In this report we take a look at the CPR’s former Beiseker Alberta train station which now houses that town’s offices along with a library and museum. Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013, the building is in fine shape and sits only metres from where it was built. The railway line that once passed by the structure however, is long gone.
Sharing the grounds and sitting on a small stretch of track is an old CPR caboose, along with an even older boxcar, and both appear in this report. Not that far away is a larger collection of old rail cars and the like all belonging to the Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum, and we hope to visit them at some time in the future.
The station seen here sits not far from where it was built in 1913 and besides being moved back from the tracks a bit (those tracks are gone BTW) and being rotated 180 degrees, it looks pretty much as built. Remember the town side formerly faced the tracks and the back side, the town (make sense?). Great care was taken in renovating the structure and it shows. We’ll hopefully check out the interior on our next visit.
Housing the waiting area, ticket offices, baggage and express rooms on the main floor, up stairs there was a living space for the station agent and his family. Large barn-sized doors on both the track and street facing sides of the building allowed any express freight to be handled efficiently. Packages, boxes and any such cargo carried in the baggage car would be processed in the express area and then loaded on the customer’s waiting wagon or truck. Or if outgoing, the process was reversed. At one time, before the likes of Purolator or FedEx (or DHL, Canpar, UPS and Canada Post), the railways had a near monopoly on the small parcel business.
We can not find any data on what sort of passenger service was offered early on – was demand high enough in those years to warrant a fully dedicated train just for the consonance of people only (and of course express and mail)? Who knows. By the 1920s however, service through here was by mixed train, essentially a coach tacked on to the end of a passing freight. At that time there were three weekly round trips, confirmed by some old timetables from that era found by this author. They show the cost to ride from Calgary to Beiseker, or back, was a whopping $1.85 and that trip took a leisurely four and a half hours (the distance is roughly 75km). What a sloooooow ride. There was lots of freight cars to be switched along the way I guess.
The building continued to be used into the 1960s – did passenger service last that long here – did the mixed train continue on to that late date? I can only guess.
After being closed, the station may have been abandoned by the railway or more likely was used for storage and the like. Most certainly though it fell into a state of disrepair and that’s a fate that befell many old train stations. Bought by the town in the early 1980s, it was fixed up over the next couple years before becoming the fine building we see today. It has a basement now, something it would not have had when built.
The station was built to a Standard A2 Western plan and was one of many in the province made to this design, all which looked very much like Beiseker’s. Some still exist and along with this one, there is one in Manyberries Alberta, used as a residence, one at Calgary’s Heritage Park (former Midnapore depot), and one at Castor, also used as a museum. There may be others too – documentation on these buildings is somewhat spotty.
In September of 2013, a celebration was held at the station in honour of the building’s 100th year.
Located on the station grounds are a number of displays, but what drew us in are those related to the railway. On a small stretch of track a CPR caboose is seen, #434952, built in 1977 by the railway. It has sat here since 1997.
Next to the caboose is an older boxcar, technically an “insulated boxcar”, with a special heating unit. This example is from the early 1960s and while retired by the CPR in the late 1990s, it’s not clear when it was placed here. This type of car would be used to transport products that could not standing freezing. Given that the Beiseker area was a significant grain growing region, I find it odd that a grain box car was not sourced instead. From an historical perspective that would have made more sense – there are some grain boxes at the nearby train museum however.
Sitting along side the CPR’s Landgon Subdivision branch, which travelled from its namesake town near Calgary to East Coulee Alberta. This line was built in spurts from 1910 to 1929 – the section past Beiseker is from that earlier date. Built to tap the agricultural potential of the area, later the line was extended into the coal fields of the Red Deer River valley to the northeast – there were a couple other branches in the area too.
As the years past, the coal industry died out and the grain companies retrenched, consolidated and then outright left. By the 1990s traffic on the line had severely declined, so much that by the latter part of that decade it was abandoned. Interestingly, Beiseker was a two railway town and on the opposite side of the village there is a still active CNR line (built in 1912, ex-Grand Trunk Pacific).
As mentioned the tracks came past here in 1910 and since the building we see here dates from 1913, it’s presumed that an earlier temporary station was used prior to the one we see here being built. The other train depot mentioned in the report, the CPR Bassano Station, is located at the Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum not far away. It’s been sitting on blocks for a year or two and the plans, which have seemed to stall, is to move it to a permanent foundation nearby.
There used to be a number grain elevators not far from the station grounds and in the 1990s we documented them. There is a link below to see them.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2013.
Location: Beiseker, AB.