The Calgary and Edmonton Railway near Red Deer
Construction started on the Calgary and Edmonton Railway north of Calgary in
even before a decision was made as to where it would cross the Red Deer
River. Three crossings had been surveyed -- one near Innisfail, one at the Red Deer Crossing
settlement and another at the mouth
of the Blindman River.
historic meeting between James Ross and Rev. Leonard Gaetz in July 1890
resulted in the abandonment of all three proposed crossings in favour of
a new one.
James Ross was supervisor for the construction of the C & E Railway and
was previously supervisor in the construction of several railways
including the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway from Moose Jaw
through the Rocky Mountains. Rev.
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. 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.
During the winter of 1890-91, a wooden railway bridge was built crossing
the Red Deer River near the Gaetz homestead and the line continued north
toward South Edmonton the following year. The first railway station in Red
Deer was built that spring and regular passenger service to both major centres was in place by that summer
reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train.
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.
In 1904, the Red Deer yards were expanded and a station was built at
Penhold. In 1905, a branch line east from Lacombe to Alix was opened and
extended to Stettler the following year. Meanwhile another branch line
from Wetaskiwin east to Camrose also opened in 1905 and extended to
Hardisty the following year.
It was when the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to make Red Deer the
divisional point between Calgary and Edmonton in 1908 that the destiny of
downtown Red Deer as the hub of Central Alberta became established. It
was the same year that the wooden bridge across the Red Deer River was
replaced by steel.
As well as building a new grand station at the head of Ross Street in
1910, the Canadian Pacific built a roundhouse, coal chutes and other
maintenance facilities to the west of the downtown. A beautiful railroad
park complete with fountain was created east of the station. The
original station was moved south to become a freight shed.
railway was the primary employer, customer and supplier for the
Among other railway projects in and near the city between 1907 and 1914,
Canadian Pacific made plans to build another line southeast to
Drumheller but those plans were abandoned with the start of World War I.
It also took over the Red Deer-based
Alberta Central Railway.
During both the First and Second World Wars, the railway played a
significant role in the transporting of troops in and out of Red Deer.
During the Second World War, the railway was particularly significant in
serving the army base in the city and the air base near Penhold.
From 1936 to 1955, excluding the war years, passenger
service 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.
1950, the beautiful railroad park was transformed into a parking lot. As
a result of diesel locomotives replacing steam during the 1950s, the
roundhouse, last used in 1955, was removed in 1960, as was the freight
shed (original station).
Three branch lines originated at Red Deer. The Lacombe subdivision ran
east from Lacombe through Stettler and on to Coronation but now only
runs intermittently to Stettler. The Alberta Central subdivision ran
west through Sylvan Lake and on to Rocky Mountain House but it was
abandoned in 1983 after seeing its last train two years earlier. The
Hoadley subdivision (originally the Lacombe and Blindman Valley Electric
Railway) still runs north west from Lacombe to Bentley and Rimbey. Local
trains have served Blackfalds, Lacombe and Ponoka to the north and
Penhold, Innisfail, Bowden and Olds to the south.
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.
The mid-1980s to early 1990s saw a lot of infrastructure changes
involving highways that impacted the railway. In 1985, Highway 2A was
realigned to parallel the railway south of Red Deer under the Highway 2
bridges as part of an interim interchange with Highway 2 and a connection to
Highway 595. Farther north, Highway 597 was extended west to a new
Highway 2 interchange at Blackfalds requiring a new rail bridge over the
Construction for the relocation of the Red Deer rail yards to the
northwest side of the city took two years between 1989 and 1991. All
tracks through the city centre were gone by early 1992 and the 45th
Street overpass was removed. Five grain elevators were demolished in the
downtown and the 4-lane Taylor Drive major corridor project was well
under way. Ross Street and 49 Street were connected west through the
former rail yards to the Taylor Bridge as part of the new corridor
project. Originally, the station was to be demolished for the project
but ultimately it was preserved at its original site at the head of Ross
Street forcing the connecting roads to go around it. The corridor
project also connected Taylor Drive to Highway 2A at the south end of
The downtown rail station was declared a historic resource, restored on
the outside and renovated into offices on the inside. The railway bridge
over the river was also declared a historic resource and was developed
into a pedestrian and bicycle way that is now part of the Waskasoo Park
trail system and the Trans Canada Trail. The original fountain from the
railway park was returned to the downtown a couple of years ago and is
now used as a splash park.
The only other remnants from the steam era in Central Alberta are the
restored Bowden station relocated to the Innisfail Historical Village
and the restored Didsbury station (a provincial historic site) turned
180 degrees and used by community groups. Two replica stations located
in Penhold and Lacombe are used for commercial purposes.
The Calgary and Edmonton Railway
The Alberta Central Railway
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'