History of Coutts in relation to Narrow Gauge Railway & NWMP

Original article by Gord Tolton.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.

The hamlet of Coutts began as the southern point of the narrow gauge railway, on which construction was started on in the spring of 1890 by the Alberta Railway and Coal Company (AR&CC) to transport coal from Lethbridge, Northwest Territories to Great Falls, Montana.  In June 1890, an crew was sent to the present-day site of Coutts to begin construction of the railway line northward to meet the construction heading south.  The site of Coutts was picked by AR&CC engineer Mr. Barclay, and Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) Inspector John Moodie.  The lumber for the new station and police barracks was purchased in Great Falls by Mr. Barclay and hauled to Coutts by Bull Train.  As we know from Blog Post #2 “The Baroness, an Railroad, and an Town” the reason that Coutts was named Coutts, was that AR&CC was honoring one of its largest shareholders the Baroness Burdett-Coutts!

The coming of the narrow gauge railway necessitated the stationing of the NWMP along the railway line while under construction, as the work crew consisted of some rough characters that caused trouble.  As time went on, liquor became available to the men as well, but the NWMP managed to control the situation, and crime was kept to an minimum with no serious offenses committed.

By late summer an railroad station was being built, straddling the International Boundary.  The railroad station would contain the offices of both customs & immigration for both countries, as well as an telegraph line that would connect the station to Lethbridge.  The first barracks of the NWMP was completed in November 1890, and was built on the railroad right-of-way.  It was located just up an slight grade to the west of the railroad station.  The Barracks was built well, and had rooms for the police men to live in and jail cells in the basement for any prisoners.  Since there was not many other structures in Coutts, the Barracks would also serve as the church on Sunday, an boarding house, an community hall, and also an morgue!

In reference to the NWMP Barracks, Superintendent R. Deane reported “At Coutts, which is the name of the railroad station on this side of the boundary, with Sweetgrass being the name of the embryo town on the other side.  Some excellent buildings have taken shape, being built by the AR&CC for the use of the NWMP for the sum of $2,619.16, which will be completed by November 1890.  The Barracks measures 26 x 28 feet, with an lean-to kitchen and mess room, each 21 x 14 feet; shingled roof, sheathed-inside with beaded lumber, painted with two coats.  Upstairs there is an large Barracks room the full size of the house.  In the basement was an officers room 16 x 11 feet, an storage room 10 x 11 and two jail cells 7′-6″ x 5 feet.  As well their is an spacious cellar, an coal shed 12 x 8 feet outside, an 24 x 36 feet stable with an shingled roof and sided & painted, that could hold 14 horses, an oat room, and saddle room.  The doors are at the end of the stable, and opens into an corral measuring 24 x 28 feet.”

The first home built in Coutts was owned by Martin McGerry, an American section foreman employed by AR&CC.  It too was built on the railroad right-of-way, and was rented to the first American Immigration officer to work at the station, Joe Mantle and his family.  Another house was built on the same property, for the first Canadian government veterinarian Herbert Johnston.  After he left, the NWMP took over the house for additional living quarters.  That house would also be used as the first Anglican church in the area.  One of the first children born in the area, son of NWMP Sargent John Logan, was baptized in that house.  Later on, church services were moved to the main Barracks until an proper church was built in 1905.

The first Canadian customs agent was Edwin Allen who worked in the railroad station from October 1890 to mid 1891 – he was paid an pricey $75 an month.  The work was very interesting, as beside having to clear wagons and trains, much time was spent keeping tabs on the large American cattle herds grazing in Canada, which often the NWMP was called in to help herd them back into Montana.  He was relieved by a Mr. Cooper for an short spell, and then was relieved by Henry Tennant Sr. Henry and his family occupied another house built on the railroad right-of-way, just west of the station and along the International Boundary.  This house was later used as an residence for for the section foreman of the AR&CC.  The Tennants purchased land just an few miles west of Coutts, close enough that Henry and one of his sons George could go between working at the Railroad Station or on the family ranch.  The family lived on the ranch until 1910 when Henry Jr. married and took over operations of the ranch.  Henry senior and his family moved back into Coutts.  At the railroad station, the Tennants also handled the mail for both Coutts & Sweetgrass, sorting and storing it in an cupboard built out of crates.  This mail box is still in existence at the train station at the Galt Historic Railway Park – an photo of it is in Blog Post #5 “Lost and Found Artifacts“.  Henry Jr. was also employed by the Canadian government as an livestock inspector and rode through the district examining livestock for disease.  Henry Sr. other son Joe was employed by AR&CC as an conductor on the train that ran between Lethbridge & Coutts.

In the early years horse stealing was frequently committed, and an great many offenders took refuge across the border.  Just an year earlier in 1888, an large amount of horses were recovered by the NWMP and returned to their owners in Montana.  Hostile natives along the border and in the vicinity of the Sweetgrass Hills, just east of Coutts, also caused anxiety at times.  In 1894, an group of 40 Metis near the Sweetgrass Hills had begun an reign of terror, with stealing horses, or killing cattle as they pleased on either side of the border.  If anyone stood in their way or complained to the authorities about them, the Metis threatened to burn down that person’s property!  In April 1894, word came that three of them were in Canada.  A Corporal Dickson of the Writing-On-Stone detachment went out to meet them, finding their camp near dawn just north of the border near one of the boundary markers.  He hid their horses, captured and arrested one, and fired several shots.  The other two were away from the camp but came running in to come face to face with the armed NWMP officer!  He then arrested the other two and took them into custody.  The corporal had an strong case, but to be sure the NWMP hired an surveyor to confirm that the boundary marker was in the right spot.  To the NWMP dismay, the marker was 443 meters south of the boundary in the United States!  So they had to release the three Metis.  Later on, an group of United States Calvary ran the Metis group out of the Sweetgrass Hills.

One of the new tasks the NWMP was tasked with was cattle management.  With the increasing border patrols the Mounted Police would often come across cattle grazing with no cowboys in sight.  In one instance in 1896, customs agent Henry Sr. Tennant rode on horseback to the south fork of the Milk River and collected duty on cattle & horses belonging to two settlers.  The settlers had 3,089 head of cattle  and 42 horses.  After allowing 32 head duty-free as settler’s effects, Tennant would colled $6,319.70 as duty.  The duty was paid by cheque, drawn on the Union Bank in Lethbridge.  Tennant would later report that an estimated 10,000 head of American cattle were roaming in the Coutts area, between Writing-on-Stone and Pendant d’ Oreille.  This was an time when many American ranges were overstocked and had very little grass, and many cattle herds were moved within an couple of miles of the International Boundary and left to ‘drift’ over the line into Canada, where the cattle could graze on the lush Canadian pasture.  As an result, the NWMP would be called on several times to assist government stock inspectors in herding the cattle back into Montana.  At times things did get heated between the American and Canadian cowboys over who’s cattle was grazing on the right side of the border, and then the Mounties had to step in to figure out the mess.  Despite these occurrences, the NWMP made sure that the Canadian ranchers were protected against cattle theft, illegal branding, another stock crimes.  The ranchers were quick to repay the service with unwavering support of the Mounties, often times feeding them and putting them up for the night if they were on patrol in the area.  Many Mounties after their terms of duty would become ranchers themselves.

Another issue was the sale of alcohol – liquor was already on the plains, since the days of wolfers.  The liquor was coming north into Montana either by pack horse or wagon; yet for an man who understood how to carry it on, the illicit trade was the most profitable business in the country.  However the Mounties were able to slow the liquor trade until the First World War, when the Alberta Government passed an prohibition law in 1916, and two years later it was made an national issue when Canada issued national prohibition.  The push for the dry movement was done primarily by the churches, but the First World War became the driving force behind the “banning of the bar”,  because it was seen as necessary and natural for the benefits of the soldiers that the country they returned to was a better place. The argument was also raised that prohibition would benefit the war effort as well since it would prevent waste and potential inefficiency.  National prohibition was the first and last attempt to impose national standards on the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol.  However in the early 1920′s Canadian Provinces began repealing the prohibition laws, starting in British Columbia in 1921 and finally Alberta in 1924.  During the Prohibition period in Alberta, the majority of alcohol smuggled into Alberta was through the Whiskey Gap area, just west of Coutts, from the United States. Later it flowed in the opposite direction when the Americans declared Prohibition starting in 1922 and lasting until 1933.  In any case, the police were very busy!

In 1912 when the Canadian Pacific Railway purchased the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company (AR&IC) the customs agents had to move out of the railroad station.  An combined port-of-entry / residence was built on the road that was located just to the west of the railroad line just before the International Boundary.  This building was last until 1950 when an much larger facility was built and officially opened for traffic in 1952.  That building last up until the late 1990′s when it was demolished and an joint Canada – United States port-of-entry was built and opened to traffic in September 2004.

Not far from the railroad station (to the east) was an unusual road, which the locals called ‘Boundary Road’.  It runs east from Sweetgrass on the American side of the Boundary, which is some eight rods in width and is marked at intervals of one mile with an iron post.  At one time, an road on the Alberta side of the Boundary was kept up and traveled by Canadian traffic, but since the American road was built, many began using it more than the Canadian road and soon it fell into disuse.  Eight and one half miles east of Coutts the road swings back into Alberta – and since there are lateral roads that connect to this Boundary Road from both sides of the Boundary, the people of the two countries use it with equal freedom.

History of the Border Country of Coutts 1965 & 2000 editions
Sweetgrass Hills: A Natural & Cultural History – Johan Dormaar (2005)
Alberta’s 49th Parallel: A Natural & Historical Journey – Johan Dormaar (2009)
Tales of a Mounted Police Officer: Supertindent R. Burton Deane of Lethbridge NWMP Division – William Baker (1999)
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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.

NA-1167-15 (Glenbow Museum) – Alberta Railway and Coal Company Station on boundary at Coutts. NWMP Barracks in background – No Date

NA-2436-4 (Glenbow Museum) – View of the interior of the NWMP Barracks at Coutts – Christmas 1901



NA-1254-4 (Glenbow Museum) – View of the exterior RNWMP Barracks at Coutts – 1912

NA-2578-12 (Glenbow Museum) – RNWMP personnel at Coutts – May 1915

Posted in Galt Blog

Macleod’s Railroad Dreams…

Original article by Gord Tolton.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.  Additional information supplied by Chris Doering.

Fort Macleod was one of the oldest communities on the southern plains, older than Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Regina, Battleford, or Saskatoon.  So it’s not surprising that the town boosters of Macleod with its old Bull Trail connections to Montana and points north should not think itself as the hub of transportation and a potential railroad centre. But Macleod would always play the bridesmaid to the other cities whom railroads would make prosperous.  Even when the tracks did arrive, the town’s relationships with railroads were tempestuous.

The CPR veered north in 1883 and made Calgary the metropolis it is.  The North-West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NC) in 1885 showed more potential, but their tracks ended in Lethbridge.  Finally in 1892, the upstart Calgary & Edmonton Railway (C&E) extended its tracks south of Calgary towards Macleod, by then the center of ranching country.  The C&E was not without its characters – where Harry Longabaugh broke horses for the grading crews, before returning to the USA to resume his career as the ‘Sundance Kid’.  But when that 106 mile from Calgary did pull in, builders stopped on the north bank of the Oldman River some two miles west of Macleod.  Contrary to the expectations of Macleod’s residents, the railway company had no intention of extending the line across the river and into Macleod.  Instead the company promoted a new town at the terminus of the line and appropriately named it ‘West Macleod’.  And for five years Macleod had to be content with the wagons that brought passengers and freight to and fro the two settlements.

The Crowsnest Line, constructed by CPR in 1897-98, was yet another line to run within a short distance of Macleod (two miles south).  But that CPR line was a was a narrow gauge that ran haphazardly on rickety wooden bridges, crisscrossing several coulees and the St. Mary’s River south of Lethbridge and across the Blood Reserve. To add insult to injury, the CPR established a rival town just south of Macleod called ‘Haneyville’ (after one of the contractors of the Crowsnest Line), and then developed a divisional point there.  To read more on the background of the narrow gauge line, please read the previous blog post “Whoop-Up Railroad” on January 6th, 2014.

An elegant two-story frame station was built at Haneyville in 1898.  Certain design details indicate that this plan is, perhaps, a predecessor of later masonry stations.  Incensed Macleod townsmen feared a connection to the CPR Crowsnest Line and the C&E may occur at the new station, and grew even tenser that Haneyville should spring into a separate and rival town.  Town boosters begged, pleaded, and even offered to pay the CPR to bring the tracks into town, and talked of building a street car line to Haneyville to bring passengers into town.  But Haneyville never budged.  In return, the CPR tried to persuade the residents of Macleod to move over to Haneyville, but Macleod would have no part of it.  With only minor commercial activity, Haneyville could barely sustain itself.  A scant seven years passed before the CPR bridges between Lethbridge and Macleod literally began falling apart forcing the trains to run slower and to run half empty – forcing bottlenecks on the line.  Thus, Haneyville remained an railway-only town, occupied completely by railway employees.  By 1905, the CPR proposed an plan which eventually saw the railway enter Macleod.  In 1906, C&E spanned the Oldman River and the line was extended into Haneyville.  A spur line was built from the C&E line into Macleod, and CPR began planning to make preparations for the development of divisional point facilities in Macleod.

With the increase in railroad activity, the residents of Macleod were determined to take advantage of any potential growth that would result.  A sub-committee of the Board of Trade went to Calgary to solicit support of the proposed Calgary – Montana Railway charter, with Macleod sharing in the expense to obtain the charter.  The charter was granted, however, a simultaneous charter was granted to the Alberta & Great Northern Railway for a parallel line, wiped out the chances of the development of the Calgary – Montana Railway.  The lack of capital, despite the grant of ten thousand acres per mile of track, prevented the construction of the Alberta & Great Northern railway.  The Board of Trade approached other rail lines; the Grand Trunk Pacific, Great Northern, Alberta Railway & Irrigation, and even Canadian Northern.   It seemed the Board was not content to connect with anything less than every set of tracks on the western half of the continent.   Lot prices boomed and the town extended its limits to accommodate the influx of speculators.  Such dreams abounded in those days when a land boom threatened to transform southwestern Alberta into an agricultural & industrial heartland.  But the bubble would burst, pricked by the realities of prairie farming, a glut in grain production, and the advances of World War One – which would make iron scarce for new railroads.  Canadian Northern was the closest to building a new rail line, but only got as far as a rail bed…nothing more.  Macleod would have to be content in the 20th century with two rail lines; the CPR Crowsnest line and the C&E (which would be later purchased by CPR in 1913).

However, changes were coming on the horizon.  The CPR later revealed that it was planning to construct an standard-gauge diversion that would run west from Lethbridge through Macleod (following the present-day route), and that the original plan of having divisional point facilities in Macleod was nixed and divisional point operations were moved east to Lethbridge.  Jobs were lost in Macleod, and some of the rail facilities were downsized.  Around the same time the Haneyville station, along with the related railroad buildings, were relocated to the south end of 2nd Avenue in Macleod in 1907, and West Macleod was soon deserted.  The new diversion began with the opening up of the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge in August 1909 and the old 1896 narrow gauge line was torn up.  Not long afterwards Haneyville was then abandoned.  The station stood at its new site in Macleod until January 31st, 1967 when a fire completely destroyed the structure.

Today the majority of the former C&E rail line is gone (from High River south to Macleod), as well as the majority of the rail yards in the town.  But the Crowsnest Line ironically seems to be one of the few rail lines that will remain in southwestern Alberta in the 21st century.  As a railroad centre, Macleod had its growing pains, but served rail travel well, and continues to see freight from all over the world pass through the back door.  Fellow blogger Chris Doering has done some interesting posts on some of Fort Macleod’s railway history – the remains of the turntable & roundhouse and the unfinished portion of a Canadian Northern rail line near Fort Macleod!

Fort Macleod Turntable & Roundhouse Remains - http://www.bigdoer.com/6431/exploring-history/fort-macleod-turntable-and-roundhouse-remains/

Unfinished Canadian Northern Railway Line - http://www.bigdoer.com/9465/exploring-history/unfinished-canadian-northern-railway-line-fort-macleod/


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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


CPR station in Macleod (former Haneyville) around 1908 – J.A. Virtue Stationer & Confectioner (Macleod) – PC003608 – Peel Library, University of Alberta









Dignitaries, including members of the Michigan Free Press Association, prepare to cross the newly finished High Level Bridge in Lethbridge – August 1909 – Galt Museum & Achives P19760234015


Posted in Galt Blog

Galt Railway System Rolling Stock

Original article by Gord Tolton.  Additional information from Chris Doering.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer

Narrow gauge lines like this were not terribly common in Canada and while they offered some perceived benefits (lower cost of construction being one), they had several major disadvantages too. An example being the exchange of freight between lines – the load or freight had to be physical transferred from narrow gauge to standard gauge cars at the interchange point. A laborious and costly undertaking!

“Probably nowhere else in Canada has a motive power roster of a compact railway operation been so elusive as that of the Galt Railway system.  While much of the original data has been documented in builder’s records, the subsequent history of the engines (both the re-numbering and sales) has defied positive identification, since apparently no company records were preserved or at least none have come to light.  Photographic and other research have partly filled this void, and the findings are documented in hope that additional research could continue.” — Omer Lavallee in ‘Narrow Gauge Railways of Canada’ 1972.









When the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC) began upgrading their rail lines to standard gauge between 1893 to 1909, the majority of their narrow gauge rolling stock was sold off.  One of the locomotives, #16 was present by AR&IC to the City of Lethbridge as a display at the current site of the Lethbridge Exhibition Grounds, in 1912.  But the locomotive was neglected by the City and fell into disrepair - so much so, it was scrapped in 1916.

Other engines and rolling stock went west to the Kootenay region of Britsh Columbia, where the Kaslo & Slocan railway operated 53 kilometers of narrow gauge track between Kaslo to Sandon, and to the new silver mines in the region.  Kaslo was located on the shores of Kootenay Lake, and was served by steam ships connecting to railways near Creston and Nelson, British Columbia.  Construction on the railway started in 1895 after obtaining financial backing from the Great Northern Railway, which was seeking shortcuts against CPR for its mainline at Spokane.  Great Northern had gained control of the neighboring Nelson & Fort Sheppard Railway in 1893 which gave it access to Kootenay Lake.  Great Northern bought out the original investors in 1897 making the railway part of the Great Northern system under the Kootenay Railway and Navigation banner.  Much of the silver ore from the K&S was shipped to US smelters, providing traffic for the GN.  The Kaslo and Slocan faced stiff competition with the CPR’s Nakusp and Slocan for the ore from the mines.  On December 16, 1895, crews from the Kaslo and Slocan attacked and demolished the station the CPR had just built on land disputed between the two railways.  The CPR relocated the station to other land. Both railways competed with building spurs to service mines in order to obtain ore traffic destined for the other railway.

The K&S was very profitable in the later 1890s.  The railway had high operating costs because of its location along the side of step hills, many of which had been burned in forest fires, which was also affected by frequent snow and mud slides.  In 1900, when Sandon burned to the ground, and ongoing labor problems at the silver mines spelt an end to the boom years causing financial problems for the railway.  By 1904, the line was losing money on each train it ran, and train service to Sandon was suspended by 1908.  In 1910, an forest fire took out an majority of the remaining bridges and snow sheds along the line.  In 1911, GN sold the railway to an consortium of business people from Kaslo to re-start the railway.  Unfortunately, it was short lived, as CPR returned to Kaslo and made an agreement with the new owners of leasing the K&S for 999 years beginning on January 1st, 1912.  The CPR rebuilt the narrow gauge line to standard gauge, and connected it to their own Nakusp & Slocan line.  The CPR would continue to operate the line until abandoning it in the mid 1950s.  Most of the narrow gauge rolling stock of the K&S was scrapped in Vancouver in 1917, probably for the First World War steel demand, although the rest were able to stay active well in the late 1920’s.

Another locomotive, #6, rests beside the grade of a narrow gauge spur line that originally was connected to the CPR main line, near Field, British Columbia.  For decades, the rusting boiler, frame, and tenders were assumed by locals to be a wreck of a runaway pusher.  However, railway historians knew that no runaway locomotive had been scrapped at the base of the ‘Big Hill’.  In the 1950′s, the builder’s plate was found in the wreckage, identifying it as #7717, a 36″ gauge 2-6-0 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, in November 1885.  It had been sold to NWC&NC, which numbered it #6.  The locomotives identity was established, although the question why was it abandoned in the Canadian Rockies just off the CPR main line, far from its original home?

The Spiral Tunnels were an important and costly project and this allowed the CPR to finally abandon its famous Big Hill. Incredibly steep (by rail standards) the Big Hill line was a major bottleneck and trouble spot and construction of the tunnels alleviated a number of nagging problems. To a degree anyway and even today this is the steepest section of the CPR mainline. Trains here travel very slow which means the line is often at times very congested. Certainly it’s one of the more challenging sections on the entire railway!

One of the companies involved in the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, MacDonnell & Gzowski, purchased at least two, maybe three locomotives.  At the end of the job in September 1909, #6 was then abandoned, and over time it somehow got pushed to the bottom of the grade with various bits removed.  We are not sure where locomotive #15 ended up.  Chris Doering mentioned that he had heard rumors the other locomotive, #7 ended up in one of the local lakes.  Hard to say, but who knows?  You can check out Chris’s earlier blog posts on the mysterious #6 locomotive here, and here, that feature some unique photographs of this almost lost artifact.


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.

A narrow gauge locomotive #17 at Great Falls, Montana – 1895 – from left to right: Bill Niven (fireman), Tom Nolan (engineer), R. Gilkey, W. McDonald, and R. Hardy. – Galt Museum & Archives Photo 19760234083










Photograph of the snow plow in front of the train clearing the railway track between Lethbridge, Alberta and Sweetgrass, Montana after an blizzard – February 1st, 1907 – Galt Museum & Archive Photo 19730113001











Narrow Gauge Locomotive of the NWC&NC at Lethbridge, Northwest Territories – 1887 – The three men on the locomotive are identified as C.F. McPherson, unknown, and Bernard Stanford Burrell. Glenbow Museum photograph NA-1322-21








The staff stand on and around the narrow gauge locomotive #16 on the occasion of the AR&IC merger with CPR – April 1st, 1912 in Lethbridge, AB. Galt Museum & Archives Photo 19760234066









Former Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company Baldwin 2-6-0 #2 locomotive at Kaslo, BC in 1925 – Provincial Archives of British Columbia Photo (B-7154)









Another one of the former Alberta Railway & Coal Company’s Baldwin 2-6-0 locomotives (#15) with an level top boiler and bell next to the cab, at the interchange with the standard gauge CPR mainline at the base of Mount Stephen in 1908 – Glenbow Foundation Collection Photo

Posted in Galt Blog

Lost and Found Artifacts…

Web blog by Jason Paul Sailer

We have decided for this blog post to compile some of the artifacts found in the 1890 International Train Station during renovations that occurred between the fall of 2001 to its re-opening to the public in the fall of 2005.

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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.

This piece of metal was found under the second level staircase. We think it is an piece of an locomotive, but we are not sure. It has ‘July 1883′ stamped on the back of it.

This is an authentic 1890 Mammoth lamp shade & frame (harp) that was found in the attic! It has since been cleaned up and now operates as an electric lamp. Special thanks to the Community Foundation of Lethbridge & Southwestern Alberta for providing funding to locate / refurbish the other Mammoth lamps & shades for our station!

These cardboard cereal boxes were found in the attic as well.

This buffalo horn was found under the second level staircase.

This bucket had an interesting story. It is an original water bucket that was later used by CPR as an paint bucket! It was also found in the attic space – the wire attached to the handle had an paint brush attached at the other end!

The ‘Tickets’ sign was found in the waiting room walls and is original to the station.

The Ticket Wicket is also original to the station, as well as the counter and the brick brack bracket under the counter. The wicket was filled in, and would be later discovered when the GCPRS took over the station.

The last artifact is the original Coutts / Sweetgrass post office! This is an handmade original, that was probably built by Henry Tennant Sr., the first Customs Agent at the train station.










The Canadian Customs badge on the left was found under the floor boards on the main floor. The badge on the right is an reproduction of what it would of looked like new.



























Posted in Galt Blog

New Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society Article!!

Here is an new article with myself and Cody Kapcsos on the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society – will be in the Taber Times, the 40 mile Commentator, Cypress Courier, Westwind Weekly News, the Sunny South News, and the Vauxhall Advance…. Please join our cause and buy an membership! – Jason Sailer. To join our group simply download Membership Form, include the cheque, and mail to us…simple as that! If you have questions or want fliers to hand out, just ask!

Posted in Galt Blog

Tiny Relic Tells Big Story…

Original article by Gord Tolton.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer

One day Don Nilson of Stirling, Alberta was poking about the soil just west of the Galt Historic Railway Park, and looked down in the dirt and seen an small bow-tie shaped brass name ribbon, no more than 2″ wide by 3/4″ high.  Don knows an bit of Stirling’s history and its placement on the old Northwest Mounted Police trail that stretched from Fort Macleod Alberta to Fort Walsh Saskatchewan in the mid 1870s to late 1880′s.  He thought that the name ribbon fell off an policeman’s saddle.

The ribbon bore the corporate name of ‘J.H. Bunnell & Co., N.Y.’ and in the center had the number ’150′ stamped on the top and ‘O.H.M.S’ on the bottom.  On the flanges on either side of the ribbon were small holes where an braid or nail could be inserted to or attached to something.

Don turned the ribbon over to Bill Hillen at the Railway Park, along with his thoughts on the tiny relic.  Bill knew someone who knows something about the NWMP, Gord Tolton.  Upon first glance, Gord  discounted the idea of an saddle plate, since saddles identify their trade names with leather-tooled impressions, not with metal plates.  The name ‘Bunnell’ sounded familiar to Gord, but he just couldn’t remember the reason why it did.  Gord had thought maybe it was an shipping container plate, judging the ‘O.H.M.S’ could stand for ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ (similar to an luggage tag of present day).  But it was an guess, so Gord turned to the next best thing to solve the mystery – the internet.  The first search hit paydirt!  J.H. Bunnell & Co., was the continent’s foremost manufacturer of telegraph keys and telegraph equipment. Not knowing the significance of the letters, or the numbers, Gord contacted Neal McEwen who operates the ‘Telegraph Office’ homepage for further information (http://www.telegraph-office.com/).

Neal writes “The age of the Bunnell plate is a little hard to determine, as they did not change much over the years.  The ‘bow-tie’ plate was only used from 1890 to 1905 or so, as the plates afterwards changed to an rectangular shape.  The number ’150′ is the resistance of the telegraph relay (key) and is measured in ‘OHMS’, which is the electrical unit of resistance.  150 OHMS relays were used from almost the start of Bunnell’s manufacturing to the very end.  It was most likely pinned to an wooden base that would of sat on an desk.  After 1915, the bases were then made out of slate.  Canadian Pacific Railway & Canadian Pacific Telegraphs were large customers of telegraph instruments, with an large majority purchased from Bunnell.”

So why was this name plate lying out in an field just an short distance from the Railway Park?  Perhaps it was part of the original telegraph relay that was installed in the Galt station at Stirling, and when it needed to be replaced it was tossed into the dump?  Perhaps the telegraph relay was used as an grave marker?  The mystery remains, but at least part of part of the story can be told!


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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


Here is an photo of the name ribbon that was found west of the current location of the Galt Historic Railway Park. Photo taken by Jason Sailer on Jan. 4th, 2014










Here is an view of what the name ribbon would look like if new. This example is attached on an telegraph relay for sale here: http://mcmrailvideos.com/s-telegraph_relay_2.html










Here is an later example of an telegraph relay with the later Bunnell name ribbon (rectangular) instead of the ‘bow-tie’.


Posted in Galt Blog

Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society – Prairie Post Article – Jan. 31st, 2014

 We are in the process of applying for an charitable status!

 We need more members!

Please download and print off the membership form and send in!!

 Any questions please contact either Cody Kapcsos 403-715-5238 or Jason Sailer 403-320-1578

Posted in Galt Blog

A History of the Coutts / Sweetgrass International Train Station

The Great Canadian Plains Railway Society (GCPRS) has decided for 2014 we should blog about various items of interest of southern Alberta history, railway tidbits, etc. We will be trying to blog twice an month. Lots of the blogs will be coming from older GCPRS newsletters, which were written up by Gord Tolton for the Society. Original article by Gord Tolton. Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.

The depression of the late 1880′s struck the Galt Family’s Lethbridge-based coal company almost as soon as it went into full production - necessitating new markets immediately if it were to survive.  One of these new markets was the emerging copper / steel smelters in Montana that required large amounts of coal.  As well, another new market was supplying coal to the American railway giant Great Northern.  Out of this, came the Great Falls & Canada Railway (GF&CR)  - which was incorporated in the United States on December 3rd, 1889.  The Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC) built the 65 miles of Canadian portion, while the US chartered GF&CR built the 134 mile American portion that ended at Great Falls, Montana. Construction began in March 1890, and exactly 108 days later the AR&CC and GF&CR met at the present-day location of Coutts / Sweetgrass.  As we know from the last web blog post, Coutts was named after one of the main shareholders of the AR&RC, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts!  An few days after, on October 2nd, the first train (an coal train) left Lethbridge bound for Great Falls.  On October 20th, 1890 an special one-week excursion fare was announced to augment the passenger traffic – for an $10 dollar fare an passenger could leave Great Falls for Banff via Lethridge and Dunmore an round trip of some 900 miles!

An port of entry was required for crossing the International Border, so AR&RC engineer Mr. Barclay and NWMP Inspector Moodie chose the site for the location of the train station in June 1890.  An 3,800 sf International train station would be built over the summer months, and would be situated half in Canada and half in the United States.  The construction company that built the station was run by an man by the name of Donald Grant.  He brought the building materials up from Fort Benton on bull trains.  The station was designed in the Victorian era, although it was not overly adorned with the typical Victorian character defining elements.  The only visible signature of the builder is the use of an angled pattern of profiled tongue & groove siding which was placed below the bumpout on the stationmasters area.  This pattern has been used by Scandinavian craftsmen.  Additional research finds that the former Grand Trunk Railway station in Claremont, Ontario has an similar building style to the Coutts / Sweetgrass station.  Sir Alexander Galt was an director of the Grand Trunk Railway, so an person can infer his experience with Grand Trunk influenced this station!

The American portion included an customs area, where US customs agents would check incoming / outgoing passengers, inspect items on the train, etc.  As well an US Customs agent office, and an secured baggage room was located here to hold items ‘in bond’ while the train was at the station.  Usually items, luggage, etc was moved behind the station on an boardwalk between the American & Canadian sides.  As well two detention cells were here – since there was no jail in Sweetgrass these were used by the Sweetgrass sheriffs in detaining people who didn’t have proper identification, cattle rustlers, whiskey smugglers, drunks, etc.

The actual border would actually run through the waiting / dining room of the Station (marked outside on the platform by an painted line).  The painted line was an obvious marker to people seeking refuge – one story was US law officers chasing an fugitive northward who beat them across the line at the train station.  Since there was nowhere else to go, the officials decided to wait him out.  Taunting the lawmen, he had food carried to him over from the US side and he ate it sitting on the bench on the Canadian side, while the lawmen standing an few feet away fuming!

When an correspondent for the Winnipeg Free Press made an lunch stop at Coutts in March 1891, his impressions described anything but the Harvey Girls, as an riot nearly occurred; “The table (in the restaurant) bore an strong resemblance to Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, and the writer did not appear to be in any great hurry.  The bill of fare consisted of ham and eggs, and when the waiter made his appearance with the first consignment it was plain to be seen that he was sad and lonesome there by himself, and had been drowning his sorrows at the Sweetgrass saloon.  He brought in one piece of ham and two eggs to satisfy twenty hungry patrons.”  Apparently the passengers devoured the only nourishment available, a portion of a barrel of pickles, and its brine, since the only other food available was a small blackened piece of ham presided over by an brooding cook and a ‘boy whose shirt had been used to supply dish clothes when its owner was short taken.’  The cook let the howling mob board the train without paying but insisted the correspondent pay four bits since he was the only one to dine.  Four months later, following an change in management, an Great Falls bound excursion train was treated to as royal a repast as the writer’s meal had been frugal.

Adjacent to this space would be the stationmaster / telegraph room, where bonded shipments would be arranged from country to country.  After that was followed by the Canadian customs that included an unsecured / secured baggage rooms, customs agent office, and customs space was located.  There was no jail cells in the Canadian portion – the NWMP barracks was located just behind the station (a short walk up the hill) on railway property.  The NWMP barracks were also built by AR&RC for an pricey sum of $2,600 dollars in the fall of 1890.  The Canadian Customs would also serve as the main post office for both Coutts / Sweetgrass, with the Canadian Customs officer Henry Tennant, handed out both Canadian & American mail from an homemade apple box mail slot beside his desk!

In April 1894, the Great Northern Railway and the Montana Central Railroads were paralyzed by strikes, leaving the GF&CR the only operating railroad in Montana.  The Great Falls & Canada put in special rates from St. Paul over the lines of Soo, Canadian Pacific, and their parent company AR&RC.  Many of these rates were much lower than GN’s.  By 1901, the train service had been increased to three times per week from Shelby, MT to Lethbridge, NWT.  Prior to 1896, as many as four freight trains an day were working 200 to 300 tons per train southward.  At Great Falls, parallel to the standard gauge tracks of the Great Northern Railway, an massive thousand foot long, 26 foot high interchange coal dock had been constructed, so that the self-dumping narrow-gauge cars of the AR&RC and GF&CR could dump their contents into the hoppers of the GN.  Lethbridge coal was the main source of revenue for this rail line.  Canadian train crews and rolling stock worked the line from Lethbridge to Shelby, where American crews and rolling stock took over operations from Shelby to Great Falls – where the north / south narrow gauge line crossed the newly built east / west standard gauge GN line.

By this time, Montana coal mines began opening up and the cheap cost of coal threatened the exported Canadian coal market – for instance the one mine offered Great Falls customers coal delivered at $2.50 per ton, while the Galt coal went for an price of $8 to $10 per ton!  These market conditions forced the Galts to consider selling the rail line – it was initially suggested that the Galts could sell the entire rail line to Canadian Pacific, something that GN would not let happen – so they stepped up to the plate and purchased the American portion of the GF&CR on August 1st, 1901 at an cost of $750,000.  One of the conditions of the sale was that AR&RC would have to upgrade the railway line from narrow gauge to standard gauge prior to GN taking over the operations.  This upgrading of the rail line would occur over the course of 1902, with the final handover occurring on October 30th, 1902.  As an result, AR&RC would upgrade the line from Coutts north to Lethbridge at the same time, to accommodate the new standard guage rail traffic, which would commence operations on January 1st, 1903. AR&RC operations would be reorganized into the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company (AR&IC) in June 1904.  On January 1st, 1912 AR&IC would enter with an tentative agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway to allow CPR to take over operations and by June 2nd, 1912 CPR would assume control of all the Galt rail network.  When CPR initialized the purchase agreement of AR&IC in Jan. 1912, the took over control of the northern portion (Canadian) side of the station while Great Northern Railway owned & operated the southern portion (American) side.

To much surprise and shock, CPR cut their portion of the Coutts / Sweetgrass train station away from the American portion on September 10th, 1916 and moved it an quarter mile north.  We are unsure if there were passengers inside the station at the time, but we can read from the correspondence between Sweetgrass and GN’s head office in St. Paul, MN that there was some strong words pointed at CPR!  In the meantime, GN was scrambling to put together an temporary depot, as passengers had to sit on the platform for up to two hours waiting to cross into Canada, with many of the women and children sitting inside the small American portion, while the men stood outside.  GN rushed into two unused boxcars and set them up on the south side of the old 1890 train station and built an cinder block platform.  Bad publicity from two newspapers (the Great Falls Daily Leader and the Sweetgrass Advocate) that December pushed the construction of an new depot to the forefront of GN’s priority’s.  The Sweetgrass Advocate reported that – “up to 320 people – men, women, and children, standing on and around the tracks with little bonfires here and there, the thermometer at -6 degrees Celsius waiting at least two hours (and some reported up to five hours) waiting for the train…”  So in early 1916, GN began construction of an new depot, 30′ x 96′ located approx 450′ from the International  border that opened up that spring.  This depot would serve GN well – it would be renovated in 1953, but with lagging passenger traffic it was closed and replaced by an small 9′ x 31′ metal structure in 1978.  To please American Immigration officials, GN moved the old 1890 structure to to the opposite side of the tracks and placed it beside the depot.  This would be the ‘new’ customs building that would continue to serve until being replaced with an new facility in April 1936.   It was then sold to an local-area farmer, an Mr. Alex Suta, for $100 who moved it to his property in July 1937. We are unsure if it still stands.

After CPR split the station and moved 1/4 mile north, it continued to operate in that location until 1986 when stationmaster Cecil Walker retired.  It was then operated part time for three years, until finally closing in 1989.  It sat vacated until 1998, when the Federal government began studies into redeveloping the border crossing at Coutts / Sweetgrass.  The downside to these studies called for the demolition of the train station as it would sit in the way of the proposed new border crossing layout.  Around this same time, the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society (GCPRS) was formed to tell the story of the railroad in southern Alberta with emphasis on the Galt rail network.  Much to their surprise, that would include one of the original Galt stations!  GCPRS would receive ownership of the station in October 1999, and the rest is history! (or for an future webblog post!)

Canadian Rail Newsletter #273 September – October 1974 ‘The Tea Kettle Line’ by Patrick Webb

Canadian Rail Newsletter #376 September – October 1983 ‘The Second Turkey Track’ by Patrick Webb

Coutts History Book – 1965

James C. Mattson (Seattle, Washington) ‘Great Northern Railway Mileposts’ – April 25, 2011 – Great Northern Railway Historical Society

Great Northern Railway Correspondence from 1912 to 1939 – Great Northern Railway Historical Society

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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.

AR&RC / GF&CR train station on the International Boundary at Coutts, NWT & Sweetgrass, MT – 1890 (Glenbow Archives photo NA-1167-15)









AR&RC / GF&CR staff on the train station platform – no date – from the left; Mrs. & Mr. Moberly (station master), George Tennant (Canadian Customs Officer), Henry Tennant (Customs Agent), and three men who are believed to be Canadian Custom Officers










AR&IC / GF&CR train station on the International Boundary at Coutts, AB & Sweetgrass, MT – 1908 (Galt Museum & Archives P19760234044)









AR&IC / GF&CR train station on the International Boundary at Coutts, AB & Sweetgrass, MT – 1908 (Galt Museum & Archives P19760237031)








View from US / Canada border crossing looking north towards the train station. The coaling tower and livestock yards are seen to the right of the photo. In the far distance one of the Coutts grain elevator stands – no date








View from behind the Coutts train station looking SE into Montana – no date








Aerial view of Coutts, Ab & Sweetgrass MT – July 1957 (Galt Museum & Archives P19754008042)










Jeff Henricks photo of Station in 1995. Coutts grain elevators in background.

Posted in Galt Blog

The Baroness, a Railroad, and a Town

The Great Canadian Plains Railway Society (GCPRS) has decided for 2014 we should blog about various items of interest of southern Alberta history, railway tidbits, etc.  We will be trying to blog twice an month.  Lots of the blogs will be coming from older GCPRS newsletters, which were written up by Gord Tolton for the Society. Original article by Gord Tolton.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.

Sir Alexander Galt was looking for funds to establish the first large scale mining venture on the prairies.  As Canada’s High Commissioner to England, he canvassed the posh drawing rooms of London and pulled together $90,000 to capitalize the North-West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NC).  The investors were the cream of British society, including book publisher William Lethbridge and an eager American expatriate named William Burdett-Coutts.  But the ‘young William’ actually got his name from the wealthy noble-woman he’d married.  Bartlett is listed as an investor, but the actual capital was raised from Bartlett’s bride, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, England’s wealthiest woman and the greatest philanthropist of her time.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts was born in 1814, the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet (a member of Parliament), and Sophia Coutts, who was daughter of Thomas Coutts, the wealthy banker who founded Coutts & Co., in 1837.  At 23, Angela came into an annual income of $400,000 per year, but refused to be idle.  Determined to put her treasury to good use, Angela spent much of her fortune trying to right the social ills of the day.

Countless churches (including Lethbridge’s first Anglican church in 1887), schools, and housing projects (in fact, she once purchased a slum section of London, tore down the buildings and erected low-income housing for the residents there) were the recipient of her good will, an personal attack on the misery of the downtrodden.  Angela also established the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 1883, the Westminster Technical Institute in 1893 and was involved with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). As well even drinking fountains for dogs in the parks of England! Angela’s charity was not confined to England, and many forgotten corners of the Empire was helped, even unpopular causes such as an foundation for the displaced aboriginals of Australia, and an relief fund for refugees of the Russo-Turkish wars in 1877.

Her benevolence was noted by Queen Victoria, and in 1871 she was created the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the first woman ever so honoured in the Empire.  Famous author Charles Dickens even dedicated his novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, to her.  But in 1883, Angela scandalized London society – at age 69 she wed her personal secretary, the 29 year old American, William Ashmead Bartlett, who took her name, who on her behalf, invested in the Canadian frontier network of mines, steamboats, railroad, and irrigation projects (that we know as the “Galt” series of companies).

The Baroness or her husband never set foot in Canada, but both were commemorated by having two villages; “Coutts” & “Burdett”, an river steamboat “Baroness”, and streets in Lethbridge ‘Baroness Road’ (3rd Street South), ‘Burdett Street’ (9th Street South) and ‘Coutts Street’ (1st Avenue South) named after them.

For more on the Baroness, read ‘Lady Unknown’ by Edna Healey (available at the Lethbridge Public Library).  This book reveals the Baroness surrendered much of her fortune by marrying Bartlett, when vindictive relatives invoked legal technicalities to have her fortune reduced.  The book suggests the estate may be still in disarray.

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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.

Here is an illustration taken at the wedding of the Baroness & William Ashmead on February 12th, 1881.

Posted in Galt Blog

Whoop-Up Railroad

The Great Canadian Plains Railway Society (GCPRS) has decided for 2014 we should blog about various items of interest of southern Alberta history, railway tidbits, etc.  We will be trying to blog twice an month.  Lots of the blogs will be coming from older GCPRS newsletters, which were written up by Gord Tolton for the Society. Original article by Gord Tolton.  Re-posted to web blog by Jason Paul Sailer.


When one thinks of Lethbridge in terms of landmarks, it is easy to point out the goliath Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) High Level bridge as the southern Alberta city’s own unique ‘Statue of Liberty’.  It’s a great comment on Lethbridge’s role as an railway center.  But that great span across the Oldman River valley was not completed until 1909, and rail history was ingrained into the southern Alberta psyche long before then.  And for an few short years, a railway ran with an few yards of the original site of Fort Whoop-Up.


A 104 mile narrow gauge rail line was built by the North-West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NC) in the spring of 1885, as an means of getting the company’s coal to the CPR’s rail head at Medicine Hat.  In the late fall of 1893, the NWC&NC enters agreement with CPR to lease the Lethbridge – Medicine Hat rail line to CPR, who would then begin converting it to standard gauge.  CPR would purchase the rail line outright on December 31st, 1897.


By 1893, the mass colonization of the prairie’s, and the accompanying increase in grain production, as well as the opening of vast mining operations in southeast British Columbia led to an massive expansion of railway operations.  The Federal government and CPR, on June 28th, 1897 entered into an agreement, the “Crowsnest Pass Act” to extend the former narrow gauge line from Lethbridge and onward through the Crowsnest Pass to Nelson, BC – the act stipulated that the rail line had to go through Fort Macleod.  Additionally, the act granted CPR a subsidy of $11,000 per mile, to a maximum of $3,630,000 to be paid in not less than 10-mile rail sections.  You can see an overview of the entire Crowsnest Pass railway here:  http://railways.library.ualberta.ca/Maps-7-4-2/


The only obstacle seemed to be that massive mile-plus long valley of the Oldman River at Lethbridge.  The valley ran at an direct right angle to the track, and the sudden 300 foot drop of the valley seemed to have prohibited any notion of sloping the grade to facilitate the erection of low-level crossings.  So instead of crossing one big river, CPR engineers chose to cross a smaller tributary.


In retrospect, one supposes it may of seemed a good idea at the time.  All one had to do was run the line straight south a point a mile and a half east of the Lethbridge town-site (Lethbridge Junction), and use the coulees to gradually drop the grade to enable an low-level bridge crossing of the St. Mary’s River, to a point a mile south from its junction with the larger Oldman river.  After crossing the St. Mary’s, the track merely had to re-climb the coulee and follow the well rutted Whoop-Up Trail as it wound its way to Fort Macleod.  One more crossing would have to be made across the Belly River.  In all, the new extension between Lethbridge and Fort Macleod would be 37 miles long.  It seemed a reasonable concept, but the ‘Whoop-Up Line’ would soon prove to be a disaster.


A curiosity of this construction was the gauge of the line.  The old NWC&NC railway had all been narrow gauge, but the CPR was a standard gauge line, and wanted nothing to do with narrow gauge.  But rather than spend more money on new rolling stock, and with the costs of converting the newly purchased NWC&NC line, CPR decided to operate the Lethbridge – Fort Macleod line as an narrow gauge!


Unfortunately, the locomotives were hardly designed to be able to climb the kinds of grades that had been accomplished by the bull-whackers and their ox-driven wagon trains.  For the grade to be dropped to the elevations necessary for the river bridges, deep cuts and high hills had to be made to gradually drop the grade to the river trestle.  Because of the abrupt grade, the St. Mary’s trestle had to be 60 feet high, and almost half a mile long as it crossed not only the river, but also much of the flats on both sides.  Railroad historian Ronald Bowman wrote that “the bridge was composed of two wooden trusses over the actual river channel, with trestle-type approaches.  It was a forest of timber…”  The construction camp for the bridge was within an hammer’s throw of the original site of Fort Whoop-Up.  In 1897 the Fort was very much in living memory of many area residents, in fact there was undoubtedly a few ruins for an CPR surveyor, engineer, or track layer to pick through if they had a mind too.


When the line was completed, a series of water & coaling stations were built along the line.  The first was called ‘Dranoel’, which stood approximately where the Coast Hotel (former El-Rancho) stands today, as the line left Lethbridge in pretty much the same route as Mayor Magrath Drive and Highway #5 run today.  Another station ‘Whoop-Up’ was located at the top of the river valley before the line began its slow descent down into the coulee, while another station ‘St. Mary’s’ was located at the beginning of the wooden trestle that crossed the river.  Nearby the station was the Federal government gathering station that would facilitate the loading / unloading of cattle to be shipped to market.


Past the St. Mary’s bridge along the route to Fort Macleod, the stations Nena, Kipp, and Cumtux would occupy spots along the Blood Reserve.  After crossing the Belly river on another wooden bridge, the Pearce station would greet the trains before finally reaching Fort Macleod.  One pioneer passenger recalled an ride on the line as “… a long journey, as the train crawled slowly over all the bridges, but it was a picturesque view going through all the valleys, past the old Fort Whoop-Up, and other interesting sights.  It was an most winding and twisting railroad”.  When crossing many of the ill-conceived wooden trestles, engineers had to slow their locomotives down to a crawl, as the timbers creaked and groaned underneath their feet.


A series of trestles (up to 20) would have to be built across dry coulees, as the line traveled south from Lethbridge on the way to the river crossings.  Railroad techniques of the day dictated that the cheapest and most available building material (wood) to be used for bridges, and would be later replaced with iron as the railway made money.  But the railway never did make money, and a scant seven years had passed before the bridges literally began to fall apart.  Spring run-offs often caused washouts, and destroyed entire structures.  Fire was also an threat to the bridges, both from prairie blazes and from hot flying cinders from the locomotives.  General wear & tear loosened bolts and joints, making the bridges unstable.  Beside the engineering headaches, the rail line was often proved to be unworthy for commerce as well.  Trains were often only half-loaded due to having to climb steep grades and cross shaky wood bridge spans.  The long passage across the Blood reserve with the lack of commercial / agricultural operations was completely unproductive for passenger or freight revenue.


When the line reached Fort Macleod, even the rail head proved to be controversial as well.  The railway station, yards, and shops were located outside of town to the southwest at an location called Haneyville, named after CPR contractor Michael Haney.  Fort Macleod residents were fearful that the CPR line would connect with the Calgary & Edmonton railway tracks, and encourage new development to occur at Haneyville, instead of Fort Macleod.   The Haneyville station seemed to contravene the “Crowsnest Pass Act”, which stated “… the railway shall be constructed through the town of Fort Macleod, and a station shall be established therein…” or “…at a distance not greater than 500 yards from town limits.”  Either Haneyville was illegal, or Fort Macleod’s town limits were not properly defined.  Locals in Fort Macleod say that a Chinese section was in the Haneyville vicinity, so it seems that CPR stretched the idea of ‘town limits’.  Bowman even relates an old folk tale “… that the Fort Macleod populace objected to the noise pollution of railway operations, and wanted to keep the railway at an distance.”  By 1907 CPR relented, and moved the railway station & shops into town limits.  You can see an photo of the station at Haneyville under construction here: http://www.fortmacleod.com/visiting/photo_gallery/default2.cfm?mode=viewImageMode&id=4349A2A5-1143-CD94-4C34C0ED802887F1


When an estimate of over $2 million was submitted in 1904 for the cost of re-locating the rail line, CPR officials agreed that the increase in business would offset the cost.  The CPR was finally ready to pull the pin on the “Whoop-Up Railroad.”  In 1905 the CPR made Lethbridge the divisional point on their new Crowsnest Line, complete with the construction of an new roundhouse, yards, and an new Union Station.  Little wonder since the young city had connections to the ‘main’ line at Medicine Hat and an route to the United States.  With this new distinction, CPR officials saw it fit to justify construction at Lethbridge of what was called ‘one of the wonders of the world’.  This of course, is the massive structure that we know today as the great landmark of Lethbridge.  The excavation and substructure contract went to Gunn and Sons of Winnipeg with the work completed in February 1908.  The bridge was designed by the CPR but built by the Canadian Bridge Company of Walkerville, Ontario.  Once construction was complete, a new rail line was constructed to Fort Macleod, on the present-day route that runs parrell to Highway #3.


The rickety sets of tracks and bridges running by Whoop-Up was then abandoned.  In modern times, even Fort Whoop-Up itself was moved to Lethbridge, reconstructed actually, as an interpretive centre / tourist attraction adjacent to the CPR High Level bridge.  Even dismantling the line proved to be an jinxed process.  On Monday, January 31st, 1910 one bridge was being dismantled, and the materials were being re-loaded onto an work train – CPR engineer George Munroe braked locomotive #1413 abruptly on the bridge.  But Munroe was oblivious to the fact that workers loosened the reinforcement bracing on that particular bridge.  The sudden inertia sent the bridge, locomotive & tender, flatcar and 12 workers plunging 50 feet to the coulee below.  A special ‘wreck train’ quickly left Lethbridge for the accident site with Dr. McNally & an team of medics and nurses to tend to the injured. One worker died instantly in the accident, with engineer Munroe later dieing in the Galt Hospital in Lethbridge.


Many remnants can be seen of the original railroad – the grades can be seen on both sides of the St. Mary’s river as they descend into the river valley.  In one place, an rail could be seen sticking out of an eroded bank.  The two  concrete bridge abutments stood like sentinels in the St. Mary’s River until 1995, when an torrential flood knocked one of them over.  Today on virgin prairie in the shadow of Lethbridge on an secluded river flat, sits the ghosts of two great adventurous endeavors - the original site of Fort Whoop-Up, and the first branch of the Crowsnest rail line.


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 Gord Tolton and Jason Paul Sailer unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.


Bull Snake on tracks – west of St. Mary’s Station

A group of men working on the tracks west of the St. Mary’s station. They are looking at an large bull snake stretched out on the tracks (1905). GM+A 19760234013









St. Mary’s Railway Station

A group of men standing on the platform at the St. Mary’s Railway Station. Approx. 1895. GM+A 19760234046









St. Mary’s Railway Station

St. Mary’s Railway Station located near the confluence of the Oldman & St. Mary’s Rivers (Approx 1902). GM+A 19760234045









St. Mary trestle bridges

Railway works on one of the St. Mary trestle bridges – (Approx 1902). GM + A 19780259009








Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Crowsnest line (1898). GM+A 19851025001








CPR train wreck 10 miles sw of Lethbridge, Alberta

Image shows a collapsed bridge, engine-tender and flatcar on the abandoned C.P.R. Lethbridge to Macleod line – British & Colonial Photographic Co. – 1910.  Prairie Postcard Collection at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library (university of AB) # PC004103









Posted in Galt Blog