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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 Calgary and Edmonton Railway near Red Deer

Construction started on the Calgary and Edmonton Railway north of Calgary in July 1890 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.

corner of Gaetz and RossAn 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.

downtown originates with coming of the railwayTracklaying 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.

early train meet at InnisfailThe 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.

Red Deer develops with the railwayIt 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.

The railway was the primary employer, customer and supplier for the fast-growing city.

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.

Jubilee 3001 the ChinookFrom 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.

railway station, park and coal chutesIn 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.

Dayliner at InnisfailIn 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 new road.

old railway station at head of Ross StreetConstruction 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 city.

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 (detailed)
The Alberta Central Railway

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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