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  CPR station and park Red Deer

Forth Junction Project
Calgary and Edmonton Railway
now Canadian Pacific

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

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 July 1890 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.

(How the Calgary-Edmonton Railway developed)

corner of Gaetz and RossAn 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.

Rev. 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.

downtown originates with coming of the railwayTracklaying 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 service.

early train meet at InnisfailThe 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 Canada.

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.

Red Deer develops with the railwayIn 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 rail.

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 bridge remained.

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 community. 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 in 1912.

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.

Jubilee 3001 the ChinookFrom 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.

railway station, park and coal chutesIn 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.

Dayliner at InnisfailIn 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 new road.

old railway station at head of Ross StreetIn 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 project.

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 city.

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.

Dawe: The history of Red Deer's CPR Station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
CPR 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) 


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

Milestones 1910-13
Calgary Edmonton Trail
Transit in Central Alberta
Red Deer Transit

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
Station Plans

Bridges, Structures, Heritage
Rail Structures of Region
Central Alberta Rail Bridges

Mintlaw Trestle
Alberta's Railway Bridges
Western Canada Rail Bridges



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