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Alberta

The Canadian Northern Railway’s legacy at Big Valley, Alberta.

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By Shawn I. Smith, Canadian Northern Society

“The newly constructed train station circa 1913, Big Valley. Photo- Canadian Northern Society Archives

 

It’s a Saturday afternoon in June in the quiet Village of Big Valley. Visitors admire the splendid heritage railway depot and gardens at the end of main street. Two blocks south is a historic grain elevator – a classic Canadian symbol standing tall above the prairie landscape. To the east across the tracks are large stark concrete walls, visibly reminiscent of Stonehenge. “What are those curious walls?” is often asked. Then the sound of a locomotive whistle breaks the silence, creating a scene out of the 1950’s when a vintage passenger train pulls into town, and the train crew scurries about on the platform unloading its cheerful patrons.

“Visitors explore the Big Valley Roundhouse Ruins” Photo- Canadian Northern Society Archives

While not obvious to the guests who have enjoyed the 21-mile excursion train ride from Stettler aboard the Alberta Prairie Railway, the scene that unfolds on summer days in Big Valley is part of a legacy left by two dynamic railroaders who over a century earlier had an ambitious and grand vision for Western Canada. Today, both active and abandoned rail lines in central Alberta, related historic structures and sites, and indeed the communities that owe their existence to the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) share this common heritage.

Since the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, railways have been inextricably linked with the development of western Canada. After Confederation the new Dominion Government quickly recognized that without railways real settlement would not take place in the sparsely populated North West.

Energy, Enterprise, and Ability

“The Canadian Northern Railway lines map, 1916” Map- Atlas of Alberta Railways

The CNoR (Canadian Northern Railway) was a product of two Canadian-born railroaders with CPR roots. William Mackenzie and Donald Mann met during the 1880’s while the senior road was under construction in the Selkirk Mountains. Their “Energy, Enterprise, and Ability” – which would become the railway’s motto would lead to a partnership in contracting, steamship lines, and a 9,500-mile transcontinental railway empire that served seven provinces and included the Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific Railway in the U.S. The two were knighted for their achievements in 1911.
Branch lines were the key to the CNoR strategy.The Vegreville to Calgary branch – chartered in February 1909 by CNoR subsidiary Alberta Midland Railway – was the company’s key north-south spine through Alberta. The portion between Vegreville and Drumheller was opened for service in 1911. While it had the appearance of a typical prairie branch line, its primary purpose was to carry steam and domestic heating coal from mines at Brazeau and Drumheller to growing prairie markets.
The fact that the line traversed a region of great agricultural potential for both grain and cattle farming was an added benefit. In typical fashion, grain elevators were located every five to ten miles – the distance being established around the practical ability for a livestock team to haul a load of grain and return in one day’s time from the growing number of homesteads clustered around each delivery point.
The Battle River Subdivision along with further line completions in 1914 to Calgary and Strathcona respectively provided the CNoR with an effective intercity freight route, albeit longer than those of its competitors.
The Brazeau Branch, extending 176 miles west from the junction at Warden to the Nordegg Collieries was extremely important to the CNoR which depended largely on this supply of steam coal for terminals across the West. The subsequent extension of the Goose Lake line at Munson became an important link from Calgary to Saskatoon. All of these CNoR lines were financed using provincial bond guarantees.

“Bustling Big Valley railroad yard, roundhouse, 1920’s” Photo- Canadian Northern Society Archives

By May of 1912 mixed trains crewed by Big Valley men were running north to Vegreville and south to Drumheller. Another run to Rocky Mountain House was added in June. A Second Class depot was erected that year and a five-stall roundhouse and turntable were complete by April of 1913.
By late 1913 a Railway Post Office Car service had been established on the line, and Big Valley was home to 14 locomotives and an equal amount of engine service and train crews. Assistant Superintendent Thomas Rourke oversaw terminal operations that included a train dispatching office.
By September 1917 fourteen mines were operating in the Drumheller Valley producing 250 carloads of coal every 24 hours. Drumheller was without question the “Powerhouse of the West.” Big Valley’s railroaders were kept busy 24 hours a day operating the trains that pulled the coal out of the valley.

“Train time at Big Valley. A Southbound train at Big Valley, 1920’s.” Photo- Canadian Northern Society Archives

After being selected as the CNoR terminal, Big Valley boomed. By 1919, its population had increased to over 1025, with some 325 souls working for the CNoR. At its peak, the company’s payroll included 26 train and engine crews, a shop staff of 40, and a Bridge and Building crew averaging 45 employees, managed by Frank Dewar. There were 8 sectionmen, and at the station an Agent, operators round the clock, yard clerks, and the train dispatcher. Four to five carman conducted car repairs and inspections.
Coal from Brazeau was piled in a huge stockpile almost a block long on the east side of the yard. A gravel pit operation north of town at Caprona was established to provide aggregate for line ballasting on all of the CNoR area lines. Steam shovels kept this operation steady, mining volumes often equating to 100 carloads per day.
Big Valley’s early railroaders were a colourful lot. Many came and went, and with the Big Valley collieries in production by 1914 shipping coal as far east as Ontario – night life in town could be wild. Assistant Superintendent Rourke, a former baseball player in the Detroit Tigers minor league system, was responsible for putting together the “Big Valley Bugs” – made up almost entirely of railroaders – who in 1918 put together a resounding victory over the high-flying Edmonton Red Sox.

The National

During the First World War, financial problems caught up with Mackenzie and Mann and their rapidly expanding enterprise. Despite profitable western lines such as the Vegreville and Brazeau branches, lack of traffic on the transcontinental lines, burdensome debt, and the negative impacts of the War would result in the company being “nationalized” by the Dominion Government in 1918. The rival Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) Railway would fare even worse, having been placed into receivership in 1919. These events led to the creation of today’s Canadian National (CN).
The new CN was confronted with the task of rationalizing the CNoR and GTP lines throughout western Canada. Consolidation was affected by the elimination of duplicate facilities and improving services by combining portions of the former competing lines. Construction of track connections joining the Brazeau branch with he former GTP Tofield to Calgary line at Alix were opened for service in 1922.
Connections were also made between the Battle River Subdivision and the former GTP mainline at Ryley. Geographically the GTP divisional point at Mirror was seen as central to the operations of the Brazeau branch vs. Big Valley. Coal that had originally moved over the Brazeau line to Warden then northward was now diverted over the new connection at Alix via Mirror which became the new home terminal for crews running west.
The new routing via Alix saved a distance of over 50 miles between Brazeau and Saskatoon. The former GTP south of Camrose also became the CN’s north-south main line through Alberta.

“The end of daily passenger train service between Edmonton – Drumheller. VIA Rail’s Dayliner at Big Valley, 1981” Photo-Charles Bohi

This consolidation led to the significant decline of Big Valley as a railway town. While the company kept a small number of train crews assigned to both freight and passenger service, by 1925 the exodus to Mirror, Edmonton, Drumheller, and Hanna began. It was reported that over 100 railroaders’ homes were moved out of the village, some of which continue to exist in Mirror today. In what was known as the “Battle of Big Valley” – the unions fought the company’s decision hard but were left with little compensation for their relocation expenses after the issue went to arbitration in the late-1920’s with the decision going with the company. By the onset of the depression, Big Valley’s population had dropped by some 500 souls to 445.
It is without question that the old Canadian Northern Railway’s reason for existence in central Alberta has changed dramatically since its arrival in 1910. Coal is no longer used to heat our homes – and in fact its use is considered sinful by some!
Packages ride on trucks, and people drive their own cars and trucks instead of riding mixed trains and Nos. 25 and 26 to get to Calgary or Edmonton.
While huge volumes of grain still move on trains – these are now loaded in modern high capacity elevators capable of loading 100 cars or more in 12 hours or less. The original steel rails that remain in service between Stettler and Big Valley are therefore of historic testament to Mackenzie and Mann and their great accomplishment. In fact, this section of track is the sole operating survivor of many similar “60-pound” branch lines that have now been re-laid or abandoned across the prairies. And almost incredibly one can still experience a passenger train ride over these vintage rails, pulling into Big Valley just as travellers did one hundred years ago.

Canadian Northern Society

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Alberta

Battle of Alberta starts with a bang as Flames down Oilers 9-6 to open playoff series

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By Donna Spencer in Calgary

Matthew Tkachuk scored a hat trick for the Calgary Flames in Wednesday’s 9-6 win over the Edmonton Oilers to open their playoff series.

The NHL’s first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years compensated for its long absence with an abundance of goals in Game 1.

Blake Coleman scored twice for the Flames. Rasmus Andersson and Andrew Mangiapane each had a goal and two assists.

Elias Lindholm and Brett Ritchie also scored for Calgary while goaltender Jacob Markstrom stopped 22 shots for the win.

Zach Hyman scored twice for Edmonton. Connor McDavid produced his fourth straight multi-point game in the playoffs with a goal and three assists.

Edmonton’s captain leads the league’s post-season points race with five goals and 13 assists.

Leon Draisaitl had a goal and two assists and Kailer Yamamoto and Evan Bouchard also scored for the Oilers.

Edmonton starter Mike Smith was pulled in the first period after allowing three Calgary goals on 10 shots. Mikko Koskinen made 32 saves in relief.

The winner of the best-of-seven series advances to the Western Conference final.

Game 2 is Friday at the Saddledome before the series heads to Edmonton for Sunday’s Game 3 and Tuesday’s Game 4.

Teams that take a 1-0 lead in a best-of-seven series hold a series record of 503-232 (.684), according to NHL statisticians.

In a matchup of potent offences, the question ahead of the series was which team could keep the puck on its sticks and spend more time in the offensive zone.

Calgary dominated that department early. The Flames scored twice in a 25-second span in the first minute and led 3-0 by 6:05 when Smith was replaced by Koskinen.

Calgary’s two goals in the opening 51 seconds was the fastest two goals to start an NHL playoff game, and electrified a sea of red dotted with Oiler orange and blue at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Oilers would not go quietly, however.

The Flames had survived a goaltender-dominated, grinding series with the Dallas Stars in the first round.

Wednesday’s Game 1 was, by contrast, an open-ice track meet of mediocre goaltending. The Flames held a 40-18 edge in shots after two periods, but led 6-5 heading into the third.

Edmonton’s Yamamoto briefly tied the game at 1:28 putting McDavid’s rebound over Markstrom’s outstretched pad.

Andersson regained the lead for Calgary at 2:57. Mangiapane from behind the net fed the all-alone defenceman whose wrist shot beat Koskinen’s glove.

Tkachuk gave the Flames a two-goal lead at 8:55 with his second of the night. He snared a Draisaitl turnover at the blue line and beat Koskinen five-hole on a breakaway.

Tkachuk scored into an empty net to complete his hat trick. Hats rained down onto the Saddledome ice and chants of “we want 10” goals soon followed.

Draisaitl pulled the visitors within a goal at 19:21 of the second period when he beat Markstrom far side on an odd-man rush with McDavid.

Hyman scored at 9:38 and 14:06 of the second period. He circled out from behind the net and whipped the puck by Markstrom’s glove for his second.

Hyman skated the puck into Calgary’s end, stopped and got a shot away between defenceman Michael Stone’s legs that deflected off Markstrom and into the top corner for his first.

Tkachuk batted in a rebound for a power-play goal at 8:24 after Bouchard converted a McDavid pass at 7:10. McDavid spun off of Dillon Dube to get a cross-ice pass away to Bouchard.

Zack Kassian’s roughing penalty after Bouchard’s goal gave Calgary the man-advantage for Tkachuk’s goal.

Coleman struck 45 seconds into the second period and again at 6:10 for a 5-1 Flames lead.

He redirected a Noah Hanifin shot for his second goal and put a rebound over a prone Koskinen during a scramble around the crease for his first.

McDavid glided in front of the net and patiently waited for Markstrom to commit before tucking the puck between the goalie’s pads at 7:41 of the first period.

Ritchie scored his first career playoff goal at 6:05. He knocked Edmonton’s Evander Kane off the puck at the Oilers’ blue line, reached to collect the loose puck and got a shot away under Smith’s arm.

From behind the net, Backlund dished to an undefended Mangiapane in the slot for the latter to beat Smith from close range 51 seconds after opening puck drop.

Lindholm converted Calgary’s first shot of the game into a goal 26 seconds after opening faceoff. He settled a bouncing puck off a cross-ice dish from Rasmus Andersson and swept it far side over Smith’s glove.

The Flames were minus top shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev a second straight playoff game. He was injured in Game 6 of Calgary’s first-round series against Dallas.

Tanev skated in both Tuesday’s practice and in Wednesday’s morning skate, but did not dress for Game 1.

Notes: With his 94th career playoff win as a head coach, Darryl Sutter joined Pat Quinn ranked No. 6 all-time . . . With three assists in Game 1, Johnny Gaudreau joined Jarome Iginla and Martin Gelinas (2004) among Flames to carry a six-game point streak in the playoffs . . . McDavid was the first Oiler to score a goal in four straight post-season games since Michael Peca and Shawn Horcoff in 2006 . . . The red lot fan zone adjacent to the Saddledome was closed Wednesday because of high winds . . . Game 1 was the highest scoring playoff game involving Calgary and Edmonton surpassing the previous high of 12 goals scored in Game 3 of the 1983 Smythe Division final.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.

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Alberta

This is what Jason Kenney said as he stepped down as Premier of Alberta

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Premier Jason Kenney’s address starts at the 10 minute mark and only lasts for 4 minutes.

From the Facebook page of Jason Kenney

 

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