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  CPR station and park Red Deer - Red Deer Archives P3202

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Calgary and Edmonton Railway
now Canadian Pacific

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The Calgary & Edmonton Railway
at Red Deer 
Revised April 2022

Photo descriptions and credits at bottom of page.

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 Ross 2008 - PettypieceAn 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.

Red Deer c1893 track & Alberta Hotel - Red Deer ArchivesRev. 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.

Red Deer C&ER combination station & hotels 1892When 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.

Red Deer C&ER timber bridge 1892 - Alberta Archives B2852During 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.
Red Deer combination station 1898 - Red Deer Archives
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.
Red Deer C&ER yard, station and hotels 1898 - Red Deer Archives P4410

The 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.

Red Deer CPR railyard c1908 and Dominion elevator - RD Archives P3550In 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 CPR roundhouse & water tank 1912 - RD Archives P3907
In 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.

Red Deer CPR elevated coal chutes 1916 - CPR ArchivesIt 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.

Red Deer River 1908 bridge May 2011 - PettypieceIt 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.

Red Deer CPR new station with old station & park 1910 - RD ArchivesA 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.

Red Deer CPR north yard 1912 - Alberta ArchivesThe 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.

12th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion boarding train May 1915 - RD Archives P211During 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.

CPR Jubilee 4-4-4 Chinook 3001 Aug 1938 - Otto PerryFrom 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.

Red Deer CPR railyards c1947 - Willard TrimbleIn 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.

CPR Dayliner at Red Deer 1967 - RD Museum Jim AellenThe 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.

In 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.

VIA Dayliner at Red Deer early 1980s - Brian McLoughlinIn 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.

restored CPR railway station at head of Ross Street 2008 - PettypieceIn 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.

Photo descriptions and credits:
Header: Red Deer CPR 1910 station, park and C&ER 1891 combination station as freight house 1911
     (Red Deer Archives P3202, Glenbow Archives PA-629-1);
Red Deer street signs at Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue in honour of James Ross and Rev. Leonard Gaetz who
     negotiated the current site of the city (Paul Pettypiece 2008);
Red Deer C&ER track & Alberta Hotel 1893 (Red Deer Archives P234);
Red Deer C&ER station and hotels 1892 (Provincial Archives of Alberta);
Red Deer C&ER timber bridge 1892 (Provincial Archives of Alberta B2852 Brown collection);
Red Deer C&ER station and elevator 1898 (Red Deer Archives P3206);
Red Deer C&ER yard and hotels 1898 (Red Deer Archives P4410);
Red Deer CPR yard and Dominion elevator c1908 (Red Deer Archives P3550);
Red Deer CPR roundhouse and water tower 1912 (Red Deer Archives P3907, P362-10);
Red Deer CPR elevated coal chutes May 1916 (Canadian Pacific Archives A3073);
Red Deer CPR 1908 Red Deer River bridge (Paul Pettypiece 2011);
Red Deer CPR new station, old station and park 1910 (Red Deer Archives);
Red Deer CPR yard north 1912 (Provincial Archives of Alberta A9848);
Red Deer CPR station 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion boarding train May 1915 (Red Deer Archives P211);
CPR Jubilee 4-4-4 3001 in Calgary August 1938 (Otto Perry);
Red Deer CPR railyard with string of tank cars c1947 (Willard Trimble);
CPR Dayliner at Red Deer May 1967 (Red Deer Museum Society - Jim Aellen - Waskasoo Camera Club);
VIA Dayliner at Red Deer early 1980s (Brian McLoughlin);
Looking west along Ross Street toward restored CPR station (Paul Pettypiece 2008);
Statue of Rev. Leonard Gaetz a block from restored CPR station (Paul Pettypiece 2010)

Photos courtesy of Red Deer Archives, Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canadian Pacific Archives, Glenbow Archives,
     Red Deer & District Museum Society, Central Alberta Historical Society, Brian McLoughlin and Paul Pettypiece.


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