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Feature Article


Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Advocate Centennial Book
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Advocate, 2007

Red Deer becomes a divisional point for CPR

Sometimes major news stories do not get a lot of attention, at least not at first.

On Dec. 14, 1906, the Advocate printed a two-inch story on the front page which stated "the action of the Canadian Pacific Railway in asking the Town Council last evening for rates on an estimated water supply need of 100,000 to 200,000 per day indicates that the Company contemplates extensive improvement and enlargement at Red Deer in the near future."

There had been other hints that the CPR had big plans for Red Deer.

A number of improvements had been made in the summer of 1906 to the CPR yards including the installation of new switches and grades as well as the construction of new stock pens and a small new roundhouse.

In October 1906, three carloads of cement arrived in preparation for construction of a new rail bridge across the Red Deer River.

Still, there was not a full indication of what CPR was planning. The Advocate speculated that Red Deer' might be made a shipping point for a new rail line east to Stettler and the newly settled areas of East Central Alberta.

Actually, what the CPR was planning was to make Red Deer the major divisional point for the main line between Calgary and Edmonton.

That would mean that all the freight trains running along the Calgary & Edmonton line would have their crews changed at Red Deer.

Moreover, new trains would be assemble or broken up in Red Deer prior to their departure to other points along the line.

Such a move would involve a major investment in the rail facilities at Red Deer.

There would be a great many construction jobs while the work was being done, as well as a significant number of permanent new jobs in Red Deer once the project was completed.

People could be forgiven for not really believing that such a major undertaking was imminent. The winter of 1906-1907 was one of the worst on record. Therefore, not much work was completed -particularly on the new bridge.

Some further improvements were done during the summer of 1907. A new coal chute and a water tank were constructed. However, the onset of a brief, but sharp economic recession again put much of the work on hold.

In the spring of 1908, the railyards became a bevy of activity and construction. A large elevated coal tipple was built, the same size as the ones in Calgary and Canmore.

Work began on a large addition to the roundhouse. A large repair shop was built.

The station house was enlarged.

Much of the trackage was upgraded to a heavier gauge steel.

On April 27, 1908, the CPR made official what had been obvious for more than a year. Red Deer was going to be the major divisional point on the C& E line.

The company estimated that it would spend $130,000 to $150,000 on the partially completed steel rail bridge across the river. To put that sum into context, a very good wage in those days was $1.50 to $2 per day.

The company in its official announcement indicated that there were two main factors in the decision. First was Red Deer’s location halfway between Calgary and Edmonton.

Second was the ready supply of large amounts of water out of the river, water being essential to the operation of steam trains.

In 1910, work began on the “crowning glory” of the whole project. A beautiful new railroad station was constructed at an estimated cost of $34,000.

The new structure was to be located in the middle of the west end of Ross Street. That way it could be clearly seen from the commercial heart of the community.

While the new station was large and impressive, Red Deer’s economy continued to boom, in a large part due to the impressive new investments and increase in employment made by the CPR. Within a year of the station being completed, an addition had to be constructed on the south end of the station.

It is hard to overstate the importance of Red Deer becoming the major divisional point on the C & E line.

At the turn of the last century, Red Deer had been a smaller town than either Innisfail or Lacombe.

Now that it was the transportation and distribution centre for Central Alberta, Red Deer began to surge ahead. The foundation of much of Red Deer’s future growth and prosperity was now in place.

This article was written by Michael Dawe for the Red Deer Advocate’s Centennial Book. The Heritage Community Foundation would like to thank Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Advocate for permission to reprint these materials online. Please visit the Red Deer Advocate online.The images in the article are part of the collection of the Red Deer Archives. Please visit them online.

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