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  C & E trail stagecoach

Forth Junction Project
Calgary and Edmonton

Forth Junction Project Vision Sharing Historical Perspective Ground Transportation
Heritage Preservation
Forth Junction
Heritage Society

The Calgary and Edmonton Trail (C & E Trail)
Revised April 2015

ice free corridorWhat eventually became known as the Calgary and Edmonton Trail (C&E Trail) was developed along an ancient natural north-south glacial corridor several kilometres wide on the western margin of parkland located between the dense forest to the west and the hilly land to the east. The earliest people that migrated to North America from Asia likely used this corridor as they continued to migrate southward.

Natural pathways, along with the rivers and their many tributaries, were used by different First Nations tribes for several centuries before Europeans set foot in Western Canada. There is evidence that the Cree, Blackfoot and other tribes used parallel pathways along the corridor crossing the Red Deer River at various points including shallow fords at 'the Crossing' west of present-day Red Deer, a point west of present-day Innisfail and close to the mouth of the Blindman River near present-day Blackfalds. Early European explorers, fur traders and some early settlers also used those ancient pathways.

The central corridor east of the Rocky Mountains was part of the ancient Old North Trail that for 10,000 years and possibly longer was used by inhabitants of the continent to settle and trade from Alaska south to Mexico. Early European settlers and traders in Montana and southern Alberta often referred to the corridor as the Old North Trail.

Other names were used according to who used the pathways or where the primary destination point was. Names that have been used for portions of the Old North Trail corridor in Alberta include the Bow River Trail, the Fort Benton Trail, Overland Trail, Morley Trail, Cree Trail and the Middle Black Foot Trail. In 1800, David Thompson referred to the northern portion of the central pathway as the Wolf's Track (from Fort Edmonton south to present-day Lacombe and west to Rocky Mountain House).

In 1873, the Methodist missionary John McDougall, his brother David, and his father George, blazed a crude 450-km cart road from Fort Edmonton (originally established in 1795) south to the Peace Hills near present day Wetaskiwin, past the Bear Hills near Hobbema, over the Red Deer River at 'the Crossing' to Lone Pine south of Bowden and southwest to a mission at Morley, about 80 kilometres upstream on the Bow River west of present day Calgary. This 'built' portion of the Old North Trail between Fort Edmonton and Lone Pine was briefly referred to as the Morley or McDougall Trail with the portion between Lone Pine and Morley retaining the name much longer.

The Old North Trail crossed the Red Deer River at a natural and relatively safe ford about six kilometres upstream from the current city of Red Deer where a replica of Fort Normandeau is now located.

In 1875, the North West Mounted Police established Fort Calgary and they carved out a wagon trail from there to Lone Pine to join up with McDougalls' trail north to Fort Edmonton. At that time there were no recorded inhabitants other than aboriginals between Calgary and Edmonton although hunter and trapper Addison McPherson had reportedly built a log cabin at the Red Deer River Crossing in 1872.

This new trail became known as the Edmonton-Calgary Trail and was the northern portion of the commercial fur trade and whiskey trail linking Fort Benton in Montana (the head of navigation on the Missouri), with Fort Whoop-Up (Lethbridge) established in 1869, Fort Macleod, Fort Calgary and Fort Edmonton.

In 1882, a number of former freighters, land surveryors and other pioneers took up claims, mostly on the south side of the Red Deer River, between the ford, referred to as 'the Crossing', and Waskasoo Creek, where the current city of Red Deer was established years later. (Waskasoo is the Cree word for elk or wapiti. Early fur traders misinterpreted the word as meaning red deer.)

Early settlers at 'the Crossing' included John T. Moore, Jack Little, William Kemp, George and Jim Beatty, 'Addy' McPherson and Robert McClellan. The Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company was granted 180 alternating sections of land around the Crossing and further downstream.

More settlers were attracted to the Crossing in 1883. The McKenzies built a sawmill, G.C. King a store and M.P. Collins a stopping house. Ed Barnett was the first settler between the Red Deer River and Fort Edmonton locating at what was later to become Lacombe.

map of Calgary & Edmonton Trail, other trails, stopping houses and railway between Calgary and Red DeerThe arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary in 1883 meant a dramatic increase in traffic going north along the Calgary and Edmonton Trail. The first regular mail service along this route was established in July of 1883. John Coleman and Addy Macpherson had obtained the contract to carry the mail bi-weekly, along with some light freight, as well as passengers. A month later, Donald McLeod established the first stage service, a rather crude adaptation of a freight wagon with a canopy and seats. The fare each way was 25 dollars, a considerable amount of money at the time considering a good wage was $2 a day, allowing a hundred pounds of luggage.

In 1884, Rev. Leonard Gaetz moved his family from Ontario to the abandoned Jack Little claim near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek. Hired by John T. Moore, he came as the land agent for the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company and bought the store at the Crossing from G.C. King.

The Crossing townsite was surveyed as Deerford but never developed. Sage Bannerman started a ferry operation at the Crossing, purchasing McPherson's claim.

C & E Trail stagecoach drawingAs traffic increased along the trail, stopping houses were established at least every 20 miles between Edmonton and Calgary. Travellers and freight and stagecoach crews could receive food and shelter; horses could rest; and, in some cases, settlers could rent temporary housing.

restored stopping house 'the Spruces' at InnisfailStopping houses included Dickson's (Airdrie), Scarlett's (east of Carstairs), Lone Pine (east of Bowden), Content's at Poplar Grove (now Innisfail), Millers' at 'The Spruces' formerly called Cache Camp (west of Penhold), McClellan's at Red Deer Crossing, Blindman Crossing (south of Blackfalds), Barnett's (Lacombe) and Barker's (Battle River, later Ponoka). Ponoka is the Blackfoot word for elk or wapiti.
reconstructed Fort Normandeau at Red Deer Crossing
In 1885, as a result of the Riel Rebellion, the Alberta Field Force moved soldiers and police from Calgary to Edmonton. Lieut. Normandeau and 20 men stayed at Red Deer Crossing to guard the trail and river, commandeering the stopping house and building a fort around it (replicated later as historic Fort Normandeau). At the same time, Fort Ostell was built at the Battle River (at present-day Ponoka).
In 1886, the North West Mounted Police set up a detachment at Fort Normandeau. The following year, the first log school house was built east of 'the Crossing' and the Alberta Lumber Company built a mill on the Red Deer River near Innisfail.

Calgary and Edmonton Trail with stopping houses and railway townsBy 1888, travellers along the Calgary-Edmonton Trail could choose from four different types of vehicles, from freighter wagons to closed light stagecoaches. A trip on a freighter wagon took almost two weeks. The stagecoach was much faster at four to five days.

The role of the trail took a dramatic turn when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway was constructed in 1890-91. Although the overall route of the railway was to follow the general C & E Trail corridor, the railway decided on its own route to reduce the grade of the railway or to accommodate their preferred locations for communities. North of Poplar Grove (renamed Innisfail) to south Red Deer, the railway was built a couple of miles east of the C & E Trail.

The settlement at Red Deer Crossing generally expected that the railway would cross the river there. In fact, a townsite had been laid out in anticipation of the railway going through the community.

However, as a result of a deal between the Calgary and Edmonton Railway and landowner Rev. Leonard Gaetz, the Red Deer townsite and the railway crossing of the river was located a few kilometres downstream, resulting in the Crossing settlement no longer being viable and most of the settlers ultimately relocating to the new townsite.

Once the rail line was completed to South Edmonton in 1891, travel time between the territory's two largest centres was reduced to 12 hours by train from 4 days by stagecoach. The new railway obtained the mail contract marking the end of the Calgary-Edmonton Trail stagecoach service.

During the 1890s, a new gravel road was built linking the communities that the railway went through, displacing the C & E Trail as the primary transportation route. The new road was eventually paved to became Highway 1 in the 1930s. It was renamed Highway 2 when the east-west Trans Canada Highway was conceived in 1945. It was later renamed Highway 2A when a newer four lane expressway was built in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

The newer Highway 2 was built over some segments of the old C & E Trail. Other segments of the original Calgary & Edmonton Trail still exist as country roads.

An ancient natural corridor has evolved to become one the most dynamic economic regions in North America.

Dawe: Fort Normandeau celebrates 125 years
(Red Deer Advocate May 2010)


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

Milestones 1910-13
Calgary Edmonton Trail
Transit in Central Alberta
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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
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Bridges, Structures, Heritage
Rail Structures of Region
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Mintlaw Trestle
Alberta's Railway Bridges
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