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  CN Red Deer station 1955

Forth Junction Project
Canadian Northern
Western Railway -
now Canadian National

 
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Canadian Northern Western Railway
built 1911-12
(Brazeau subdivision of Canadian National Railway 1919-present)

Revised April 2015

With the discovery of commercially profitable coal deposits in the Brazeau-Bighorn area, Martin Nordegg received a charter in 1908 to build the Alberta and Brazeau River Railway Company from a point near Bowden on the Calgary-Edmonton Railway and follow the valleys of the Red Deer, Raven and Clearwater Rivers to Rocky Mountain House and Kootenay Plains and northward to connect with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

With no support from either Canadian Pacific or Grand Trunk Pacific, Nordegg turned to William McKenzie and Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway to build the line. A new charter was obtained under the name of the Canadian Northern Western Railway that included a new route roughly parallel to the Alberta Central Railway between Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House.

The Brazeau line originated from south of Stettler on the newly-opened Canadian Northern north-south line in 1911. Construction progressed quickly west running a few miles north of Red Deer.

construction of Blindman River wooden trestle 1911-12During the same year, the railroad started construction of the trestle across the Blindman River at Burbank, constructed a spur line to North Red Deer and laid steel as far west as Sylvan Lake.

The competing Alberta Central Railway, which had already surveyed the route, was building a line at the same time from Red Deer, much of the line parallel with the Canadian Northern Western Railway. There were many stories of fights and acts of sabotage that broke out between the two construction crews in their quest to get to the Brazeau coal fields first.

Canadian National station Sylvan LakeThe Canadian Northern Western reached Rocky Mountain House before the Alberta Central in 1912, in part due to a lower standard of initial construction, although the line wasn't officially opened until 1914. However, the Alberta Central/Canadian Pacific had already built a good-quality 725' bridge across the North Saskatchewan River as well as track 2 miles on each side of it.

Rather than build a separate bridge across the river, in part because the federal government wouldn't give permission for an additional bridge, the Canadian Northern Western (later part of Canadian National) made an arrangement with Canadian Pacific, operators of the Alberta Central, to have running rights on that 4-1/2 mile section of track between Otway and Ullin, including the new Rocky Mountain House townsite and post office, referred to by Canadian Pacific as Lochearn on the east side of the river. (The current Lochearn industrial siding is about two miles west of the river near the original site of Rocky Mountain House.)

In return for those running rights across the river, Canadian Pacific was granted running rights to Nordegg/Brazeau. The CPR didn't likely exercise those rights for some time as they had no customers west of Rocky Mountain House and the mines at Nordegg were owned by the same principals as the CNWR. However, during the First World War, after the Canadian government took over ownership of the mines, and especially when the Brazeau Colleries started manufacturing briquettes in 1937, those rights may have been exercised but there is no documentation to confirm that. There are reports that, for a time in the early 1950s, both railways offered ticket services at the Nordegg station and the station was labeled both 'Nordegg' and 'Brazeau'. Nordegg became the largest supplier of briquettes in Canada by 1950.

The Brazeau Colleries had been stockpiling coal since late 1911 while waiting for the railway to arrive. It took until late 1913 for the CNWR to reach Nordegg on unballasted rails where a stockpile of 100,000 tons of coal was waiting to be shipped out. The first shipment left Nordegg in 1914. For a considerable time Nordegg was a much larger community than Rocky Mountain House, reaching a population of 3,500.

The Lochearn station (constructed and owned by Canadian Pacific) at Rocky Mountain House was used by both railways. A new station was built in 1920 and shared by both railways with ticket booths for each. For a time, one side of the station was labeled 'Lochearn' for the CPR and the other side labeled 'Rocky Mountain House' for the CNR. Eventually, both sides were labeled 'Rocky Mountain House'. The station was closed in 1966, sold and burned down in 1967.

Meanwhile, close to Red Deer, a spur line was being constructed south from North Junction near Blackfalds to North Red Deer in July 1911, intended to be part of a new north-south Calgary-Edmonton line that was never built. A bridge was erected across the Red Deer River from North Red Deer near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek in 1920 and a station (a unique variation of a Canadian National Railway third class design) and other facilities were constructed where the Co-op Plaza shopping mall is now located.

Mixed-train passenger service, taking almost 14 hours, operated from Big Valley to Red Deer and on to Nordegg Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, returning Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with as many as 30 station stops along the route. CPR provided complementary service on the Alberta Central subdivision on alternate dates between Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House.

The railroad became part of the Canadian Government Railways in 1918 and was absorbed into the newly-created Canadian National Railways in 1919. In 1923, modifications were made at Alix South Junction (on the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway) as part of a consolidation and rationalization of the various railroads comprising the new CNR. Mirror replaced Big Valley as the divisional point for train crews for the Brazeau Subdivision as well as the north-south Calgary-Edmonton former Grand Trunk Pacific line.

The mixed passenger service switched from the Big Valley terminal to Mirror in the mid to late 1920s using a similar timetable reducing the trip to around 10 hours. (A timetable from 1925 still shows the Big Valley connection via Warden and Alix even though the primary Edmonton-Calgary line had been consolidated through Mirror and Alix a couple of years earlier).

CN Red Deer River bridge at Red Deer washed outWith the bridge over the Red Deer River being washed out in the spring floods a number of times, the railway abandoned the river crossing at Red Deer in 1941 but continued service to the city station grounds via a connection to the Canadian Pacific alongside the present sites of the museum, downtown Safeway store and Red Deer Lodge.

The last mine at the Brazeau Colleries in Nordegg was closed in 1955. The line from Rocky Mountain House to Brazeau (Nordegg) was formally abandoned in 1986 but had had virtually no traffic since the mines closed thirty years earlier. The closure made CN passenger trains between Mirror and Rocky Mountain House unprofitable. As a result, CN (as well as CP) cancelled all passenger service on the line including to Red Deer.

last steam locomotive at Red Deer CN station 1955The last steam locomotive and passenger train to the Red Deer station marked its closure in 1955 but the rail yards continued to be used until they were moved to the north side of the river in 1961. The station and turntable were removed in 1960. The Canadian Pacific downtown connection continued to be partially used until the mid-1970s to serve a few customers which included Macdonalds Consolidated on the former connection to the CPR line and for a time when Macdonalds Consolidated relocated.

The Red Deer Recreation Centre was built in 1964 alongside the former CNR rail line. The Red Deer Lodge was built in 1975 and the Red Deer Museum was built in 1980 on land that was freed up when the connector tracks were removed.

The portion of the Brazeau subdivision from Red Deer to Rocky Mountain House had limited local traffic serving Sylvan Lake, Eckville and Rocky Mountain House as well as a few other grain elevators, a lumber mill and small oil and gas facilities for the next twenty years. Although diesel power was introduced in the early 1950s, motive power on the line completely switched from steam to diesel in 1959. When Canadian Pacific abandoned the Alberta Central subdivision between Benalto and Rocky Mountain House in 1980, the bridge across the North Saskatchewan River was leased and later sold to the CNR.

Nova petrochemical plant rail yardThe railway got a new lease on life in the early 1970s with the construction of major oil and gas facilities, including the Gulf/Keyera Strachan and Canterra/Husky Ram River sulphur facilities requiring new spur lines southwest of Rocky Mountain House and the massive Alberta Gas Ethylene/Nova petro-chemical plants at Joffre and Union Carbide/Dow plant at Prentiss, both east of Red Deer.





Dawe: A look at the Canadian Northern Railway (Red Deer Express Jan. 2011)
Dawe:
Rail relocation project a first in Western Canada (Red Deer Advocate June 2010)
Dawe: Rotary Recreation Park area a jewel in heart of city (Red Deer Express Aug.2009)
 

 

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