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  stagecoach on C & E Trail

Forth Junction Project
Historical Perspective
Part 1

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

Trails and Trains (revised and updated April 2015)

The many rivers, tributaries and lakes of Central Alberta, as well as natural land formations, were the first transportation corridors in Central Alberta for the nomadic First Nations people and the first fur traders and explorers. In fact, the corridor was likely used by the first human inhabitants in North America in their migration from Asia near the close of the last ice age.
The natural north-south corridor, several kilometres wide east of the Rocky Mountains through what is now Alberta and approximately centred in the Red Deer area, was used by different aboriginal tribes for several centuries before European traders set foot in Western Canada. Eventually a series of trails developed both east-west and north-south to facilitate trade and settlement across the prairies.
reconstructed fort at Rocky Mountain HouseMost of those trails weren't named except for the ultimate destination or originating point. Other trails had several names. Many of the trails in western Canada facilitated trade between the First Nation people and the fur-traders of the Hudson Bay Company and North West Company, both of which built forts near Rocky Mountain House. The earliest trails were really just paths guided by natural geological features.
Other trails facilitated the hunting of wildlife (particularly the buffalo), the exploration and mapping of the area (including the adventures of Anthony Henday and David Thompson), and the movement of the North West Mounted Police.
In 1873, a crude 450-km cart road, known as McDougall's trail, was built south from Fort Edmonton to the Red Deer River at a natural and relatively safe ford about six kilometres upstream from the current city of Red Deer, continuing south to Lone Pine (near Bowden) and then southwest to a mission at Morley, about 80 kilometres upstream on the Bow River west of present day Calgary.
In 1875, the North West Mounted Police established Fort Calgary and they carved out a wagon trail from there north to join up with McDougalls' trail near Bowden. At that time there were no recorded inhabitants other than aboriginals between Calgary and Edmonton although hunter and trapper Addison McPherson had reportedly built a log cabin at the Red Deer River Crossing in 1872.
C & E Trail stagecoach drawing
When the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Calgary in 1883, the Calgary and Edmonton Trail gained major significance in July of that year as the north-south stagecoach route for regular mail and passenger service between the two forts that were to become Alberta's two major cities. The fare each way was 25 dollars, a considerable amount of money at the time but allowed a hundred pounds of luggage. It took four to five days each way. Freighter wagons took almost two weeks.
The Spruces stopping house between Innisfail and PenholdStopping houses were established at least every 20 miles between Edmonton and Calgary, including Red Deer Crossing, Lone Pine (east of Bowden), Poplar Grove (now Innisfail), 'The Spruces' north of Poplar Grove, Cache Camp (west of current day Penhold), Blindman Crossing (south of current day Blackfalds), and Barnett's (now Lacombe), where travellers, as well as freight and stagecoach crews, could receive food, overnight accommodation and a place to rest their horses. In some cases, small communities also sprung up, including those at Red Deer Crossing and Poplar Grove.
It wasn't long before the value of a railway joining Alberta's two major population centres (Calgary and Edmonton) became obvious.
From 1885 to 1890, a series of charters were granted to a number of companies to construct a rail line from Calgary to Edmonton, each with their own preferred route, but most never succeeded in getting started as a result of lack of financing. The destiny of many settlements were directly tied to where the railway decided to go.
Early train on Calgary Edmonton RailwayA new company, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company, was chartered in early 1890 with the provision that, once constructed, would be leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway for 6 years with an option to renew the lease or buy out the line.
Construction started north of Calgary in 1890 but a decision was yet to be made as to where it would cross the Red Deer River. Three routes had been surveyed -- one near Innisfail, one at Red Deer Crossing and one at the mouth of the Blindman River (17 miles downstream from the Crossing). The Blindman option was the preferred route as it necessitated only one river bridge instead of two.
The route was to follow the general C & E Trail corridor but was modified significantly to reduce the grade of the railway and accommodate the best locations to bridge rivers, streams and valleys.
reconstructed Fort Normandeau at Red Deer CrossingThe settlers at the Crossing, where the historic Fort Normandeau is now located, generally expected that the railway would cross the river there. In fact, a townsite had been laid out in anticipation of the arrival of the railway.


In July of 1890, James Ross, on behalf of the railway, met with Rev. Leonard Gaetz who was one of the largest landowners near the river downstream from the Crossing and was local agent for the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company. 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 if the railway built the river crossing and new townsite on his property, Mr. Ross gladly accepted. Tracklaying reached the new Red Deer townsite in November, only four months after construction started at Calgary.


CPR wooden truss bridge over Red Deer RiverDuring the winter of 1890-91, a wooden railway bridge was built to cross the Red Deer River near the Gaetz homestead and the line continued north toward South Edmonton the following year.
downtown originates with coming of the railwayThe first railway station in Red Deer was built in the spring of 1891 and regular passenger service to Calgary and Edmonton was in place by that summer reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train. Once the mail contract shifted to the railway, the stagecoach service was doomed and ceased operation. As the new townsite was established, the settlers at the Crossing started moving to the new community of Red Deer.


Part 2 - Trains and Transit



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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