The North Western Coal & Navigation Company’s first president – William Lethbridge

Who is William Lethbridge, and why is our city named after him?  It all starts in southwest England around the turn of the nineteenth century…


The Lethbridge family lived on a farm called ‘Wood’ near a small village named South Taunton, in the county of Devon (Devonshire).  William was born in 1825 into poverty and had a tough upbringing, and several unfortunate circumstances (including the death of Mr. Lethbridge, and one of William’s brothers) forced them to leave the farm and relocate to nearby Tavistock.  There, Mrs. Lethbridge earned a living for the family by teaching at a dames school (a private elementary school).  But the children, or at least the eldest son, William, showed promise far beyond his prospects.  From the school where his mother worked he obtained a scholarship to attend St. John’s College in Cambridge.  From there he went to the University, where he passed a ninth wrangler (a wrangler is a term at the University of Cambridge to describe a student who gains first-class honours in the third year of the University’s undergraduate degree in Mathematics) to the Bar association.


One of his classmates at the University, W.H. Smith, the son of a bookseller.  Smith conceived the idea of the colossal railway bookselling business (newsstands at railway stations selling books and newspapers) which has expanded over the years and still bears his name to this day (  When Smith took over the family business, he invited Lethbridge to go into the book selling business with him – at first as his manager, and then as partner.  Lethbridge did well in the business world (including a nice large house in London’s Strand Portman Square), and made many friends including the Canadian High Commissioner Sir Alexander Galt.


As the most powerful Canadian in Britain, Galt’s prestige connected with the elite of British capitalism.  Canvassing the posh Victorian parlours and drawing rooms, proposals were built to entice the financing necessary to establish the first large scale mining venture on Canada’s prairies.  As recalled by a couple of executives, “there were few who had faith in this country and during a period when in was necessary to go about London on one’s knees in order to get money for development work in our Northwest Territories.”


On April 25th, 1882, the North Western Coal and Navigation Company (NWC&NC) was incorporated in England under the “Companies’ Acts, 1862 to 1880,” to undertake mining at the coal properties in the Northwest Territories.  As Lethbridge had the most shares into the company he had the honour of being named company president and having the community of Coalbanks renamed in his honor.  Galt recognized that tone way to keep investors connected to their investment as well as to thank them by naming towns, roads, etc after them.


At the time of his retirement, he decided to purchase his former childhood home.  Wood was bought back from the bank and re-built as a country house for Lethbridge.  In his retirement years he also served as a Justice of the Peace, and as High Sheriff of Devon.  He passed away at the age of 78 years on March 31st, 1901 and was buried at the parish of South Taunton.  A lifelong bachelor, William left an estate of £ 400,000 (approx. $646,000 Cdn) and the property to the children of his sister.  Today, you can rent a room at his former residence and think about this man who went from poverty to wealth and had a hand in developing southern Alberta.  And ironically, William Lethbridge never came to Lethbridge.  In fact, he never came to Canada, but since he was busy running several companies it would make sense that he just didn’t have time.  It has been recorded though, that his nephew (who was named after his uncle) did visit Lethbridge with governor general Lord & Lady Aberdeen in 1894.

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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!

Portrait of William Lethbridge – by Anthony F.A. Sandys (Frederick Sandys) – 1882

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Victorian Prairie Christmas 2016 Event this week!

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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 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.

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 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, (Chris & Connie), Claresholm & District Museum,, Leslie Kozma, and GCPRS / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives

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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


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


All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park 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













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Canadian Cree Deportation at the International Boundary

As discussed in our previous web blogpost about the Galt Sternwheelers and the Riel Rebellion, with the surrender of Cree Chief Big Bear on June 25th, 1885, those hostilities came to a close. Several Cree families and warriors then made a dash to the United States to escape any possible persecution from the NWMP. Some ended up in the state of Montana, where they settled.  However, it wasn’t easy for his followers as they often had to move around to look for food, or escape from grumbling white settlers who accused them of committing crimes, etc. The American Natives didn’t give them any sympathy either and lobbying the government there for legal status went nowhere.

On the Canadian side of the border, many Natives had settled down on the reserves, and the most effort the NWMP had to exert was to urge those camping in the river valley below Lethbridge or wandering about the town, to go back home. Pretty quiet considering the rebellion and the tension that came with it just a few years earlier!

Back to Montana – after extensive lobbying that these ‘Canadian’ Natives were regularly being blamed for lost cattle or looted homesteads, the American government sent a representative out to investigate the situation. After reviewing it for about a month or so, he discovered that many settlers, far from being anxious to get rid of the Cree, were inclined to think they were rather useful than otherwise! The federal agent submitted his report and the matter was dropped until State politicians got a hold of the report and the matter became an issue again. Back and forth negotiations between Washington and Montana led to the decision to deport the Cree out of the state and back to Canada in the spring of 1896. By May, Washington set aside $5000 for this purpose and arranged for the railways (Great Northern, Great Falls & Canada Railway, and the Alberta Railway & Coal Company) to take them to the International Train Station at Coutts / Sweetgrass, where they could be processed. From they’d be forwarded to Lethbridge and later still north towards Edmonton or east to Regina.

In charge of the operation was Lieutenant John Pershing, commander at Fort Assiniboine near Havre, Montana with Major Sanno of the 3rd Infantry as the point man at the ground level. The American military had their work cut out for them and as soon as the Cree heard the rumors of the impending deportation, they’d scatter into the wind. In June 1896 Canadian Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Mr. Amedee-Emmanuel Forget and interpreter Hourie accompanied NWMP Superintendent Richard B. Deane as they went to the Montana capital of Helena to meet with the state officials to review the details of the Cree deportation.  When they arrived, they met the governor who admitted he didn’t know any of the details of the deportation! The governor said they better go to Fort Assiniboine and talk to the commander there. On arrival they were told that the details were still being hammered out by the American military, so the group returned empty handed back to Canada, awaiting word. A month later, Deane got a telegram from the Americans that the first group of Cree was being assembled and would arrive at Coutts within 3 days.  As Deane was reading the telegram, to the south in Montana the Great Northern Railway was bringing a group from Havre to Shelby, where a waiting Great Falls & Canada Railway narrow gauge train was waiting. It was reported that the American soldiers refused to help the Cree transfer their belongings from the GN train to the GF&CR train, and that after finding this out the Cree refused to move their own belongings.  The railway employees ended up doing all the work!  Several telegrams from both GF&CR and the GN were sent to Fort Assiniboine asking for the commander to instruct his soldiers to help with the transferring process.  Meanwhile, Deane and a few NWMP sat at Coutts bidding time and twiddling their thumbs waiting for the train to arrive. Finally, the railway employees were able to transfer everyone to the narrow gauge train and it set off towards Coutts, arriving a couple days later with 110 Cree, 170 horses, and 30 wagons onboard! For the next 36 hours, Deane and his men sorted through the mess, dividing the Cree into two groups; one going to the Bobtail reserve south of Edmonton and one to Regina.

While they were reloading the narrow gauge train to take the Cree north, Deane received word from Major Sanno that another group of Cree was being assembled in Great Falls, and would be heading northwards within the week.  Deane replied back that he would only accept the Cree in the daylight only, so the GF&CR had to slow their trains to meet his request! The next train would arrive at Coutts around 6 in the morning, allowing the NWMP and the Canadian customs agent to do their work. The Canadian government veterinary was brought down from Lethbridge to inspect the Native horses.

There was an incident with the second group of deported Cree – as they were being loaded onto the narrow gauge train at Great Falls. Many in the group did not think they would be deported to Canada, and had actually hired a lawyer to advocate for them on their behalf with the State. Meanwhile as the lawyer was at the courthouse, a troop of US Cavalrymen surrounded the camp to prevent anyone from leaving early. It was announced that the Cree had to board the train that would take them to the International border tomorrow. The Cree refused to leave initially, as they were waiting for word from their lawyer, however the lawyer failed to mention to the Natives that the American federal government had jurisdiction over the State government, and the Natives attempt to stay in Montana would be futile! The next day the US military began loading the Cree onto the railcars, a warrior by the name of Day Bow grabbed one of the soldier’s guns and shot himself dead. Understandably after the shooting, more soldiers were sent to assist in the loading and escorting the train to the International border and many of the Cree became agitated over the state of affairs. Fearing trouble between the Cree and the Canadian Natives, the Alberta Railway & Coal Company requested that additional NWMP be added to the northbound train to keep the peace. Superintendent Deane instructed Inspector Williams at Coutts to supply men to accompany the train. Fortunately, no incident occurred and a few days later the Cree boarded an eastbound CPR train to Regina. A small portion of the group left Lethbridge by wagon to head north towards Edmonton and were accompanied by 3 NWMP.

Meanwhile the trains continued to arrive at Coutts with more deported Natives. The next train brought 71 Cree and 340 horses – several who were sick and had to be put down. Additional NWMP were brought in from nearby Milk River to assist. It was decided to move the horses separate from the train and trail them to Lethbridge. At first the Cree were nervous on hearing they’d be separated from them, but the NWMP assured them they would be reunited in Lethbridge. A few days later, just that happened. It was rumored that on the next northbound train that two Cree warriors would be on it – these two were suspected to be part of the Frog Lake Massacre, where 9 settlers were killed. Superintendent Deane issued a warrant for their arrest as soon as the train arrived at Coutts. The two warriors, Lucky Man & Little Bear, were escorted by the NWMP to Regina where they were questioned by the authorities. It was later determined that since several years have passed since the Riel Rebellion, it would be impossible to obtain enough evidence to justify their commitment to trial, so they were released.

In early July, Major Sanno telegrammed the NWMP in Lethbridge that the remainder of the Cree in Montana would be brought to Coutts within the next week or so. Deane reminded him that money set aside by the American federal government had been all spent and that additional money was needed before they could keep the operation moving. While the money was being raised, the 10th US Calvary escorted a train full of Cree northwards from Great Falls and arrived at the International Border on July 22. This group only had 57 Cree and 143 horses, which made things a bit easier for the NWMP working at the Train Station. After a couple days of processing, the group was split and headed north towards Lethbridge. The sixth and final train was brought to Coutts at the evening of August 1st and consisted of 53 Cree. It was discovered that several Natives had contracted measles and the entire camp had to be quarantined on the border. The main doctor in Lethbridge, Dr. Mewburn, was brought down by carriage to assess the patients. After a few weeks the camp was relocated to Milk River and after another month they were given a clean bill of health. They were loaded onto the train and headed to Lethbridge, with this group’s final destination being Regina.

Under terms set down by the federal government, none of the relocated Cree could actually be forced to stay on the reserves, as they didn’t have official ‘status’. Many chose to stay in Canada, though it was later determined a quarter of the deported Cree would return to Montana. In 1916, under pressure from humanitarians such as the western artist Charles M. Russell the American federal government agreed to allow the Cree their own reservation (reservation in US, reserve in Canada).  The Cree, along with a group of Metis, would join a band of Manitoba Ojibwa, led by their chief Rocky Boy, at the newly created Rocky Boy Agency near Box Elder, Montana.

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

All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission. Special thanks to Gord Tolton for contributing, and Chris Doering for reviewing & editing!  Another article to check out on this topic is Benjamin Hoy’s writeup on the deportation of the Cree as well;


Group of Stony Indians @ the Coutts / Sweetgrass Train Station – taken on June 30th, 1906. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives











Cree chief Little Bear with Cree at the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana in March 1909 – Montana State University – Northern Archives #FM-1-134

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New Marketing Video!

Sit back and enjoy the video – a introduction to the Railway Park and some of our future plans! Thanks again to – Symbol Syndication – Video Production


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Upcoming Father’s Day Event @ the Galt Historic Railway Park!

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Rob Lennard the History Wrangler Performing at the Galt Historic Railway Park!

Rob Lennard, also known as the History Wrangler (follow him on Twitter at @AlbertaHistory), is a musician, singer/songwriter, and award winning historical fiction writer based out of Calgary, AB.  He has received both the Alberta Centennial Medal and the prestigious Heritage Awareness Award for his efforts of promoting the history of Alberta.


He is kick starting his Cowboy Trail 2016 tour at the Galt Historic Railway Park on June 1st, 2016 (Wednesday) over the noon hour.  His hour long performance will include great classic western songs from the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Ian Tyson, and also include historical based songs!  Additionally, Rob will be sharing some amazing stories of the railways in Alberta, and how they helped in the creation of the province!  There is no cost for the event, although donations to the Galt Historic Railway Park is appreciated!


The Galt Historic Railway Park is located 20 minutes south of Lethbridge on Highway 4, just north of the Village of Stirling.  At the Stirling turnoff, follow the black train station signs to the Railway Park (where the large red train station is located).  For more information, please contact or phone 403-756-2220.  As well check us out on Facebook & Twitter (@gcprs1890)

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Snowplows and Winter Scenes

With the winter weather outside, the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society thought to share some photos of winter’s past with the railways dealing with the white stuff!

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

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


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Galt’s Southerly Expansion

The worldwide 1887 – 1888 recession struck the Galt family’s Lethbridge based coal company almost as soon as it went into production, necessitating finding new markets quickly if they were to survive. Their major customer was the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), but this meant the colliery was subject to the whims of that firm – sometimes much coal was ordered, and the next time very little. To remain profitable the Galt’s installed modern machinery and expanded mine operations, and the search was on to find additional major customers. With the recent boom of mining in Montana (copper, silver, gold, etc) Sir Alexander Galt began the planning on building a railway south to Helena, in that state, to exploit these new markets. However, the economic downturn in the United Kingdom shattered investor confidence forcing Galt, through two years of tenacious negotiations (and the cutting back of the railway line to Great Falls), in order to underwrite this new railway. However, it was not until October 2nd, 1889 that the newest of Sir Alexander’s charters was approved by the United States government: that for the Great Falls and Canada Railroad (GF&CR). Capitalized at $2 million, with equipment costs estimated at $4 million, the original Board of Directors was interlocked with that of the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC), through the presence of Sir Alexander Galt, Donald Grant, Alexander Kinsman, Samuel Grant, and William Barr.


Five months later, while equipment was being assembled in Lethbridge to extend the railway 65 miles to the International Boundary, a very similar construction camp was organized at Willard, Montana, two miles west of Great Falls. In March 1890, a plow, a pair of engines and thirty cars, accompanied by 500 men, began construction of the railroad. It progressed at the rate of three to four miles a day, following the water-courses which led generally northwestward, paralleling the deep-rutted “Whoop-Up Trail” most of the way.  Laborers were paid $1.50 per 10 hour work day! The actual distance was 134.37 miles to the border and this required the construction of many timber bridges, as well as two Howe-truss spans across the Teton and Marias Rivers. Construction progress was steady, so that by midsummer 1890, the railroad had reached Conrad and was heading for the Marias River. Railway yards and a roundhouse facility would be built in Great Falls, located on the west bank of the Missouri River.


A port of entry was required for crossing the International Boundary so AR&RC engineer Mr. Barclay and NWMP Inspector Moodie chose the site for the location of the train station in June 1890. A 3,800 square foot International depot 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 structure was run by Donald Grant who brought materials up from Fort Benton on bull trains. The station was designed to include U.S. & Canadian customs areas, freight areas, and a dining room – the only evidence of the boundary marked by a painted line on the platform!


Exactly 108 days after construction began; the AR&CC and the GF&CR met at the International Boundary and within days the first coal train leaving Lethbridge, Northwest Territories entered Great Falls, Montana in early October 1890. Great Falls reacted in much the same way as Lethbridge had when the railway first entered their limits. The newspapers heralded the event and a magnificent dinner was given by Mr. Phillip Gibson at the Hotel Bristol in honour of the GF&CR officials. On October 20th, a special one-week excursion fare was announced, to augment the passenger traffic. For $10, a passenger could leave Great Falls for Banff; via Lethbridge and Dunmore, a round trip of some 900 miles. Leaving Great Falls in mid-evening, the mixed train arrived at Lethbridge after lunch on the following day. Today, that same distance can be covered easily, by automobile around 3 hours! Almost from its inception excursions were popular on the narrow gauge line. “Officially” opened to traffic on December 8th, 1890, and by 1893 four trains a day were running between Lethbridge and Great Falls.

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

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


View of one of the GF&CR sleeper cars – 1890 – Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives – P19891046021-066







GF&CR steam locomotive #13 (former Alberta Railway & Coal) at Shelby Junction, Montana. From left to right; Andy Niven (fireman) & Tom Nolan (engineer) – 1897. Glenbow Museum & Archives NA-1167-11










Alberta Railway & Coal Company steam locomotive #17 in Great Falls, Montana in 1894. From left to right; W. Niven, T, Nolan, R. Gikey, W, McDonald, and R. Hardy – Glenbow Museum & Archives NA-1245-1










Joint timetable of the AR&CC and GF&CR – May 1898





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