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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

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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