Needing to escape before I potentially had a new job, I decided in the 11th hour that I was going to take my camera, my new (to me) Jetta and both my US/CAN passports, to access the Treasure State.
My goal was to witness some of the Milwaukee Road structures still in place built during the 1909 Pacific Extension, and photograph their existence. I have long wanted to witness some of the treasures that you can find in Montana of the former CMStP&P main line.
Knowing that I only had 4 days, I decided to focus on a region, rather than try to see the line in a linear fashion of Harlowton-Saint Paul Pass. Instead, I decided to focus on Missoula-West to the Idaho line, and then use some of my allotted vacation time to stay in the Flathead for some GN heritage, now under the flag of the BNSF.
After choosing my starting point to be Missoula, I planned my routing to enter the state North of Cut Bank, and travel along the Front Range to Augusta, then cross the mountains on Highway 200 and end up in Missoula.
As I was heading along the corridor served by Highway 89, I wanted to try and locate any existing GN and MILW heritage along this route.
Day 1: Monday- Alberta/Montana Border-Missoula
I left Edmonton on a Sunday, and overnighted in Lethbridge, opting to cross into MT at the Del Bonita border crossing. The crossing was uneventful, and I stopped for my first photo at the end of the Valier branch, the former Montana Western Railway shortline built from Conrad to its terminus at Valier.
I shot the end of track and the elevators, and also noted that the town of Valier had a “Ponoka Avenue”, a nod to Indian heritage. Ponoka is the Blackfoot word for elk.
I went west to US89, where I followed it south-easterly along the eastern front of the Rockies, more or less obliterated by forest fire smoke.
A few miles from the hamlet of Pendroy, I encountered the former grade. To my knowledge this was GN’s line, as more or less a few miles to the East was Agawam, served by the Milwaukee Road. This was the furthest NW Milwaukee Road Northern Montana Division went, deep into GN served territory, the line ending at Agawam.
I was able snap a few shots of the grade and followed it through Bynum, Koyl and into Choteau.
At Choteau I was keen to find any remnants of the GN and the MILW’s history. The trains still come into Choteau by way of Power and Eastham Jct, now served by the BNSF.
The Great Northern Railway has family history for my mom’s side; my great uncle Justus Jern was the agent in Choteau at one time. I was hoping to see if the depot was still standing, but sadly it was razed some time ago. Downtown there is two visible lines, and the former MILW/GN joint main seems to be repositioned as an elevator loading track.
I got some photos of Choteau’s pretty downtown with the courthouse at the southern end of Mainstreet acting as the hub of the HWY 89/287 Traffic circle.
I needed to make my way to Missoula, so following Highway 287 led me toward Augusta.
Augusta, like Choteau is in scenic “prairie-meets-mountains” setting, and was at the Western end of a GN branch from Simms, parts of which were also used by the MILW in history. I recall there was a depot the last time I was through the region in 2002, but I didn’t see it if it was there. My research shows that the GN came into the nearby hamlet of Gilman, just a mile or so before Augusta’s townsite.
After Augusta I drove along the ever-undulating terrain, the hills and mountain vistas getting grander the closer I got to Highway 200 junction.
Through Rogers Pass:
Highway 200 is a lonely road. It’s also the longest state highway in the nation, running from the ND state line at Fairview 706 miles west to the Idaho border at Lake Pend Oreille. In places it runs across the least populated regions of Montana, and the segment from near Augusta to Missoula is a beautiful drive.
The mountains really begin to rise as you climb up to Rogers Pass. Yes, another Rogers Pass; named after the same A.B. Rogers, who’s name also graces the better-known pass in the Canadian Rockies. This pass has never had rail traffic, yet is the only pass South of Marias Pass that you can cross the divide, so it is an important corridor.
Rogers Pass to Missoula:
On the Western side of the divide the terrain changes into lush forests, and remote towns like Lincoln (the one-time home of the Unabomber), Ovando and Greenough. You travel along the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, and traffic is light on this scenic drive.
After Greenough, I was able to see some remains of the one-time line from Bonner (E. of Missoula) into the region.
Built as the Missoula & Bitter Root Valley Railroad, the line followed the Blackfoot River into the interior, and the grade was clearly visible in many spots. Especially just before arriving at Milltown, where the MRL was using a short portion to service the industry there. Bonner is a company town, and a found a great row of 1920’s Craftsman Houses. Many have been kept up.
Missoula was my first of two nights on the road, so I checked into my hotel and rested up for my second day- chasing the ghosts of the Milwaukee Road’s Electrified Pacific Extension to Puget Sound.
Day 2: Tuesday- Missoula-Saint Paul Pass/Lookout Pass
I had been in contact with Jon Severson, who has explored a lot of the MILW main line and even managed to access the remote, and very difficult to enter (due to private property) of Sixteen Mile Canyon, between Harlowton and Lombard. Since my car wasn’t a four-wheel drive, I had made the choice to explore the easier to follow grades that roughly parallel I-90. His advice was to explore the former MILW grade, most of it easily accessible from the frontage roads and former sections of Highway 10.
Lozeau and The Yellowstone Trail:
After a coffee, I hit I-90 West, and did a straight shot (easy to when the limit is 80 MPH) until Lozeau, just a little west of Alberton.
After exiting, I took a shot of the MRL (former NP) grade crossing at Lozeau and then crossed the unique single lane, wooden deck platformed truss bridge over the Clark Fork River and immediately met up with the former MILW grade and Old Highway 10.
Following old Highway 10, the “Yellowstone Trail” with roots to the Mullan Road (the original Wagon Road) is a scenic drive in itself. For the most part the road follows the MILW grade, and also parallel to the MRL’s former NP Mainline. I was on the “Mainstreet of the Northwest”!
It wasn’t long before I was rewarded one of MILW’s concrete bridges. Keystone Road’s underpass has since lost the center span.
I took shots of scenic Superior, MT, and then hopped back onto I-90 and highballed straight to Saltese.
Saltese, Lookout Pass, Saint Paul Pass:
Saltese has the scenic high bridge of the MILW grade. At this point climbing up towards the summit and tunnel through Saint Paul Pass.
The bridge at Saltese is now open for trail traffic, and is unofficially part of the “Route of The Hiawatha Trail”. A few miles upgrade the official trail head begins for the 15-mile ride through the 1.7-mile-long tunnel at East Portal through to Pearson, Idaho.
It’s worthy to note that the MILW wasn’t the only railroad in this narrow valley region. The NP had a branch line running from Sant Regis over Lookout Pass and into Wallace, Idaho. Much of the old NP route is somewhat accessible, and I can say I drove on a portion of it into Idaho at Lookout Pass.
Also, part of the scene is the old Highway 10 grade, and the newer I-90. I drove a few miles of the former Highway 10 on the Montana side of Lookout Pass. I ran into huckleberry pickers along the road. Most were expressing their distaste for the lack of huckleberries, the weather was hotter than normal, and the crop wasn’t excellent.
Saint Regis & Cyr:
I began to work my way home towards Missoula. I stopped at Saint Regis to photograph the bridges over the Clark Fork River. The Former MILW used to cross over the NP, just above the NP’s depot. The NP depot is gone, but the lanes of I-90 cross overhead.
Near Cyr Montana I captured the old Highway 10’s Spring Gulch bridge, right next to the old highway grade is the MILW grade. The bridge is now gone.
As I was driving into Alberton, my scanner went off, and on the opposite side of the valley was a BNSF coal train on the MRL. I retreated the 9 miles back to Cyr and found a crossing where I could get a pic of the power. A Santa Fe Warbonnet, with a FXE unit trailing. It was worth the chase. Otherwise, the MRL was pretty quiet on this day.
Alberton was the division point for the MILW. The previous one was Deer Lodge, and the next one would be Avery, Idaho.
Alberton was by every sense a true Milwaukee Road Town. The depot has been saved and acts as a library and other functions. The yard is gone, but you can see where it was, and a preserved Milwaukee Road built ribbed Bay window Caboose (these were built with passenger car trucks) and a former wooden baggage car are saved and on display nearby.
From Alberton I drove the old Highway 10 and at the former site of Soudan the incredible concrete structures carried the MILW over the road. The section over the highway has been removed, but the other segments still stand, resplendent as ruins by the Romans.
Just before Huson, the old Highway 10 peters out and you are back on I-90 through Frenchtown. Here, I jumped off the Interstate and found myself on the old Mullan Road (here numbered as Highway 263) and closely paralleled the MILW into Missoula.
Just 9 miles from Missoula is the former station of Primrose.
Primrose has one of the surviving electric substations that powered the Milwaukee Road’s 438 miles of electric lines between Harlowton, MT to Avery, ID.
There were 14 substations along the right of way to keep the 3000 DC current flowing into the catenary that powered Box cab Electrics, Bi-Polars and Little Joe locomotives that pulled freight and passengers alike- notably the Olympian Hiawatha’s service from Chicago to Puget Sound. There are a few substations still standing in Montana, and others still in Washington between Othello and the Coast.
It was great to see a substation, and I knew I had to see two more structures before the end of the day, so into Missoula I went.
Milwaukee Road in Missoula:
Missoula is home to the University of Montana, headquarters of Montana Rail Link, a city bathed in history and also one of the most scenic small cities in the Pacific Northwest.
Missoula’s railroad heritage goes to the Northern Pacific, establishing a yard and division point and firmly in place by the time The Milwaukee Road entered the scene. The Milwaukee Road’s route from the East ran through Hellgate Canyon, past the University, and their depot was constructed just off Higgins Avenue, along the Clark Fork River. The Milwaukee Road’s larger depots were nothing like you would see in the West. The depot in Missoula was constructed in 1910, and was used by the railroad as a passenger terminal through 1960, after the cancellation of the Olympian Hiawatha and all other passenger trains on this extension. The railroad retained the building to house freight operations until the railroad went bankrupt in 1980.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to use the depot as a restaurant it was restored to house the Boone & Crockett Club as their headquarters, after being in the East for 105 previous years.
My final salute to the Milwaukee Road was to walk a short portion of the “Milwaukee Road Trail”, a paved trail that passes the depot and runs along the scenic Clark Fork River. I followed the trail to the U of M campus where two block signals still stand today, adjacent to the U of M’s Washington/Grizzlies Stadium.
I tried to imagine Little Joes and later EMD power running past the stadium during Griz’ games.
The trail is popular with Missoulians and I was happy to see that the rail – trail celebrated the era of being a transcontinental railroad.
It was my last night in Missoula, so I found a nice dinner at the Thomas Meager Pub in downtown Missoula and prepared for my trip up to the Flathead. More in Part 2!
My European Favourites – Helsinki, Finland
Founded only in the 16th century, Helsinki is the geographic, political, financial and cultural capital of Finland. In addition to the area Helsinki encompasses on the mainland, it includes over 300 islands on the inlets and bays of the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland. Combined with Stockholm and Tallinn, Helsinki is one of our top tour destinations for youth hockey and ringette teams for over twenty years. Finns are avid sports people and great hosts for our Canadian groups.
Before gaining independence in 1917, Finland was ruled by the Swedes and Russians. The city was founded by Sweden’s King Gustav in 1550 to rival the Hanseatic League member city once known as Reval. Today, Reval is known as Tallinn, Estonia, and it can be reached by a two hour ferry ride.
In 1809, Russia gained control of Helsinki, and in 1812, moved Finland’s capital city from Turku to Helsinki. The decision was made because Helsinki was closer to St. Petersburg and easier to defend because of the Sveaborg sea fortress which guards the sea entrance into the city. Today the sea fortress is named Suomenlinna, and is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The population of Helsinki proper is about 650,000, and it has a metro population of around 1.5 million including its neighboring municipalities like Vantaa and Espoo. This makes it the 3rd largest city of the Nordic countries, after only Stockholm and Copenhagen. While having all the conveniences of a modern city, Helsinki is a great destination for nature lovers. There are parks and vast areas of unspoilt nature to explore year round. In the summer months, when days are long, there are beaches, boating and watersport opportunities on the sea or at nearby lakes.
Helsinki has an interesting mix of various architectural styles including modern structures that are on the cutting edge of design. The city has a vibrant nightlife with many clubs, bars and late night eateries. The culinary scene is varied from the popular local hamburger chain, Hesburger, to Michelin-star restaurants. There is even a restaurant in the city centre decorated with rustic tables and old tractors serving traditional reindeer dishes. If you want to enjoy a beer while passing Helsinki’s main sights, you may be interested in the Sparakoff Pub Tram. The red colored tram with the destination board reading “PUB” takes about 45 minutes to make a round trip. Plenty of time to enjoy a beverage or two.
Inaugurated in 1868, the Uspenski Cathedral is the center of the Eastern Orthodox faith in Finland. The cathedral was built using 700,000 red bricks that were brought in by barge from a demolished fortress in the Baltic. Entrance to the cathedral is free, and about half a million tourists visit it annually to see the elaborately decorated interior and several valuable icons. The cathedral was built upon a hillside of the Katajanokka island, which forms the eastern side of the city center and the Helsinki harbour. Overlooking the city, the cathedral is a great place to start our journey through Helsinki.
Walking down from the cathedral to the waterfront, we immediately see the 40 meter tall Sky Wheel Helsinki. The wheel offers great views of the city, the sea and the surrounding islands. The wheel has two unique gondolas. One’s interior has leather seats with a glass floor and includes a bottle of champagne for a 30 minute ride. The other is the SkySauna. Yes, we all know Finns love their saunas, so why not combine a ferris wheel ride with a sauna.
Next to the wheel, we find the Allas Sea Pool which has three pools right in the Heslinki harbour. One pool is for lap swimming, one is for families and one is a salt water pool. The fresh water pools are heated, the salt water pool is not. In addition to the pools, there are saunas and a restaurant with terraces to enjoy the views. For those looking to experience a Finnish sauna, it’s a convenient location. If you have time, I would recommend the Löyly sauna which is located near the Tallin ferry terminal. There are many places in Helsinki offering a sauna, so finding one is easy.
Kauppatori Market Square
Taking one of the little bridges from Katajanokka island to the market square we will pass the yellow Presidential Palace. The former Russian imperial palace, contains the Office of the President of the Republic and is used for official functions and receptions. Continuing past the palace, we arrive at the Kauppatori Market Square. The square has been a marketplace for hundreds of years and is a popular tourist attraction. The year round market’s kiosks sell fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, handcrafts, clothing and souvenirs. There are also stands that sell prepared food and beverages. A warm bowl of salmon soup with rye bread or a plate of grilled fish with vegetables make a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch. The square faces the busy Port of Helsinki (Helsingen Satama) and from here you can take boat tours of the archipelago or to the Suomenlinna Island fortress. You can also see the huge Viking and Silja Line ferries arriving in the morning and departing in the evening for Stockholm.
The light blue Helsinki City Hall is located right in front of the Market Square. Taking a side street along the City Hall we will arrive at the expansive Senate Square with a statue of Russian Czar Alexander II at its centre. The white neo-classical Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral, built in 1852, dominates the north side of the square and towers over the city center. The west and east sides of the square have two similarly looking yellow buildings. The eastern building houses the offices of the prime Minister of Finland and the cabinet. The one on the west side is the main building of the University. North of the University building is the National Library of Finland. The ‘Sederholm house” on the southeast corner of the square is the oldest, built in 1757. The square is used for many events including art displays, food festivals, concerts, New Year’s celebrations and the Christmas market.
The Old Market Hall and the Esplanadi
Walking back towards the harbour, we will go past the market square on the west side of the harbour to Helsinki’s Old Market Hall. Open in 1889, it is Finland’s oldest indoor market. In the lively market you will find merchants selling meat, fish, shellfish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, spices, coffee, tea and even a small wine and spirits shop. The cafés and restaurants in the Old Market Hall are a great place to have a break from sightseeing or have a nice lunch.
After grabbing a coffee at the Market, we head back towards the market square and to an interesting fountain that was built in 1908. The Havis Amanda fountain has a nude female statue, often referred to as Manta, at the centre. It was created by Finnish artist Ville Vallgren at his studio in Paris, France. The fountain has four seals looking up to the sea nymph as she rises out of the water. The first of May is the start of the summer for students and in celebration they would don a white cap. Since the early days of the fountain, students have celebrated “May Day” by placing a cap on the head of Manta.
The Havis Amanda fountain sits at the foot of the National urban park called the Esplanadi. This elongated park, opened in 1818, has a wide pedestrian center with numerous benches and green space on either side. The historic Kappeli restaurant, open since 1867, and the Espa Stage, used for concerts, are at the eastern entrance to the Esplanadi. There are pieces of art throughout the Esplanadi including a statue of Finland’s national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, at the very centre of the park. At the western end of the park, we find the Swedish language theatre aptly named, the Swedish Theatre. Originally built in 1860, it burned down just three years later. In 1866, it was rebuilt in neo-classical style, but in 1935 it was renovated and the richly decorated exterior was changed by the architects to a simpler “functionalist” style.
The Esplanadi has a street on either side of the park and the surrounding buildings, especially on the north side, have upscale shopping and restaurants. On the north west end of the park just across the street from the Swedish Theatre is the Stockmann Department Store. The iconic Stockmann building, the largest department store in the Nordic countries, was built in 1930 and the brand’s history dates back to 1858.
The Central Station, Art and A Chapel of Silence
Turning right at the Mannerheimintie street, we walk about 200 meters to Kaivokatu street where we can see the train station on the right. The Helsinki Central Station is the main hub for commuter and long-distance trains for approximately 200,000 people per day. The impressive Finnish granite building was inaugurated in 1919 and has a pair of statues standing guard while holding spherical lamps on each side of the grand entrance. Along with the “stone men,” the station is known for the clock tower on its east side. The Helsinki Central Station has a city metro station, restaurants and an underground shopping centre.
Beyond the train station is a huge open space called the Rautatientori, or Railway Square. On the south side of the square is the Ateneum, the museum of Finnish and international art. The museum, in a beautiful 1887 building, has Finnish works of art from the 18th century to the 20th century and is one of the three museums that form the Finnish National Gallery. In addition to the extensive art from Finland, it has over 600 international pieces.
Going back on Kaivokatu street we cross Mannerheimintie street to Simonkatu street and walk about a block. We will see a curious looking oval cylindrical building with a wood exterior. This is the very unique Kamppi Chapel or the “Chapel of Silence.” The chapel holds up to 60 people and is intended to be a place of calm and silence in a busy urban centre. The chapel is free to visit during opening hours.
Parliament and Museum District & Rock Church
After enjoying a moment of silence, we make our way back to Mannerheimintie street and continue along it until we reach Mannerheim Square and the equestrian statue of Marshall Gustaf Mannerheim. The bronze statue of the Finnish military leader and statesman was erected in 1960. The statue sits in front of the Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art, which was built in 1990. Like the Ateneum, the Kiasma is part of the Finnish National Gallery. Near the Kiasma, you will find the architecturally striking Helsinki Central Library Oodi, the Helsinki Music Centre, the National Museum of Finland and the event and congress center, Finlandia Hall. Across the street from the Mannerheim statue, we also find the Finnish Parliament building. The red granite parliament building with fourteen Corinthian columns was built in 1931.
Only a couple of minutes walk from the Mannerheim Square is the Temppeliaukion Kirkko, which is better known as the Rock Church. Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969, the Lutheran church was built into solid rock, and is filled with natural light from the large skylight that leads up to the copper dome. The acoustics in the church are exceptional and it is frequently used for concerts. The exposed rock walls of the church create an interesting backdrop for the altar and an interesting contrast with the church organ with 3001 pipes. The church welcomes over half a million visitors a year.
The Sibelius Monument and the Olympic Stadium
West of Helsinki’s city center is Seurasaarenselkä Bay. On the eastern side of the bay, you will find Sibelius Park and the Sibelius Monument. The monument, made from more than 600 hollow steel pipes, is dedicated to Finland’s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius. He is noted for having encouraged, through his works, the rise of a Finnish national identity and independence from Russia. In the center of the bay is the densely forested Seurasaari island which is home to the Seurasaari Open-Air Musuem. The museum has transplanted wooden buildings from throughout Finland.
In 1952, Helsinki was the host city for the 15th Olympiad and is the northernmost city to host the summer Olympics. The flame was lit by Finland’s greatest Olympian, runner Paavo Nurmi, who won 9 gold and 3 silver medals at the 1920, 1924 and 1928 games. The Olympic Stadium is located only two kilometers north of the city centre and was originally built for the 1940 Olympics that were cancelled due to the second World War. The stadium has undergone renovations in the early 1990s, in 2005 for the World Championships in Athletics, and another renovation phase was scheduled to be completed in 2020. Over time, the stadium has gone from being able to host 70,000 spectators to just over 40,000. The stadium today hosts mainly soccer games, athletics competitions and concerts. The stadium’s 72 meter tower is a Helsinki landmark and its height is equal to the length of Matti Järvinen’s gold medal javelin throw in the 1932 Summer Olympics. The stadium visitor center is located at the foot of the tower. While in Finland, you may want to try the alcoholic “Long Drink” that was developed to serve visitors to the 1952 Olympics. Locally the Long Drink is called a “Lonkero” and the original, a mix of gin and grapefruit soda, is made by Hartwall.
Not far from the Olympic Stadium is the Linnanmäki amusement park, which opened in 1950. The park is owned by a non-profit agency that operates the park to raise funds for Finnish child welfare programs. South of the park is Töölö Bay with a surrounding green space, walking paths and two important cultural centres, the Helsinki City Theatre and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet.
A couple of kilometers north of Linnanmäki is the 14,000 seat Hartwall Arena, which is the home of the KHL’s Jokerit hockey team. The arena was built in 1997 and is used mostly for basketball, hockey and concerts. In 2016, we had a large group of Canadian hockey fans in Helsinki for the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, and the Hartwall Arena was the main venue for the tournament. Finland won gold with a team loaded with future NHLers Sebastian Aho, Patrick Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Kasperi Kapanen, Olli Juolevi and tournament MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. The atmosphere in the arena was electric with thousands of patriotic Finns erupting in joy at the final whistle. If Canada can’t win, the next best thing is to get caught up in the passion of the local fans.
In the fall of 2018, we had a group of Edmonton Oilers fans in Gothenburg, Sweden for the NHL season’s opening game against the New Jersey Devils. At the end of the tour, we took the overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. During our city tour, we stopped at the Hartwall arena and we surprised the group with a meeting with Oilers legend Jari Kurri. After many photos and autographs, Kurri, who was the General Manager of local team Jokerit, graciously talked hockey and watched practice with us.
The Suomenlinna, or Sveaborg, is an inhabited sea fortress built on eight islands south east of the city centre at the entrance to Helsinki harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it was originally founded by the Swedes in 1748, but in 1808, the fortress was overtaken by Russia. It remained in Russian control until Finnish independence in 1918. The fortress welcomes over half a million tourists and locals annually. The summer months are especially busy and Suomenlinna can be easily reached by a short ferry ride from Market Square.
There are just under 1000 permanent residents on Suomenlinna and just under 400 people who work on the island year-round. Some of the reconstruction of the fortifications and general maintenance is done by volunteer inmates, who are part of an on-site minimum-security penal labour colony. A guided visit to the fortress includes Great Castle Courtyard, Piper’s Park and the large Dry Dock. There are various museums at Suomenlinna including one detailing the life of Swedish officers in the 18th century, a toy museum, a military museum, a submarine museum and a customs museum. The main Suomenlinna Museum, located in the Suomenlinna Centre, details the history of the fortress and its restoration.
Ferry to Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga and St. Petersburg
Getting around the Baltic Sea is easy with the numerous daily sailings by large ferry boats that include onboard shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and cabin quarters for overnight trips.
From the Helsinki Harbour in the city center, there are two sailings per day to Stockholm, Sweden. The Tallink Silja line uses the Olympia Terminal on the west side of the harbour, while the Viking Line has their terminal on the east side of the harbour on Katajanokka island. The overnight ferries leave in the early evening, and arrive in Stockholm the next morning, about 17 hours later. Prices for a return trip are very affordable.
The newer West Harbour outside of the city center is where you can catch the numerous daily two hour ferries to Tallinn, Estonia. A day trip to Tallinn departing Helsinki in the morning and returning in the evening is common although I would recommend a stay in Tallinn if you have time. The West Harbour is also where you can take the St. Peters Ferry to St. Petersburg, Russia, and with a stay of less that 72 hours you can do it without a visa. These are the main ferry routes, but there may be ferry services to Latvia, Germany and other destinations available.
Lets Go To Helsinki
Even though Helsinki is young city by European standards, it is a great place to visit. In addition to the activities and sights I have outlined here, other parts of Finland, including Lapland, are worth exploring. I have found people in Finland to be friendly, warm, open and sincere. Finland is very safe, and the country regularly ranks high on the list of the best places to live in the world. With convenient and low cost travel by ferry to neighboring countries, it is an easy add to any itinerary of the Baltic region. I look forward to returning to Helsinki with a hockey or ringette group very soon, and in 2027, Finland is scheduled to host the World Juniors again.
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Summer Vacation Idea – Central Alberta’s collection of Train stations preserved along the Highway 56 Corridor
Article submitted by Paul O’Neil
For decades, the railroad station or “depot” was the transportation hub of many communities across North America. As the “storefront” for the railway company, the depot was the town’s gateway, handling express freight, serving travelers, and providing vital communication in an erathat is now almost forgotten. In Canada’s West, the remaining small-town depots that continue to exist are now museums, private businesses or residences, or in the worst cases have been left to deteriorate as hulks on private property.
There is however a special historical railway on the Prairies that has developed into a true “historic railway district”. A visit to the depots preserved by the Canadian Northern Society in Central Alberta provides a glimpse into the past – an entire collection of classic railroad station designs, carefully and lovingly maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers.
Members of the Canadian Northern Society include historians, community volunteers, gardeners, and other local supporters who have since 1987 been active in the preservation of its namesake railway’s history, and in particular its depots. The Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) traces its origins to Manitoba in 1896. Visionary founders Sir William Mackenzie and Sir Donald Mann – both instrumental as contractors in the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway – grew the company from a modest short line between Gladstone and the Dauphin district of Manitoba into to a 9500 mile transcontinental system.
Despite the relative business success of the CNoR’s branchline network, negative financial impacts created by the First World War, together with mounting debt from the over-expansion led to the company being nationalized in late 1918. By 1924, operations in Central Alberta were amalgamated with the rival Grand Trunk Pacific Railway under the newly formed Canadian National Railways (CN) banner.
Similar to other western railroads, the CNoR designed standard plans to be used at individual locations based on the size and importance of the locality to be served. In Alberta, the most common CNoR design was the combination freight and passenger “Third Class” station. Several “Second Class” depots intended primarily for divisional points were constructed, and a single-story “Fourth Class” depot design were also found. The designs were flexible enough that additions could be constructed as traffic or operations warranted. The distinctive pyramid or “semi-pyramid” roofline of a CNoR depot, a feature designed by company architect Ralph Benjamin Pratt, created a unique and pleasing image.
By the late 1960’s the depot-era on the former CNoR Battle River Subdivision (a large portion had by then been renamed the “Stettler Subdivision”) was drawing to a close. However, the presence of a branch line passenger service in the form of a Budd RDC service between Edmonton and Drumheller ensured the continued existence of several depots as passenger shelters that otherwise would most certainly face demolition. The Edmonton to Drumheller service lasted into VIA Rail Canada times until the Trudeau Government service cuts of November 1981 gutted passenger service across Canada.
ENTER THE CANADIAN NORTHERN SOCIETY
Meeting Creek, MP 21.2
By 1986, the CNoR Third Class depot at Meeting Creek was surviving on borrowed time, vandalized and yet escaping the fate of several identical structures in neighboring towns. As a result of an interest by a small group of younger railroaders and rail historians, powered perhaps by a few pints enjoyed in a Stettler pub, the Canadian Northern Society (CNoS) was soon established with the intent to save this classic structure from imminent destruction.
Armed with enthusiasm, some grant money, and the support of short-line Central Western Railway; the CNoS got to work repairing the roof, floors, rebuilding the wooden platform, painting, and replacing missing windows, doors and chimneys. By 1989 the Meeting Creek depot was resurrected from a sad state to her today’s 1940’s-era appearance.
Complimenting the station today is another vanishing prairie icon. A 1917 Alberta Pacific Grain elevator located across from the depot was purchased by CNoS from the Alberta Wheat Pool in 1992. Over the years, it too has been conserved by the Society and work continues into its second century. A second grain elevator, while privately owned, ensures that Meeting Creek continues to feature two classic prairie elevators that dominate the skyline in this picturesque location.
Donalda, MP 30.9:
9.7 miles south of Meeting Creek lies the Village of Donalda. Always an agrarian-based community, Donalda was never larger than 500 souls, and as such rated a Canadian Northern Railway “Third Class Depot”. Unfortunately, the original depot at Donalda was demolished in 1984.
Thanks to the efforts of the CNoS, the group was able to relocate an original CNoR “Fourth-Class” type depot, donated by a Saskatchewan farmer many miles to the east. All the Societyhad to do was physically move this building 700 miles from her location at Vandura, Saskatchewan to Donalda! Through fundraising and community support, the building was moved to Donalda in 1991. The depot was restored to her CN oxide red paint scheme, with cream trim on the windows and facia boards. The interior of the depot was refurbished to her heyday as a depot and is now included in the present-day collection of the Donalda & District Museum. Like Meeting Creek, a short section of original CNoR 60-pound steel main track remains preserved in front of the depot.
Warden MP 55.8:
Five miles south of Stettler is the one-time important junction of the CNoR Brazeau Subdivision, its westward extension into the coal fields at the foot of the Rockies. Originally, a “Fourth Class” station was located here, being destroyed by fire and replaced with a standard later version of the company’s “Third Class” design in 1919. This structure was sold and demolished in the 1980’s, and was recently replaced by a “representative” train order office/depot built entirely by CNoS volunteers, that features design features, artifacts, and “parts” of the original depot. It is used for educational purposes in a peaceful park-like setting along what is now short-line Alberta Prairie Railway.
Big Valley, MP 72.1:
Established in 1911, Big Valley was once hub of the division for the CNoR. By 1921 this one-time bustling terminal boasted well over 300 employees on payroll and featured a 10 stallroundhouse, coaling plant, water tank, and other terminal facilities. Big Valley’s 1912-built depot was a large “Second Class” design commonly constructed by the CNoR at divisionalpoints across the system. The main floor handled passenger and LCL business, while the second-floor housed accommodations for the agent – and later crews and offices.
The Big Valley depot was the second major conservation project for the Canadian Northern Society in 1989. Encouraged by the Village of Big Valley, CNoS began refurbishment of the station, and was able to raise funding from Alberta Historical Resources Foundation and various temporary job creation programs to restore the depot to today’s attractive 1940’s-era exterior appearance.
At the same time, short–line operator Central Western Railway was launching Alberta’s first tourist railroad service. Big Valley, like in her previous railroad life, again had the infrastructure to accommodate steam powered trains into the community. In addition, the 10-stall roundhouse,by then in ruins with only the concrete walls showing her prominence to the community was preserved as an interpretive park through the efforts of CNoS, Central Western, and the Village of Big Valley. Volunteers cleared and excavated the site, allowing the view of the ash and turntable pits, boiler room and machine shop. You can imagine the one-time bustling activity of Ten-Wheelers and Consolidations locomotives receiving service at the Roundhouse.
Big Valley today is the centerpiece of this rich CNoR heritage, plus a restored grain elevator to complete the scene of a bustling prairie railroad terminal. The Big Valley Historical Society also operates an excellent local museum in a classic garage on Railway Avenue, together with maintaining St. Edmund’s Church – a spiritual home of many of the community’s early railroaders. Serving as primary destination for Stettler based Alberta Prairie Railway, seasonal excursion trains arrive at Big Valley on a scheduled basis, where passengers spend a few hours in the community, experiencing the magic of its railway, ranching, and mining historical attractions.
Further along the line in the ghost town of Rowley is another preserved CNoR Third Class depot, built to a similar floor plan as Meeting Creek’s railway station. While not part of the Canadian Northern Society’s collection, it is certainly worth a visit while in historic “Rowleywood”.
In addition to its Stettler Subdivision projects, the Canadian Northern Society has and continues to support other railway preservation efforts.
Over the years the preservation of depots at Rowley, Smoky Lake, Viking, Canora in Saskatchewan, and Dauphin in Manitoba have all been supported by CNoS. A roundhouse project at the former CNoR divisional point of Hanna has also been aided by the CNoS. While the 1909 Viking depot is in fact a rival GTP station, the CNoS was instrumental in its 1991 preservation – and remarkably you can still catch a train here – with VIA Rail Canada’s flagship train “The Canadian” stopping upon request.
The CNoS collection of depots and the corresponding regional history that they represent has become part of the historical fabric of Western Canada. It is proud to have left this legacy – and its true hope is that future generations will continue to be educated by its efforts, and will perhaps contribute to the further preservation of each of these wonderful historic structures.
This summer the Canadian Northern Railway Historical Society invites you to visit these historic buildings along Alberta’s Highway 56 corridor.
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