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  CPR bridge Red Deer

Forth Junction Project
Michael Dawe

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

Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge
now 100 years old

reprinted from Red Deer Advocate 'Report on Central Alberta' June 8, 2009

This year marks the centennial of one of Red Deer's most well-used landmarks. It is the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad bridge. It was an important transportation link over the Red Deer River and now serves as a heavily used pedestrian bridge between Riverside Meadows and downtown Red Deer.

When the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was constructed in 1890-1891, a timber bridge was constructed across the Red Deer River. While not very elaborate in appearance, it was very sturdy. On two occasions, in 1900 and 1901, the traffic bridges across the river were swept away in spring floods, but the rail bridge held.

CPR wooden bridge 1891-1909

This 1908 picture shows construction to replace the Old Calgary-Edmonton Rail Bridge with the new Canadian Pacific Rail Bridge across the Red Deer River.

Photo courtesy of
the Red Deer and District Archives

In the summer of 1906, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which had taken over operation of the C. & E. line, began making a number of improvements to the Red Deer rail yards. New switches were installed and a small new roundhouse was built.

In October 1906, three carloads of cement arrived in preparation for construction of a new rail bridge across the river.

This work was part of making Red Deer a major divisional point for the main line between Calgary and Edmonton. As a result, all the freight trains running between Calgary and Edmonton would have their crews changed at Red Deer. Moreover, new trains would be assembled or broken up in Red Deer, prior to their departure to other points along the line.

Making Red Deer a divisional point meant a major investment in the rail facilities here.

It meant the creation of a great many construction jobs as well as a significant number of permanent new jobs once the project was completed.

Unfortunately, the winter of 1906-1907 was one of the worst on record. Therefore, not much work was completed, particularly on the new bridge.

While some improvements were completed in the summer of 1907, the onset of a brief but sharp economic recession again put much of the work on hold.

In April 1908, the C.P.R. reported that a new standard steel bridge would be completed across the Red Deer River. The estimated cost of construction was $57,000. To put this sum into context, a very good wage in those days was $1.50 to $2 per day.

Work soon began to erect the metal superstructure onto the partial completed concrete piers that had been built in the harsh winter of 1906-1907. The project was completed by March 1909.

There was one recorded death of a labourer employed on the bridge project. James J. Shea died in July 1908 of complications after swimming in the Red Deer River.

While the C.P.R. actively discouraged people walking over the bridge in order to prevent accidents, many found it a quick and convenient way to cross between the City of Red Deer and the Village of North Red Deer.

CPR steel bridge Red Deer

Shirley Hocken stands on the CP Rail Bridge, spanning the Red Deer River, that she helped to preserve.

Photo by Jeff Stokoe, Red Deer Advocate



In the late 1980s, when plans were being carried out to move the C.P.R. main line to the west side of the city, a decision was made to remove the rail bridge. However, a dynamic North Red Deer/Riverside Meadows resident, Shirley Hocken, kept asking why the bridge needed to be removed.

She pointed out how heavily the bridge was used, even when it was not really safe to do so. She also pointed out that it would cost roughly the same to remove the bridge as it would to save it.

Hence, she spearheaded a Save The Bridge committee to lobby for preservation and to raise the funds necessary to convert the structure into a pedestrian and bicycle pathway linking the Waskasoo Park trails on both sides of the river.

Funds were secured from such sources as the Waskasoo Museum Foundation, Red Deer Community Foundation, the Recreation Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, Northside Community Association, Royal Canadian Legion, Red Deer and District Chinese Society and numerous private individuals.

A very significant contribution came from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters who donated the labour to construct the bridge decking.

On Sept. 3, 1991, Red Deer City Council passed a by-law designating the rail bridge as a municipal historic resource. On Oct. 3, 1993, the bridge was designated a provincial registered historic site.

On Sept. 13, 1992, the bridge was officially opened. Not only had the $171,500 cost been covered with government and foundation grants, donations and contributions of volunteer labour, there was a sizeable endowment fund left over to cover future repairs and maintenance.

Thus, a historic landmark was saved.

In May 2002, the Old C.P.R. Rail Bridge Committee was recognized with Red Deer's first Heritage Recognition Award.

       The history of Red Deer's CPR station
(Red Deer Express April 2007)
       Red Deer becomes a divisional point for CPR
(Red Deer Advocate Special March 2007)

Railway Bridges of Central Alberta
Alberta's Largest Railway Bridges

Calgary and Edmonton Railway (CPR)
Calgary and Edmonton Railway at Red Deer (CPR)

       News article: Arches mark influence of railroad on city
(Red Deer Advocate Oct.2013)


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