News articles about Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) heritage
in East Central Alberta
including Big Valley, Stettler, Hanna and Alberta Prairie Tourist
May 4, 2019, Red Deer Advocate, & May 9, 2019, Central Alberta Life
Locomotive lovers continue to build
a head of steam
For Don Gillespie, there's no sound like the train whistle from No.
"It's got that melancholy. It sounds like you're coming down a
mountain grade. Yeah, it's nice."
Only a year shy of becoming a centenarian, the Pennsylvania-built
steam engine has taken tens of thousands of passengers back in time
at Alberta Prairie Railway.
This season will mark the 30th anniversary for the Stettler-based
company that boasts it offers the only regularly scheduled steam
trips on working rail lines in the country.
Gillespie has been on the steam train business journey since the
beginning. No. 41 came to Stettler from Alabama when it was
purchased by a local steam train enthusiast.
"He was a dedicated railroader and he just had to have a steam engine,"
Unfortunately, when the true cost of owning and operating a steam
engine became apparent, it was clear the money was not there to run
it and it was all set to be sent back to Alabama.
That's when Gillespie, who owned a local grocery store, and other
local business people stepped in.
"It intrigued me that maybe this was something central
Alberta could handle. There was no other tourism at the time in
central Alberta, and if it ever got out of here, of course it was
not coming back, because of the cost."
So Gillespie and his group bought the engine and helped
finance the purchase by selling shares.
The first trips took place the following summer with only
two passenger cars.
But this isn't one of those the-rest-is-history success
stories. There have been plenty of challenges.
Gillespie rhymes them off: "Learning the business. The tourism business,
the railroad business.
"You had to have the people with the proper credentials to
operate the locomotives," he says, adding the engines, especially
the steam engines, have to pass rigorous annual inspections.
"There are very few people around who understand steam and
the properties of steam and how dangerous it is if you don't do due
diligence and handle it properly."
If spare parts are needed, you have to make them.
"That's because there are only a few steam engines around and the
parts are just not there.
"It was an extremely costly situation."
Starting with only two cars -- nowhere near enough to carry enough
passengers to cover costs -- within several years, they had lined up
10 passenger cars.
The oldest car dates back to 1919. It spent its life as a passenger
and mail car running from Jasper to Blue River in the days before
"They all had to be refurbished and gone through. We've done all of
our cars over the years at an approximate cost of $80,000 to $90,000
When the steam tours first started, the company had access to
Central Western-owned track from Camrose to Dinosaur Junction near
Drumheller. Early trips went as far north as Edberg and south to
Ridership climbed steadily to almost 20,000, when the railway was
dealt a setback.
In the late 1990s, the rail company tore up and sold most of the
track in a financial move. The tracks from Camrose to Stettler and
Big Valley to Dinosaur Junction were gone.
"It was a very big blow at the time. Everybody thought we were
shutting down and our passengers we dropped by half.
"We've been building back and building back, and last year, we were
over 20,000 passengers."
Track from Stettler to Big Valley remained, and that route has now
been turned into a successful tourist attraction that draws
passengers from around the world.
"Every trip has international passengers," he says.
Meanwhile, a group of dedicated volunteers has been fundraising to
install about 30 kilometres of new track from Stettler to Donalda.
They have reached the halfway point at Red Willow and the project
Over the years, they have added three diesel electric engines from
the 1950s and No. 6060, a huge locomotive built in Montreal in 1944,
which is currently under repair.
Despite the passenger numbers, Alberta Prairie Railway would not
have made it without the help of some canny diversification.
More than a decade ago, Alberta Prairie Railway bought Central
Western's remaining track in the Stettler area.
They entered into a contract with CP to act as an interchange --
receiving products such as fertilizer and frac sand and storing it
so it can be picked up by trucks for final transportation.
The company also provides track space where train cars can be
stored. Dozens of tank cars can be seen on the company's track next
to the road to Botha.
"Otherwise, we wouldn't have made the 30 years," he says. "We
wouldn't have made it just on the tourism.
"It created a job for quite a few people."
In the summer, they employ 40, and off-season, about half that
number work for the company.
On the tourism side, Alberta Prairie Railway has added all sorts of
spins on its rail journeys -- not the least of which are the regular
holdups by horse-mounted train robbers. Murder mysteries, pumpkin
fest trips and events geared to adults are all offered, and around
Christmas, there's the popular one-hour Polar Express tours.
Prairie Railway plans to celebrate its 30 years by offering
reduced-price fares on every trip in June. Adults save $25 and
youths and children save $10.
As well, all adult riders this season can enter a draw to win a
private coach for themselves and 29 friends and family on one of the
Gillespie says he can hardly believe his rail journey has now
lasted 30 years.
"Thirty years ago, if you told me I was going to be here, I would
have told you you were crazy," he says with a laugh.
For more information, go to
Photo: Kelly Gillespie, of Alberta Prairie Railway, says
there is nothing like being at the controls of a steam engine. It's
like it's alive, he says. Photo by Paul Cowley, Red Deer Advocate
May 23, 2017, Red Deer Advocate, May 25, 2017,
Central Alberta Life (Lana Michelin)
Stettler and Big Valley celebrate Canada's 150th birthday with steam
Canada was shaped by railroads, so it's fitting a Rails and Tales
steam train celebration is being planned for this nation's 150th
Three vintage steam locomotives will be featured in special events
from June 28 to July 5 in Big Valley and Stettler.
The Rails and Tales activities -- to include Metis dancers, steam
tractors and other early agricultural equipment, and a rail history
display -- is being organized by the East Central Alberta Heritage
Society and the Alberta Prairie Railway Company.
Event spokesman Rich Graydon said train buffs from across North
America and as far as the United Kingdom have already expressed
"We want to give people a sense of what life was like in the early
1900s," said Graydon, who noted steam trains drove
community-building in this country. "We want to show how railroads
Two steam locomotives will be making regular runs between Stettler
and Big Valley during the celebration. Graydon said several types of
train trips are planned over eight days, including double-header,
lunch and dinner excursions, a breakfast cruise, and a leisurely
trip that stops at historical sites along the line (for more
information, please visit absteamtrain.com.
One of the two featured working locomotives is a 1913 Montreal
locomotive No. 1392, from the Alberta Railway Museum. It will be
trucked down from Edmonton on two flatbeds before the special event,
on June 21.
The other working engine is Alberta Prairie Railways' 1920 Baldwin
No. 41 locomotive, which can be seen in the films Legends of the
Fall, Unforgiven, and in a Gord Bamford country music video.
Graydon said the third featured steam engine is the Rocky Mountain
Rail Society's huge Montreal Locomotives Works CN6060. It will be on
static display in Warden, just south of Stettler, since it needs a
Steam-powered railways revolutionized transportation and fuelled
Canadian nation building, as recounted in Pierre Burton's book
The Last Spike. Trains were vital to industrialization, opening
new territories and linking communities.
"They are the only reason why some towns are where they are," said
Graydon, who noted Stettler's growth only took off because it was on
a rail line. When the then-larger community of Blumenau was
bypassed, "everybody just pulled up their buildings and moved them
to Stettler,' Graydon added.
The East Central Alberta Heritage Society, which is re-installing
tracks to Donalda for extended steam train trips, hopes to use some
proceeds from the celebration to start a new boiler fund for the
Photo: Alberta Prairie Railway 1920 Baldwin No. 41
Dec. 13, 2016, Red Deer
Advocate (Susan Zielinski) & Dec. 22, 2016, Central Alberta Life
Stettler's Polar Express offering round trips
to the North Pole
Families wearing fleece pyjamas beneath their winter coats are
climbing aboard The Polar Express in Stettler for round trips
to the North Pole throughout December.
Travellers on one-hour holiday train ride with Alberta Prairie
Railway experience the classic children's book, The Polar
Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, about a boy who takes a magical
Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole to receive a special gift
Last week, Arctic temperatures prevented the legendary scene between
the train conductor and the young boy from taking place on the
train's platform. They performed in each of the train cars instead.
But the bone-chilling cold could not tarnish the story's sparkle for
young children and parents.
"It was exciting. Very exciting. Better than we expected," said
mother Billie Jo Seidemann, of Wabamun, who was on the train with
Faith Seidemann, 3, who gripped her round trip ticket -- stamped
BELIEVE. The youngster followed along while the story book was read
aloud, and sprang up in her seat to peer out the coach windows to
see Santa and his elves dancing outside in the snow when the train
reached the North Pole.
Grandmother Cheri Blake, of Alberta Beach, said the children saw
The Polar Express movie several times, and were captivated by
the action in and outside the train.
Dancing and singing cooks served hot chocolate and cookies, while a
hobo snooped to try to get her hands on a Polar Express ticket.
"It was a little bit of a drive," Seidemann said. "But worth it,"
Laiah Allen, 3, said Santa, who came aboard to hand out silver bells
to children, was her favourite part.
Strings of Christmas lights glowed in the train car as families sang
carols, and children rang their new bells as the train chugged back
Singing chef Amanda O'Donnell said helping to bring The Polar
Express to life, and all the fun of mingling with the happy
families, definitely boosted her in the Christmas spirit.
"I can recite the whole (story). I've loved it ever since I was this
big," said O'Donnell, holding her hand at about knee-height.
Singing chef helper Christine Wedrick said people have been coming
from as far away as Fort McMurray to ride The Polar Express,
and she can't wait for her family to join her on the train later
For more departure times for Alberta Prairie Railway's The Polar
Express visit www.absteamtrain.com.
Nov. 15, 2016, Red Deer Advocate
Alberta Prairie Railway to
whisk riders away on The Polar Express
A holiday train ride aboard Alberta Prairie Railway is bringing The
Polar Express motion picture to life starting Dec. 1.
The one-hour The Polar Express Train Ride departs from Stettler for
a round trip to the "North Pole".
Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will
relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away on The Polar
Hot chocolate and a cookie treat will be served as passengers read
along with the classic children's book, The Polar Express, by Chris
Van Allsburg, about a boy who takes a magical Christmas Eve train
ride to the "North Pole" to receive a special gift from Santa.
Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the "North Pole" and then
board the train and children will receive a silver sleigh bell. The
fun continues with a Christmas singalong on the ride back to
The Polar Express Train Ride will run until Dec. 21 on select dates.
Tickets are $40 for children 11 and under, and $65 for those 12 and
Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride.
Oct. 19, 2016, Stettler Independent (Moush
Over 1K visitors at Alberta
Prairie Railway's pumpkin patch
Patrons and visitors from all over the province came to attend
Alberta Prairie Railway's Harvest Pumpkin Fest, riding the special
trains that took them to the pumpkin patch on Saturday, Oct. 15.
According to Bob Willis, general manager of Alberta Prairie Railway,
there was a very slight decrease in the total numbers this year from
those of 2014 and 2015, with 1,082 attendees this year.
But, he attributes this to the "challenging" weather, more than the
economic downturn, explaining, "The number of visitors to Alberta
Prairie during 2016, month to month and over the balance of season,
is actually up and not down from 2014 and 2015."
It was easy to see how happy and engaged the kids and young adults
were as they waited to board the train to the patch.
One of the visitors this year, and a returning passenger Elena Waugh
thanked Willis in an email saying, "Just wanted to say thank you for
the over-the-top excellent job of the pumpkin train again this
Waugh said that the service, magicians, and amazing pumpkin carvings
made for a wonderful experience.
"Even though the weather would have been a challenge, we thought you
couldn't have handled it any better," said Waugh. "Thank you for all
your hard work and we'll see you again next year."
This year being the third annual event, Willis said that it was by
far the most challenging given the onset of wintry conditions.
"Over the last few months more than 15,000 guests have visited
Alberta Prairie and many of these people stay over in hotels and
those that don't often stop for meals, snacks and tanks of gas,"
added Willis. " A significant number actually spend time shopping at
various businesses around town, which all helps to offset some of
the downturn in the economy."
Willis said that in addition to providing employment of Alberta
Prairie Railway's office and maintenance staff, Harvest Pumpkin Fest
used a number of people provided by the Stettler P & H Elevator
Preservation Society and the Rocky Mountain Rail Society in return
for Alberta Prairie's continuing support of these two organizations.
Alberta Prairie's next big event is the Polar Express Train Rides in
"It is expected that with the 30 Polar Express trips being offered,
between 9,000 and 10,000 people will visit Stettler during the month
of December, many of whom will be staying over, with most needing
gas and meals," said Willis. "No doubt there will be some families
who decide to do some serious Christmas shopping while they are in
Aug. 31, 2016, Red Deer Advocate (Lana
Alberta Prairie Steam Tours
Volunteers laying track for
If it isn't the turkey vulture, it's the relentlessly wet summer
After surmounting many obstacles -- environmental, financial and
circumstantial -- a small group of volunteers that's laying train
track north of Stettler is within eye-shot of their first target.
The Stettler-area non-profit group is within a kilometre of reaching
Red Willow. The hamlet of 40 residents is expected to be connected
to the town of Stettler by rail sometime next summer.
The aim is providing a choice of destinations for Alberta Prairie
Steam Tours, which now only has only 40 km of track south to Big
Valley, currently the tourist train's only run.
When the remaining one kilometre of track is laid north to Red
Willow, "there will certainly be a celebration," promises Norma
Leslie, chair of the non-profit East Central Heritage Society.
Although the hamlet is only the half-way point to the group's
longer-term goal of getting the rail line all the way up to Donalda,
(which is another 16 km north), laying even the first 15 km of track
was an onerous process.
Leslie said some of the work can be done by machine while the rest
is done by hand. The half-dozen labourers are often constricted by
weather -- "it's often too wet or too frozen." As well, there are
According to provincial regulations, Leslie said train tracks can't
be laid from May 1 to July 31 because endangered birds, such as
turkey vultures, woodpeckers and hawks, nest in the area.
The East Central Heritage Society actually owns the railway
right-of-way all the way to Edburg, near Camrose, to the north, and
Morrin, near Drumheller, to the south. But, since most of the rail
line along this stretch was pulled up for metal salvage in the 1990s
after the Central Western Rail line was discontinued, Leslie doesn't
want to think about how much effort would be needed to re-install it
all the way along this 160-kilometre route.
"If we get to Donalda I'll be too tired to go any further. It will
be up to someone else to take over," she said, with a weary chuckle.
A lot of fundraising was necessary to complete the work done so far.
Leslie said a $2.6 million federal grant to generate employment in
the area was obtained, as well as a half-million contributed by
local businesses. She figures this will be enough to pay for track
just north of Red Willow.
More than $2-million more will likely be needed to purchase enough
track to get to Donalda.
Besides re-laying rail line, the group formed in 1997 has also
created five popular public access parks along the right-of-way,
including at Meeting Creek, Big Valley and Rumsey. Leslie said
people can walk along and see species of wildflowers and other rare
native vegetation. This was accomplished with $372,000 of casino
Meanwhile, the last steam train of the season will leave Stettler
for Big Valley on Sept. 24. The excursion will be celebrated with
fireworks that are set off along the route.
Bob Willis, of Alberta Prairie Steam Tours, said the steam engine
has to be put to bed until next spring because of concerns it will
freeze up in colder weather.
The company's diesel engine will continue running, however, with
Halloween/Thanksgiving themed pumpkin-picking events planned on Oct.
15 and "Polar Express runs to the North Pole" aimed at tykes before
For more information, please visit
Dec. 12, 2013, Drumheller Mail (Pat
buys historic roundhouse
Hanna Roundhouse is getting a new lease on life as it enters the
next phase of its history.
The Hanna Roundhouse Society has been working on finding a way to
keep the landmark intact for future generations to enjoy. The
biggest stumbling block it had however was the ownership of the
This September all of that changed.
"We purchased the property on September 20," said Sandra Beaudoin
who has been working on the project for years.
She explained that a few years ago, she heard the round house was
purchased from CN by an individual who wanted to salvage the bricks
from the building. This was about 2009, and this was her awakening.
That is when she began to get involved.
"I could either sit back and say 'somebody should...' or see what I
could do," said Beaudoin.
A dedicated group began working on a number of initiatives and by
January of 2010, The Hanna Roundhouse Society was formed, and were
involved in looking after the safekeeping of the historical building
They were successful on some fronts, but without ownership of the
property, they weren't able to do much.
The group recently came into some funds and was able to make it
their own. They purchased the building and area to the east which
includes the turntable and a foundation for a historic water tower.
The parcel is about nine acres.
The next step for the non-profit society is to have the site achieve
historical designation. The have completed the application, and this
week they met with Fraser Shaw, heritage consultant to assess and
evaluate the site.
"This is the start of getting it designated a historical site," said
The Hanna Roundhouse Society has a vision of restoring the icon so
it could be used for events or as a rental space, while at the same
time preserving its historical value.
Oct. 17, 2013, Drumheller Online (Codi
Big Plans for
the Hanna Roundhouse
Hanna Roundhouse Society has big plans for their recently acquired
1913 Canadian Northern Roundhouse.
While entering the UFA Get'n'Give $50,000, the volunteers of the
society are hoping to restore the century old building in order to
create a Community Cultural Centre.
President of the Hanna Roundhouse Society, Sandra Beaudoin, says "We
are trying to restore this building for future generations to be
able to appreciate and enjoy."
One of the big plans the society has in store for the Roundhouse is
a Halloween walk that they have planned for October 25 from 6:00
p.m. to 10:00 p.m. They are also considering a bonfire with ghost
stories and hot chocolate for the same evening.
In the future, the Hanna Roundhouse Society is hoping to add a
locomotive into the building and get their turntable working,
turning a portion of the building into a museum. The other portion
is to be the Community Centre.
For more information about the Hanna Roundhouse Society's project,
you can check out their facebook page.
Oct. 2, 2013, East Central Alberta
Review (Katie Davis)
Roundhouse celebrates new beginnings
Everyone was doing the proverbial locomotion at the Hanna Roundhouse
on Saturday, September 28 as the historical venue played host to an
Open House to showcase it's new look.
The 100 year old structure was recently acquired by the Hanna
Roundhouse Society and has since been given a sprucing up in effort
to promote and preserve this piece of history as one of the last
roundhouses left in Canada.
"The roundhouse is a 1913 Canadian Northern Railway building that
housed at one point up to 15 locomotives," says Sandra Beaudoin,
founder and president of the Hanna Roundhouse Society.
The purpose of the building during it's peak use was to drive
locomotives onto a central 'turntable', which rotated to align the
rail vehicle to a stall to be entered for service work.
"Hanna was a designated divisional point for CNR in 1913," says
Beaudoin, "and that was basically the way settlers came out and
settled this area, is because CN built a rail from Eastern Canada
out to the West."
The rail line in Hanna was on what was known as the Goose Lake line
which spanned from Calgary to Saskatoon. Some of the smaller towns
built along this line were established to support the railway as
service stations, and thus when the railway pulled out of some
areas, certain towns had enough infrastructure to survive and some
"A huge portion of our Canadian heritage is to acknowledge that the
people that worked on our rail line, built the tracks and the rail
stations did so before automation," Beaudoin says, "so it was all
done by hand and horse drawn, there were no engines or anything
Beaudoin notes that the building also functions as a tourist
attraction, as railroad history enthusiasts from the US and
surrounding areas trek northward to visit sites of historical
An anonymous donation in the name of the Hanna Roundhouse Society --
that they will pay back in time -- has enabled the Society to
purchase the property, begin applying for grants and focus more
seriously toward future developments of the premises.
"We've cleaned it up and we're going to start right away," she says,
of planning the future of the Roundhouse.
"We've got 8.97 acres along the dam, and it's just beautiful out
there... we're hoping to maybe develop walking paths, and there's
potential for camping as well." Beaudoin says an additional wish is
to have a portion of the building designated for museum purposes.
Beaudoin hopes residents of Hanna will soon generate input on how to
proceed with developments.
"Smaller communities are having a hard time just getting people to
come to their area, so I'm hoping this will be a really positive
move to help the community, and surrounding communities," Beaudoin
Photo: Helping hand Clint
Hutton and Hanna Roundhouse Society founder and president
Hutton was one of a collection of people
who helped acquire the building and make the weekend a
Photo by ECA
May 7, 2013, Red Deer Advocate (Paul
Rail link effort chugging along
Efforts to build a rail link
from Stettler to Donalda for historic rail tours keeps chugging
along -- albeit a little slower than anticipated.
"It's taking longer and costing more," summed up Norma Leslie,
president of the East Central Alberta Heritage Society. It was once
hoped that the last spikes would be driven in late 2011 for a 12-km
stretch from Stettler to Red Willow. But unco-operative weather and
the challenges of the job pushed back the schedule.
If all goes well, the stretch to Red Willow will be done this fall,
said Leslie. "We have enough material and enough money to complete
the project to Red Willow. "The big 'iffy' part is the weather," she
The equipment to lay rails and spread ballast is very heavy and when
the ground is wet, track crews risk damaging the rail bed if they go
ahead. The society is leading the $3.3-million project to restore an
abandoned rail line on the east side of Hwy 56 north of Stettler
that was ripped out for scrap in 1997. When complete, the society
hopes to lay about 25 km of new rails all the way to Donalda. When
complete, it's expected Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, which
runs popular trips from Stettler to Big Valley, will add a northern
At the same time as rail was being laid, five natural linear parks
were created near Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rowley and
Morrin as part of an $800,000 project. Finishing touches on those
parks along rail right of ways will be done this summer.
The first half of the project was given a big boost in 2009 when
Western Economic Diversification Canada gave the project $2.6
million in funding provided through Canadian Badlands, which
promotes tourism in that stretch of Alberta. More money was raised
through provincial and corporate funding.
Now, efforts are focused on raising a similar amount of money to
finish the project, which could cost about another $3 million.
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions is donating proceeds from the
Father's Day run on June 16 to the society.
A casino licence has also been approved for the historical group
that will provide a big fundraising boost. Government support,
corporate sponsorships and other donations, including in-kind
donations, are also being sought. "It's just a matter of putting
yourself out there and scratching for everything we can get." Leslie
said they haven't set a target date to be finished.
"The sooner the better. We aren't in a position to go into debt over
it. So the money has to come first."
Society member Bruce Gartside said one of the challenges has been
finding sources of the heavy gauge rail needed. "There seems to be
lots of discontinued lines. But (the rails) are staying on the
ground for whatever reason (instead of being salvaged)." What rail
comes on the market seems to be attracting premium prices.
Leslie said the society is also working to raise its profile and is
looking at spearheading an effort to develop, along with other
museum groups and historical societies, a heritage corridor on the
160 km of rail right of way between Morrin and Edberg. The stretch
is full of gems such as original train stations, grain elevators, a
sod house and other heritage sites.
Meanwhile, the society will always welcome aboard new volunteers,
she said. "New blood has new ideas and that's what we're looking
April 23, 2013, Red Deer Advocate
elevator restoration project underway
The campaign to re-side and paint Stettler's grain elevator is
The Stettler P&H Elevator Preservation Society kicked off the
fundraising drive with a live Louisiana Hayride music impersonators
show on Saturday netting the non-profit organization about $2,000.
"Every penny helps," said president Stan Eichhorn of the society's
efforts to match the province's $60,000 Community Facility
Enhancement Program grant for the $120,000 project.
"We're hoping to get it done before the end of summer. It's going to
take some legwork, for sure."
Donors to the campaign can help buy siding and paint, and pay for
their installation with specific donations of between $25 and
$1,000. Society supporters can also help by renewing their society
memberships and volunteering for elevator tours, Alberta Prairie
Railway's snack bar shifts and upcoming fundraising activities.
More information about the society and the campaign is available
online at www.stettlergrainelevator.com.
April 3, 2013, Stettler Independent (Les
Big Valley station banks
on restored roof
The Big Valley railroad station is sporting a new cedar shingle roof
-- an effort to preserve the century-old building for the
generations to come.
Rich Graydon, a volunteer with the Canadian Northern Society, which
co-ordinated the project, said the group continually strives to
preserve the historical buildings and "keep them original."
Work is now being done on the building's interior to repair damage
that a leaking roof caused.
The project is estimated to cost $45,000.
Graydon said funds raised by the Canadian Northern Society,
donations from the community of Big Valley, and the possibility of a
matching grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, are
expected to cover the cost.
The Big Valley station is one of three owned by Canadian Northern
Society -- the others are at Meeting Creek and Camrose.
Graydon said each station is of a different architectural design.
The three designs were commonly used by the CNR in towns across the
prairies, he said.
"Stations were quick to disappear, once they were no longer needed,"
Fortunately, in Big Valley, the Big Valley Historical Society
originally undertook the task of preserving the station.
For more than 20 years, the impressively restored station has been
cared for by the Canadian Northern Society.
Graydon said the group remodelled the freight storage area into a
"It's nice to see that room used by the community," he said.
new cedar shingle roof on the 100-year-old Big Valley
railroad station is expected to add decades to
landmark's life. Work is now being done on the building's
interior to repair damage that a leaking roof
Sept. 13, 2012, Alberta RETROactive,
Blogging Alberta Historic Places (Dorothy Field)
Aboard! Big Valley Canadian Northern Railway Station Celebrates 100
At one time, more than 800 communities in Alberta had a train
station. This is no longer the case. Fewer than 10% of Alberta's
train stations remain today, and even fewer continue to serve their
original purpose. The Canadian Northern Railway Station at Big
Valley - designated a Provincial Historical Resource in 2005 - is
one of those few. Train excursions run regularly from Stettler to
Big Valley, often with the mighty 6060 Steam Locomotive (also a
Provincial Historic Resource) in the lead.
The Big Valley CNoR station received a restoration grant from the
Alberta Historical Resources Foundation this year, just in time for
its 100th birthday. The Canadian Northern Society is planning a big
party in honour of the centenary on Saturday, September 29. Check
out the poster! Make sure your visit includes the roundhouse, which
was designated along with the railway station. Another site worthy
of note in Big Valley is St. Edmund's Anglican Church - the Blue
Church at the top of the hill - which was designated a Provincial
Historic Resource in 2002.
Sixteen other train stations have been designated Provincial
Historic Resources. They are at Camrose, Claresholm, Didsbury,
Empress, Fort Saskatchewan, Heinsburg, High River, Lethbridge,
Meeting Creek, Paradise Valley, Peace River, Red Deer, Sexsmith,
Smoky Lake, Strathcona (in Edmonton), and Vegreville. The stations
at Beiseker, High River, Red Deer and Strathcona have also been
designated by their respective municipalities. Additional
recognition for Alberta train stations has come from the federal
government, which has declared those at Banff, Empress, Hanna,
Jasper, Lake Louise, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Strathcona to be
Heritage Railway Stations.
June 17, 2011, Red Deer Advocate (Paul
Track for historic railway tours likely to be done by late summer
The final spikes will be driven
late this summer on a 12-km stretch of new track for historic rail
tours between Stettler and Red Willow.
East Central Alberta Heritage Society is leading the $3.3 million
project to restore an abandoned rail line on the east side of Hwy 56
north of Stettler that was ripped out for scrap in 1997. When
complete, the society hopes to lay about 25 km of new rails all the
way to Donalda.
Society member Bruce Gartside said the laborious job of laying the
rails began last fall until weather stopped the work in early
December. Crews began laying rail again in early May.
"We're looking at completion of the whole thing (to Red Willow) in,
perhaps, late August," said Gartside.
At the same time as rail was being laid, work was underway creating
five natural linear parks to serve as rest areas as part of an
The parks at Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rumsey and Rowley
will include washrooms, picnic tables and signs providing
information on local flora and fauna. They are expected to be
completed later this month.
While the rail link to Red Willow is expected to be complete this
year, trains won't be running the route until next year at the
Alberta Prairie Steam Tours Ltd. general manager Bob Willis said
this year's schedule is already set, but the company plans to add
Red Willow trips in the future.
Before the steam trains head to Red Willow, there must be something
in place in the community to provide an attraction for rail
passengers getting off at the stop to sight-see.
"You don't just throw these things into the marketplace and have
them happen," said Willis. "The rail infrastructure is part of the
equation, but not the entire one."
Willis said if there is something in place to serve rail passengers
by the fall, trips to Red Willow could be added to next season's
"It's our intention to run to Red Willow, it's just the timing I
can't be specific on at this point."
Meanwhile, the society is working on finding the money to complete
its dream of connecting Donalda by rail.
About three km worth of rail will be left over after Red Willow is
Now, the society must find close to 10 km worth of track.
The supplier in Manitoba that provided the existing rail has more,
but the steel does not come cheap.
"Used rail has become a very hot commodity," said Gartside.
Unless a cheaper supply of rail can be found, it will likely cost
about $2.6 million to complete the Donalda link.
Gartside said an application has been submitted for $125,000 in
provincial funding. Federal help will also be sought and a
fundraising Father's Day Special Train Excursion through Alberta
Prairie Steam Tours is set for 11 a.m. Sunday. The annual event
raised $14,000 for the society last year.
Photo: Workers lay out ties as part
of the restoration of an abandoned rail line north of
Sept. 2, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul
Rail being laid for heritage line
Work has begun on a project to
lay 12 kilometres of track from Stettler to Red Willow for use by
historic rail tours and to boost tourism.
Grading is nearly complete along the abandoned rail line north of
Stettler that will be used to extend rail tours north to the small
hamlet of a few dozen people. Once the gravel has been laid, the
tracks will be laid, a project expected to be completed by the end
The project is being led by the East Central Alberta Heritage
Society (ECAHS) whose decade-long goal has been to restore the rail
line on the east side of Hwy 56 ripped up for scrap in 1997. The
society was able to raise enough money to buy the rail from Stettler
to Big Valley and Alberta Prairie Railway runs popular tours along
the 30-kilometre line.
Western Economic Diversification Canada gave the project to extend
the line a big boost last year when $2.6 million in funding was
announced and provided through Canadian Badlands, which promotes
tourism in that stretch of Alberta. Since that announcement, another
$600,000 has been raised through provincial and corporate funding,
which will cover the cost of building the line to Red Willow.
An important hurdle was overcome recently when the society found the
80-pound steel rail necessary for the first leg.
Rail, ties and spikes were bought (from) Cando Contracting Ltd., a
railway salvage company in Brandon, Manitoba. Cando is also
supplying some of the equipment needed to lay the rail, as well as
providing a $350,000 cash donation.
Local, provincial and national contractors will lay the track.
Society president Norma Leslie said they still plan one day to
extend the track another 12 kilometres to Donalda.
"(ECAHS) will continue to pursue funding opportunities to extend the
rail from Red Willow to Donalda, and beyond, but for the present the
focus is on the projects we have begun.
"There is no definite target date, at this time, for the next
extension," she said.
In the meantime, work is expected to begin on a number of linear
parks that will be built at key points along the entire line. The
work will also be funded mostly through the Western Economic
Diversification Canada's Community Adjustment Fund, which provided
$732,000 to build the parks. Another $60,000 came through private
and corporate donations.
Consultations with landowners, environmental surveys and other
preliminary work has been completed and fencing and grooming is
Leslie said five parks will go ahead and are expected to be
completed by the end of March. They are slated for near Edberg,
Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rowley and Morrin.
Sept. 1, 2010, Red Deer Express (Johnnie
6060 turns 66
For half a century
train engineer Harry Home had dedicated his life to preserving
of the last steam engines ever built in Canada. Today Canadian
is restored and thundering along majestically on the
rails in Central Alberta
There is nothing more rewarding and exciting for Harry Home when he
puts his hand on the throttle to take Canadian National 6060 for a
The pure elation he feels at the controls has been with him for more
than 70 years since the day his father, a CN engineer, let him have
the throttle on steam engine CN 2021 in Hanna.
"He let me stand on the seat box and I burnt my hand when I touched
the throttle," said Home. "But I have never forgotten the thrill of
making that locomotive move. I knew right then what I wanted to be."
Home, now 77-years-old, officially began his railway career on July
28, 1949 as a train fireman at Boston Bar, BC.
He retired "reluctantly" as an engineer on May 14, 1998. But since
his retirement he has been busier than ever as he continued to be
the primary guardian of CN 6060. It is one of the last steam engines
ever built in Canada and is known today as "The Spirit of Alberta",
as well as "Bullet Nosed Betty".
The 6060, now owned by the non-profit Rocky Mountain Rail Society (RMRS),
has been the headline attraction along the 21-mile Stettler to Big
Valley line this summer for Alberta Prairie Railway, which offers
steam and diesel rail excursions - along with full course buffet
meals, on board entertainment and even a mock train robbery - from
spring to fall.
The excursions have become a major tourist attraction with thousands
regularly packing the train for a leisurely trek across the Central
Alberta prairie. With the 637,540-lb. 6060 leading the way,
passengers get a glimpse of the simple and humble joys of a
magnificent pioneer way of life.
"It is an experience for them, and they want their kids to
experience that. A lot of them have been on a train, and they are
not going to be on another train," said Don Gillespie, CEO and
president of Alberta Prairie Railway.
"Steam is what they come for of course. And it (6060) is a big,
But the heart of the experience always leads back to the helm of
this remarkable steam engine. This is where Home, whose residence is
in Jasper, performs his labour of love.
"The way I describe it is that we are trying to preserve the past
while serving the future," said Home, a member of the Canadian
Railway Hall of Fame. "We are trying to preserve a way of life that
was strictly Canadiana, and every part of it, from being in a
railway home, and mother preparing meals around dad's schedules. All
the railroad kids really enjoyed the way of life we had."
It has now been a full half century Home has played his remarkable
part in preserving 6060, which turns 66 this year.
It was originally built by an all female crew in 1944 at the
Montreal Locomotive Works. For the next 15 years it logged thousands
of miles between Ontario and Quebec hauling passengers and freight.
But by 1959, with the railway industry transitioning to diesel, the
steam era was over. CN 6060 was retired and destined for the scrap
But in 1960, while on a stop in Winnipeg, Home noticed 6060 on a
dead line. Knowing an important piece of history had a chance to be
saved, he immediately got into action.
"My two buddies and I got busy. I did the letter writing and we
lobbied and went to the CNR vice president Roger Graham. He agreed
to give it to us in Jasper. It was brought to us in 1962," said
The steam engine went on display in Jasper and a decade later
underwent a major refurbishment. The 6060 arrived in Alberta in 1980
and was given to the Province of Alberta to celebrate its 75th
For years later Home and his friends founded the RMRS and 6060 has
been under its loving care ever since.
"6060 is alive as far as I'm concerned and our efforts to preserve
her feel like a keeping a living breathing entity alive," said
society spokesman Rich Graydon. "If you look at the communities we
live in, they are almost all connected in some way to the railway.
Either because they developed to serve the railway or the railway
came to serve them.
"In today's society we seem to be in a real hurry to forget and
remove the past without taking time to learn from it. 6060 is a
living artifact that demonstrates the peak of steam engine design
and what was accomplished by Canadians."
However, to maintain the 6060 to its full glory requires resources
and money, and society members hope to raise up to $75,000 to
replace its boiler safety valves, to repaint the engine, replace
parts, and to restore historic railway cars and equipment.
Meanwhile, while the society continues its hard work on the ongoing
maintenance of 6060 Home also wants to find funding to build a
permanent home for the steam engine in Stettler because he believes
the Central Alberta town should be known nationally as the "Steam
Capital of Canada."
"I'm very proud to be a member of the railway fraternity. I've had
the honour of working on this engine and other steam engines. I've
had the honour and the pleasure of viewing the Atlantic and the
Pacific from the cab of this engine," said Home. "It was a good life
and it still is."
For more information on the Rocky Mountain Rail Society visit its
web site at
www.6060.org. For more on
Alberta Prairie Railway and its tourist excursions visit
Photos: 1.ALWAYS THRILLED -
Harry Home is a resident of Jasper but is always available
and willing to operate
the 6060 from Stettler to Big Valley.
2. TAKING OFF -
The 6060 blows off smoke as it departs Big Valley to
back to Stettler. Photos by
Johnnie Bachusky, Red Deer Express
May 14, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Brenda
Stettler group wants to convert
elevator into museum
Efforts are underway to
create a railway museum out of a retired grain elevator located in
Stettler, right across the tracks from the town's most popular
The former Parrish and Heimbecker grain elevator, feed mill and
assorted outbuildings were mothballed in 2003 and then put up for
Local farmer Stan Eichhorn couldn't stomach the idea of losing one
of the town's last remaining elevators -- so he bought it for the
princely sum of $1. He felt that, with Alberta Prairie Rail
Excursions as a track-side neighbour, the towering yellow structure
was too precious as a local landmark to be torn down.
Eichhorn was able to negotiate an agreement with American Railway,
the company that owned the land on which the elevator, annex and
outbuildings were built.
Alberta Prairie later purchased the land and has formed an agreement
that will ensure that the elevator can stay at the site where it was
first built, sometime during the 1920s.
With building and land secured, Eichhorn approached some like-minded
individuals to form the Stettler P&H Elevator Preservation Society,
now a registered non-profit group legally entitled to issue tax
receipts for donations.
They're going to need every penny they can find, says Eichhorn,
president of the group. The group is laying plans to restore the
grain elevator to working order so it can be used for live
demonstrations. Members want to fix the remaining buildings up as
well, and set up exhibits inside.
They also hope to return the elevator, which is badly in need of a
paint job, to its original deep red colour. Eichhorn estimates that
project alone at $40,000 to $50,000.
The elevator office already functions as a local gathering point,
much the same as it did during its working years, albeit on severely
limited hours. Society members open the office for morning coffee
three days a week, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and
They hope a garage sale planned for the Victoria Day long weekend
will also give their bank account a bit of a boost.
The sale is set for 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on
both Saturday and Sunday. Members will serve coffee, doughnuts and
cookies to people attending the sale.
May 6, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul
Train track wanted
Heritage Society wants to purchase
used railway track
Wanted: 50 km of used
East Central Alberta Heritage Society's fundraising efforts to
restore a line from Stettler to Donalda are chugging right along,
but finding track is another matter.
"I guess our biggest problem right now is finding rail that we can
salvage," said society administrator Bruce Gartside. "We need to run
rail for 20 miles, which means acquiring probably about 30 miles of
rail . . ." said the Donalda resident, adding extra rail is needed
because not all recovered track can be reused.
Inquiries have already been made to Canadian National Railway Co.
and Canadian Pacific Railway to see what opportunities exist to bid
on contracts to salvage the many sections of abandoned rail in
Western Canada. So far, the society hasn't heard back.
Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden and Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson
have been asked to help get the wheels turning.
"We're not asking for free rail, we're just asking to be allowed to
bid along with other salvage companies.
"That's probably the biggest holdup for us right now. We haven't had
any word on any rail coming up that we can bid on."
On the fundraising front, the news is a little better with about $3
million lined up.
The project was given a major boost last year with the announcement
of $2.6 million in funding from the federal government. The money
came from Western Economic Diversification Canada through Canadian
Badlands Ltd., a group committed to boosting tourism in the region.
Corporate, municipal and individual donors have also stepped up and
a number of applications are still outstanding.
"We are still waiting to hear from the province of Alberta," he
said, adding they have a couple of funding applications in. "I
gather they are so overwhelmed with applications -- something like
over 800 -- that it's taking them a while to figure out how to
spread the money around."
As part of its successful federal funding application, the society
must provide $400,000 in donations or gifts of materials or
services. Gartside is optimistic that target will be reached with
some provincial help.
"I think the money can be put together," he said, adding he expects
more donations will come in when they can line up rail and show that
the project is on track.
The complete project would cost about $3.9 million. But they can
reduce that by $600,000 if work on building sidings at Donalda and
Red Willow is postponed until later.
Oct. 1, 2009, Stettler Independent (Richard
Major funding will restore old
rail line to Donalda
A plan to restore an old railway line linking Stettler and Donalda
has received a major funding grant of over $3.2 million.
East Central Alberta Heritage Society was authorized funding of
almost $3.9 million, said society chair Norma Leslie, from the
federal Community Adjustment Fund through Canadian Badlands for two
projects with a focus to redevelop and enhance the region's rural
communities and their local tourism industry by the spring of 2011.
Funding will support the society's plan to restore the line and to
develop a linear park in Donalda and Big Valley.
"We are elated," said Leslie who chairs the society that was
incorporated in 1997.
"It's been our goal to relay the line ever since we were formed."
To relay the old 20-mile line on the east side of Highway 56 that
was removed by the Central Western Railway in 1998, the society
received about $3 million with $732,000 to develop a linear park in
Donalda and Big Valley.
"It will certainly be a great resource for our community," said
Village of Donalda Mayor Terry Nordahl. "This will create an influx
of tourists into town and help out local businesses."
Restoring the old line will enable world-famous Alberta Prairie
Railway Excursions to extend its tours north of Stettler.
"We have a contract for Alberta Prairie to lease the line so they
can run their train," said Leslie. "We have to start work as soon as
possible to get it complete for 2011."
To relay the line, the society estimates $2.5 million for materials,
equipment and services, $500,000 for labour while the society is
required to provide $250,000 for other funding or in-kind donations.
Since the park project is budgeted at $792,000, the society will be
required to raise $60,000.
"We want a natural park along the track in each community where
people can enjoy wild flowers and watch the birds, relax and admire
the scenery," said Leslie.
The heritage society currently owns 99 miles of railway
rights-of-way from Edberg to Morrin.
"Our government, through the Community Adjustment Fund, is proud to
support rural Alberta communities and provide them with
opportunities for economic growth," said Kevin Sorenson, Member of
Parliament for Crowfoot, on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich,
Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. "We are
putting Canada's Economic Action Plan to work by protecting and
creating jobs, supporting the local tourism industry, and enabling
communities to strengthen their foundation for long-term success."
Under the newly formed Canadian Badlands Tourism Development Centre,
a single application was submitted to the Community Adjustment Fund
for 23 different projects on behalf of 19 rural Alberta communities.
"This money is going to do so much for our smaller, single-industry
communities," said Cindy Amos, Executive Director for Canadian
"The funding will put people to work, increase tourism capacity,
attract small to medium size business to rural communities and
stabilize rural populations."
"This is a real boost to the local economy as well as to our
ever-expanding tourism industry here in the Canadian Badlands."
The Community Adjustment Fund is a federal program to mitigate the
impacts of the economic downturn by encouraging job creation in
affected communities. Not only will $6.2 million injection result in
immediate job opportunities for locals, but also create long-lasting
tourism-based infrastructure that ensures a legacy of longer-term
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