High River then & now – Train Station

Fifty-three year separate the two images used in this then and now. The location is the town of High River just south of Calgary and the subject, Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) sandstone train station located there and one of the firm’s a self-propelled rail diesel car (RDC or “Dayliner”). Using a vintage slide of the train station and RDC that has been digitally scanned, the author’s goal was to recreate the same (or close too) angle/location of the station as it currently sits in downtown High River.

The ‘then’ image comes from the Ken Hooper collection of slides that were donated to the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park archives about 10 years ago.  It wasn’t until recently that I decided (being the Society secretary / archival custodian) to digitize the three large boxes of slides that contained a wide range of subjects and locations stretching from the late 1940s to mid-1980s from across western Canada, Ontario, and into the United States.  Lots of neat photos of items / places that are almost a memory!  I have also been collaborating with Chris Doering & Connie Biggart (the BIGDoer.com crew), and they have access to the same slide collection.  They have started on a couple then and now essays with the same photos, so be sure to look out for future posts!  Here is the first one they did, a RDC view from the east end of downtown Calgary from 1965.  http://www.bigdoer.com/24419/then-and-now/canadian-pacific-railway-then-and-now-downtown-east-end-calgary/

Let’s go back to August 1st, 1963!  The slide shows a Dayliner parked outside the High River station, located in downtown High River on the north/south CPR ‘MacLeod’ subdivision.  The MacLeod subdivision at one time ran south from Calgary down to Fort MacLeod where it would join the Crowsnest Subdivision (on the former Calgary & Edmonton railway line).  On a side note check out the GCPRS blog post about the C&E line connecting to the Crowsnest subdivision near a forgotten place called Haneyville.  Back to 1963 – on the slide, Ken wrote that the Dayliner was northbound towards the downtown CPR station in Calgary and that the trip originated in Lethbridge.

The Dayliner was introduced by CPR in the early 1950s and was used more so on the branch lines –  a ‘savior’ of sorts of keeping those low traffic runs economical (instead of running long passenger trains) and still being able to move people and package freight. The Dayliner pictured, #9198, is a RDC-2 model meaning it was a combined baggage / coach model. It was built in 1958 at the Canadian Car & Foundry plant at Lachine, Quebec. Prior to 1958 all RDC models were built in the United States at the Budd plant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were five variants of these units used by CPR but they were all similar in length and built out of stainless steel. Power was supplied by two GM Detroit Diesel engines in the floor (rated at 280 hp each) that ran the trucks independently via a torque converter and drive shaft system.

In southern Alberta, Dayliners were introduced in the spring of 1955; the routes would be between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and from Lethbridge to Calgary (either via Fort MacLeod or Vulcan).  In 1957 Dayliner operations would extend westward from Medicine Hat to Hope BC, though that end in early 1964 as not enough passengers were taking advantage of it. Additional budget cutbacks and reduced passenger demand (led in part with increased competition from automobile traffic) led to the Dayliner usage ending in southern Alberta on July 17th, 1971 (with the last trip to Lethbridge occurring on July 2nd) – see the GCPRS blog post about self-propelled railway equipment. Number 9198 would suffer an accident at Beddington, Alberta in October 1969 – severely enough that it was taken out of service. It was loaded onto a flatcar and transported east to the CPR Angus shops in Montreal, Quebec where it was used for parts until being scrapped in March 1974.

The High River station was the original 1893 Calgary sandstone station (actually two separate buildings joined by a continuous canopy) that was carefully deconstructed between 1910 and 1911 when it proved to be too small for the booming city. High River got the west end of the station (replacing their own 1892 wooden combination station / section house) and Claresholm further down the line got the east end.  The ‘new’ High River train station (CPRX-20b by CPR standards) would open in the summer of 1912 and include an agent’s office, a large waiting room with separate men & women’s seating areas and washrooms.  Unlike its Claresholm counterpart, there was no second floor, and the station agent lived in an adjacent residence. The rebuild job cost CPR $19,120 dollars.

The High River station was used by the CPR until 1965 when it was closed (much to the objection of the Town and surrounding area), though the Dayliner continued to make stops at High River until the route ended in July 1971. A local historical society approached CPR a year later on possibly purchasing the building and renovating it into a museum. The CPR agreed, and a yearly lease of $120 plus utilities & maintenance was agreed upon. In 1973 the museum opened up inside the former station and by 1977 the station was acquired by the Town and a park was landscaped around it (including various railway displays). The station has been featured in numerous TV and films, most noticeably the Silver Streak movie in 1976 (as Rockdale, Illinois) and in the Superman 3 movie in 1983 (as Smallville, Kansas).  Chris & Connie document both movies involvement with High River here, and here. The train station suffered fire damage in July 2010 and flood damage in June 2013, but was able to repair and rebuild each time. It is definitely a place to check out!

On the author’s visit in June it is quite evident the change that occurred. The station grounds were pretty bare in 1963, but now have several large trees towering beside the station. One of the main visible changes was the removal of the train tracks! This occurred when CPR began downsizing its branch line / secondary routes in the late 1990s / early 2000s. The MacLeod subdivision has been reduced from Alyth yards in the City of Calgary to Sheep River (a point just south of Okotoks, before the junction of the Aldersyde subdivision) – that’s it. In the 1963 photo, we can see behind the train station two wooden boxcars parked on a team track.  To the left of the station (not on the photo) would have been the elevator row and at one time six elevators were located along the tracks. They are all gone as well, with the last example, an Alberta Wheat Pool, burnt down in May 2003. Just north of the train station was a large metal railway bridge that crossed the Highwood River, and actually withstood the severe flooding in June 2013 that hit the town hard. It was the original 1892 C&E Railway Bridge, though it didn’t see any rail traffic since 2010. Ironically, it was blamed that it partially contributed to the flood devastation! It was removed in September 2013, and you can see the BIGDoer.com article here.

On the south side of the train station is a former VIA Rail dining car that has been in place since 1987 and is the home of the Whistle Stop Cafe.  The dining car (formerly a CC&F coach for CN) was owned by the Town of High River for the longest time until being sold to a local family that operates it as a restaurant.  At one time, a boxcar, flat car, wooden caboose, stock car, a couple diesel locomotives, and other misc equipment were its neighbors. Slowly over time, the bits and pieces would be sold off or scrapped including two items (the 1941 wooden caboose and 1943 wooden sheep & pig stock car) being donated to the Galt Historic Railway Park in 2009 and 2001 respectively.  Luckily we got both items before flood waters came to High River!  You can see more information about these two pieces, including the rest of the Galt Historic Railway rolling stock here.

I duplicated the shot standing roughly where the track would have sat at the rear of the station.  Unfortunately, the town was doing work on a new parking lot (where the tracks would of ran north / south), making the ground at a lower grade than it was originally with the train tracks in place.  I had to climb a pile of gravel to get as close as possible to the angle that Ken took back in 1963. I found out afterwards that CPR sold off its last land holdings in High River to the Town in June 2015, and the parking lot that was being built was on former railway land. I had printed off Ken’s original photo so I used that to line myself up and then ‘eyeballed’ through the viewfinder on the camera and took several shots, hoping they would match up.

At home, using Adobe Photoshop software, I was able to bring in the original slide and the photos I took at High River. I reduced the transparency of the slide to 50% and was able to bring it over each photo I took to see how things lined up.  Luckily one of my shots I took was very close to what Ken’s slide was so it eased my fears greatly (see second image). After doing the preliminary work, I cleaned up Ken’s slide slightly and then converted it to black and white to make it stand out from the current photo I took. I then blended the two images together to get a final result of showing a Dayliner parked outside the current High River train station!

Some of the references for this blog post includes; Alberta Historic Resources Foundation, Museum of the Highwood, Canada’s Historic Places, Bigdoer.com (Chris & Connie), Claresholm & District Museum, Forthjunction.ca, Leslie Kozma, and GCPRS / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives

Any comments or additional information can be submitted to gcprs@telus.net. Be sure to check out our webpage at galtrailway.com, and follow/like us on Facebook & Twitter!