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How the Railroads Shaped Red Deer

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A crowd gathered at the Red Deer train station to provide a sendoff for members of “C” Squadron of the 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment. Heading off to join WWI in May 1915. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P2603

Rivers, creeks and streams have shaped the land for eons, slowly carving away earth to reveal the terrain we know today. Much of the same can be said for the impact and influence that railways had in shaping the size and shape and even the very location of what is now the City of Red Deer. 

Prior to the construction of the Calgary and Edmonton railway, which started heading north from Calgary in 1890, what we now recognize as the bustling city of Red Deer was unbroken and forested land. The nearest significant settlement was the crossing for the C&E Trail of the Red Deer River, very close to where the historic Fort Normandeau replica stands today. 

Small town of Red Deer from along the Calgary and Edmonton Railway line looking north circa 1900. The Arlington Hotel and the CPR station can be seen. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P4410

 

Above left: The Canadian Northern Railway excavating grade along the side of North Hill of Red Deer, AB in 1911. Using the steam shovel Bucyrus and trains. Photo P782. Above right: Workers building the Canadian National Railway trestle bridge at Burbank siding near Red Deer, AB, 1924. P7028. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

Reverend Leonard Gaetz whose land formed the townsite for Red Deer. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. P2706

Navigating how to handle crossing the Red Deer River would be a significant challenge for construction of the railway route. Initially, the route was planned to take the tried-and-true path that had served animals, first nations people and fur traders for centuries, past the Red Deer River settlement. Yet just as the mighty river powerfully shaped the contours and dimensions of the land, the future site of Red Deer would be singlehandedly determined by Reverend Leonard Gaetz.

Rev. Gaetz offered James Ross, President of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway company,  land from his personal farmlands for the river crossing and the townsite for Red Deer.  Ross accepted and history was forever shaped by the decision, as what is now home to more than 100,000 people grew steadily outward starting at the C&E Railway train station. 

A steam engine pulling a passenger train, likely near Penhold, AB, sometime between 1938 and 1944. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. Photo P3595.

The rails finally reached the Red Deer area in November of 1890 and trains soon began running south to Calgary. By 1891, the Calgary and Edmonton railway was completed north to Strathcona. Alberta gained one of its most vital transportation corridors and the province would thrive from this ribbon of steel rails.

CPR Station in 1910

Over time, the C&E railyards grew and expanded to accommodate the demand for moving more and more commodities like grain, coal, lumber and business and household items along with passengers. Those passengers were the pioneer settlers who would make Red Deer the commercial hub that it remains to this day.

Alberta-Pacific Elevator Co. Ltd. No. 67 elevator and feed mill, circa 1910. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives Photo P3884.

For nearly 100 years, the downtown was intimately connected with the railway in the form of hotels built to welcome travelers, grain elevators, warehouses, factories and the facilities required to service the locomotives and equipment that operated the trains. Tracks and spurs dominated the downtown area, especially after the advent of the Alberta Central Railway and the arrival of the Canadian Northern Western Railway (later absorbed into Canadian National railways).

Left: Aerial view of downtown and the railyards in1938. Note old CPR bridge over the Red Deer River along with the old CNR bridge that was demolished in 1941. P2228 Centre: CPR Track at south end of Red Deer, circa 1904 or 1905. P8060 Right: CPR depot water tower and round house in 1912. P3907. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

 

Left: CPR downtown railyards in 1983. Photo S490. Right: Southbound morning Chinook train at the CPR station in the summer of 1939. P13391. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

By the 1980s, the ever-present tracks and downtown railyard were seen as an industrial blight in the heart of the city that the railway created so funding was sought and plans were made to relocate the now Canadian Pacific rails from their historical home to a new modern yard northwest of the city. 

This was actually the second relocation of tracks from downtown as the Canadian National railway tracks were removed in 1960 which permitted the development along 47th Avenue south of the Red Deer River.

This massive project opened up the Riverlands district downtown to new developments which included condominiums, grocery stores, restaurants and professional buildings. Taylor Drive was built following the old rail line corridor and removal of the tracks in Lower Fairview meant residents wouldn’t hear the rumble of trains in their community anymore. 

Just as the waters gradually shaped the places we know now, the railways definitely forged Red Deer into the vibrant economic hub of central Alberta that it remains today. 

The 45th Street overpass across the CPR tracks. This was demolished in 1992. Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives. Photo S8479.

We hope you enjoyed this story about our local history.  Click here to read more history stories on Todayville.

History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

Visit the City of Red Deer Archives to browse through the written, photographic and audio history of Red Deer. Read about the city and surrounding community and learn about the people who make Red Deer special.

My name is Ken Meintzer.  I’m a storyteller with a love of aviation and local history. In the 1990’s I hosted a popular kids series in Alberta called Toon Crew.

I'm a storyteller with a love of aviation and local history. In the 1990's I hosted a popular kids series in Alberta called Toon Crew.

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Alberta

'Life consuming': Alberta Crown stays charges against parents in toddler's death

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Crown prosecutors have stayed charges against parents who were facing a third trial in the death of their toddler in southern Alberta. 

Shawn Buckley, a lawyer for David and Collet Stephan, said Tuesday he received a letter from the Crown about the decision. 

“The Crown dropped the charges,” Buckley told The Canadian Press. 

“Obviously they’re very relieved that the Crown is not proceeding against them to try and convict them.” 

A copy of the letter from Chief Prosecutor Shelley Bykewich directs the Lethbridge court to stay charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life against the Stephans.

No reason for the decision was given and Alberta Justice did not immediately respond to a request to explain why.

David Stephan said it has been nine years since his son Ezekiel died and it was eight years ago he and his wife were charged.

“It has been absolutely life consuming,” Stephan said in an interview.

“It’s somewhat of a relief in relation to not going back to trial again although there was a part of me as well that would have liked to go back to trial and been able to dig in more to the missing evidence and all that we still haven’t had provided to us eight years into it.”

Stephan successfully represented himself at the second trial.

The Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in 2012. 

Over the course of their trials, the Stephans testified that they initially thought Ezekiel had croup, an upper airway infection, and treated him with natural remedies, including a smoothie with tinctures of garlic, onion and horseradish. 

They said he appeared to be recovering at times and saw no reason to take him to hospital, despite his having a fever and lacking energy. 

They called an ambulance when the boy stopped breathing. 

A jury convicted them in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that verdict and ordered a second trial. A judge hearing the case without a jury found them not guilty in 2019. 

The Alberta Court of Appeal granted a request by the Crown earlier this year to overturn the acquittal and ordered a new trial.

Buckley said the Crown’s decision caught him off guard and the matter isn’t over.

“Actually it’s a little surprising because we still have an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Buckley said.

“Both David and Collet want to proceed with that because they think it’s very important for the law to be clarified so that other parents don’t face the type of uncertainty that they have been facing.”

David Stephan said he’s not expecting to celebrate.

“I think it’s a little early to celebrate now,” he said.

“We’re still involved in the battle. We’re still moving forward to the Supreme Court and it’s still going to be a bit of an uphill journey.”

Stephan said he will also seek to be repaid by the courts for the “tremendous amount of money” they spent over the past eight years.

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

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Wildfire forces evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton

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EDMONTON — A wildfire has forced the evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton.

An Alberta Emergency Alert message says the evacuation order affects people along Highway 16 between Evansburg and Wildwood.

It says the order also applies to people who are in the Lobstick resort area.

The order says all people in this zone must leave immediately.

The province says an evacuation centre is being set up at the Evansburg Arena in Evansburg.

The wildfire danger in the area is listed as very high and there are six airtankers, four helicopters, six pieces of heavy equipment and 30 firefighters working on containing the blaze.

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

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