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old CPR bridge in downtown Red Deer

corner of Gaetz and Ross downtown

modern CPR locomotives

historic Red Deer CPR station
Mintlaw ACR trestle


The Alberta Central Railway

Red Deer became a booming community in the early part of the twentieth century. In May 1901, the Alberta Central Railway was incorporated by an Act of Parliament to run a rail line east and west from Red Deer with Red Deer as its headquarters.

Indications are that the original investors (including MLA John T. Moore) envisioned it as the first phase of a major route across Western Canada. From Red Deer it would extend east to Saskatoon, splitting there with a southern route through Moose Jaw (linking with Canadian Pacific) and south to the U.S. and a northern route to Fort Churchill. To the west it would extend past Rocky Mountain House to the Brazeau coal fields, head north and run parallel with the Grand Trunk Pacific through the Yellowhead Pass where it would link to another railroad to Vancouver.

The initial charter was for a line 25 miles east of Red Deer to the coal banks of the Red Deer River (near Nevis/Content Bridge/Tail Creek) and 50 miles west to Rocky Mountain House with expectations to extend the line to the coal banks west of Rocky Mountain House near Nordegg.

A federal grant wasn't approved until 1908 so surveying didn't start until that year but due to financial challenges, construction wouldn't start for another couple of years.

In 1910, Sir Wilfred Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada, and railways minister George Graham, visited Red Deer to drive the 'first spike' near Gaetz Avenue north of the present Capri Hotel.

ACR concrete pier Taylor Drive Red DeerConstruction west of Red Deer started in 1910. The ACR crossed the Canadian Pacific Railway (C & E Railway) and Waskasoo Creek where one of the bridge abutments still stands along Taylor Drive. The railway headed west through the present day Westpark subdivision and southwest near the current Red Deer County Centre.

To the east, the line was constructed across Piper Creek (through the present Kin Kanyon) on a wooden trestle in 1911. A small station and yards were built near where the current Mountview fire hall on 32 Street is now located.

The line was graded to north of Pine Lake but tracks were never laid east of the station grounds.

South of the ACR bridge over the Canadian Pacific, the new railway connected with the CPR at Forth junction (near 32 St.). As the city expanded westward, the junction was later moved further south to Tuttle, near the new proposed community of Liberty Crossing.

Alberta Central Railway Mintlaw bridge under construction 1911In 1911, farther southwest, the railway started construction of a grand steel trestle across the Red Deer River, the second longest CPR bridge of its kind in Alberta (second only to the one in Lethbridge) at Mintlaw, a very small community long gone, but apparently with a station and grain elevator. The bridge, 2,112 ft. long and 110 ft. high, was completed in the fall of 1912.

Unfortunately, in its quest to build a high quality rail line, the Alberta Central Railway went bankrupt and the line was leased for 999 years to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR finished construction west to Sylvan Lake, Benalto and ultimately to Rocky Mountain House by 1914 where a 725' bridge had already been constructed crossing the North Saskatchewan River. During construction, much of Cygnet (Burnt) Lake was drained by deepening the outlet south of Sylvan Lake.

The competing Canadian Northern Western Railway also built a line at the same time west from north of Red Deer, much of the line parallel with the ACR but at a lower standard of construction. 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.

ACR North Saskatchewan River bridge near Rocky Mountain HouseThe Canadian Northern Western reached Rocky Mountain House post office (Lochearn) in 1912 before the Alberta Central. However, the Alberta Central/Canadian Pacific had already built a good-quality bridge across the North Saskatchewan River as well as two miles of track on each side of it between Otway and Ullin including both the old and new Rocky Mountain House.

Rather than build a separate bridge across the river, the Canadian Northern Western (later part of Canadian National) made an arrangement with Canadian Pacific to have running rights on that 4-1/2 mile section of track. In return, the Canadian Pacific would have running rights to the Brazeau coal fields. It was unlikely however that Canadian Pacific exercised those rights as they had no or at least very few customers west of Rocky Mountain House.

Lochearn station Rocky Mountain HouseThe Rocky Mountain House station, used by both railways, was located at Lochearn about two miles east of the river. (The current Lochearn industrial siding is about two miles west of the river.) When Canadian Pacific lost interest in expanding westward from Rocky, the bridge was leased to the CNR until the Alberta Central was abandoned.

The building boom came to an abrupt end with the beginning of the First World War. Canadian Pacific had no interest in extending the originally planned eastern leg of the railway and the tracks to the Mountview station and yards were torn out east of the north-south main line in 1913. The trestle across Kin Kanyon was torn down in 1917. The bridge across the CPR and Waskasoo Creek was removed but the two concrete piers remained until the construction of Taylor Drive in 1991 when one was demolished.

restored CPR 2816In 1957, the Alberta Central Railway was dissolved and its assets transferred to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

In 1961, the Department of Highways purchased a strip of land at Tuttle west of what is now Gasoline Alley between Highway 2A and C & E Trail to reroute the line away from West Park in order to avoid building an overpass over the new four-lane Highway 2 which was under construction. The new route was activated in 1962.

Although the ACR opened up west Central Alberta to settlement, served a variety of communities and light industries, and for a time, received a limited amount of coal from the Brazeau fields, the line was never a major traffic generator.

The Alberta Central Railway steel trestle across the Red Deer RiverCanadian Pacific continued to refer to the line as the Alberta Central subdivision until the line was abandoned in 1983 (the last train ran in 1981). The rails were torn up but much of the right of way is still intact. The town of Sylvan Lake is proceeding with plans to develop that rail corridor within the community into a natural linear park.

The Mintlaw steel trestle over the Red Deer River still stands as a monument to the Red Deer region's development during the days when the city became the transportation hub of Central Alberta.

However, there are no other structures that have been preserved except for that lonely pillar along Taylor Drive in Red Deer that once supported the bridge used by the ACR to cross over the CPR. In late 2008, a large sign with a mural was attached to the concrete pier.

The Calgary and Edmonton Railway
The Calgary and Edmonton Railway near Red Deer
The Canadian Northern Western Railway Brazeau Subdivision

Railway Heritage Preservation in Central Alberta
      The Forth Junction Project
      The Alberta Central Heritage Model Rail Project
      'Moving People by Rail' Themed Community Proposal
            Historic Rail Background for 'Moving People by Rail'

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