Northern Alberta Railways
The Peace River Outlet
Complete list of associated features:
Previous SectionNext Section

The Peace River Outlet

Peace River District, Proposed Railway Outlets
Peace River District, Proposed Railway Outlets
ailure of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railways and their successor the Canadian National Railways (CNR) to extend their lines into the Peace River area (the CNR only reached Whitecourt in 1921), and the slow progress of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway and Central Canada Railway, led the settlers of the area, on both sides of the provincial boundary, to agitate for a better branch line network and a more direct route to the Pacific coast.

The settlers north and west of the Peace River desired a line to go west ending at Stewart, B.C., at the head of the Portland Canal. Those south of the river were content to see some link with the CNR at some point.1 The Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) in British Columbia, first destined for Fort George (Prince George) and later for the Peace River Block, was not to prove a factor in alleviating the transportation problem of the Peace River area.The PGE was a victim of economic reality and political maneuvering and the line only reached Quesnel in 1921.2 Only after the arrival of economic prosperity following World War II was the railway extended to Prince George in 1952 and to Dawson Creek in 1958 where it was connected to the Northern Alberta Railways.3

Northern Alberta Railways,  Zones for Originating Traffic
Northern Alberta Railways, Zones for Originating Traffic

The result of the demand for a western outlet promoted a number of engineering and economic studies between 1925 and 1932.4 The first of these was done in 1925 by a combined board of CNR and CPR engineers, who would report that “The reason this subject is being discussed is the general opinion of the settlers in the Peace River district, who, without any study or thought as to whether or not their business can afford the cost, believe that if there was constructed a shorter railway to the Pacific coast that they would be entitled to, and would obtain lower freight rates.”5 It was the opinion of the board that unless traffic increased greatly the existing lines were adequate. They also declared the Obed route to be the most feasible,6 though this offered little benefit to those north of the Peace River. And the engineers concluded “the studies show conclusively that for a long time to come the most economical route is, not by a western outlet, but via Edmonton over existing lines of railways.”7

With the amelioration of freight rates E.M.M. Hill a reconnaissance engineer with the CNR could report in 1927 that “The settler ... is now well satisfied with the grain rate in force, and for that reason is more interested in branch lines than a Pacific outlet. Outside interests, however, still agitate for the latter, and are of the opinion that a western outlet must be built.”8

Another study was undertaken in 1929–1930 headed by the Government of British Columbia to ascertain the natural resources of the area in that province.9 This was followed by location surveys of the Peace and Monkman Pass routes by the CPR in 1931 that determined the Peace Pass route was the most advantageous.10 Finally at the request of R.J. Manion, M.P., Minister of Railways and Canals, in 1931 the matter of an outlet was re-examined by engineers from the CNR and CPR together with an independent consultant, C.R. Crysdale. They confirmed the 1925 report, adding “that the matter of a final route be decided when the question is a practical one, believing that by the time the volume of traffic has reached a point where a Western outlet is justified, general and possible local conditions may have materially changed.”11

Those changes were already occurring with the formation of the Northern Alberta Railways in 1929 and the subsequent arrival of the railway at Dawson Creek and Hines Creek in 1930, and the building of a more extensive road network with the growing use of the motor truck and automobile.12 By 1950 the Hart Highway had reached Dawson Creek from Prince George via the Pine Pass.

Previous SubsectionNext Subsection
Notes | Bibliography | Abbreviations
1. H.M. Leppard, “The Settlement of the Peace River Country,” Geographical Review 25 (1935): 73; M. Zaslow, “The Struggle for the Peace River Outlet,” in The West and the Nation, Berger, C. and R. Cook, eds., (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), p. 288.
2. B. Ramsey, PGE: Railway to the North (Vancouver: Mitchell Press, 1962), p. 146.
3. Ibid., pp. 244, 251.
4. Canadian Railway and Marine World, October 1932, p. 500.
5. Report on Various Proposed Railway Routes for a Western Outlet to the Pacific from the Peace River District, 1925, NAC RG 30, Volume 7326, File Report 26 February 1925, p. 1.
6. Ibid., p. 23.
7. Ibid.
8. Report, Peace River Lines-Peace Pass Route, E.M.M. Hill, Reconaissance Engineer to W. Burns, Engineer of Construction, Winnipeg, 14 November 1927. Copy obtained from Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
9. Canadian Railway and Marine World, October 1932, p. 500.
10. Ibid, p. 501.
11. 22 George V, Sessional Paper No. 125. A, 1932, Peace River Outlet, Report of the Commitee of Railway Engineers appointed to consider the Peace River Outlet, 11 December 1931, p. 3.
12. M. Zaslow, “The Struggle for the Peace River Outlet,” p. 292.