The Calgary & Edmonton Railway
at Red Deer
Revised April 2015
Red Deer's location and it's prominence as a transportation and
distribution hub in Central Alberta occurred primarily as a result
of the development of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway and its
operator, Canadian Pacific Railway.
Construction started on the Calgary and Edmonton Railway north of Calgary in
even before a decision was made as to where it would cross the Red Deer
River. Three crossings had been surveyed -- one near Innisfail, one at the Red Deer Crossing
settlement and another at the mouth
of the Blindman River.
the Calgary-Edmonton Railway developed)
historic meeting between James Ross and Rev. Leonard Gaetz in July 1890
resulted in the abandonment of all three proposed crossings in favour of
a new one.
James Ross was President of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company
and President of Calgary and Edmonton Land Company. He was also supervisor for the construction of the C & E Railway
and was previously supervisor in the construction of several
railways including the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway
from Moose Jaw through the Rocky Mountains.
Leonard Gaetz had moved from Ontario in 1884 to act as local agent for the
Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company as a result of the company's
managing director, John T. Moore, having purchased 180 sections of
land (115,000 acres) in 1882 for future development where the city
of Red Deer now stands.
Gaetz was one of the largest landowners near the river, 6 kilometers
downstream from the Red Deer Crossing settlement. He had
a great deal of political influence and was an ardent promoter 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, Bellevue, if the railway built the river
crossing and new townsite on his property, Mr. Ross gladly accepted.
This arrangement turned out to be very profitable for both the
railway and the Gaetz family.
Tracklaying reached the new Red Deer townsite in November
-- a hundred miles of track laid 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.
During the winter of 1890-91, a wooden railway bridge was built crossing
the Red Deer River near the Gaetz homestead and the line continued north
toward South Edmonton (Strathcona) the following year. Meanwhile, the first lots in
the new Red Deer townsite went on sale in January 1891 with lots
ranging from $40 to $200. By March, five new stores, a hotel and
several residences were under construction. Railway and development
construction jobs were plentiful and local farmers enjoyed an
excellent market for their produce.
The first railway station in Red
Deer was built that spring in just over two weeks to replace a box car
that had been used for that purpose. Similar stations were built at
Olds, Innisfail, Lacombe, Ponoka, Wetaskiwin and Strathcona. Regular passenger service to both major centres was in place by that summer
reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train.
The fare was $10 compared to the $25 charged by the stagecoach
Canadian Pacific Railway officially took over operations of the railway in August
1891, named all the numbered stations along the route, built a telegraph
line and started carrying the mail, taking it away from the stage
coaches along the C & E Trail. By the end of the decade, the Calgary
and Edmonton Railway was the most profitable line of its size in
In 1904, the Red Deer yards were expanded and a new station was built at Penhold
to replace a temporary one. In 1905, a branch line east from Lacombe to Alix was opened and
extended to Stettler the following year. Meanwhile another branch line
from Wetaskiwin east to Camrose also opened in 1905 and extended to
Hardisty the following year. Train crews for both branch lines
originated in Red Deer.
By 1905, the population of Red Deer had grown to 1500 residents.
Four years prior, the population was only 323, smaller than the
communities of Lacombe and Innisfail.
1906, the railway was already preparing for major changes with yard
improvements, a new stock pen, a new small 4-stall roundhouse and an
agreement with the town to supply twice the amount of water as had
been originally negotiated. During the following year, further
improvements were made including a 6-stall addition to the roundhouse,
a 70-foot turntable, a new water tower, a new elevated gravitational coal chute
with timber ramp which dominated the community skyline and heavier
It was when the Canadian Pacific Railway officially announced that Red Deer
would be the
divisional point between Calgary and Edmonton in 1908 that the destiny of
downtown Red Deer as the transportation and distribution hub of Central Alberta became established.
Crews would now be changed and trains would be assembled or broken
up at Red Deer. It was the same year that the 3-span 300-foot wooden
truss bridge across
the Red Deer River was replaced by a 2-span 300-foot steel one which
opened in 1909. The 100-foot timber trestle on the south end of the
A new large and impressive station (similar in design to ones in
Strathcona, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Saskatoon) was built at the head of Ross Street in
1910 where it could easily be seen by the commercial centre of the
original station was moved south and expanded to become a major freight shed. A beautiful
railroad park complete with fountain was created east of the
station. The following year, an addition was constructed on the
south end of the station.
The railway had established itself as the primary employer, customer and supplier for the
fast-growing town and continued to be so for several decades. With the
new growth and prosperity, the town incorporated as a city in 1913.
Among other railway projects in and near the city between 1907 and 1914,
Canadian Pacific made plans to build another line southeast to
Drumheller but those plans were abandoned with the start of World War I.
It also took over the Red Deer-based and bankrupt Alberta Central Railway
During the First World War, the railway played a significant role in
the transporting of troops in and out of Red Deer.
In 1923, the elevated gravity-type coal chute was replaced with a
more modern mechanical coaling plant which lasted until 1960.
1936 to 1955, excluding the war years, passenger service was
provided by a fast train called 'The Chinook', headed by a
specially-designed locomotive for inter-city service, the 4-4-4
Jubilee no. 3001. Only five of its class were ever built and none
were preserved. The 'Chinook' service ran in addition to the daily 'Eskimo/Stampeder' trains
and two other intercity trains including an over-nighter.
During the Second World War, the railway was particularly significant in
serving the army base in the city and the air base near Penhold. A
connection was made with the Canadian National yards on the east
side of the downtown and an agreement was made for CNR to use CPR
trackage to North Junction near Blackfalds.
In 1948, the rail yards were expanded due to an increase in freight
traffic as a result of the oil boom. New grain elevators were
constructed north of the station and in the late 1950s, more
elevators were built on the south end of the yard.
The first diesel ran in 1949 and the Jubilees were
replaced by the 'Dayliner' service in 1955 cutting the five-hour trip by
one and a half hours. The 3-per-day Dayliners reached their peak in 1969
with 80,000 passengers carried.
1960, the beautiful railroad park was transformed into a parking lot. As
a result of diesel locomotives replacing steam during the 1950s, the
roundhouse, last used in 1955, was demolished in 1963, as was the freight
shed (original station). In the 1960s, the Westpark 45th Street overpass
was built over the yards.
Since the 1920s, three branch lines originated at Red Deer. The Lacombe subdivision ran
east from Lacombe through Stettler and on to Coronation but now only
runs intermittently to Stettler. The Alberta Central subdivision ran
west through Sylvan Lake and on to Rocky Mountain House but it was
abandoned in 1983 after seeing its last train two years earlier. The
Hoadley subdivision (originally the Lacombe and Blindman Valley Electric
Railway) still runs north west from Lacombe to Bentley and Rimbey. Local
trains have served Blackfalds, Lacombe and Ponoka to the north and
Penhold, Innisfail, Bowden and Olds to the south.
In 1985, passenger service came to an end after 94 years with the 'Dayliner'
making its final run. However, proposals for new passenger service
surfaced that included new-generation LRC locomotives operated by VIA
Rail on CP or even a high-speed service, have so far
failed to become a reality.
The mid-1980s to early 1990s saw a lot of infrastructure changes
involving highways that impacted the railway. In 1985, Highway 2A was
realigned to parallel the railway south of Red Deer under the Highway 2
bridges as part of an interim interchange with Highway 2 and a connection to
Highway 595. Farther north, Highway 597 was extended west to a new
Highway 2 interchange at Blackfalds requiring a new rail bridge over the
1985, the provincial government announced $72.5 million in funding
for the relocation of the Red Deer rail yards to the northwest side
of the city and the creation of a new road corridor along the
railway right of way. Actual construction took two years between 1989 and 1991. All
tracks through the city centre were gone by early 1992 and the 45th
Street overpass was removed. Five grain elevators were demolished in the
downtown and the 4-lane Taylor Drive major corridor project was well
under way. Ross Street and 49 Street were connected west through the
former rail yards to the Taylor Bridge as part of the new corridor
Originally, the station was to be demolished for the project
but ultimately it was preserved at its original site at the head of Ross
Street forcing the connecting roads to go around it. The corridor
project also connected Taylor Drive to Highway 2A at the south end of
The downtown rail station was declared a historic resource, restored on
the outside and renovated into offices on the inside. The railway bridge
over the river was also declared a historic resource and was developed
into a pedestrian and bicycle way that is now part of the Waskasoo Park
trail system and the Trans Canada Trail. The original fountain from the
railway park was returned to the downtown a couple of years ago and is
now the centre-piece for the 'Arches' project in a park.
The only other remnants from the steam era in Central Alberta are the
restored Bowden station relocated to the Innisfail Historical Village
and the restored Didsbury station (a provincial historic site) turned
180 degrees and used by community groups. Two replica stations located
in Penhold and Lacombe are used for commercial purposes.
history of Red Deer's CPR Station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
Station Park once shining jewel of Red Deer
(Red Deer Express June 2009)
Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge now 100 years old
(Red Deer Advocate June 2009)