This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most important companies in Canada.
It was one hundred years ago, in 1918-1919, that the Canadian National Railways was created by the federal government through the public take-over and consolidation of a number of bankrupt railway companies.
The origins of the CNR in Red Deer actually go back to 1910-1911. The Canadian Northern Railway created a subsidiary company, the Canadian Northern Western, to construct a line to the rich Brazeau coalfields west of Rocky Mountain House (Nordegg).
Initially, the CNWR was to bypass the Town of Red Deer. Understandably, there was great political pressure to have at least a branch line built into Red Deer. In 1911, the CNR decided to build a major line from Strathcona (South Edmonton) through Red Deer to Calgary.
In 1911, Northern Construction (a CNR subsidiary) began, primarily on the grade along the edge of the North Hill and some points in the river valley.
The CNR’s main focus remained on the line to the Brazeau coalfields. By 1914, there was still little progress on the branch into Red Deer. One major problem was a surprising amount of quicksand and frequent slippage of the hillside in north Red deer.
The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 was a huge setback for all major construction projects. Work on a new rail bridge across the Red Deer River did not begin until August 1916. However, the bridge, located near the mouth of Waskasoo Creek, was badly located and poorly built. Moreover, the line along the shoulder of the North Hill had to be shifted to the flats closer to the river because of ongoing problems with bank slumpage.
In 1917-1918, the Canadian Northern went bankrupt and was taken over by the Federal Government. In 1919, the new Canadian National restarted work on the line into Red Deer. Mayor W.E. Lord pushed to have the new C.N. terminal and stockyards built in north Red Deer, as that seemed more practical. However, he was overruled by the rest of city council. The new station yards were subsequently constructed where the Park Plaza Shopping Centre is now located along 47 Avenue.
The CN branch line continued south and then swung westwards where it linked with the CPR line near 45 Street. In 1920, the CN’s Red Deer line was finally completed and became operational.
However, the line was never heavily used.
The big problem was the bridge across the river was often damaged in spring floods and had to be frequently rebuilt. Finally, in 1941, the bridge was abandoned. Access to the CN station and yards then came from the branch line that looped off the CPR line to the south and west. It was a less than ideal arrangement.
Finally, in 1960, a decision was made to relocate the CNR station and yards to north Red Deer. The project was one of the first joint industrial developments in Alberta between an urban and rural municipality (City of Red Deer and the Municipal District/County of Red Deer). It was also the first major railway relocation project in Western Canada.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.