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Alberta

Summer Vacation Idea – Central Alberta’s collection of Train stations preserved along the Highway 56 Corridor

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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.

History Background:

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.

DEPOTS

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

My beautiful picture

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, shortline 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”.

Other Projects

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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Alberta

Alberta government says jobs, economy, COVID to be focus of fall legislature sitting

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EDMONTON — The Alberta government plans a busy fall legislature sitting aimed at adding jobs and diversifying the economy while focusing on tamping down the renewed surge of COVID-19.

Government house leader Jason Nixon says this will include proposed legislation on recognizing professional credentials to address labour shortages. The bill will be introduced by Premier Jason Kenney.

“Our focus will be on Alberta’s workforce, a couple of bills around diversifying the economy, a big focus on building infrastructure for our future, (and) growing our resources, particularly on the energy side,” Nixon said in an interview Friday.

There will also be new initiatives on environmental protection and conservation.

Nixon said there will be 18 to 20 bills for the sitting, which begins Monday and is scheduled to run to the first week of December. 

“It’s a very robust fall agenda,” he said.

Nixon said the government will continue to take steps to reduce COVID-19 cases, which have severely stressed the health system.

No COVID-19-specific bills are planned, he said, noting they were passed in previous sittings. 

“There’s certainly other stuff to be done to manage the pandemic … but we’ll stand ready if Alberta Health needs us to pass any legislation to deal with the pandemic.”

He said debate in the chamber is expected to return to some semblance of normalcy.

In the spring sitting, both the United Conservative government and the Opposition NDP reduced their numbers in the chamber to prevent the spread of the virus. 

This time, with all NDP members and all but one on the UCP side vaccinated, all will be allowed back in for debate.

The lone UCP member has a medical exemption and will be tested regularly, said Nixon.

He said there are still masking rules and members will try to maintain distancing where possible.

The NDP said it plans to hold the government accountable for what went disastrously wrong on COVID-19.

“This fall sitting of the legislature will be laser-focused on getting answers from the UCP on why they’ve failed Albertans so miserably in managing the devastating fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Christina Gray, the NDP house leader.

“Since July 15, more than 85,000 additional Albertans have been infected with the virus and 700 have died.”

Gray said the NDP will call for an all-party inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic with the power to compel documents and testimony.

Nixon said the government will not agree to such a motion. He said it would be wrong to redeploy vital health resources right now and that Kenney has promised an eventual review of how the province handled the pandemic.

Kenney has also promised to bring forward a motion to ratify and act on the results of Monday’s provincewide referendum on Canada’s equalization program.

Final results aren’t in from Edmonton, but figures from Calgary and other cities suggest the referendum will pass with about 60 per cent in support of urging the federal government to remove the principle of equalization from the Constitution.

Kenney has said the issue is not about removing equalization, something no province can do unilaterally, but about getting leverage to negotiate other issues surrounding federal transfers to attain a better deal with Ottawa.

Political scientist Jared Wesley said Kenney will likely continue to focus on initiatives such as the equalization referendum, if only to change the narrative on his low popularity ratings.

“The premier will be spending most of his time, if he has anything to say about it, outside the province, stumping for this fair deal,” said Wesley, with the University of Alberta.

COVID-19 numbers have been trending down in recent weeks. But Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, say the situation remains precarious.

On Friday, there were just over 10,000 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And there were 191 COVID-19 patients in intensive care. 

Alberta’s fourth wave troubles began after Kenney lifted almost all COVID-19 related health restrictions as of July 1, boasting that the pandemic had moved to the “endemic” phase and there was no need to plan for a renewed case surge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘You’re looking at it:’ Undercover officer says suspect led them to burial site

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CALGARY — A Calgary man who killed his girlfriend and is on trial for the murder of her young daughter took undercover officers in the middle of the night to a remote, snow-covered area where they were buried.

Robert Leeming, who is 36, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Jasmine Lovett and not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson.

The mother and toddler were reported missing in April of 2019 after they didn’t show up for a family dinner.

Court heard this week that Leeming was befriended by two undercover officers, who told him they had retrieved a bag of evidence from a nosy neighbour.

They offered to help him with his problems — including removing the bodies of Lovett and her daughter, who were in a shallow grave under a pile of mulch and branches in a day-use area west of Calgary.

One of the officers testified that Leeming knew exactly where the bodies were.

The officer said they went to the area in the early morning of May 6, 2019, and walked a short distance on foot.

“I said, ‘OK, where to?’ And (Leeming) goes, ‘You’re looking at it.’ And he points down. And underneath and against my left foot were branches and a pile,” said the officer.

“(Leeming) goes and he grabs a branch and lifts it up as if to prove what’s underneath all these branches. As he does that, I see a small bit of blue that I believe to be the moving blankets.”

Investigators previously testified that the mother and child were doused in gasoline and wrapped in blue blankets before they were covered in dirt, mulch and branches.

The trial also heard that Lovett had skull fractures and was shot in the head. Aliyah died of blunt force head trauma.

The officer said Leeming boasted about steps he had taken to hinder a possible police investigation — including hiding wads of raw bacon around his house to throw off cadaver dogs and filling the back of his car with mulch.

“Well, mulch is death, right? So it smells like death,” Leeming told the officers in a tape recording played in court.

“You cleaned that car up good?” asked the undercover officer.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied.

The officer said Leeming also expressed relief that his 2014 Mercedes seized by police was an older model.

“It’s funny ’cause they were telling me the Mercedes, they pretty much can hook up to the computer in the car and know exactly where I’ve been,” Leeming said with a laugh.

“It’s too old a car. If it was an ’18, then I’d be in jail.”

The prosecution was expected to wrap up its case Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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