Montreal locomotive No. 1392, from the Alberta Railway Museum. It will be trucked down from Edmonton on two flatbeds before the special event, on June 21.
   The other working engine is Alberta Prairie Railways' 1920 Baldwin No. 41 locomotive, which can be seen in the films Legends of the Fall, Unforgiven, and in a Gord Bamford country music video.
   Graydon said the third featured steam engine is the Rocky Mountain Rail Society's huge Montreal Locomotives Works CN6060. It will be on static display in Warden, just south of Stettler, since it needs a new boiler.
   Steam-powered railways revolutionized transportation and fuelled Canadian nation building, as recounted in Pierre Burton's book The Last Spike. Trains were vital to industrialization, opening new territories and linking communities.
   "They are the only reason why some towns are where they are," said Graydon, who noted Stettler's growth only took off because it was on a rail line. When the then-larger community of Blumenau was bypassed, "everybody just pulled up their buildings and moved them to Stettler,' Graydon added.
   The East Central Alberta Heritage Society, which is re-installing tracks to Donalda for extended steam train trips, hopes to use some proceeds from the celebration to start a new boiler fund for the CN6060 locomotive.
Photo: Alberta Prairie Railway 1920 Baldwin No. 41


Dec. 13, 2016, Red Deer Advocate (Susan Zielinski) & Dec. 22, 2016, Central Alberta Life
All Aboard
Stettler's Polar Express offering round trips to the North Pole

   Families wearing fleece pyjamas beneath their winter coats are climbing aboard The Polar Express in Stettler for round trips to the North Pole throughout December.
   Travellers on one-hour holiday train ride with Alberta Prairie Railway experience the classic children's book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, about a boy who takes a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa.
   Last week, Arctic temperatures prevented the legendary scene between the train conductor and the young boy from taking place on the train's platform. They performed in each of the train cars instead.
   But the bone-chilling cold could not tarnish the story's sparkle for young children and parents.
   "It was exciting. Very exciting. Better than we expected," said mother Billie Jo Seidemann, of Wabamun, who was on the train with Faith Seidemann, 3, who gripped her round trip ticket -- stamped BELIEVE. The youngster followed along while the story book was read aloud, and sprang up in her seat to peer out the coach windows to see Santa and his elves dancing outside in the snow when the train reached the North Pole.
   Grandmother Cheri Blake, of Alberta Beach, said the children saw The Polar Express movie several times, and were captivated by the action in and outside the train.
   Dancing and singing cooks served hot chocolate and cookies, while a hobo snooped to try to get her hands on a Polar Express ticket.
   "It was a little bit of a drive," Seidemann said. "But worth it," Blake said.
   Laiah Allen, 3, said Santa, who came aboard to hand out silver bells to children, was her favourite part.
   Strings of Christmas lights glowed in the train car as families sang carols, and children rang their new bells as the train chugged back to Stettler.
   Singing chef Amanda O'Donnell said helping to bring The Polar Express to life, and all the fun of mingling with the happy families, definitely boosted her in the Christmas spirit.
   "I can recite the whole (story). I've loved it ever since I was this big," said O'Donnell, holding her hand at about knee-height.
   Singing chef helper Christine Wedrick said people have been coming from as far away as Fort McMurray to ride The Polar Express, and she can't wait for her family to join her on the train later this month.
   For more departure times for Alberta Prairie Railway's The Polar Express visit www.absteamtrain.com.


Nov. 15, 2016, Red Deer Advocate
Alberta Prairie Railway to whisk riders away on The Polar Express
   A holiday train ride aboard Alberta Prairie Railway is bringing The Polar Express motion picture to life starting Dec. 1.
   The one-hour The Polar Express Train Ride departs from Stettler for a round trip to the "North Pole".
   Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away on The Polar Express.
   Hot chocolate and a cookie treat will be served as passengers read along with the classic children's book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, about a boy who takes a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the "North Pole" to receive a special gift from Santa.
   Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the "North Pole" and then board the train and children will receive a silver sleigh bell. The fun continues with a Christmas singalong on the ride back to Stettler.
   The Polar Express Train Ride will run until Dec. 21 on select dates. Tickets are $40 for children 11 and under, and $65 for those 12 and older.
   Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride.


Oct. 19, 2016, Stettler Independent (Moush Sara John)
Over 1K visitors at Alberta Prairie Railway's pumpkin patch
   Patrons and visitors from all over the province came to attend Alberta Prairie Railway's Harvest Pumpkin Fest, riding the special trains that took them to the pumpkin patch on Saturday, Oct. 15.
   According to Bob Willis, general manager of Alberta Prairie Railway, there was a very slight decrease in the total numbers this year from those of 2014 and 2015, with 1,082 attendees this year.
   But, he attributes this to the "challenging" weather, more than the economic downturn, explaining, "The number of visitors to Alberta Prairie during 2016, month to month and over the balance of season, is actually up and not down from 2014 and 2015."
   It was easy to see how happy and engaged the kids and young adults were as they waited to board the train to the patch.
   One of the visitors this year, and a returning passenger Elena Waugh thanked Willis in an email saying, "Just wanted to say thank you for the over-the-top excellent job of the pumpkin train again this year."
   Waugh said that the service, magicians, and amazing pumpkin carvings made for a wonderful experience.
   "Even though the weather would have been a challenge, we thought you couldn't have handled it any better," said Waugh. "Thank you for all your hard work and we'll see you again next year."
   This year being the third annual event, Willis said that it was by far the most challenging given the onset of wintry conditions.
   "Over the last few months more than 15,000 guests have visited Alberta Prairie and many of these people stay over in hotels and those that don't often stop for meals, snacks and tanks of gas," added Willis. " A significant number actually spend time shopping at various businesses around town, which all helps to offset some of the downturn in the economy."
   Willis said that in addition to providing employment of Alberta Prairie Railway's office and maintenance staff, Harvest Pumpkin Fest used a number of people provided by the Stettler P & H Elevator Preservation Society and the Rocky Mountain Rail Society in return for Alberta Prairie's continuing support of these two organizations.
   Alberta Prairie's next big event is the Polar Express Train Rides in December.
   "It is expected that with the 30 Polar Express trips being offered, between 9,000 and 10,000 people will visit Stettler during the month of December, many of whom will be staying over, with most needing gas and meals," said Willis. "No doubt there will be some families who decide to do some serious Christmas shopping while they are in town."


Aug. 31, 2016, Red Deer Advocate (Lana Michelin)
Alberta Prairie Steam Tours
Volunteers laying track for new route
   If it isn't the turkey vulture, it's the relentlessly wet summer weather.
   After surmounting many obstacles -- environmental, financial and circumstantial -- a small group of volunteers that's laying train track north of Stettler is within eye-shot of their first target.
   The Stettler-area non-profit group is within a kilometre of reaching Red Willow. The hamlet of 40 residents is expected to be connected to the town of Stettler by rail sometime next summer.
   The aim is providing a choice of destinations for Alberta Prairie Steam Tours, which now only has only 40 km of track south to Big Valley, currently the tourist train's only run.
   When the remaining one kilometre of track is laid north to Red Willow, "there will certainly be a celebration," promises Norma Leslie, chair of the non-profit East Central Heritage Society.
   Although the hamlet is only the half-way point to the group's longer-term goal of getting the rail line all the way up to Donalda, (which is another 16 km north), laying even the first 15 km of track was an onerous process.
   Leslie said some of the work can be done by machine while the rest is done by hand. The half-dozen labourers are often constricted by weather -- "it's often too wet or too frozen." As well, there are environmental hurdles.
   According to provincial regulations, Leslie said train tracks can't be laid from May 1 to July 31 because endangered birds, such as turkey vultures, woodpeckers and hawks, nest in the area.
   The East Central Heritage Society actually owns the railway right-of-way all the way to Edburg, near Camrose, to the north, and Morrin, near Drumheller, to the south. But, since most of the rail line along this stretch was pulled up for metal salvage in the 1990s after the Central Western Rail line was discontinued, Leslie doesn't want to think about how much effort would be needed to re-install it all the way along this 160-kilometre route.
   "If we get to Donalda I'll be too tired to go any further. It will be up to someone else to take over," she said, with a weary chuckle.
   A lot of fundraising was necessary to complete the work done so far. Leslie said a $2.6 million federal grant to generate employment in the area was obtained, as well as a half-million contributed by local businesses. She figures this will be enough to pay for track just north of Red Willow.
   More than $2-million more will likely be needed to purchase enough track to get to Donalda.
   Besides re-laying rail line, the group formed in 1997 has also created five popular public access parks along the right-of-way, including at Meeting Creek, Big Valley and Rumsey. Leslie said people can walk along and see species of wildflowers and other rare native vegetation. This was accomplished with $372,000 of casino funds.
   Meanwhile, the last steam train of the season will leave Stettler for Big Valley on Sept. 24. The excursion will be celebrated with fireworks that are set off along the route.
   Bob Willis, of Alberta Prairie Steam Tours, said the steam engine has to be put to bed until next spring because of concerns it will freeze up in colder weather.
   The company's diesel engine will continue running, however, with Halloween/Thanksgiving themed pumpkin-picking events planned on Oct. 15 and "Polar Express runs to the North Pole" aimed at tykes before Christmas.
   For more information, please visit www.absteamtrain.com



Dec. 12, 2013, Drumheller Mail (Pat Kolafa)
Hanna society buys historic roundhouse
Hanna Roundhouse Drumheller Mail   The Hanna Roundhouse is getting a new lease on life as it enters the next phase of its history.
   The Hanna Roundhouse Society has been working on finding a way to keep the landmark intact for future generations to enjoy. The biggest stumbling block it had however was the ownership of the icon.
   This September all of that changed.
   "We purchased the property on September 20," said Sandra Beaudoin who has been working on the project for years.
   She explained that a few years ago, she heard the round house was purchased from CN by an individual who wanted to salvage the bricks from the building. This was about 2009, and this was her awakening. That is when she began to get involved.
   "I could either sit back and say 'somebody should...' or see what I could do," said Beaudoin.
   A dedicated group began working on a number of initiatives and by January of 2010, The Hanna Roundhouse Society was formed, and were involved in looking after the safekeeping of the historical building and structures.
   They were successful on some fronts, but without ownership of the property, they weren't able to do much.
   The group recently came into some funds and was able to make it their own. They purchased the building and area to the east which includes the turntable and a foundation for a historic water tower. The parcel is about nine acres.
   The next step for the non-profit society is to have the site achieve historical designation. The have completed the application, and this week they met with Fraser Shaw, heritage consultant to assess and evaluate the site.
   "This is the start of getting it designated a historical site," said Beaudoin.
   The Hanna Roundhouse Society has a vision of restoring the icon so it could be used for events or as a rental space, while at the same time preserving its historical value.


Oct. 17, 2013, Drumheller Online (Codi Bangay)
Big Plans for the Hanna Roundhouse
Hanna Roundhouse Society photo   The Hanna Roundhouse Society has big plans for their recently acquired 1913 Canadian Northern Roundhouse.
   While entering the UFA Get'n'Give $50,000, the volunteers of the society are hoping to restore the century old building in order to create a Community Cultural Centre.
   President of the Hanna Roundhouse Society, Sandra Beaudoin, says "We are trying to restore this building for future generations to be able to appreciate and enjoy."
   One of the big plans the society has in store for the Roundhouse is a Halloween walk that they have planned for October 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. They are also considering a bonfire with ghost stories and hot chocolate for the same evening.
   In the future, the Hanna Roundhouse Society is hoping to add a locomotive into the building and get their turntable working, turning a portion of the building into a museum. The other portion is to be the Community Centre.
   For more information about the Hanna Roundhouse Society's project, you can check out their facebook page.


Oct. 2, 2013, East Central Alberta Review (Katie Davis)
Hanna Roundhouse celebrates new beginnings
Hanna Roundhouse Society event   Everyone was doing the proverbial locomotion at the Hanna Roundhouse on Saturday, September 28 as the historical venue played host to an Open House to showcase it's new look.
   The 100 year old structure was recently acquired by the Hanna Roundhouse Society and has since been given a sprucing up in effort to promote and preserve this piece of history as one of the last roundhouses left in Canada.
   "The roundhouse is a 1913 Canadian Northern Railway building that housed at one point up to 15 locomotives," says Sandra Beaudoin, founder and president of the Hanna Roundhouse Society.
   The purpose of the building during it's peak use was to drive locomotives onto a central 'turntable', which rotated to align the rail vehicle to a stall to be entered for service work.
   "Hanna was a designated divisional point for CNR in 1913," says Beaudoin, "and that was basically the way settlers came out and settled this area, is because CN built a rail from Eastern Canada out to the West."
   The rail line in Hanna was on what was known as the Goose Lake line which spanned from Calgary to Saskatoon. Some of the smaller towns built along this line were established to support the railway as service stations, and thus when the railway pulled out of some areas, certain towns had enough infrastructure to survive and some did not.
   "A huge portion of our Canadian heritage is to acknowledge that the people that worked on our rail line, built the tracks and the rail stations did so before automation," Beaudoin says, "so it was all done by hand and horse drawn, there were no engines or anything else."
   Beaudoin notes that the building also functions as a tourist attraction, as railroad history enthusiasts from the US and surrounding areas trek northward to visit sites of historical prevalence.
   An anonymous donation in the name of the Hanna Roundhouse Society -- that they will pay back in time -- has enabled the Society to purchase the property, begin applying for grants and focus more seriously toward future developments of the premises.
   "We've cleaned it up and we're going to start right away," she says, of planning the future of the Roundhouse.
   "We've got 8.97 acres along the dam, and it's just beautiful out there... we're hoping to maybe develop walking paths, and there's potential for camping as well." Beaudoin says an additional wish is to have a portion of the building designated for museum purposes.
   Beaudoin hopes residents of Hanna will soon generate input on how to proceed with developments.
   "Smaller communities are having a hard time just getting people to come to their area, so I'm hoping this will be a really positive move to help the community, and surrounding communities," Beaudoin says.
Photo: Helping hand Clint Hutton and Hanna Roundhouse Society founder and president Sandra Beaudoin.
  Hutton was one of a collection of people who helped acquire the building and make the weekend a success.

  Photo by ECA Review


May 7, 2013, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Rail link effort chugging along
   Efforts to build a rail link from Stettler to Donalda for historic rail tours keeps chugging along -- albeit a little slower than anticipated.
   "It's taking longer and costing more," summed up Norma Leslie, president of the East Central Alberta Heritage Society. It was once hoped that the last spikes would be driven in late 2011 for a 12-km stretch from Stettler to Red Willow. But unco-operative weather and the challenges of the job pushed back the schedule.
   If all goes well, the stretch to Red Willow will be done this fall, said Leslie. "We have enough material and enough money to complete the project to Red Willow. "The big 'iffy' part is the weather," she said.
   The equipment to lay rails and spread ballast is very heavy and when the ground is wet, track crews risk damaging the rail bed if they go ahead. The society is leading the $3.3-million project to restore an abandoned rail line on the east side of Hwy 56 north of Stettler that was ripped out for scrap in 1997. When complete, the society hopes to lay about 25 km of new rails all the way to Donalda. When complete, it's expected Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, which runs popular trips from Stettler to Big Valley, will add a northern route.
   At the same time as rail was being laid, five natural linear parks were created near Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rowley and Morrin as part of an $800,000 project. Finishing touches on those parks along rail right of ways will be done this summer.
   The first half of the project was given a big boost in 2009 when Western Economic Diversification Canada gave the project $2.6 million in funding provided through Canadian Badlands, which promotes tourism in that stretch of Alberta. More money was raised through provincial and corporate funding.
   Now, efforts are focused on raising a similar amount of money to finish the project, which could cost about another $3 million. Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions is donating proceeds from the Father's Day run on June 16 to the society.
   A casino licence has also been approved for the historical group that will provide a big fundraising boost. Government support, corporate sponsorships and other donations, including in-kind donations, are also being sought. "It's just a matter of putting yourself out there and scratching for everything we can get." Leslie said they haven't set a target date to be finished.
   "The sooner the better. We aren't in a position to go into debt over it. So the money has to come first."
   Society member Bruce Gartside said one of the challenges has been finding sources of the heavy gauge rail needed. "There seems to be lots of discontinued lines. But (the rails) are staying on the ground for whatever reason (instead of being salvaged)." What rail comes on the market seems to be attracting premium prices.
   Leslie said the society is also working to raise its profile and is looking at spearheading an effort to develop, along with other museum groups and historical societies, a heritage corridor on the 160 km of rail right of way between Morrin and Edberg. The stretch is full of gems such as original train stations, grain elevators, a sod house and other heritage sites.
   Meanwhile, the society will always welcome aboard new volunteers, she said. "New blood has new ideas and that's what we're looking for."


April 23, 2013, Red Deer Advocate
Stettler elevator restoration project underway
   The campaign to re-side and paint Stettler's grain elevator is underway.
   The Stettler P&H Elevator Preservation Society kicked off the fundraising drive with a live Louisiana Hayride music impersonators show on Saturday netting the non-profit organization about $2,000.
   "Every penny helps," said president Stan Eichhorn of the society's efforts to match the province's $60,000 Community Facility Enhancement Program grant for the $120,000 project.
   "We're hoping to get it done before the end of summer. It's going to take some legwork, for sure."
   Donors to the campaign can help buy siding and paint, and pay for their installation with specific donations of between $25 and $1,000. Society supporters can also help by renewing their society memberships and volunteering for elevator tours, Alberta Prairie Railway's snack bar shifts and upcoming fundraising activities.
   More information about the society and the campaign is available online at www.stettlergrainelevator.com.


April 3, 2013, Stettler Independent (Les Stulberg)
Big Valley station banks on restored roof
Big Valley station Stettler Independent photo   The Big Valley railroad station is sporting a new cedar shingle roof -- an effort to preserve the century-old building for the generations to come.
   Rich Graydon, a volunteer with the Canadian Northern Society, which co-ordinated the project, said the group continually strives to preserve the historical buildings and "keep them original."
   Work is now being done on the building's interior to repair damage that a leaking roof caused.
   The project is estimated to cost $45,000.
   Graydon said funds raised by the Canadian Northern Society, donations from the community of Big Valley, and the possibility of a matching grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, are expected to cover the cost.
   The Big Valley station is one of three owned by Canadian Northern Society -- the others are at Meeting Creek and Camrose.
   Graydon said each station is of a different architectural design. The three designs were commonly used by the CNR in towns across the prairies, he said.
   "Stations were quick to disappear, once they were no longer needed," Graydon said.
   Fortunately, in Big Valley, the Big Valley Historical Society originally undertook the task of preserving the station.
   For more than 20 years, the impressively restored station has been cared for by the Canadian Northern Society.
   Graydon said the group remodelled the freight storage area into a community room.
   "It's nice to see that room used by the community," he said.
Photo: A new cedar shingle roof on the 100-year-old Big Valley railroad station is expected to add decades to
  the landmark's life. Work is now being done on the building's interior to repair damage that a leaking roof
  caused.
Photo by Les Stulberg, Stettler Independent


Sept. 13, 2012, Alberta RETROactive, Blogging Alberta Historic Places (Dorothy Field)
Blog
All Aboard! Big Valley Canadian Northern Railway Station Celebrates 100 Years
Big Valley CNor Station - RETROactive   At one time, more than 800 communities in Alberta had a train station. This is no longer the case. Fewer than 10% of Alberta's train stations remain today, and even fewer continue to serve their original purpose. The Canadian Northern Railway Station at Big Valley - designated a Provincial Historical Resource in 2005 - is one of those few. Train excursions run regularly from Stettler to Big Valley, often with the mighty 6060 Steam Locomotive (also a Provincial Historic Resource) in the lead.
Big Valley CNor Station 2011 - RETROactive   The Big Valley CNoR station received a restoration grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation this year, just in time for its 100th birthday. The Canadian Northern Society is planning a big party in honour of the centenary on Saturday, September 29. Check out the poster! Make sure your visit includes the roundhouse, which was designated along with the railway station. Another site worthy of note in Big Valley is St. Edmund's Anglican Church - the Blue Church at the top of the hill - which was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2002.
Big Valley CNor Station 1979 - RETROactive   Sixteen other train stations have been designated Provincial Historic Resources. They are at Camrose, Claresholm, Didsbury, Empress, Fort Saskatchewan, Heinsburg, High River, Lethbridge, Meeting Creek, Paradise Valley, Peace River, Red Deer, Sexsmith, Smoky Lake, Strathcona (in Edmonton), and Vegreville. The stations at Beiseker, High River, Red Deer and Strathcona have also been designated by their respective municipalities. Additional recognition for Alberta train stations has come from the federal government, which has declared those at Banff, Empress, Hanna, Jasper, Lake Louise, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Strathcona to be Heritage Railway Stations.


June 17, 2011, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Track for historic railway tours likely to be done by late summer
East Central Alberta Heritage Society laying ties   The final spikes will be driven late this summer on a 12-km stretch of new track for historic rail tours between Stettler and Red Willow.
   East Central Alberta Heritage Society is leading the $3.3 million project to restore an abandoned rail line on the east side of Hwy 56 north of Stettler that was ripped out for scrap in 1997. When complete, the society hopes to lay about 25 km of new rails all the way to Donalda.
   Society member Bruce Gartside said the laborious job of laying the rails began last fall until weather stopped the work in early December. Crews began laying rail again in early May.
   "We're looking at completion of the whole thing (to Red Willow) in, perhaps, late August," said Gartside.
   At the same time as rail was being laid, work was underway creating five natural linear parks to serve as rest areas as part of an $800,000 project.
   The parks at Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rumsey and Rowley will include washrooms, picnic tables and signs providing information on local flora and fauna. They are expected to be completed later this month.
   While the rail link to Red Willow is expected to be complete this year, trains won't be running the route until next year at the earliest.
   Alberta Prairie Steam Tours Ltd. general manager Bob Willis said this year's schedule is already set, but the company plans to add Red Willow trips in the future.
   Before the steam trains head to Red Willow, there must be something in place in the community to provide an attraction for rail passengers getting off at the stop to sight-see.
   "You don't just throw these things into the marketplace and have them happen," said Willis. "The rail infrastructure is part of the equation, but not the entire one."
   Willis said if there is something in place to serve rail passengers by the fall, trips to Red Willow could be added to next season's schedule.
   "It's our intention to run to Red Willow, it's just the timing I can't be specific on at this point."
   Meanwhile, the society is working on finding the money to complete its dream of connecting Donalda by rail.
   About three km worth of rail will be left over after Red Willow is connected.
   Now, the society must find close to 10 km worth of track.
   The supplier in Manitoba that provided the existing rail has more, but the steel does not come cheap.
   "Used rail has become a very hot commodity," said Gartside.
   Unless a cheaper supply of rail can be found, it will likely cost about $2.6 million to complete the Donalda link.
   Gartside said an application has been submitted for $125,000 in provincial funding. Federal help will also be sought and a fundraising Father's Day Special Train Excursion through Alberta Prairie Steam Tours is set for 11 a.m. Sunday. The annual event raised $14,000 for the society last year.
Photo: Workers lay out ties as part of the restoration of an abandoned rail line north of Stettler.


Sept. 2, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)

Rail being laid for heritage line
   Work has begun on a project to lay 12 kilometres of track from Stettler to Red Willow for use by historic rail tours and to boost tourism.
   Grading is nearly complete along the abandoned rail line north of Stettler that will be used to extend rail tours north to the small hamlet of a few dozen people. Once the gravel has been laid, the tracks will be laid, a project expected to be completed by the end of March.
   The project is being led by the East Central Alberta Heritage Society (ECAHS) whose decade-long goal has been to restore the rail line on the east side of Hwy 56 ripped up for scrap in 1997. The society was able to raise enough money to buy the rail from Stettler to Big Valley and Alberta Prairie Railway runs popular tours along the 30-kilometre line.
   Western Economic Diversification Canada gave the project to extend the line a big boost last year when $2.6 million in funding was announced and provided through Canadian Badlands, which promotes tourism in that stretch of Alberta. Since that announcement, another $600,000 has been raised through provincial and corporate funding, which will cover the cost of building the line to Red Willow.
   An important hurdle was overcome recently when the society found the 80-pound steel rail necessary for the first leg.
   Rail, ties and spikes were bought (from) Cando Contracting Ltd., a railway salvage company in Brandon, Manitoba. Cando is also supplying some of the equipment needed to lay the rail, as well as providing a $350,000 cash donation.
   Local, provincial and national contractors will lay the track.
   Society president Norma Leslie said they still plan one day to extend the track another 12 kilometres to Donalda.
   "(ECAHS) will continue to pursue funding opportunities to extend the rail from Red Willow to Donalda, and beyond, but for the present the focus is on the projects we have begun.
   "There is no definite target date, at this time, for the next extension," she said.
   In the meantime, work is expected to begin on a number of linear parks that will be built at key points along the entire line. The work will also be funded mostly through the Western Economic Diversification Canada's Community Adjustment Fund, which provided $732,000 to build the parks. Another $60,000 came through private and corporate donations.
   Consultations with landowners, environmental surveys and other preliminary work has been completed and fencing and grooming is already underway.
   Leslie said five parks will go ahead and are expected to be completed by the end of March. They are slated for near Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rowley and Morrin.


Sept. 1, 2010, Red Deer Express (Johnnie Bachusky)
6060 turns 66
For half a century train engineer Harry Home had dedicated his life to preserving
 one of the last steam engines ever built in Canada. Today Canadian National 6060
 is restored and thundering along majestically on the rails in Central Alberta

Harry Home - Bachusky photo Express   There is nothing more rewarding and exciting for Harry Home when he puts his hand on the throttle to take Canadian National 6060 for a ride.
   The pure elation he feels at the controls has been with him for more than 70 years since the day his father, a CN engineer, let him have the throttle on steam engine CN 2021 in Hanna.
   "He let me stand on the seat box and I burnt my hand when I touched the throttle," said Home. "But I have never forgotten the thrill of making that locomotive move. I knew right then what I wanted to be."
   Home, now 77-years-old, officially began his railway career on July 28, 1949 as a train fireman at Boston Bar, BC.
6060 - Bachusky photo Express   He retired "reluctantly" as an engineer on May 14, 1998. But since his retirement he has been busier than ever as he continued to be the primary guardian of CN 6060. It is one of the last steam engines ever built in Canada and is known today as "The Spirit of Alberta", as well as "Bullet Nosed Betty".
   The 6060, now owned by the non-profit Rocky Mountain Rail Society (RMRS), has been the headline attraction along the 21-mile Stettler to Big Valley line this summer for Alberta Prairie Railway, which offers steam and diesel rail excursions - along with full course buffet meals, on board entertainment and even a mock train robbery - from spring to fall.
   The excursions have become a major tourist attraction with thousands regularly packing the train for a leisurely trek across the Central Alberta prairie. With the 637,540-lb. 6060 leading the way, passengers get a glimpse of the simple and humble joys of a magnificent pioneer way of life.
   "It is an experience for them, and they want their kids to experience that. A lot of them have been on a train, and they are not going to be on another train," said Don Gillespie, CEO and president of Alberta Prairie Railway.
   "Steam is what they come for of course. And it (6060) is a big, beautiful engine."
   But the heart of the experience always leads back to the helm of this remarkable steam engine. This is where Home, whose residence is in Jasper, performs his labour of love.
   "The way I describe it is that we are trying to preserve the past while serving the future," said Home, a member of the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. "We are trying to preserve a way of life that was strictly Canadiana, and every part of it, from being in a railway home, and mother preparing meals around dad's schedules. All the railroad kids really enjoyed the way of life we had."
   It has now been a full half century Home has played his remarkable part in preserving 6060, which turns 66 this year.
   It was originally built by an all female crew in 1944 at the Montreal Locomotive Works. For the next 15 years it logged thousands of miles between Ontario and Quebec hauling passengers and freight. But by 1959, with the railway industry transitioning to diesel, the steam era was over. CN 6060 was retired and destined for the scrap heap.
   But in 1960, while on a stop in Winnipeg, Home noticed 6060 on a dead line. Knowing an important piece of history had a chance to be saved, he immediately got into action.
   "My two buddies and I got busy. I did the letter writing and we lobbied and went to the CNR vice president Roger Graham. He agreed to give it to us in Jasper. It was brought to us in 1962," said Home.
   The steam engine went on display in Jasper and a decade later underwent a major refurbishment. The 6060 arrived in Alberta in 1980 and was given to the Province of Alberta to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
   For years later Home and his friends founded the RMRS and 6060 has been under its loving care ever since.
   "6060 is alive as far as I'm concerned and our efforts to preserve her feel like a keeping a living breathing entity alive," said society spokesman Rich Graydon. "If you look at the communities we live in, they are almost all connected in some way to the railway. Either because they developed to serve the railway or the railway came to serve them.
   "In today's society we seem to be in a real hurry to forget and remove the past without taking time to learn from it. 6060 is a living artifact that demonstrates the peak of steam engine design and what was accomplished by Canadians."
   However, to maintain the 6060 to its full glory requires resources and money, and society members hope to raise up to $75,000 to replace its boiler safety valves, to repaint the engine, replace parts, and to restore historic railway cars and equipment.
   Meanwhile, while the society continues its hard work on the ongoing maintenance of 6060 Home also wants to find funding to build a permanent home for the steam engine in Stettler because he believes the Central Alberta town should be known nationally as the "Steam Capital of Canada."
   "I'm very proud to be a member of the railway fraternity. I've had the honour of working on this engine and other steam engines. I've had the honour and the pleasure of viewing the Atlantic and the Pacific from the cab of this engine," said Home. "It was a good life and it still is."
   For more information on the Rocky Mountain Rail Society visit its web site at www.6060.org. For more on Alberta Prairie Railway and its tourist excursions visit www.absteamtrain.com.
Photos: 1.ALWAYS THRILLED - Harry Home is a resident of Jasper but is always available and willing to operate
   the 6060 from Stettler to Big Valley. 2. TAKING OFF - The 6060 blows off smoke as it departs Big Valley to
   head back to Stettler.
 
Photos by Johnnie Bachusky, Red Deer Express


May 14, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Brenda Kossowan)
Stettler group wants to convert
grain elevator into museum
 
   Efforts are underway to create a railway museum out of a retired grain elevator located in Stettler, right across the tracks from the town's most popular tourist attraction.
   The former Parrish and Heimbecker grain elevator, feed mill and assorted outbuildings were mothballed in 2003 and then put up for sale.
   Local farmer Stan Eichhorn couldn't stomach the idea of losing one of the town's last remaining elevators -- so he bought it for the princely sum of $1. He felt that, with Alberta Prairie Rail Excursions as a track-side neighbour, the towering yellow structure was too precious as a local landmark to be torn down.
   Eichhorn was able to negotiate an agreement with American Railway, the company that owned the land on which the elevator, annex and outbuildings were built.
   Alberta Prairie later purchased the land and has formed an agreement that will ensure that the elevator can stay at the site where it was first built, sometime during the 1920s.
   With building and land secured, Eichhorn approached some like-minded individuals to form the Stettler P&H Elevator Preservation Society, now a registered non-profit group legally entitled to issue tax receipts for donations.
   They're going to need every penny they can find, says Eichhorn, president of the group. The group is laying plans to restore the grain elevator to working order so it can be used for live demonstrations. Members want to fix the remaining buildings up as well, and set up exhibits inside.
   They also hope to return the elevator, which is badly in need of a paint job, to its original deep red colour. Eichhorn estimates that project alone at $40,000 to $50,000.
   The elevator office already functions as a local gathering point, much the same as it did during its working years, albeit on severely limited hours. Society members open the office for morning coffee three days a week, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
   They hope a garage sale planned for the Victoria Day long weekend will also give their bank account a bit of a boost.
   The sale is set for 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Members will serve coffee, doughnuts and cookies to people attending the sale.


May 6, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Train track wanted
Heritage Society wants to purchase used railway track
   Wanted: 50 km of used railway track.
   East Central Alberta Heritage Society's fundraising efforts to restore a line from Stettler to Donalda are chugging right along, but finding track is another matter.
   "I guess our biggest problem right now is finding rail that we can salvage," said society administrator Bruce Gartside. "We need to run rail for 20 miles, which means acquiring probably about 30 miles of rail . . ." said the Donalda resident, adding extra rail is needed because not all recovered track can be reused.
   Inquiries have already been made to Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway to see what opportunities exist to bid on contracts to salvage the many sections of abandoned rail in Western Canada. So far, the society hasn't heard back.
   Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden and Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson have been asked to help get the wheels turning.
   "We're not asking for free rail, we're just asking to be allowed to bid along with other salvage companies.
   "That's probably the biggest holdup for us right now. We haven't had any word on any rail coming up that we can bid on."
   On the fundraising front, the news is a little better with about $3 million lined up.
   The project was given a major boost last year with the announcement of $2.6 million in funding from the federal government. The money came from Western Economic Diversification Canada through Canadian Badlands Ltd., a group committed to boosting tourism in the region.
   Corporate, municipal and individual donors have also stepped up and a number of applications are still outstanding.
   "We are still waiting to hear from the province of Alberta," he said, adding they have a couple of funding applications in. "I gather they are so overwhelmed with applications -- something like over 800 -- that it's taking them a while to figure out how to spread the money around."
   As part of its successful federal funding application, the society must provide $400,000 in donations or gifts of materials or services. Gartside is optimistic that target will be reached with some provincial help.
   "I think the money can be put together," he said, adding he expects more donations will come in when they can line up rail and show that the project is on track.
   The complete project would cost about $3.9 million. But they can reduce that by $600,000 if work on building sidings at Donalda and Red Willow is postponed until later.


Oct. 1, 2009, Stettler Independent (Richard Froese)
Major funding will restore old
rail line to Donalda

   A plan to restore an old railway line linking Stettler and Donalda has received a major funding grant of over $3.2 million.
   East Central Alberta Heritage Society was authorized funding of almost $3.9 million, said society chair Norma Leslie, from the federal Community Adjustment Fund through Canadian Badlands for two projects with a focus to redevelop and enhance the region's rural communities and their local tourism industry by the spring of 2011.
   Funding will support the society's plan to restore the line and to develop a linear park in Donalda and Big Valley.
   "We are elated," said Leslie who chairs the society that was incorporated in 1997.
   "It's been our goal to relay the line ever since we were formed."
   To relay the old 20-mile line on the east side of Highway 56 that was removed by the Central Western Railway in 1998, the society received about $3 million with $732,000 to develop a linear park in Donalda and Big Valley.
   "It will certainly be a great resource for our community," said Village of Donalda Mayor Terry Nordahl. "This will create an influx of tourists into town and help out local businesses."
   Restoring the old line will enable world-famous Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions to extend its tours north of Stettler.
   "We have a contract for Alberta Prairie to lease the line so they can run their train," said Leslie. "We have to start work as soon as possible to get it complete for 2011."
   To relay the line, the society estimates $2.5 million for materials, equipment and services, $500,000 for labour while the society is required to provide $250,000 for other funding or in-kind donations. Since the park project is budgeted at $792,000, the society will be required to raise $60,000.
   "We want a natural park along the track in each community where people can enjoy wild flowers and watch the birds, relax and admire the scenery," said Leslie.
   The heritage society currently owns 99 miles of railway rights-of-way from Edberg to Morrin.
   "Our government, through the Community Adjustment Fund, is proud to support rural Alberta communities and provide them with opportunities for economic growth," said Kevin Sorenson, Member of Parliament for Crowfoot, on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. "We are putting Canada's Economic Action Plan to work by protecting and creating jobs, supporting the local tourism industry, and enabling communities to strengthen their foundation for long-term success."
   Under the newly formed Canadian Badlands Tourism Development Centre, a single application was submitted to the Community Adjustment Fund for 23 different projects on behalf of 19 rural Alberta communities.
   "This money is going to do so much for our smaller, single-industry communities," said Cindy Amos, Executive Director for Canadian Badlands Ltd.
   "The funding will put people to work, increase tourism capacity, attract small to medium size business to rural communities and stabilize rural populations."
   "This is a real boost to the local economy as well as to our ever-expanding tourism industry here in the Canadian Badlands."
   The Community Adjustment Fund is a federal program to mitigate the impacts of the economic downturn by encouraging job creation in affected communities. Not only will $6.2 million injection result in immediate job opportunities for locals, but also create long-lasting tourism-based infrastructure that ensures a legacy of longer-term economic benefits.

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