Upcoming Victorian Prairie Christmas Event!

Posted in Galt Blog

Railway School Cars

When a person mentions trains the first thoughts that come to mind is moving passenger and freight from point a to point b.  Who knew that they also provided education to remote northern communities up until the mid-1960s?  In fact many northern Canadian residents attended school cars operated by either Canadian Pacific Railway or Canadian National Railway from 1928 to 1967.


In the northern regions of the prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and in Newfoundland, school-aged children were having trouble getting education unlike their counterparts in the southern regions who had better access to schools.  Government officials from the provinces got together to come up with a ‘school car’ concept which would allow the schools to move to the different remote communities and having the right teacher who was motivated to run the school, would then be a great benefit to these children.  The railway companies were approached both were enthusiastic to give back to the communities they served.


The school car would be pulled by a locomotive to a siding where it remained for about a week (and sometimes two weeks).  The school car contained around 12 desks, a stove, two blackboards, pull-down maps, a globe, first aid cabinet, two bookcases, and a teacher’s desk & chair.  During this time all the school-aged children in the area would be taught by a teacher (who’s family accompanied him or her) and lived in a self-contained compartment beside the classroom.  This compartment contained a living space, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom areas.  The entire car was heated by radiant heat pipes that were controlled in the living compartment.   Students either walked, snow-shoed, skied, rode a horse, or came by canoe to these school cars.  One story tells of two young boys aged 9 and 11 who traveled 20 miles to the school car and then camped out beside it for the time it stayed at a particular community.  It was said the temperatures some nights dropped down to – 40 degrees Celsius!


After the school period was over, the locomotive would return and move the school car to the next community on the line.  The school children would continue doing their homework until the school car returned to their community approx. 4 to 6 weeks later!  The curriculum would be exactly the same as the students in the southern regions – the only difference was the school went to the children!  Children were not the only ones who received the three R’s, in many instances the school car was used to educate the adults after hours.  The adults would gather in the car and participate in a variety of activities (from reading books, having a communal meal, playing bingo, or take classes) – all organized by the school teachers.  Sometimes the teachers were called upon to provide basic medical aid to the local residents, or to assist in writing letters, or ordering items from the catalogs for the ones who couldn’t read or write.


The Great Canadian Plains Railway Society thought it would be a neat idea to re-introduce this idea to local school-children on both teaching them about the history of the railway, and also how students in the northern regions of Canada went to school!  With the donation of vintage CPR railway cars in 2011, this idea became closer to reality.  The candidate car was Baggage-Express #4725 / 411692, being built by the Canadian Car and Foundry in Montreal, Quebec in November 1952.  #4725 served on the ‘Dominion’ and ‘Expo Limited’ routes until being removed from passenger service in December 1967. CPR then modified it to be used on Maintenance of Way (MOW) service as a mechanical sleeper (a place where work crews slept) from that point forward until it was ‘retired’ in the early 1990s. It then sat in storage at Ogden yards in Calgary where it suffered from vandalism and a fire that severely torched the interior of the car and the portion of the exterior by the one entrance. Thousands of man hours of volunteer work in cleaning and restoring went back into the car, with the help of the Lethbridge Correctional Centre work crew, and dedicated Society members.  One of our Society members, a retired school teacher, has offered to help in setting up educational programming that would take place in this restored railway car!  We hope to start offering this unique experience next spring, so if you have a school class that would be interested in using this, please contact us.


If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net.   Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.


All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park and/or Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


Marian Hillen posing with the nearly completed 1952 school car exhibit on May 24th, 2015 – Bill Hillen Photo








Having a lesson in a Railway School Car – 1950s – Canada Science and Technology Museum’s website/Image # CN000719










Aboriginal, Finnish, Norwegian, French and British children inside a school train at Nemigos, near Chapleau, Ontario, around 1950. Library and Archives Canada/National Film Board of Canada/Photothèque collection/PA-111570













From 1936 to 1942, the Newfoundland government, the Newfoundland Railway, and the Anglo-Newfoundland company supplied a school car for the benefit of families along the railway lines. Spruce Brook (pictured) was one of the larger communities served. Photo taken in 1937 – Frank M. Moore Collection











Canadian National Railways School on wheels No. 1 (Library and Archives Canada)










Photo inside a railway school car in Northern Ontario from August 1932. Natural Geographic Photo (http://fromthehandsofquacks.com/2015/02/02/the-school-on-wheels/)











Pupils on board the ‘School On Wheels’ on the CN Railway car between Capreol and Foleyet in remote northern Ontario, where communities have too few children to justify building a school in 1955. Credit: Berni Schoenfield










Posted in Galt Blog

Railway Day Camps

Please note that our Railway Day Camps are coming up next month!  August 19th & 20th – 11:00 am to 4:30 pm both days.  Children ages 5 – 8 can attend on the 19th and 9 – 12 can attend on the 20th.

Simply download the form and send it to the Railway Park with the payment attached.  For more information please email the station (gcprs@telus.net) or phone us at 403-756-2220!



Posted in Galt Blog

Turntables (and not the vinyl record kind!)

Article compiled by Jason Paul Sailer & Chris Doering.

In times past nearly every medium to large sized town had a rail yard and often located nearby or within it was a turntable and roundhouse. Their function was simple, to spin around steam locomotives as well as being a place to maintain and store them. These days few of these fascinating facilities are left although if one looks hard, remains can often be found, like those in Fort MacLeod and Big Valley Alberta and others. Steam locomotives, unlike diesels, need to be pointed forward when in operation, making these facilities necessary for the times.

This set up was compact (by railway standards) and worked well.

The turntable itself can be thought of as a bridge that can rotate on its axis allowing an engine to line up with any of the individual stalls (anywhere from one to several dozen depending on the facility). It rests on a center pivot, while the outer ends are supported by wheels riding on a perimeter track. Even with this three point arrangement, it was still important that a locomotive be accurately centered so that the turntable moved smoothly and easily. Power for turning was via an electric drive or an air powered motor supplied by either the boiler plant in the roundhouse, or by the actual locomotive itself (through its air lines). Some smaller turntables were moved by manpower.

In the roundhouse one could find machine shops, crew work and storage areas, and often a boiler plant to power everything. Each track would have an inspection pit, allowing access to the underside of the locomotive, and would be equipped with a big set of barn style doors for access (and ventilation).

This particular turntable was built in Ontario by the Dominion Bridge Company Limited, a large supplier of railway infrastructure pieces, as well as steel bridge components, steel holding tanks, and skyscraper framing. It was installed in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Medicine Hat Alberta yards at the turn of the century and used up until the 1970s, when it was removed.

It was later sold to Pat Dwyer Construction, a contracting company who used it during the construction of the Oldman River dam in southwestern Alberta. It was used as a truck bridge! After the project it was relocated to their gravel pit near Lundbreck, Alberta where it was stored until 2000. The firm then donated it to the Galt Historic Railway Park where it’s been ever since. Kerner Heavy Hauling moved it to our Railway Park that fall.

Future plans call for the turntable to be installed in a properly built pit and restored to running condition. The railway track on site would loop around this complex and would tie into the turntable. A small roundhouse, to mimic a combination Galt narrow gauge and CPR standard gauge facility, would be built nearby to be used as interpretive and display space and as well as multi-use venue for community events.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net.   Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.

All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park and/or Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


CPR Steam Locomotive on the turntable @ Medicine Hat – no date – Great Canadian Plains Railway Society Photo









CPR Locomotive #4037 with the roundhouse / turntable in the background – Medicine Hat, AB – March 1970 – Weston Langford photo









CPR GP9 #8531 being towed out of the pit after missing the turntable! – Medicine Hat, AB – September 1974 – A.W. Mooney photo










Our turntable being transported to the Oldman River Dam site in the mid 1980s – Pat Dwyer Construction photo







Our turntable being installed at the Oldman River Dam site in the mid 1980s – Pat Dwyer Construction photo







Our turntable being installed at the Oldman River Dam site in the mid 1980s – Pat Dwyer Construction photo







Our turntable being transported to the Galt Historic Railway Park by Kerner Heavy Hauling in September 2000 – Great Canadian Plains Railway Society Photo









Turntable stored at the Galt Historic Railway Park – June 2015 – Jason Paul Sailer photo









A turntable was essentially a bridge on a center pivot with wheel supports on each end – June 2015 – Jason Paul Sailer photo









A close-up of the end of the turntable with the guide wheel present – June 2015 – Jason Paul Sailer photo








Here is the air-operated motor that ran the turntable – June 2015 – Jason Paul Sailer photo









Another close-up of the underside of the turntable showing the guide wheel and the structural reinforcement bracing. Wood planking and a set of railway rails would be located above the reinforcement bracing for the locomotive to sit on – June 2015 – Jason Paul Sailer photo









Posted in Galt Blog

Galt Historic Railway Park Rolling Stock Collection

Article by Jason Paul Sailer. 

The gem of the collection of the Galt Historic Railway Park is our 1890 International Train Station that was originally located half in Canada and half in the United States (Coutts, Northwest Territories and Sweetgrass, Montana). As per previous web blog posts, we described how it came to be and how Canadian Pacific Railway was tired of sharing the station and decided to ‘split’ their portion from Great Northern Railway in the fall of 1916 and moved their portion back into Canada. It then served CPR well up to the late 1980s and was then closed until being rescued in the early 2000s by the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society. But we are also proud of our rolling stock collection! Let’s take a look at them now…


Just a bit to the east of our Train Station is a wooden stock car and wooden caboose. Both were at one time were on display in the Town of High River adjacent to the Museum of the Highwood. The wooden sheep & pig stock car #277324 is a 1943 vintage, built in June of that year for CPR. It was used up until 1989 when it was donated to the Museum of the Highwood. It was then donated to the Galt Historic Railway Park in the spring of 2011. It had the luxury of travelling across the High Level Bridge on its own wheels on its way to the Railway Park, and according to CPR it has been a long time since a stock car travelled across the High Level Bridge! Beside it is a wooden caboose #436986, built in October 1941 in the CPR company shops. It was used up until 1988, when it too was donated to the Museum of the Highwood. It was donated to the Railway Park in October 2011, but it was trucked onto the property, courtesy of LA Towing of Lethbridge. We are lucky to get these two items from High River, as we know they wouldn’t have survived the terrible flooding of 2013 that wrecked portions of the town, including the area around the Museum of the Highwood.


To the west of the Train Station adjacent to the station platform is the pride and joy of the Galt Historic Railway Park; four Canadian Pacific Railway cars ranging in years from 1918 to 1953! Closest to the track is Baggage-Express #411692 – was built by Canadian Car and Foundry (aka Can Car) in Montreal, Quebec in November 1952 and was originally numbered #4725. Canadian Car and Foundry is still in operation, although it is now the Bombardier Transportation Canada Inc., and is now located in Thunder Bay, Ontario. #4725 served on the ‘Dominion’ and ‘Expo Limited’ routes until being removed from passenger service in December 1967. CPR modified it to be used on Maintenance of Way (MOW) service as a mechanical sleeper (a place where work crews slept) from that point forward until it was ‘retired’ in the early 1990s. It then sat in storage at Ogden yards in Calgary where it suffered from vandalism and a fire that severely torched the interior of the car and the portion of the exterior by the one entrance. It was donated to the Railway Park in the spring of 2011 and was brought down from Calgary on a hospital train along with the other three donated cars and the wooden stock car. Future plans for this car is to convert it into a Railway School Car exhibit with interactive telephone display area in the back. Beside it is Baggage-Express #411734 – it too was built by Canadian Car and Foundry in Montreal in August 1953, and was originally numbered #4754.   It also served on the ‘Dominion’ and ‘Expo Limited’ routes until being removed from passenger service in November 1971. CPR modified it to be used on MOW service in the Thunder Bay, Ontario area from that point forward as a diner service (a place where work crews ate their meals) until it was ‘retired’ in the early 1990s. It then sat in storage at Ogden yards in Calgary until being donated to the Railway Park in the spring of 2011.   As it still has most of the MOW food service equipment inside, the Society plans on converting the car to be a kitchen facility for a future food services facility to serve the Railway Park.


Beside the 1953 Baggage-Express we find Tourist Sleeper #411369 – another product of the Canadian Car and Foundry in Montreal, Quebec in July 1926 and was originally called ‘Parry Sound’. It would be renumbered and upgraded in March 1938 to #6325. In March 1952 it was upgraded again, and renamed ‘Farron’. It would be taken out of passenger service in December 1962 and used by CPR as a MOW diner for their work crews around Revelstoke, British Columbia for many years. It was ‘retired’ in the mid-1980s and then transferred to storage at Ogden Yards in Calgary. It was donated to the Railway Park in the spring of 2011 and brought down from Calgary on the Hospital train. On a side note, one of the sleeping berths from the ‘Farron’ car is actually on display at the Cranbrook Railway Museum in Cranbrook, British Columbia. The Society hopes to restore the car back to its original glory and use it as a dining facility for tourists visiting the Railway Park. Directly west of that car is a unique specimen – a Burnett designed Railway Post Office car. This particular example, #3774, was designed by CPR Master Carbuilder R.W. Burnett, and was one of the first-all steel body cars used by the Railway. It was built in July 1918 in their company shops in Montreal. It was used by CPR as a railway post office car until June 1959 when railway post office operations ended across Canada. It was transferred to the MOW service in the Revelstoke area for many years until being ‘retired’ in the early 1980s. It was proposed to be donated to Heritage Park in Calgary, who was planning on restoring it back to its original appearance and usage as a railway post office car. However, after evaluating the car, Heritage Park decided it would cost too much to restore, so the car was transferred to the Calgary Ogden yards where it sat in storage. It was then donated to the Railway Park in the spring of 2011, and was brought on a flat car down from Calgary on the Hospital train. Its own wheels and trucks were removed at some point in the 1980s to go onto a different Burnett car. There are only 3 other examples of Burnett cars known in Canada – a similar example, #3770 was located in Cranbrook, BC for a while. The Society hopes to restore this car back to its original shape and have it as an exhibit / display on how railway post offices operated.


As with any Railway Parks, speeders are included as well.  Some of the speeders at the Railway Park include a 1950s Kalamazoo motor car 56W, a 1950s Fairmont A6 ‘ Gang’ motor car, a 1960s Fairmont A4-D ‘Gang’ motor car, and two 1960s Fairmont MT19 ‘Light Section’ motor cars; one with a cab and one without. The Kalamazoo is an interesting example as there is only one other like it in the province of Alberta! It was used in the Airdirie area for several years by CPR – unfortunately it doesn’t have the original Wisconsin 4-cycle engine, but is equipped with an Onan ‘P’ series engine. The A4-D ‘Gang’ motor car is the main workhorse at the moment, providing power on our speeder train which includes the other ‘Gang’ car and as well as the MT19 motor car with a cab. The other MT19 motor car is currently for sale.


Future planned rolling stock acquisitions for the Railway Park include a flat car, a water carrying tank car, and a grain box car!


If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net.   Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line. All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


Railway Post Office Car #3774 in Ogden Yards in Calgary – 1986. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives (0149.0382)









The same car 24 years later when the GCPRS was finalizing the agreement with CPR – Bill Hillen Photo









#3774 leaving Calgary on a cool March morning. Where did the wheels go? Read the article to find out! Tim Johnston photo









#3774 at the GHRP – a new roof will be this year’s priority! Jason Paul Sailer photo – May 2015








Tourist Sleeper parked at the Ogden yards in Calgary in September 2002 – Ken Baker photo









#411369 leaving Calgary bound for the GHRP – March 2011 – Tim Johnston photo









#411369 on its concrete foundations and with a new roof to boot! Jason Paul Sailer photo – May 2015









Wooden caboose on display at Museum of Highwood in May 1989 – Massey Jones photo









Another view of the caboose at the Museum of Highwood in August 2008 – Town of High River photo










Restored 1941 wooden caboose and 1943 sheep & pig stock car @ GHRP – Jason Paul Sailer photo – May 2015









1952 Baggage – Express car parked at Ogden Yards in Calgary before GHRP takes over ownership – Bill Hillen photo – March 2010









#411692 leaving Calgary – the scorched end where the fire occurred is visible – March 2011 – Tim Johnston photo









Interior being renovated to show what a Railway School Car looked like. We are still keeping the original Baggage car feel – Jason Paul Sailer photo – May 2015









Our 1953 Baggage – Express car in MOW service at Chapleau, Ontario in October 1981 – Trackside Treasure / Eric Gagnon photo








Inspecting the same car 30 years later…the vandalism and pigeons are evident! Bill Hillen photo – September 2010










Tim Johnston captures #411734 leaving Calgary bound for the GHRP – March 2011









Bill Hillen captures the hospital train crossing the High Level bridge in Lethbridge – March 2011









A rare Kalamazoo motor car – only 1 of 2 known in Alberta to exist! Jason Paul Sailer photo – June 2015









We can’t forget the speeders! Be sure to catch a ride on one this summer at the GHRP! Jason Paul Sailer photo – May 2015

Posted in Galt Blog

Self-propelled Railway Passenger Transportation in Southern Alberta

Article by Jason Paul Sailer.  Edited by Chris Doering.

Passenger service and rail infrastructure within Alberta had remained relatively stable for the past sixty years, but after the Second World War with increased competition from airlines, new roadways, and the affordability of personal vehicles the desire & need for rail passenger service started to decline.  In response, both Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Canadian National Railway (CN) began cancelling the smaller unprofitable routes and the consolidation of several of the larger routes to slow the loss of profits.  The steam trains that carried passenger cars were replaced with a new concept of passenger transportation, in the form of Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDC).  Although self-propelled railcars were not a new concept (both CPR and CN used different types of internal combustion operated ‘Doodlebug’ cars over the years), the RDC utilized an 85’ long streamlined stainless steel coach design and added two 275 hp Detroit Diesel engines that were coupled to a hydraulic torque converter derived from the M46 Patton tank.  The result was the RDC-1, a 90-seat model which Budd debuted at the Chicago Union Station on September 19th, 1949.


The first order for an RDC was placed in September 1953 by the CPR. This was for four cars, three RDC – I and one RDC-3. Two months later, November 1953, the CN ordered one RDC-1.  The CPR called their RDCs “Dayliners”, a name that appeared prominently on the car side in front of the number. CNR named theirs “Railiners”, but this name did not actually appear on their cars.  CN purchased 25 cars outright, and acquired many more second-hand from the Boston and Maine Railroad. CP purchased 53 cars – the first one ran on November 9th, 1954, between Detroit, Michigan and Toronto., Ontario.  It was the first stainless steel passenger train to operate in Canada.  It was not long before the basic RDC-1 was supplemented by the RDC-2 (a 71-seat model with baggage space), a RDC-3 (49-seat with baggage & post office space), and the RDC-4 consisted entirely of baggage and post office space.


From the very start the RDC was hailed as the savior of branch lines with low traffic density. At first this was, to a certain extent true, and it is likely that the RDC prolonged the life of many of these runs by several years. During the 1950s many old branch line trains, often steam hauled, were replaced by RDCs, often with a (temporary) increase in ridership. However in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became obvious that nothing could save these branch line runs; the automobile competition was too much. As trains disappeared, RDCs started showing up in service never planned when they were new.


So what about RDC’s in Alberta?


We won’t go into too much detail for the remainder of the province – fellow railfan & Galt Railway Park supporter Eric Gagnon covers the CPR RDC’s pretty well from 1954 right up to 1985 when VIA Rail ended the service between Calgary and Edmonton.  You can check them out at the links below:






In the Lethbridge area, ‘Doodlebugs’ were implemented around 1948 and would carry passengers daily either from Lethbridge to Coutts, or from Lethbridge to Glenwood.  A lack of passengers caused the Glenwood route to be cancelled in 1950, and the Coutts route in 1951.  Mixed trains (freight and passenger rail cars) continued to be the norm for several years.  For southern Alberta, the RDC’s debuted in the spring of 1955.  A Dayliner would travel between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and from Lethbridge to northwards towards Calgary, AB (either through Fort Macleod or Vulcan).  In 1957, CPR would extend Dayliner service west from Lethbridge towards Hope, BC.  However, from that point on, information on the Dayliner operations is scarce.  We did find that there was an accident between a car and a Dayliner near Barnwell, AB on March 1st, 1958 with two people being killed in that accident.  Another accident between a truck and a Dayliner east of Monarch, AB occurred on October 16th, 1969, with both occupants of the truck passing away at the scene.  The downfall to the speedy Dayliners was that many were involved with accidents at level crossings with either people racing to cross the tracks in front of them or people were caught off guard on how fast the units were and misjudged the distance and timing of them.  The route west of Lethbridge through Fort Macleod into British Columbia was little used by the travelling public, and CPR applied to the Federal Railway Transport Committee to discontinue the route.  The committee approved, and on January 16th, 1964 the last Dayliner operated west of Fort Macleod.


The peak of Dayliner travel was in 1969 when a record 80,000 passengers were carried on three trains a day in each direction.  In 1970, CPR reduced it to one train an day in each direction, resulting in a drop of almost 50,000 passengers.  The number would drop to 23,400 in 1971.  As a result of the drop in passengers, the Federal Railway Transport Committee instructed CPR to increase the amount of trains to 2 per day in 1972.  However, the decision was already cast to cancel Dayliner operations in southern Alberta.  On July 2nd, 1971 the last Dayliner would run and all Dayliner operations south of Calgary would cease on July 17th, 1971.


Dayliners in Alberta struggled on since then; CN’s Railiner discontinued operation between Calgary and Edmonton in 1971, but would run between Drumheller and Edmonton until 1981.  The Federal Railway Transport Committee ordered improved services, and in 1981 passenger ridership was increased to 53,000!  However, at-grade collisions, and coordination issues with freight trains hampered ridership, and service began to be cut back.  VIA would continue the Calgary – Edmonton CP route until discontinuing it in September 1985.  Light-Rapid-Comfortable units were proposed by VIA as replacements to the RDC’s, but were never carried through.


Nowadays the two hour drive between Calgary and Edmonton seems like a breeze.  The former CP railway line that ran along Highway 2 is pretty much removed, almost removing the memories of riding a Dayliner…Imagine what it would feel like to cross the High Level Viaduct!




If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net.   Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.


All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.






“Railways in Southern Alberta” by R.F.P. Bownman, reprinted by Lethbridge Historical Society in 2002


View of a ‘Doodlebug’ or ‘Galloping Goose’ – a gas / electric self-propelled rail car that was used on the railways in the area. This particular model was built in 1930 by the St. Louis Car Company and was equipped with a 75 hp EMC engine. The car was scrapped at the Angus Shops in Montreal, Quebec in December 1958. Date & location unknown. Bill Sanderson Collection – http://www.mountainrailway.com/Roster%20Archive/CP%209000B/CP%209004.htm












Arrival of the first Lethbridge to Medicine Hat Dayliner in Lethbridge. This particular RDC was an -3 series model, which meant it held 49 passengers and included baggage / post office space. The individuals standing in front of the RDC-3 include (from left to right); Frank Lawford – ticket agent, H. Laying – trainman, David K. Shorthouse – engineer, John B. Murray – conductor, and J.J. Merrick – road foreman of engineers. RDC #9022 was delivered to CPR in 1955 who used it until ‘selling’ it to VIA Rail in September 1978. VIA would renumber it #9022. It would be re-configured as an RDC-2 in October 1981 and renumbered again as #6216. VIA would sell it to Industrial Rail Services in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2000. Galt Museum & Archives Photo 19851133000














Unidentified passengers on the platform at the Lethbridge train station standing in front of a Dayliner. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives










Unidentified CPR employees on the platform at the Lethbridge train station standing in front of a Dayliner. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives










J.E. Jones 47 year retirement notice. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives












CPR Dayliners crossing the High Level Bridge in the late 1950s – photographer unknown. Vancouver Public Library 9586



Posted in Galt Blog

Mother’s Day Tea – 2015

Posted in Galt Blog

Reading Railway Rail

Original article by Chris Doering & Connie Biggart, who are Galt Historic Railway Park supporters!  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.

If one looks at a section of steel rail, along any stretch of track or railway line, various markings will be seen. If one is curious, these can tell you a lot about who made it, its size, the date it came from the mill, right down to the very month, and other useful bits of information.


Before we go any further, please, if you are reading the rails, do not get too close to the tracks. View them from a reasonable and safe distance and only from public property – a good zoom lens can come in handy here. Do not trespass!


We’ll show two examples, using the first to explain how exactly we decipher that information.


This first section of track seen is a rather old and was found along a sleepy branch line (now gone, as is the grain elevator building in back). The data tells us it was “rolled” (in the steel mill lingo) by a company called Algoma Steel. It weighs 80 lbs per yard and was made in 1908; June of that year in fact.


Algoma Steel, now Essar Steel Algoma, was and is located in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and started making rails in 1902. They continued to do so until the 1990s when they quit the market due to limited demand and strong competition from US and off-shore firms. Today they produce steel plates and sheets.


There was one other rail maker in the country, Sydney Steel of Sydney Nova Scotia which closed down in the early 2000s. An interesting observation, the CPR seemed to favour Algoma while competitor CNR seemed to do the same for Sydney. Today, new rails are entirely sourced from outside the country, and mostly come from Japan and the US from what we’ve observed.


Recall, we mentioned the rail weighs 80 lbs per yard. At the time it was made, this would have been a fairly standard weight stretch of track. Later, as the trains became heavier, older/lighter track would get pulled up and re-laid elsewhere on branch lines and the like where the overall tonnage carried was less. Today, a track of this weight would be considered very light-duty and would be only found on old forgotten sidings or little used industrial spurs.


This pattern of relaying rail is common and as they wore, or if the track became unsuitable for the tonnage being carried, it would be progressively downgraded to sidings, branch lines and industrial tracks.


Now a days, most mainline track is laid with rail that weighs in the 132-136 lb per yard range (railways not use the metric system). Even newer moderate duty lines are laid with rail weighting nothing less than 100 lbs per yard. The lightest I have seen in the wild was 60 lbs, a very old stretch of track on a long since disused siding.


Now on to the date. It may seem that a section this old would be of no use, but depending on many factors they can easily last a century or more. It’s fairly common to see old ones in fact. Railways are always frugal and tend to get very good use out their infrastructure.


The oldest track seen by this author, in regular use, would have been from the 1890s, although I did see a section from 1875 at an old mine – it was being used as a support beam for some machinery and not as track (it was not uncommon for old rails, if they were not scrapped, to be re purposed like this). Based upon field observations, rails from 1905-1930 seem to be the most common old ones out there and this makes sense since that was a boom period for railways. The number of slash marks tells us the month the rail was made, in this case June.


On more modern rails, and even some of the older ones, you may see additional letters, codes and marks, and these may tell us many things. For example, what type of steel manufacturing process was used, the rail’s specific profile and a whole plethora of other specialized treatments the customer many have requested. Deciphering these is beyond the scope of this article.


Rails from the old days were made in short 39 ft lengths and simply bolted together end to end. This length was about the largest size that could be managed with machinery and equipment at the time. It’s these frequent joints that gave us the familiar clickity-clack sound heard when a train passed.


Today, rails are made in longer lengths and welded together with very few mechanical joints. This offers a number of distinct advantages, the most notable being the cost of maintenance, which is lessened as there is nothing to work loose. In the old days, there would be two joints per 39 ft (always offset slightly) and every single bolt, typically six per joint, would have to be checked and re tightened periodically, the frequency of which depended on the overall tonnage being carried, along with the speed of the trains that used it – so more often on a busy mainline tracks, much less so on a sleepy branch.


It’s thought the first photo was taken along the CPR’s Lomond Subdivision branch (exact town unsure) some time in 1990s (the pic came with no notes) southeast of Calgary. This line was abandoned a few years later and the rails pulled up.







If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net.   Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.

All images and content are copyright Chris Doering & Connie Biggart – “BIGdoer” unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


These marks tell us who made the rail and when, right down to the month. Photo courtesy of Chris Doering & Connie Biggart “BIGdoer”









This is the oldest rail we’ve found, at an abandoned mine site in Blairmore AB. Photo courtesy of Chris Doering & Connie Biggart “BIGdoer”









Jason Paul Sailer took this photo of some rail at the former Parrish & Heimbecker grain elevator siding at Skiff, Alberta on February 15th, 2015. Here an railroad tie from 1948 is visible, as well as in the background Rhenish Steel Werke (RSW) CPR 80 LB rail from 1903.










Another view of the rail at the former Parrish & Heimbecker grain elevator siding at Skiff, Alberta on February 15th, 2015. Photo taken by Jason Paul Sailer.









Posted in Galt Blog

Sir Alexander Galt

Article by Jason Paul Sailer.  Re-edited by Chris Doering.

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt wore many hats over seventy six years; politician, promoter, father, author, manager, railway man….  His portly, erect form was familiar for a quarter century of public life, during which he counselled various leaders and supported different ministries, but he never lost the respect of the common people. Galt was the generous, amiable personality of a robust, healthy man. He was a sincere and earnest speaker, with a well-modulated voice and an amazing mastery of facts.

Born in London, England on September 6th, 1817 the youngest of three sons of novelist John Galt & Elizabeth Tilloch.  His childhood and adolescence were steeped in the curious mix of adventure, literary creation, and speculative enterprises that he learned from his father. From childhood, Alexander must have dreamed of Canada, a country that promised adventure and swift success to the enterprising.  He would make his first introduction to Canada in 1834, as a junior clerk in the British American Land Company at Sherbrooke, Quebec.  He rose step by step until in 1844, he became Company Commissioner. He found its affairs in confusion, and by his ability and understanding brought them to order and prosperity.  His business success attracted notice, and in 1849 he was elected to Parliament for the County of Sherbrooke.  He sat through the stormy session of 1849, when the Parliament buildings in Montreal were burned, after the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill.  This seemed to sicken young Galt of politics for the time, for he retired to private life.

During the next four years Galt became President of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway, and extricated it from its difficulties by amalgamation with the Grand Trunk Railway, and participated in the construction of the Grand Trunk railway line from Toronto to Sarnia.  From 1852 to 1859, he was a director of the Grand Trunk Railway.  By 1853 he was back in Parliament, where he found scope for his talents in financial, trade and commercial questions.  Upon the fall of the Brown-Dorion Government in 1858, Sir Edmund Head, impressed by Galt’s striking speech that year in favor of a federal union, asked him to form a cabinet, but, realizing that his independent course, while spectacular, left him without a following, he declined.  George E. Cartier, who was called on at Galt’s suggestion, took Galt as Minister of Finance, promising to adopt federal union as a Cabinet policy.

Before tracing more in detail Galt’s contribution to Confederation, we should take a moment to mention his services in forming Canada’s financial policy.  His first duty in taking office in 1858 was to restore the shattered finances of the Province of Canada.  At that time, revenues were low and expenses high.  William Cayley, his predecessor, insisted protection in the tariff to several manufacturing industries.  Galt went a step farther in 1859, and raised the tariff from 15 to 20 %.  The object of this tariff, he told the House on March 18, was “to encourage the industrial portion of the community and to equally distribute the taxes necessary for revenue purposes.”  He ridiculed the idea that British connection would be endangered, but before many months his policy had made trouble in the old country and in the United States.  Another important achievement by Galt at this time was the introduction into Canada in 1858 of the decimal currency system, which replaced the pounds, shillings and pence of the motherland.

There had been discussion of union of the British American Provinces for years, but Galt forced the issue by his speech in the Assembly at Toronto on July 6, 1858.  He then outlined roughly the plan of union which was subsequently adopted.  He declared that unless a union was formed the Province of Canada would inevitably drift into the United States.  He saw merits in the union of the two Canada’s, which had organized municipal government, settled the clergy reserves and seigniorial tenure questions, and made the Legislative Council elective.  Yet the present Government, the strongest for several years, was unable to carry their measures.  The present system could not go on, it was necessary to change the constitution, to adopt the federal principle.  Questions of religion and race now promoted disunion.  If they adopted the federal principle each section of the union might adopt whatever views it regarded as proper for itself.
At this time the climax of the deadlock had not been reached, but political rivalries and racial jealousies were fast bringing about an impasse.  Cartier implemented his promise, and Galt and John Ross were sent to England.  Their memorandum to the Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, urged confederation on grounds peculiar to Canada and considerations affecting the interests of the other colonies and the whole empire.  The memorandum set forth the desirability of uniting Canada, the Maritime Provinces, and Newfoundland.  Little encouragement followed this formal appeal.  The Colonial Secretary showed no enthusiasm for the union, and writing a month later said the Imperial Government could go no further at present, as they had received a reply on the subject from only one Province.

From now on, for the next two years, Galt was a virile leader in promoting the cause of union.  At the Quebec Conference, he played an important part in finally adjusting the financial relations of the Provinces under the union scheme, a point which at one time brought deadlock and almost wrecked the convention.  The spade work for Confederation in Canada had now been done, though much remained as yet to reconcile Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.  Galt had his part in the mission to London in 1865. All was then smooth, but in August, 1866, he startled the country by resigning as Finance Minister on the determination of the Government not to proceed with the Lower Canada education bill.  This bill was promoted by the Protestant minority of Lower Canada, and the Roman Catholic majority would not permit it to pass unless a similar bill with reference to the Roman Catholic minority in Upper Canada was also enacted.  John A. Macdonald, in voicing the Government’s position, said the policy advocated for the minorities would give the Maritime Provinces an unfortunate spectacle of two Houses divided against themselves.  Notwithstanding his resignation from the Cabinet, Galt’s abilities were requisitioned for the final stages of the Confederation bill, and he accompanied the Ministerial delegation to England in the fall of 1866 to draft the British North America Act.  He was reelected, and entered the first Confederation Cabinet as Minister of Finance, but in November, 1867, he again resigned from the Cabinet.  The portfolio of Finance was again offered him in 1869 if he would renounce his views in favor of the independence of Canada, but he declined.  In 1876, in a letter to Senator James Ferrier, he criticized Macdonald for his connection with the Pacific Scandal.  A year later the Mackenzie Government used Galt’s diplomacy with good result on the Fisheries Commission at Halifax, and in 1880, Sir John Macdonald made him the first Canadian High Commissioner to Great Britain, declaring him to be “the most available man for the position.”  To Galt, however, the post was a disappointment, as he felt he was little more than an emigration agent. After offering his resignation several times, he left his post on June 1st, 1883.

The 1880s also witnessed Galt’s return to the business world, this time in western Canada.  In 1881, while he was living in London, he had been informed by his eldest son, Elliott Torrance Galt, at the time assistant commissioner of Indian affairs in Regina, of the existence of coal deposits in the south of what is now the province of Alberta.  After inspecting the region, on 7 September 1882 Galt founded the North-Western Coal and Navigation Company Limited (NWC&NC) with William Lethbridge, a lawyer and partner in the firm W.H. Smith booksellers, as the first president of the company.  Although he never came to Canada, Lethbridge left a legacy in southern Alberta through the city that bears his name.  One of his aims was to supply coal to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which was still under construction west of Winnipeg, and to supply the settlers that would soon arrive out west.  To transport the coal Galt and his partners first set up a system of steamships the “Alberta”, the “Baroness” and the “Minnow” and barges on the Bow and South Saskatchewan rivers that operated in 1883 and 1884.  However, the rivers were shallow with numerous sand bars, and an unpredictable current that it sometimes took the steamships 5 days to travel between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat!  A more stable transportation system was needed, and the NWC&NC turned to a narrow gauge railway line.

In late 1883 Sir Alexander Galt travelled to London for a meeting of the NWC&NC directors.  He wanted to discuss the creation of a new company, the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC), to build a 177 km narrow-gauge line from Lethbridge to Dunmore Junction.  The AR&CC would eventually take over the land assets of the NWC&NC, and use them as security bonds & stocks to pay for the railway construction.  In October 1883 the federal government granted the NWC&NC the usual land grant of 3,840 acres per mile of railway built (but at the discount price of $1.00 per acre plus survey dues).  On April 19, 1884 the AR&CC was incorporated with capital of $1,500,000.00.  The same day, Parliament passed the charter bill for the new railway.  The second pillar of southern Alberta’s development was put into place when the line was opened by Lord Landsdowne, Governor General of Canada, on September 24, 1885.  Why did Galt decided to build a narrow gauge railway, instead of a typical standard gauge railway?  The main reason was cost!  Construction costs & equipment costs were much lower than standard gauge construction & equipment.

With the narrow-gauge line now operating, the Galt companies looked to expand the customer base for their coal beyond the CPR, and prairie settlers.  The copper smelters of western Montana were within the reach of a railway, and Galt decided to build a narrow-gauge line south into the United States.  Lack of money and political considerations altered the plan somewhat, and the result was a railway from Lethbridge to Great Falls.  It opened in 1890 as two lines: the Alberta Railway & Coal Company’s 108 km track from Lethbridge to the border at Coutts, and the Great Falls and Canada Railway (GF&CR)’s 215.6 km line from Sweetgrass, Montana, south to Great Falls.  As was policy, the federal government provided land grants for construction of this line as well on both sides of the International Boundary.

By controlling all of these economic threads, Galt hoped to ensure the success of his investments in southern Alberta.  Railways created markets for coal and brought settlers to irrigated lands.  The settlers created a new market for coal, and in turn grew agricultural products that were shipped out on the railway.  Sir Alexander Galt developed an integrated approach to his enterprises in southern Alberta.  Each supported the others by creating new business opportunities.

After 1890, Galt, whose health had become delicate, scarcely ever left Montreal and his residence on Rue de la Montagne.  Early in 1893 he had to undergo a tracheotomy because of throat cancer.  Unable to speak, he communicated by writing.  He died shortly before dawn on September 19th, 1893.  Two days later an imposing funeral was held in Montreal, but the service was celebrated in Galt’s own home by a Toronto minister, John Potts, an old friend of his, who also delivered the funeral oration.  He was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery.

Galt was seen as a complex man of worth who had succeeded brilliantly in several very different fields of activity. Dr Potts observed: “He belonged to a superior order. He was a deep thinker, a distinguished economist, an enterprising and courageous businessman.” Others called to mind his agreeable and flowing eloquence and the attention his speeches on financial matters commanded. “His writings bear the stamp of purity and elegance,” it was said.


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Great Canadian Plains Railway Society Archives












Delegates from the Legislatures of Canada, gathering on the steps of Prince Edward Island’s Goverment House for the Charlottetown Conference – September 1864. Alexander Galt is sitting in the front row on the left side wearing an top hat, Library & Archives of Canada C-000733


Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt Portrait, 1890. Courtesy of the Notman Archives, McCord Museum, Montreal


Posted in Galt Blog

Ogilvie Flour Grain Elevator Society – New Article

Check out our sister group’s efforts on preserving an 1925 gem!  The last Ogilvie Flour wooden grain elevator left in the Province of Alberta!



To join, simply download the membership form, send an cheque payable to ‘Ogilve Wooden Grain Elevator Society’ on the mailing address on the form.  You can also donate online through PayPal!





Posted in Galt Blog