In search of Haneyville…

In January 2014 I re-published an original article done by friend and fellow historian Gord E. Tolton on the Crowsnest railway branch CPR, Lethbridge to Haneyville, in use from 1898 to 1909. Haneyville? Who or what on earth was the reason behind its name? Despite the fact it is within eyesight of a nearby town, few have heard of or even remembered why it existed. As with any article, numerous updates and additional information has surfaced since the original publishing, hence the reason for this newest edition.

Haneyville was a railway junction point for the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Calgary & Edmonton Railway, and to a lesser degree the Canadian Northern Railway. Not much can be found of this former community (in a field), except for portions of railway track bed and some scattered bits and pieces. It would have been a major player in the railway scene of southern Alberta, had it not been affected by the sale of survey rights to the Galt family (and its Alberta Railway & Coal Company) of a railway route to the Crowsnest Pass to rival Canadian Pacific Railway and latter construction of the High Level Viaduct.  But I am getting ahead of myself!  Let’s take a few steps back…

Lethbridge in the late 1880s was a company town controlled by the Galt family (Sir Alexander and his son Elliot) through their Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC). If you were in Lethbridge at that time you either worked on their narrow gauge railway or at one of the numerous mines in the area, supplying coal to the local settlements and to the Canadian Pacific Railway. At the time, expansion was already at the mind of the Galts and the southern railway line into the new markets in Montana was already in the planning stages. Naturally the call of the west was in their minds as in 1890 the Galt’s applied for and received a Federal charter to develop a railway line from Lethbridge westward into the Crowsnest Pass. Their hope was to tap into new customers in southeastern British Columbia, and to also exploit additional coal reserves buried deep in the mountains in the Pass. As with the other railways at the time, including the Canadian Pacific Railway, Great Northern Railway, the Grand Trunk, and the Canadian Northern – they too eyed the resource rich Crowsnest Pass & Kootenay districts.

Despite having this charter, the Federal government dragged its feet on giving the AR&CC the final approval to proceed with the narrow gauge line. The hesitancy of the government added to the straining relationship the Galt’s had with the CPR – trying to stave their main competitor away from dueling rail ambitions, while retaining their own coal business. By accessing the coal rich Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley, Elliott hoped to exploit these newly found resources and increase his company’s usefulness to the CPR (and also help fund additional expansion plans). Armed with the government’s blessing, all he needed was money. And lots of it!

The CPR’s general superintendent, William Van Horne, was wary of his smaller rival’s shortcomings and their new Montana connections and told the Prime Minister of his concerns of “granting of a charter through the Crowsnest Pass to any company that may possibly fall under American control.” That was a veiled threat to Great Northern Railway and its president Canadian J.J. Hill – Van Horne’s cross border rival and personal enemy. Van Horne was playing the Dominion heartstrings to scare the Canadian government, but of course, he wanted the Crowsnest as a jewel in the CPR crown.

By 1893, an economic depression rocked North America, and several railways were affected, including the Canadian Pacific, and to a lesser extent the AR&CC. At both Dunmore and the new Great Falls, Montana terminals the narrow gauge railway restrictions bottle necked coal deliveries. The narrow to standard gauge coal transfer facilities were unable to feed the hungry CPR & Great Northern Railway’s needs fast enough. These circumstances revealed that Elliott Galt was not going to have the financial means to build the Crowsnest line. As a result, he then negotiated with CPR President Thomas George Shaughnessy to lease the Dunmore – Lethbridge line to them (after upgrading the line to standard gauge). As a sweetener, the CPR agreed to purchase more coal. Recall, a third rail was retained between Lethbridge and Montana Junction, so the AR&CC narrow gauge rolling stock could still access the American line. With this in place, the first CPR train entered Lethbridge on November 23rd, 1893. The CPR built their station on the corner of Round Street (5th Street South) and Baroness Road (1st Avenue South).

However, the Federal charter for the new railway line west to the Crowsnest Pass was still in the Galt’s hands for the time being. And in the meantime, the CPR had to make arrangements to expand westward while they began making their plans for the High Level Viaduct. Work began in the spring of 1897 on developing the alternate route to the Crowsnest Pass while the Federal charter ownership was being negotiated between the Galt’s and the CPR. At the time, to go west the CPR had to go east to approx. where present-day Mayor Magrath Drive connects to Highway 3 in Lethbridge and turn southward (at a station called ‘Lethbridge Junction’). Actually, Mayor Magrath Drive is built on the former rail bed, hence why the road doesn’t follow a straight north-south axis. After the railway line was relocated east – west on the High Level Viaduct, City Council corresponded with the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company to purchase the former right-of-way to convert into a roadway. The transaction occurred in July 1915 and was opened to motor traffic not long afterwards. Further down the line a station called ‘Dranoel’ was established near the present-day Campbell Clinic along Mayor Magrath Drive. At Six-Mile Coulee (on the southern edge of the Lethbridge limits) a wooden trestle was built, one of the 20 the trains would have to cross. In total the trestles used 15 million board feet of timber for their construction and were actually pre-assembled in Fort Macleod and transported by train to their locations along the route (see chart below).  Approximately near the present-day Lethbridge airport, the railway line would turn southwest and another station was established (called Whoop-Up) before the railway line would slowly ease down to the river valley. Crossing these numerous coulees would require a series of deep cuts and high fills to allow the railway to transition at a reasonable grade.

Just before the bridge over the St. Mary’s River another station was established (called St. Mary’s) as well as a Federal government cattle yard that would facilitate the unloading / loading of cattle being shipped to market. The actual bridge location was just a bit south of the junction with the Oldman River (then known as the Belly River) was nearly half a mile long and over 60 feet in height. Actually, the bridge construction camp was just outside of the original location of Fort Whoop-Up; the whiskey fort was still fresh in many of the minds of the residents of Lethbridge. After crossing the river, the line turned northwest and progressed across the northern end of the Blood Reserve, with the following stations established; Nena, Kipp, and Cumtux and then crossed the Belly River just eight miles east of present day Fort MacLeod. Not far from the bridge was the Pearce station (named after CPR surveyor William Pearce), and then the line turned slightly northwest and ended at an elegant two-story wood frame station at Haneyville (named after CPR contractor Michael Haney). Keep in mind, the CPR was building track from west going east, so the rails would eventually connect at Haneyville. One pioneer passenger recalled a 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 a most winding and twisting railroad”.

This alternate railway route between Lethbridge and Haneyville had several difficulties. 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. Spring run-offs often caused washouts, and some of the trestles would shift and twist with the fast moving water, and the odd one would topple over. Fire was also a threat to the wooden trestles, both from prairie blazes and from hot flying cinders from the locomotives. As well, general wear & tear loosened bolts and joints (due partly to being built with green wood that would shrink), making the bridges unstable. Additionally, the numerous curves on the route made it difficult on the rolling stock, wearing down wheels, etc.

Meanwhile back at Haneyville, tension would build between the CPR and some of the locals at nearby Fort MacLeod.  CPR had selected this location to have their station, railway yards, and maintenance shops as it was within connecting distance of the newly built Calgary & Edmonton (C&E) railway line that had stopped at West MacLeod (just on the north bank of the Oldman river – approx. 3 miles northwest of Fort MacLeod) in 1892. The C&E was not without its characters – Harry Longabaugh, for example, broke horses for the grading crews, before returning to the USA to resume his career as the ‘Sundance Kid’.

The C&E was incorporated by the Federal government to build a railway from Calgary north to a point at or near Edmonton (about 190 miles) and from Calgary south to near Fort McLeod and on to the International boundary (about 150 miles). It was also given the right to extend northward toward the Peace River area in northern Alberta, though they didn’t follow through with it. For each mile of railway constructed, the company would receive a land grant of 6400 acres. The primary stockholders of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company were James Ross, William Mackenzie, Donald Mann and Herbert Holt, all very familiar with building railways. Mackenzie and Mann were later to create and build the Canadian Northern Railway, a subsidiary of which was the Canadian Northern Western Railway that competed with the Alberta Central Railway. James Ross, the supervising engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had supervised several railway construction projects including the transcontinental from Moose Jaw through the Rocky Mountains, contracted his partners in the venture, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, to construct the C&E line.  The Calgary & Edmonton Railway was an independent company but it never intended to run trains. Its intention was to lease or sell the line to another operator, specifically the CPR.

The formal commencement of construction took place in Calgary on July 21st, 1890 when the Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, Edgar Dewdney, did the necessary honours at the junction of the Calgary and Edmonton line with the CPR’s mainline in East Calgary. The southern branch to West MacLeod was opened on November 1st, 1892. The two branches made it possible to settle lands immediately east of the foothills and for the 295.07 miles of track laid, the C&E was granted a total of 1,888,448 acres that, after deducting surveying charges, became a net of 1,820,625 acres.

Once construction of the line was completed, the Canadian Pacific Railway initially signed a renewable 6-year lease and officially took over operations of the railway in August 1891, named all the numbered stations along the route, took an active role in the design of structures along the route, built a telegraph line and started carrying the mail, taking it away from the stage coaches along the C&E Trail. Regular scheduled passenger service between the two major centers was in place by 1892, reducing the travel time from 4 days by stagecoach to 12 hours by train. This effectively put an end to the C & E Trail stagecoach service. South of Calgary, communities with combination stations included De Winton, Okotoks, High River, Nanton and Claresholm. Intermediate sidings with temporary stations included Midnapore, Aldersyde, Cayley, Stavely and Granum. Additional passing sidings were at Turner, Academy, Sandstone, Azure, Connemara, Durward, Pulteney, Woodhouse and Nolan. With almost 300 miles of construction complete, the C&E Railway received a total land grant of 1.8 million acres.

With the C&E stopped at West MacLeod and the CPR at Hanyville that meant residents of Fort MacLeod had to travel to either centers to conduct business involving the railway, often a frustrating affair. CPR had begun several promotions and advertising as Haneyville as the ‘next best thing’ and the ‘place to be’.  With the new advertising and promotions going on, Fort MacLeod residents were fearful that they would be pushed to the side in the new developments of the region, and that CPR was ignoring their requests for a branch line into their town limits. Or even worse that Haneyville would outgrow Fort MacLeod and become a rival! Fort MacLeod 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 the CPR wouldn’t budge.

By the mid-1890s, the North American economy improved, and with an injection of cash, CPR was looking to re-start work on the Crowsnest line.  On June 28th, 1897 the Federal government passed the “Crowsnest Pass Act” to authorize a Subsidy for a Railway through the Crowsnest Pass” (basically paying the CPR to build a railway from Lethbridge to Nelson) – opening up the route that CPR wanted from the beginning. An interesting clause in the act was that CPR had to have the route go into Fort MacLeod instead of Haneyville. 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. By this time, a final agreement was settled on between the Galts and CPR, and the survey rights were transferred to them, and they began quickly outlining the new route. On December 31st, 1897 the CPR exercised its option to purchase the Dunmore to Lethbridge line and thus was well on its way to complete a second mainline into British Columbia.

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 Fort 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, and the 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.

Upon hearing the news of the Crowsnest Act, the residents of Fort MacLeod were happy that the Federal government was listening to their concerns about the CPR. But the CPR continued to resist moving their established operations at Haneyville into the Fort MacLeod town limits. An issue arose of the actual station location, as in the Act it 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.” That meant that CPR were in trouble with their Haneyville location or that the town of Fort MacLeod limits were not properly defined.  The Chinese district in Fort MacLeod was located at the southwest side of town (within range of Haneyville) so the CPR suggested that the station was within the ‘town limits’. As well, the CPR suggested that they had letters from residents of Fort MacLeod that stated they wanted to keep the “noise pollution of the railway operations as far away as possible from the Town and supported the CPR decision to keep the operations at Haneyville.” However, after several back and forth accusations and finger-pointing, a survey team was dispatched to determine the actual town of Fort MacLeod limits and it was finally resolved that the CPR would have to relocate its operations into Fort MacLeod as it is was violating the Act with its current location at Haneyville. So in 1897, the CPR picked up everything and moved it over the town limit line just enough to appease the Federal government and the Town officials.  A year later in the summer of 1898, the C&E extended their line south across the Oldman river and connected into the east / west CPR line – Fort MacLeod was then made the new division point. The residents and buildings from West MacLeod were also relocated into Fort MacLeod, reducing West MacLeod to a siding.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie and Mann were also eyeing the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, which they had built, for absorption into their Canadian Northern. After the original 6-year lease, Canadian Pacific had been renewing annually. As CP had first option to lease or buy the Calgary & Edmonton Railway, CP signed a 999-year lease in 1904 to thwart any takeover move by the Canadian Northern and within the next few years purchased all remaining stock to make the C & E Railway a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CPR.

In 1905 the town of Lethbridge (to be a City a year later) made a ‘deal of the century’ to CPR to make their community the division point instead of Fort MacLeod, with several incentives (including 200,000 gallons of free water per year, and the first 20 years of no taxes on 120 acres of land in the downtown for the Railway to use) added to the package. The CPR would have to build a new ‘Union’ train station (to be shared with the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company), roundhouse / turntable, and other railway infrastructure buildings. The CPR readily accepted the deal and Fort MacLeod was left licking its wounds.  Yes, it still had the CPR and the former Haneyville train station, but it didn’t have the lucrative ‘divisional point’ bragging rights!

Surveys for the new line from Lethbridge to Fort MacLeod were undertaken in 1904 and in June 1906 it was announced that a High Level Viaduct would be built crossing the Oldman River. 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.  The first work train crossed the 5,328-foot Lethbridge Viaduct in June 1909 and it was opened to traffic on November 1st, 1909. The bridge, although straight, rises to the west at 0.4% and cut just over five miles from the journey between Lethbridge and Fort MacLeod.  This bridge and another similar smaller one by Monarch, replaced 20 wooden trestles with one stroke. With the new route completed, the former railway line over the rickety wooden trestles was abandoned.  Past Fort Macleod, the line followed the Oldman River, where a 1,200 feet long (366 m) long by 122 feet high (38 m) high trestle was required to cross the Pincher Creek (just east of present day Pincher Station).  Further west of Pincher Station before Cowley, another trestle was required to cross the south fork of the Oldman River.  This trestle was 840 feet long (256 m).  Actually, the Oldman River was adjusted at three locations to allow for a better grade for the CPR construction crews!

On a sad note, on January 31st, 1910 while one of the former railway trestles was being dismantled by the CPR, locomotive engineer George Munroe braked locomotive #1413 abruptly on the bridge. But he was oblivious to the fact that workers had already 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 & a team of medics and nurses to tend to the injured. One worker died instantly in the accident, with engineer Munroe and two other workers later passed away in the Galt Hospital in Lethbridge.  An inquest was held on the ‘Whoop-Up Wreck’, as the newspapers dubbed it at the time, but nothing really significant came out of it.

Meanwhile, Canadian Northern was the closest to building a new rail line in the region, but only got as far as building rail bed…nothing more. Built under the charter of the Alberta Midland Railway, incorporated on February 25th, 1909 by the Alberta government – a line was planned south from Calgary, into Fort MacLeod, then southwest to a point on the map called Fishburn – approx. 19 miles southeast from Pincher Creek. The reason the Alberta government enacted legislation as with the uncertainty of the stock markets at that time (coupled with the collapse of the copper market in 1907), the government felt that they needed to help kickstart the economy and provide bond guarantees. Even though the charter was designated Alberta Midland Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway was actually authorized to build the lines outlined in the charter. For additional information on the Canadian Northern line to Fishburn and Pincher Creek, please check out our article on the Alberta Railway & Pincher Creek… Ironically, if the CPR had remained with the original alternate route from Lethbridge to Haneyville, a ‘diamond’ railway crossing would have been required for the north / south CNoR Line and the east / west CPR line. But the bubble of numerous railway lines would burst for Fort MacLeod, 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. Today, a person is still able to make out the old grade from Fort MacLeod as it progressed southwards – remarkable that over a hundred years later that it is still recognizable. If Canadian Northern was successful with their ambitious plan, it would have been quite the sight to have CNoR track crisscrossing with CPR track…

The Crowsnest line thus became a major route serving southwestern Alberta and southeastern B.C. It hauled in freight and supplies for the area and carried out coal, coke, timber, minerals and ore for other parts of the country. Following the opening of the Kettle Valley Railway in 1916, it became part of the “second mainline” that left the transcontinental line at Dunmore and rejoined it at Petain (Odlum), B.C., near Hope. When the final rail link was opened between Kootenay Landing and Procter, B.C. in 1930, the southern route became an attractive alternative for transcontinental passengers. This ceased in 1959 when washouts closed the Kettle Valley Railway and since then, the Crowsnest line has lost its transcontinental significance.

Unfortunately, the former Haneyville train station was destroyed by fire in January 1967.  However, there are still remnants of the original railroad that can be still seen – the cut and fill grades on both sides of the St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers as they descend into the river valley being the most visible. In one place, a rail could be seen sticking out of an eroded bank. The two concrete bridge abutments that once supported the half mile wooden trestle bridge stood like sentinels in the St. Mary’s River until 1995, when a torrential flood knocked one of them over (they are both gone presently). Near Fort MacLeod, a person can still find remnants of the former railway bed, and on Google Earth a person can trace the former route. Surprising that it can be done!

And of Haneyville?  After the CPR relocated its operations in Fort MacLeod in 1897, the small community withered away, and with the railway line relocation being complete in 1909 the nail was hammered on the coffin of the townsite’s future.  Today an empty field with some trees and a visible railway bed is all that really remains of the townsite.


Wooden Trestles along the Crowsnest Branch
Railway Mile Marker Wooden Trestle Length (Feet) Wooden Trestle Height (Feet)
108.7 406 110
112.2 476 105
112.4 420 94
112.8 463 87
113.1 674 87
113.5 503 102
113.8 403 77
114.0 569 84
114.3 569 74
114.8 473 62
115.2 317 41
115.6 419 39
116.0 (over St. Mary River) 2,933 65
117.5 707 117
119.6 449 73
120.0 567 117
120.2 629 113
131.8 (over Belly River) 755 24
132.5 16 9


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All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission. Special thanks to Chris Doering for reviewing & editing!


Overview of the Crowsnest branch showing the pre-High Level Viaduct route and the current route. Map create with Google Earth & railway map from The University of Alberta, “Atlas of Alberta Railways” ( – Jason Paul Sailer