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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


Canadian Northern Western Railway (Brazeau)

With the discovery of commercially profitable coal deposits in the Brazeau-Bighorn area, Martin Nordegg received a charter in 1908 to build the Alberta and Brazeau River Railway Company from a point near Bowden on the Calgary-Edmonton Railway and follow the valleys of the Red Deer, Raven and Clearwater Rivers to Rocky Mountain House and Kootenay Plains and northward to connect with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

With no support from either Canadian Pacific or Grand Trunk Pacific, Nordegg turned to William McKenzie and Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway to build the line. A new charter was obtained under the name of the Canadian Northern Western Railroad that included a new route roughly parallel to the Alberta Central Railway between Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House.

The Brazeau line originated from south of Stettler on the newly-opened Canadian Northern north-south line in 1911. Construction progressed quickly west running a few miles north of Red Deer.

construction of Blindman River wooden trestle 1911-12During the same year, the railroad started construction of the trestle across the Blindman River at Burbank, constructed a spur line to North Red Deer and laid steel as far west as Sylvan Lake.

The competing Alberta Central Railway was building a line at the same time from Red Deer, much of the line parallel with the Canadian Northern Western Railroad. 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.

Canadian National station Sylvan LakeThe Canadian Northern Western reached Rocky Mountain House before the Alberta Central in 1912, although the line wasn't officially opened until 1914. However, the Alberta Central/Canadian Pacific had already built a good-quality 725' bridge across the North Saskatchewan River as well as track 2 miles on each side of it.

Rather than build a separate bridge across the river, the Canadian Northern Western (later part of Canadian National) made an arrangement with Canadian Pacific, operators of the Alberta Central, to have running rights on that 4-1/2 mile section of track between Otway and Ullin, including the Rocky Mountain House post office station at Lochearn on the east side of the river. (The current Lochearn industrial siding is about two miles west of the river.)

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 very few customers west of Rocky Mountain House.

Meanwhile, the Brazeau Colleries had been stockpiling coal since late 1911 while waiting for the railway to arrive. It took until late 1913 for the railway to reach Nordegg on unballasted rails where 100,000 tons of coal was waiting to be shipped out. The first shipment left Nordegg in 1914.

The spur line constructed south from North Junction near Blackfalds to North Red Deer in July 1911 was intended to be part of a new north-south Calgary-Edmonton line but it was never built. A bridge was erected across the Red Deer River from North Red Deer near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek in 1920 and a station and other facilities were constructed where the Co-op Plaza shopping mall is now located.

CN Red Deer River bridge at Red Deer washed outWith the river bridge being washed out in the spring floods a number of times, the railway abandoned the river crossing in 1941 but continued service to the city station grounds via a connection to the Canadian Pacific along the present site of the museum, downtown Safeway store and Red Deer Lodge.

last steam locomotive at Red Deer CN station 1955The last steam locomotive to the Red Deer station marked its closure in 1955 but the rail yards continued to be used until they were moved to the north side of the river in 1961 at which time the railway stopped using the Canadian Pacific downtown connection. The station and turntable had been removed in 1960.

The railroad became part of the Canadian Government Railways in 1918 and absorbed into the newly-created Canadian National Railways in 1919. In 1923, modifications were made at Alix South Junction (on the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway) as part of a consolidation and rationalization of the various railroads comprising the new CNR. Mirror replaced Big Valley as the divisional point for train crews for the Brazeau Subdivision as well as the north-south Calgary-Edmonton former Grand Trunk Pacific line.

The last mine in Nordegg was closed in 1955. The line from Rocky Mountain House to Brazeau (Nordegg) was formally abandoned in 1986 but had had virtually no traffic since the mines closed thirty years earlier. The portion to Rocky Mountain House had limited local traffic serving Sylvan Lake, Eckville and Rocky Mountain House as well as a few other grain elevators, a lumber mill and small oil and gas facilities for the next twenty years. Motive power on the line switched from steam to diesel in 1959.

Nova petrochemical plant rail yardThe railway got a new lease on life in the mid-1970s with the construction of a spur line to the Ram River sulphur facility in 1974 and the massive Alberta Gas Ethylene/Nova petro-chemical plants at Joffre and Union Carbide/Dow plant at Prentiss both east of Red Deer.

The Canadian Northern Railway in Central Alberta (Canadian National)
The Calgary and Edmonton Railway (now Canadian Pacific Railway main north-south line)
The Calgary and Edmonton Railway near Red Deer
The Alberta Central Railway (abandoned Canadian Pacific Alberta Central subdivision)

Railway Heritage Preservation in Central Alberta
     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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