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  • We Are a Railway Town

    CP Grain car circa 1906
    One of four wood frame box cars in the fields just west of town
    CP Grain car circa 1906

    One of four wood frame box cars in the fields just west of town

    Chestermere Lake is closely tied to the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Settlers came west on the CPR and when not enough came, the CPR decided that an irrigation system would entice more families to settle on land that could then produce more than grass for cattle. And that is how Chestermere Lake came to be, a balancing pond in the Western Irrigation System. Did you know that the rock used for the dam is said to have come from Frank Slide?
    In 2006 while researching for Chestermere a Home for All Seasons we came upon a picture of Chestermere Station in the old 1961 history book, Saddles Sleighs and Sadirons. For sure this must be the station intended for the Chestermere Suburban Railway which would bring picnickers and yachters out to the little lake just east of the city of Calgary. But no, it was not that. The suburban railway station, which would have been about where the Melcor development Chestermere Station is right now, was never built! The real estate boom went bust, and only a few telegraph poles were left of that grand scheme. An astute archivist at the Glenbow suggested it might be the Canadian Northern Railroad station built on the south end of Chestermere Lake at Mile 124. Sure enough it was. Built in 1913, used for a short while, the last recorded stop on the schedule was 1918, and it burned down in 1930.
    So, when a member of the Chestermere Historical Foundation asked at a meeting last fall, ‘Did we know anything about the four train cars in the fields just west of town?’ Bill Pollock recalls that these four cars were there back in 1945. Stories are told that they also were temporary homes for vagabonds who would be travelling by. It was assumed these must be CNoR cars. A CHF party of adventurers hiked in, had a look and found the cars definitely CP and one even had a serial number still visible.
    According to Doug Phillips, CP archive volunteer at the Glenbow,
    “Box car CP 98458 was constructed at Canadian Pacific’s Angus shops Montreal in 1912. Of interest it is not of the Fowler design where the steel frame work was on the outside. Frame work on this car was wood. CPR built close to 4000 of these box cars starting about 1906, all for grain service on the Prairies. The grain cars in those days usually traveled with loads east to Fort William and Port Arthur in the summer months until the 1920’s when Vancouver opened as a grain port. In winter these car travelled further to the ports of Quebec and Saint John, NB., then returned carrying refined products such as bagged floor and other goods.
    The cars had a tare weight of 38,000 lbs. and a load capacity of 80,000 lbs. or 40 tons. The photo shows the inside of the car and the load levels. [There is no] record when this car was retired but it would have been done so at the Ogden shops in Calgary where the running gear was removed and the body sold to the buyer who likely set it on its present site. Many of the old wood box cars were sold to farmers in the 1940’s and 1950’s where they would be used for storing grain from the fall harvests. Once a quota was opened at the grain elevators the farmer would load and haul his grain to town where the grain was graded and sold. Moisture content was and is a big issue for grading grain and the box cars solid construction would have kept the grain good and dry through the winter months allowing the farmer a good price for his grain. The railway acquired its first steel box cars for grain service in 1929 with the last of the wood cars being phased out of grain service in the late 1950’s.”
    Although Chestermere does not have a nostalgic old train station, or grain elevators, there are telltale signs that our roots were on the rails. To read more about the early days of Chestermere get a copy of Chestermere; A Home for All Seasons from the Chestermere Historical Foundation. Contact through the webpage www.chestermerehistory.org