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n 1981, at the urging of Dr. R.G. Ironside, then Chairman of the Department of Geography, University of Alberta, I undertook to compile a historical atlas of railways in Alberta. As a proponent of regional geography, Alberta presented a well-defined and manageable political region with an interesting railway history. As a cartographer, an atlas was the way I chose to show this geographical history.Atlas of Alberta Railways is one man’s idiosyncratic look at a particular reality over time.

Alberta’s history is tied to the development of the railways in Western Canada from the early days of the CPR and other incorporated railways that criss-crossed the prairies. Alberta, along with Saskatchewan, was granted provincial status in 1905 with the power to grant charters of incorporation to various enterprises, including railways within its boundaries. Throughout the Atlas there has been a concious effort to place Alberta in the context of Western Canada and many maps cover the entire region.

The maps in the Atlas of Alberta Railways have been designed for variety. Those showing pre-CPR transcontinental line ideas have been drawn to reflect the originals as close as possible. Such is the case for Sandford Fleming’s “prairie network” a compilation of three separate maps appearing in his reports. Other maps are based on the 3 miles to the inch Sectional maps. A large number are based on the 1:50,000 National Topographical Series. Two are based on the style of map that appeared in passenger timetables.

Photographs, drawings, diagrams and graphs have been included to aid in understanding railwaying and provide further information, adding to the maps and text.

To show the geographical distribution of the railways in Alberta and their history I have used criteria in the form of questions suggested by J.W. Alexander in his book Economic Geography:

LOCATION: Where were/are the railway lines? The pattern of their distribution is shown by the maps. What has not been shown except in a few instances are the possible alternative routes that might have been chosen but for other factors determining their rejection.

DESCRIPTION: What were/are they like/their characteristics? Apart from sharing the general physical ones each line nevertheless had its own particularities that gave it a “personality.”

RELATIONSHIPS: Why were/are the railways located where they were/are? The location of a line was determined by physical (engineering), economic, political (including military) and social factors. The decision by the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British to bypass Grouard was an engineering one, while its diversion south from Rycroft to Grande Prairie was political. The decision by the Canadian Pacific Railway to abandon Sandford Fleming’s surveyed route using the Yellowhead Pass in favour of the Kicking Horse Pass was largely economic.

CONSEQUENCES: What were the consequences of their being as and where they were? Perhaps the decision of greatest significance has already been alluded to in the decision by the CPR to rereoute their main line across the southern prairies. One can only surmise how the history of the prairie provinces and British Columbia would have been different had Fleming’s route been used. Or what would have happened if the Laurier government had not’ allowed the Grand Trunk Pacific to use the Yellowhead Pass, the rightful route of the Canadian Northern?

Some of the answers to these questions can be found in the Atlas, others are to be found in the many histories of the railways in Canada. Many aspects of railwaying are not covered in the Atlas , so reference must be made to other sources—from the philosophical to the technical. An extensive bibliography has been included for further studies on Alberta’s railway history.

If you follow the Contents page, Atlas of Alberta Railways begins by exploring “Alberta’s Geogrpahy.” The introductory chapter shows the physical environment in which the railways operated and looks at climate and land resources. The location of natural resources, especially coal, in the province influenced where railways were built. The railways needed a close and secure supply of coal and the abundant reserves in Alberta met their needs.

In “Development of Railways,” the growing railway network in Alberta and the pattern of settlement on the prairies is explored. Maps detail the Dominion Lands Survey and the lands granted to the “colonization” railways. Population and railway networks are profiled and in a series of maps, the growth of accessibility for settlers to the railways is shown from 1886 to 1931.

During the 1840s the expression of “Manifest Destiny” in the United States of America caused concern to the people of British North America. The desire to maintain the political integrity of the latter led to the presenting of various schemes for a transcontinental railway that would bind the area together. Some of these schemes have been mapped in the style of the originals.

The subject of a transcontinental railway introduces Sandford Fleming, Engineer-in-Chief of the Intercolonial Railway, who initiated and carried out surveys for a line to the Pacific Ocean. Also his contribution to the subject of standard time has been illustrated.

“Building Railways” and “Infastructure” focus on the corporate identity of the railway companies as seen especially in station architecture and also town layouts. The railways created a new environment both physical and mental and disciplned the lives of people with the introduction of standard time zones and the timetable. Omnipresent, often economically omnipotent, the railway revolutionized Canada.

“The Railways” focuses on the four main railway systems affecting Alberta—the Canadian Pacific, the Candian Northern, the Grand Trunk Pacific, (the latter two becoming part of Canadian National Railways) and the Northern Alberta Railways. The Atlas looks at the history and development of these railways, explores individual lines and provides extensive maps of the passes through the Rockies.

Of particular interest regarding the CPR is the contribution rendered by Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott in establishing the town of Lethbridge at the site of their coal mines and the introduction of irrigation in partnership with Mormon settlers in the region. The original line from Dunmore to Lethbridge became the first leg of the CPR’s Crow’s Nest branch built into British Columbia to serve the companies mineral interests and to forestall a greater American presence.

The policy of the Canadian Northern of receiving provincial charters can be seen, although these soon were absorbed by the parent company. By looking at the permitted lines one can only look in amazement at the audacity of William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, the architechts of the CNoR system.

The Grand Trunk Pacific, built to very high standards had less of a presence in Alberta. The financial plight of the GTP and CNoR led ot the consolidation of parts of their main lines and their eventual incorporation into the Canadian National Railways.

The visionary for the Northern Alberta Railways was J.D. McArthur, a well known and respected railway contractor. His entrepreneurial spirit led to the building of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia, the Central Canada, and the Alberta and Great Waterways, the main components of the NAR established in 1929.

The Atlas also looks at obsure railways from the “Betsy” Logging line to the Edmonton Interurban in a chapter on “Small Resource Railways and Other Lines.”

The Atlas was first conceived to cover only the steam era, which ended in 1960. However two railways built in Alberta during the 1960s could not be ignored and have been included. The whole matter of abandonments has not been covered.

The irrational optimism and wishful thinking of the period from 1896 to 1914 was summed up in the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier that the 20th century belonged to Canada, saw the incorporation of a multitude of railway companies whose vision had no possibility of realization in actual railway lines. Many in fact were merely cynical ventures. The final chapter looks at these plans.

I have striven for complete accuracy, but this is an impossibility and quite literally an insurmountable barrier to any kind of publishing. Errors of fact will always be, but as G.K. Chesterton was purported to have said “The man who never made a mistake never made anything.” Robert C. Post in his essay “Railroad History—What’s the Object?” states the case of one noted railroad historian who attracted a band of Lilliputuans devoted to perpetually ferreting out “errors” in his work. I am sure tie and spike counters will not be disappointed in this atlas.

In 1943 as a 13-year old newly released from a Japanese internment camp in the Phillipines and repatriated to Canada, I first saw a part of this country from Montreal to Vancouver from a passenger coach of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was an entrancing experience.

1. The use of the word railway follows common Canadian practise as opposed to the word railroad used in the United States. 2. Dates; these can sometimes be hard to establish. Discrepancies can occur when it is uncertain if the date refers to the the completion of a line, or whether it refers to the date on which the line is handed over to the Operating department by the Construction department or when it was officially authorized to carry traffic by the Board of Railway Commissioners.