The Calgary Edmonton Railway
After the arrival in Calgary of the Canadian
Pacific Railway in 1883, one of the most significant happenings
in the history of Central Alberta occurred in 1885 when 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 to
Drumheller due to a potential oil find and along the west side
of Buffalo Lake. This would likely have changed the principle
corridor between Calgary and Edmonton.
When the company had trouble financing the project and oil was
not found, a revised new charter was to take the railway near
proposed Alberta Lumber Company facilities owned by the same
principles as the railway and was to cross the Red Deer River
near Innisfail. A townsite was laid out near the river and
grading commenced in 1887 but stopped after a month due to
continued financial problems. Again, the charter was revised
with a new proposed route crossing the Red Deer River about 12
miles northeast of Red Deer Crossing near where River Bend Golf
Course is today.
Again financial problems caused the charter to be extended with
a new name, the Alberta and Great Northwestern Railway.
Interests were sold to a new company, the Calgary and Edmonton
Railway Company in early 1890 and, once completed, was to be
leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway for 6 years. Construction
started north of Calgary the same year but a decision was yet to
be made as to where it would cross the Red Deer River. Three
routes had been surveyed, the one near Innisfail, Red Deer
Crossing and the mouth of the Blindman River (17 miles
downstream from the Crossing) -- the preferred route as it
necessitated only one bridge instead of two.
In July 1890, James Ross, on behalf of the railway, met with
Rev. Leonard Gaetz who was one of the largest landowners near
the river, had a great deal of political influence and was one
of the principle promoters of the region in Calgary and eastern
Canada. When Rev. Gaetz offered to share with the railway 600 acres of
land (half of his holdings) to build the townsite and railway
there, Mr. Ross gladly accepted.
Tracklaying commenced in
September and 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. The bridge across the Red Deer River was built over the
winter and the line was completed to South Edmonton by July
1891. The first railway station in Red Deer was built that
The Canadian Pacific Railway officially took over the railway in
August, 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.
The lease was later extended to year 2000. The CPR purchased the
line outright in the mid-1900s. In 1904, the Red Deer
yards were expanded as it became a divisional point and a
station was built at Penhold.
A spur line was constructed in the 1940s into what became CFB
Penhold and later Springbrook from the main CPR Calgary-Edmonton
line. There is little information about the spur or when it was
removed, but it likely brought in coal for the steam plant at
the base and possibly other supplies. The spur was likely
removed in the 1950s but the old right of way can still be seen
in aerial photographs. Personnel that arrived by train for
military training used either the Penhold or Red Deer stations.
The Red Deer yards were relocated in 1989-1990 from downtown to
the west side of the city.
Today, the Canadian Pacific line that runs past Springbrook is
the primary north-south freight rail corridor in Alberta and the
line sees between 12 and 15 trains per day.
For more on the C & E Railway, visit