A look back at the Alberta Central Railway

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one the final chapters in the history one of the grandest dreams, and greatest disappointments in Red Deer’s history.

The dream was the construction of a ‘transcontinental’ railway, centered in Red Deer, and extending from the Hudson Bay to the B.C. coast.

When the last of the Alberta Central Railway was constructed in the summer of 1914, the line only consisted of a branch from Red Deer to Rocky Mountain House and operated as a minor subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The origins of the Alberta Central actually went back to May 1901 when a railway charter was granted by the federal government to a group of Red Deer and Ontario businesspeople. Originally, the line was to run from the Delburne area to Rocky Mountain House.

However, over the years, the A.C.R.’s charter was amended to allow it to build a line from the Fraser Valley through the Yellowhead Pass to Moose Jaw, with extensions to Saskatoon and the Hudson Bay.

For a long time, very little happened with the A.C.R. other than the periodic time extensions to its charter by the federal government.

Eventually, people began to tire of the lack of concrete action.

Demands were made that the A.C.R. either start immediate construction, or else sell its charter to a more bonafide railroad company.

Action finally came in April 1909 when the Federal Government offered a subsidy of $6,400 per mile to a railway constructed between Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House.

Soon crews of surveyors were laying out a rail route. Some brushing and grading commenced in the spring of 1910.

The driving of the first spike in Red Deer by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier in August 1910 was a wonderful public relations event.

It seemed proof that the construction of the A.C.R. was finally fact and not political fiction. However, a severe thunderstorm cut short the A.C.R. ceremony. It seemed symbolic of the problems which were to follow.

In late 1910, the Canadian Northern Western Railway started construction of a line from just north of Red Deer westwards to Rocky Mountain House and then onto the Brazeau coalfields at Nordegg.

This new competitor was anxious to build as fast as possible. Therefore, it closely followed the route which had already been mapped out by the A.C.R.

Having not one but two railroads being built, literally side by side, drove up construction costs dramatically.

However, with wages for labourers rising by 50% and with prices for things such as oats soaring to three times the Alberta average, there was soon a wonderful economic boom in Red Deer and across west Central Alberta.

Unfortunately, the A.C.R. found it increasingly difficult to manage financially.

The company did not have enough capital to fulfill its grand plans.

With prices and wages leaping, there was no way that the A.C.R. could cover its day-to-day bills.

Finally, in late 1911, an agreement was made with the C.P.R. to have that company take over the A.C.R.’s charter and the construction of the line.

While some insisted that the C.P.R. would eventually follow through with the grand plans to extend the A.C.R. from Moose Jaw to the B.C. coast, it gradually became evident that the C.P.R. had no such intent.

By late 1913 and early 1914, the construction of the two rail lines began to wind down.

The A.C.R. was completed to Rocky Mountain House in the summer of 1914, and the C.N.W.R. finished construction to Nordegg.

The economy of Red Deer and area began to noticeably slow. The great boom was finally coming to an end.

In 1983, the entire A.C.R. branch line of the C.P.R. was finally abandoned. However, Red Deer County purchased the rail bridge across the Red Deer River and a major portion of the old right of way, from the C.P.R. for a possible utilities corridor/walking trail. Thus, the legacy of the A.C.R. may continue.

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