A history of the C.N.R. Bridge

The origins of the C.N.R. line and its bridge go back to before the First World War.

The annual spring thaw is well underway.

While there are some worries about flooding because of the higher than usual snowfall this year, major problems are not expected. However, this is quite a contrast to the situation for many years during the spring break-ups of the Red Deer River when there were often major concerns about flooding and damage.

One of the biggest worries was over the Canadian National Railway (C.N.R.) bridge across the Red Deer River. It frequently experienced significant damage.

The origins of the C.N.R. line into Red Deer and its bridge across the Red Deer River go back to the boom years prior to the First World War.

In 1911, the Canadian Northern Railway (predecessor to the Canadian National) announced plans to build south from its new line to the Brazeau coalfields (Nordegg) to Red Deer.

Unfortunately, there were major problems with the construction. There was slippage of the railbed along the shoulder of the North Hill. The river flats often flooded.

Hence, the Canadian Northern started losing interest in the Red Deer branch line.

It preferred to concentrate on the construction of the Brazeau line which was completed by 1913-1914.

In the spring of 1915, heavy rains and high floods on the Red Deer River caused significant damage to the work that had been done on the Red Deer branch.

In August 1916, the contractors finally started on the bridge across the River. However, the 1917 spring break-up caused extensive damage to the north piers. Extensive reconstruction and strengthening of the bridge became necessary.

In 1917, the Canadian Northern went bankrupt and all work stopped.

In 1918, the Federal Government merged the Canadian Northern and some other rail companies into the new, publicly owned, Canadian National.

After the War ended, the new C.N.R. had much more significant issues to deal with than an incomplete branch line to Red Deer. For a while, consideration was given to putting the railyards in North Red Deer. However, political pressure resulted in a revival of the plans to extend south across the River.

Construction proceeded slowly and the quality of work was often problematic. Eventually, the bridge was completed. The railyards and station north of Ross Street were finally finished in 1922.

Each year, there were problems with the bridge, largely because it was next to where Waskasoo Creek entered the River and only a short distance upstream from an island where there were frequently ice jams.

In 1925, a huge ice jam seriously threatened the C.N.R. bridge. Fortunately, blasting broke up the jam before there was heavy damage.

Nevertheless, spring floods often took away piles and even some of the structure of the bridge.

In April 1936, three spans of the C.N.R. bridge were swept away. The loss was not as bad as it might have been since crews had removed the steel and part of the superstructure in anticipation of the flood.

After that, crews often partially dismantled the bridge before the ice went out on the River.

In 1940, the bridge went out with the ice, one day before the crews were to take the steel off the superstructure. The C.N.R. decided there was no longer any point in maintaining the bridge. In March 1941, the rails and timbers were removed. The ice took out what was left of the bridge a couple of weeks later.

Arrangements were then made to access the C.N.R.’s station and yards by means of a transfer track off the south end of the C.P.R. main line. Needless to say, the arrangement was unsatisfactory and the C.N.R. provided little in the way of effective rail service to the community.

In 1960, all of the line south of the river was abandoned and a new terminal and railyards were constructed in the new Riverside Industrial Park.

Remnants of the old C.N.R. bridge piers can still be seen where Waskasoo Creek enters the River.

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