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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.  

Alberta

Canadian men to face Ireland in Edmonton rugby sevens quarterfinal

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EDMONTON — Canada will play Ireland in the Cup quarterfinals Sunday after winning two of three on Day 1 of the HSBC Canada Sevens.

The Canadian men, who finished sixth last week at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event in Vancouver, opened play Saturday by beating Hong Kong 21-12 and Mexico 47-0 before running into a South Africa buzzsaw in the closing match of the day at Commonwealth Stadium. The Blitzboks, who downed Kenya to win the Vancouver tournament, ran in seven converted tries in a 49-0 win.

South Africa is now 9-0-0 in the two Canadian events, which stand as a truncated 2021 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series due to the pandemic. The 2022 campaign kicks off in late November in Dubai.

Earlier, Canada’s Josiah Morra, Phil Berna and Brennig Prevost scored tries against Hong Kong with Prevost adding three conversions.

Thomas Isherwood, in his World Series debut, had three tries in the lopsided win over Mexico while Anton Ngongo and Ciaran Breen had two apiece.

Pool A winner South Africa will play Hong Kong in the quarterfinals while the U.S. takes on Britain and Germany meets Vancouver runner-up Kenya.

Germany, an invited team, scored the upset of the day by beating Vancouver bronze medallist Britain 19-10 to reach a Series Cup quarterfinal for the first time.

The U.S. went unbeaten Saturday, overcoming Kenya, Spain and Chile to win Pool B. Ireland secured top spot in pool C with two wins and a draw.

Canada is fielding a new-look team at the Vancouver and Edmonton events.

Co-captains Nate Hirayama and Harry Jones along with Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor have retired in the wake of the recent Tokyo Games, where the men finished eighth in their Olympic debut. 

Other players are taking time off in advance of the 2022 season. 

Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe are the only Olympians on the current Canadian squad although Morra has also played in the World Series. Thiel is serving as the team’s vice-captain. 

Due to the pandemic, the World Series ground to a halt after the Canadian men finished third in Vancouver in March 2020. The men got in six of 10 planned tournaments and the women five of eight before the schedule stalled. A women’s event in Langford, B.C., scheduled for early May last year was one of the tournaments cancelled. 

Only seven of the men’s core teams are taking part in the Canadian events with New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France and Samoa among those missing due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. 

Like Vancouver, Edmonton has a four-team women’s competition that features Canada, Britain, Mexico and the U.S. 

Canada will face the U.S. in Sunday’s semifinal after drawing 26-26 in the opening match of the day. The Canadian women also defeated Mexico 40-12 and played to a 7-7 tie with Britain, the winners in Vancouver who will face Mexico in the other semifinal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2021

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Judge says unvaccinated prospective jurors in sex assault trial will be excused

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CALGARY — An Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice has ruled that prospective jurors in an upcoming sexual assault trial in Calgary will be excused if they’re not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Justice N.E. Devlin wrote in his ruling Thursday that allowing unvaccinated people to serve on the jury could unfairly compromise the health of other jurors, court staff and anyone else connected with the trial.

Further, Devlin said an unvaccinated juror could be a distraction to other jurors by causing them to fear for their health, and he said a juror who developed symptoms could scupper the entire proceedings.

A recent decision in Ontario saw an Ottawa judge rule that all jurors participating in a murder trial would need to be fully inoculated with two doses of vaccine.

But a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month that a juror did not need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in a Montreal fraud trial, citing privacy concerns and jury representativeness in his ruling.

Devlin, however, wrote that during juror selection for the sexual assault trial in Calgary this week, the “handful” of people who were not fully vaccinated “spanned the age, gender, and ethnic spectrum” and that excusing them would not reduce the jury’s representativeness.

“Factually, I am satisfied that vaccination is a safe and highly effective means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the development of COVID 19 infections, and severe illness in those who do become infected,” Devlin wrote.

“The public and judicial resources dedicated to a jury trial are both scarce and precious, especially right now. Needlessly increasing the risk that a trial run under these circumstances is aborted due to a COVID 19 infection would bring the administration of justice into disrepute in the eyes of the public.” 

A decision from B.C. Supreme Court last month did not allow the Crown to ask jurors questions about their vaccination status, citing privacy.

Devlin wrote that “judicial discretion to safeguard the proper administration of justice is paramount over any provincial privacy legislation.”

He noted that when he asked whether unvaccinated jurors should be excused from serving, neither the Crown nor the accused took a position.

In the Quebec case, Justice Mario Longpre noted that provincial jury law only allows those with mental incapacity or impairment to be exempted.

Longpre wrote that Quebec law, unlike Ontario’s, does not permit jurors to be disqualified by reason of physical incapacity “even if it were to be concluded that the fact of not being adequately vaccinated constitutes such an incapacity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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