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.
Premier Smith reacts to Liberal Government’s announcement on new methane reduction targets at COP 28
Federal methane emissions targets: Joint statement
“Once again, the federal government is setting unrealistic targets and timelines. Infrastructure can only be updated as quickly as technology allows. For example, Alberta will not accept nor impose a total ban on flaring at this time, as it is a critical health and safety practice during production. Any regulation that completely prohibits this is putting lives at risk”
Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz issued the following statement on the federal government’s proposed methane emissions regulations:
“The federal government has unilaterally established new methane emissions rules and targets to help win international headlines. Instead of building on Alberta’s award-winning approach, Ottawa wants to replace it with costly, dangerous and unconstitutional new federal regulations that won’t benefit anyone beyond Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault’s post-office career.
“Managing emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas industry is our constitutional right and responsibility, not Ottawa’s, and we are getting the job done. Using a province-led approach, Alberta has already reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 45 per cent – hitting our target three years early – and we’re just getting started.
“Meanwhile, not only is it illegal for Ottawa to attempt to regulate our industries in this manner, Ottawa also hasn’t even hit one of its past arbitrary and unscientific emissions targets largely because it has little to no credible expertise regulating the natural resource, agricultural and other industry sectors in this space.
“Ottawa could have helped us keep reducing emissions with joint incentive programs in line with Alberta’s Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan. It could have listened to the Supreme Court’s declaration that the Impact Assessment Act was unconstitutional and abandoned this kind of arrogant and ineffective scheme. Instead, these new regulations threaten our successful province-led approach and impede good work that’s already underway.
“Once again, the federal government is setting unrealistic targets and timelines. Infrastructure can only be updated as quickly as technology allows. For example, Alberta will not accept nor impose a total ban on flaring at this time, as it is a critical health and safety practice during production. Any regulation that completely prohibits this is putting lives at risk. A total ban would also be costly, resulting in shut-ins and loss of production.
“This approach will also cost tens of billions in infrastructure upgrades, yet Ottawa has provided virtually no financial support to do so. Thousands of Albertans could be put out of work in the coming years due to these costly regulations. A federal government willing to invest $37.7 billion into just three battery plants in Ontario and Quebec cannot credibly refuse to provide tax credits and financial incentives for producers in Alberta and Saskatchewan to assist with achieving a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
“For years, Alberta, not Ottawa, has done the hard work and achieved results. We strongly support reducing methane emissions and have invested tens of millions into developing these technologies. Minister Guilbeault must work with us, and not against us, to keep cutting methane emissions and charting a course for carbon neutrality by 2050.
“Given the unconstitutional nature of this latest federal intrusion into our provincial jurisdiction, our government will use every tool at our disposal to ensure these absurd federal regulations are never implemented in our province.”
Alberta’s Methane Target Reached Early
Gas processing plant in northwest Alberta, courtesy of EnergyNow
Courtesy of ENERGYminute
See more articles and infographics from ENERGYminute HERE
In a pat-yourself-on-the-back moment, Alberta’s oil and gas industry successfully achieved a 45 percent reduction in methane emissions, surpassing the province’s mandated target ahead of schedule.
Background: Alberta was the first province in Canada to commit to a 45 percent reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2025, based on 2014 levels. Spoiler alert: Alberta achieved its methane mission three years early.
- Their targeted approach to reducing methane emissions from flaring, venting and fugitives has become an example globally, earning national and international awards for its effectiveness and cost-efficiency.
Alberta strong: The government credited the early success to close collaboration with the industry, implementing early action programs such as carbon offsets, tough regulations for all facilities, and enhanced leak detection and repair methods.
Minister of Environment Rebecca Schulz highlighted that this made-in-Alberta approach not only achieved the goal three years ahead of schedule but also resulted in roughly $600 million in savings for the industry compared to the proposed federal program.
Getting the job done: Alberta allocated $57 million from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction fund for methane emissions programs, including:
- $25 million in rebates to companies adopting emissions reduction equipment.
- $17 million supporting alternatives to detecting and quantifying emissions.
- $15 million to help small- and medium-sized operators assess methane reduction opportunities.
Overall, the initiatives eliminated 16.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere.
Looking ahead: Alberta is committed to building on this momentum and collaborating with industry experts to determine the next steps in their emissions reduction journey, aligning with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
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