Into the 1980s the town of Crownest was a very busy railway divisional point – a place where CPR crews rested between runs. There were coal trains heading east to market, and general freights coming and going to and from BC and connecting points. Now it’s mostly an empty field with little to remind one of its former glory. Trains still pass but it’s whole different place now.
Seen here are two pictures, taken in the Crowsnest yard in the early 1970s. The first one shows the extensive number of tracks in the yard followed by my picture taken from the same spot (although the first was taken up higher, probably from the roof of a boxcar). It’s amazing how much is gone and only a siding or two remains. Note the string of stock cars on the left – another anachronism. It’s hard to imagine cows moving by rail now.
The train shown here is somewhat unusual in that it was being pulled by a near matched set of General Motors of Canada (GMD) F units. The photo is too blurry to accurately ID the locomotives seem. This type of engine was not often found the area and instead the region was home to many Canadian Locomotive Company, Fairbanks Morse (USA) designed locomotives and most trains in the area were pulled by them instead.
Without supporting photos it so hard to imagine how busy this place actually was. In fact I have seen pictures showing a switcher being stationed here, meaning it was busy enough place to require one and that some train car classification was taking place here.
The second set of photos show the turntable, and again, I take a picture from the very same point as the original. You can’t see it in my picture but the turntable pit is just below me and it has been filled in but the concrete edge remains. I am not certain when it was was removed and while I did visit here in the mid 1980s, I don’t recall the status of it at that time. Note how miss-aligned the rails are in the original image.
The locomotive shown riding the turntable is a Canadian Locomotive Company “C-Liner”. Nearly every train in the region was pulled by CLC engines, either the “C Series” or “H Series” models. This particular unit, CPR 4055, was built in 1952 and retired some twenty years later. The date of the original picture is listed as 1971, so by that time the engine had a year or less left before being put it to pasture.
Not well regarded by their crews and somewhat temperamental and challenging work on, none the less they served the CPR well. Hard pulling beasts they were well suited to this area in that respect and could be seen easily pulling heavy trains up and down the difficult routes of southern BC.
By the 1970s CPR was the last major railway in North America using FM designed locomotives in mainline service, and southern BC became a mecca of sorts for those wishing to see them. All were of the roster by 1976.
Also shown are some other bits and pieces remaining around the yard. Old pipes, rails, that sort of thing. Along with an old cabin that appears to be a former CPR building of some sort.
Even though there is not much remaining a good number of trains still pass by the place. This line is the eastern conduit for steam and metallurgical coal coming from the Sparwood, Elk Valley and Corbin areas and it’s also host to through freights heading to the US rail connection at Kingsgate BC / Eastport Idaho (former Spokane International now Union Pacific). Finally, a daily trains travels west to to the last remains of the Kettle Valley Railway near Nelson and Trail BC, along with a return trip heading east.
There used to be a number of bunkhouses here for the crews. This location was eliminated as a crew change point at some undetermined date.
The (former) town of Crowsnest straddles the Alberta / BC border and is not to be confused with the municipality of Crowsnest Pass, which collectively compromises that long string of villages and towns that extend from here to the plains further to the east, all within Alberta.
Summit Lake seen here, as I understand it, is a great spot for angling and I’ve often seen fly fishermen working their magic at various points around the lake.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August 2012
Location: Crowsnest, BC.