A look at the history of Riverlands

The ‘other side of the tracks’ is a well-worn phrase in the English language. Unfortunately, it is often used in a negative context.

Riverlands is the current name used for the area west of the old CPR main line, on the south side of the river. It is a district which the City has targeted for rejuvenation and redevelopment.

Riverlands first became a distinct area after the construction of the Calgary-Edmonton (CPR) railway in 1890-1891. The train tracks were a clear division between the fledgling townsite and the open lands to the west. Those western fields were generally still pasture.

One of the first businesses west of the tracks was a small sawmill, on the south bank of the river. After 1900, the sawmill was moved to what is now Bower Ponds as a new millpond could be easily created there.

During the 1890s, a sandstone quarry was opened along the riverbank, upstream from the sawmill. The sandstone blocks were most often used for basement foundations. However, they were also used as the main building material for such structures as St. Luke’s Anglican Church.

In 1893, the annual Red Deer Fair was moved to the CPR roundhouse as that was the most spacious building in the community. An adjacent racetrack was soon added. The Fair continued to be held in Riverlands until 1902 when it moved to the new Alexandra Park on the southeast side of the Town.

In 1896, the Red Deer Creamery was built in Riverlands.

In 1904, the Western General Electric power plant was constructed on the site of the old sawmill. The Town’s water intake and filtration plant were installed next to the Western General complex.

After the City bought out the Western General in 1926 and a contract was signed with Calgary Power for cheaper hydro-electric power, the old steam plant was dismantled.

In 1907, Red Deer was designated as a main divisional point on the C&E line. Consequently, there was an extensive expansion of the railyards, including the construction of a new roundhouse, coaling trestle, railway bridge and train station. Over time, a row of grain elevators was constructed on the west side of the rail tracks.

In 1929, the City struck an agreement with the E.B. Eddy Company to build a large match factory, west of the old power plant. However, the onset of the Great Depression caused the postponement and eventual cancellation of the project. Nevertheless, the City kept the site vacant for many years in the hopes that the match factory project would be revived.

In the 1930s, the Red Deer City Yards were relocated to a new site at the foot of the West Park hill. Some of the buildings in the new yards came from the old Hydro-Pete Refinery on the hill.

Following the Second World War, Red Deer’s position as a transportation and distribution hub was greatly increased. Much more warehouse and industrial space was urgently needed.

Hence, an extensive warehouse and light industrial area developed in Riverlands throughout the 1950s. In the early 1960s, the City Yards were moved farther north to a larger site which was also closer to the river.

After the Riverside and Golden West Industrial Parks were developed north of the river in the 1960s, new industrial and warehouse companies began to move to those locations instead of increasingly cramped Riverlands area.

The next big change occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the relocation of the CPR line and railyards to a new location on the west side of the City. This opened up a large area for redevelopment. One of the first major projects was the construction of the new Superstore complex.

Over time, other new retail, service and residential buildings have been constructed. In the past few years, the City yards have been relocated to a large new site on the northeast side of the City, opening up even more land for redevelopment in Riverlands.

Currently, plans are being put in place to foster more new growth and to enhance Riverlands as a highly attractive area in the heart of the community.

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