The Calgary and Edmonton Railway
When the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Calgary in
1883, land quickly opened up along the line for development and for a
relatively economical way to move agricultural products. But there were
still vast areas for potential settlement beyond the 10-20 mile range
that the new railway served. There were also other communities in the
west that were not served by the railway, including Edmonton. Branch
lines would be essential for the railway to prosper.
Calgary and Edmonton Trail
quickly gained major significance as the north-south stagecoach route
between Calgary and Edmonton, carrying freight, passengers and mail.
It wasn't long before the value of a railway joining Alberta's two major
population centres became obvious.
In 1885, a charter was granted to the Alberta and Athabasca Railway
Company to run a rail line from Calgary to Edmonton and on to Athabasca
Landing. Construction was to start in the summer of 1887, run east from
Calgary to Drumheller (due to potential oil and coal fields) and north
along the west side of Buffalo Lake to Edmonton (later adopted by the
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway).
When the company had trouble financing the project and oil was not
found at Drumheller, a revised new charter was to take the railway near the proposed
Alberta Lumber Company facilities (built in 1887) near Innisfail, owned
by the same principals as the railway. Grading commenced in 1887 but
stopped after a month due to continued financial problems.
The charter was revised again with a new proposed route that would cross
the Red Deer River near the mouth of the Blindman River (a few miles
northeast of the current city of Red Deer). Again, financial problems caused the
charter to be extended with a new name, the Alberta and Great
Northwestern Railway. In early 1890, interests were sold to a new
venture, the Calgary
and Edmonton Railway Company.
The new company was incorporated by the federal government to build a
railway from Calgary to a point at or near Edmonton (about 190 miles)
and from Calgary to Fort McLeod and on to the international boundary. It
was also given the right to extend northward toward the Peace River
area. For each mile of railway constructed, the company would receive a
land grant of 2560 hectares (6400 acres). Selling and managing these
lands was the Calgary and Edmonton Land Co., incorporated in 1891.
The primary stockholders of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company
were James Ross, William Mackenzie, Donald Mann and Herbert Holt, all
very familiar with building railways. Mackenzie and Mann were later to
create and build the Canadian Northern Railway.
The C & E Railway was an independent company but it never intended to
run trains. It's intention was to lease or sell the line to another
operator and initially gave the Canadian Pacific Railway the rights to a
renewable 6-year lease, once completed. As a result, the CPR took an
active role in the design of structures along the route and the naming
of communities. A station was to be established about every 18 miles
along the line with a siding about midpoint between stations.
Much of the northern leg toward Red Deer was surveyed in April and May
of 1890. The route more or less followed the Calgary-Edmonton Trail but
major adjustments needed to be made for reasonable grades and curves. In
addition, there was a significant challenge in crossing the valleys of
the Red Deer and Blindman Rivers roughly half way between Calgary and
Edmonton. Three crossings of the Red Deer River had been surveyed -- one
near Innisfail, one at the Red Deer Crossing
settlement and another at the mouth
of the Blindman River which would enable the crossing of both rivers
James Ross, the supervising engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway
who had supervised several railway construction projects including the
transcontinental from Moose Jaw through the Rocky Mountains, contracted
his partners in the venture, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, to
construct the line. Holt became Superintendent of Construction.
The official sod turning occurred in Calgary on July 21, 1890. During
that same month, Mr. Ross met with landowner Rev. Leonard Gaetz on his
land at the Red Deer River. The historic meeting resulted in the
abandonment of all three previously surveyed river crossings in favour
of a new one at the Gaetz homestead.
Leonard Gaetz was one of the largest landowners near the river
downstream from the Crossing and had
a great deal of political influence as well as being one of the principle
promoters of the region in his travels to Calgary and eastern Canada. When Rev. Gaetz
offered to Mr. Ross that he would give the railway 600 acres of land (half of his holdings) to
build the townsite and railway there, Mr. Ross gladly accepted.
Tracklaying reached the new Red Deer townsite in November
1890. That month,
the first passenger train ran from south of Red Deer (near present-day
Springbrook) to Calgary, as the four bridges needed to cross the
meandering Waskasoo Creek had yet to be constructed.
Communities with stations (some very rudimentary in the beginning)
included Beddington, Airdrie, Crossfield, Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds,
Bowden, Innisfail, Penhold and Red Deer. Sidings were at Burnson,
Balzac, Wessex, Rosebud, Neetook and Tuttle.
During the winter of 1890-91, a wooden railway bridge was built crossing
the Red Deer River near the Gaetz homestead. Construction of the line
continued north toward Strathcona during 1891 with completion occurring
in July. The line did not cross the North Saskatchewan River into
Edmonton until several years later due to the high cost of building a
Communities with stations (again some rudimentary in the beginning)
included Blackfalds, Lacombe, Ponoka, Hobbema, Wetaskiwin, Miller, Leduc
and Strathcona (south Edmonton). Sidings were at Labuma, Morningside,
Menaik, Navarre, Bigstone, Kavanaugh, Nisku and Ellerslie.
Canadian Pacific Railway officially took over operations of the railway in August
1891, named all the numbered stations along the route, built a telegraph
line and started carrying the mail, taking it away from the stage
coaches along the C & E Trail. Regular scheduled passenger service
between the two major centres was in place by 1892,
reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train.
This effectively put an end to the C & E Trail stagecoach service.
The Calgary to Fort Macleod leg was also surveyed in 1890 and
construction reached Mekastoe/Haneyville (three miles north of Fort
Macleod) in 1892. In 1898, a short link with the Crowsnest Pass line was
completed. With almost 300 miles of construction complete the C & E
Railway received a total land grant of 1.8 million acres.
By the turn of the century, Mackenzie and Mann were building the
transcontinental Canadian Northern Railway in direct competition with
Canadian Pacific. The new railway entered downtown Edmonton in 1902 with
the Edmonton Yukon and Pacific Railway, creating a threat to the
Canadian Pacific's influence in the area. As a result, Canadian Pacific
reluctantly started plans for a bridge across the North Saskatchewan
Meanwhile, Mackenzie and Mann were also eyeing the Calgary and Edmonton
Railway for absorption into their Canadian Northern. The
original 6-year lease with Canadian Pacific had been renewed annually.
As CP had first option to lease or buy the Calgary & Edmonton Railway,
CP decided to sign a 999 year lease to thwart any takeover move by the
In June 1903 Canadian Pacific received authority to construct a high
level bridge to link Strathcona with Edmonton as well as two branchlines
to extend 100 miles east of the C & E at Wetaskiwin and Lacombe.
In 1905, the branch from Lacombe to Alix was opened and
extended to Stettler the following year. The line was further extended
to Castor in 1910, to Consort in 1912 and to Kerrobert in 1914. Meanwhile
the branch line
from Wetaskiwin east to Camrose also opened in 1905 and extended to
Hardisty the following year.
Residents of Strathcona became concerned about the future construction
of the High Level Bridge that could diminish the town's importance. In
1906, Canadian Pacific made an agreement with the town that it would
remain the main divisional point for northern Alberta and the terminus
for the branchlines at Wetaskiwin and to Saskatchewan in return for a
land grant from the town and tax concessions.
1908, Red Deer also became a divisional point and the wooden bridge
across the Red Deer River was replaced with steel. In 1910 a new station
was built at Red Deer.
Construction of the High Level Bridge commenced in 1910 and opened for
traffic in June 1913. The bridge was unusual in that it was used as for
the railway, streetcars and vehicle traffic on the lower deck.
From 1936 to 1955, excluding the war years
when heavier locomotives were necessary, passenger
service on the C & E used a specially-designed locomotive for inter-city service, the
4-4-4 Jubilee no. 3001. Only five of its class were ever built and none were
preserved. It led the 'Chinook' service featuring the daily 'Eskimo' and
'Stampeder' trains. The first diesel ran in 1949 and the Jubilees were
replaced by the 'Dayliner' service in 1955 cutting the five-hour trip by
one and a half hours. The 3-per-day Dayliners reached their peak in 1969
with 80,000 passengers carried.
service ceased across the High Level Bridge in 1972 when Strathcona
became the northern terminus. In 1985, passenger service came to an end after 94 years with the 'Dayliner'
making its final run. However, proposals for new passenger service
surfaced that included new-generation LRC locomotives operated by VIA
Rail on CP or even a high-speed service, neither of which has so far
become a reality.
Remnants of the steam era no longer used by the railway include the High
Level Bridge in Edmonton still used for vehicle traffic, the Red Deer
River bridge at Red Deer used as part of the Trans Canada Trail and
restored railway stations at Strathcona, Red Deer and Didsbury. The
Bowden station has been relocated to the Innisfail Historical Village. A
scaled-down replica of the Wetaskiwin station is located at the Alberta
Central Railway Museum 16 km southeast of Wetaskiwin.
The Calgary & Edmonton Railway
near Red Deer
Railway Heritage Preservation
in Central Alberta
The Forth Junction Project
The Alberta Central Heritage Model
'Moving People by Rail' Themed
Historic Rail Background
for 'Moving People by Rail'