The tiny community of Meeting Creek Alberta is home to a pair of very photogenic vintage wooden grain elevators, plus one gorgeous century old train station. These holdovers from another era together make for timeless scene. They remind us that at one time railways were the cornerstone of the community, and everything that came and went, be they people, packages or grain, did so by train.
Today, finding a traditional small town grain elevator is pretty uncommon, two even more so. The old station however is the real rare gem here. Few remain in the province, but one still standing where it was built is almost unheard of. It just doesn’t happen and this makes Meeting Creek a very special place.
Thanks to Mother Nature, we visited under lovely blue skies.
The station and grounds and one elevator are managed by the Canadian Northern Society and are open at various times for viewing. The second elevator is not part of the exhibit and is privately owned. It does however fit in well with the other buildings.
The rail line passing by here was pulled up in the 1990s. They were forward thinking enough to keep the track in place, which really helps complete the scene.
The station was built by the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) in 1913, to a standard design. That company built many more depots to this plan, or ones that were similar, all across the prairies. Most are now gone. Today one can be found in Big Valley and another in nearby Rowley however. Like this one, both of them are restored. Interestingly, both also sit alongside the same railway line as the one in Meeting Creek and both remain exactly where they were built (recall, that’s rare).
Canadian National Railways (CNR) inherited the station when it took over the CNoR in the early 1920s. Passenger trains, self propelled railcars at the end, continued to serve the line until the early 1980s (the station was out of commission long before that however). By that date, the government agency Via Rail Canada was responsible for the passenger end of things on this line and for most of Canada for that matter.
Long unused and neglected, the station was in a sense reborn when a tourist train operator (Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions) stared using the line in the early 1990s. The building was fixed up around that time and became part of an exhibit. Meanwhile freight service was handed off to a private firm by the CNR in he mid-1980s and this new company used the line until the mid-1990s. The tourist operation ended here in 1996 or 97 (conflicting sources) and shorty after the line was pulled up. That was not an end to the tourist train overall, just their use of this line. They had other lines, all served out of Stettler, that they used as well. Today they’re down to one stretch of track – Stettler to Big Valley – recall, it also has a nice CNoR station.
This author and family, had the chance to ride one of these tourist trains into Meeting Creek, in the late fall of 1996. This was, as I understand, one of the last movements to use these tracks.
The railway line here was built under the charter of the Alberta Midland (a CNoR “paper railway”), in 1911. It ran from Edmonton, through Meeting Creek then via the Red Deer River valley near Drumheller, all the way to Calgary. With the CNR merger, the line was downgraded to branch status, with the nearby parallel Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) line being used instead, The GTP was another firm involved in the CNR merger and their Calgary to Edmonton line was more direct and better engineered.
This railway line was built with very light rail, a CNoR hallmark.
The CNR sold the track in 1986 to a short line firm, called the Central Western Railway. They used the line until 1995 or thereabouts. Tourist trans, recall, operated for a year or two more after that.
The station is open at various times during the summer or by appointment. There are many exhibits inside the building, not just train related, but also in respects to the small prairie town experience. It’s a nice building and the group that manages it has done well.
One exhibit included a number of old photos showing various grain elevators and train depots across the province. Nice!
Across from the station are two grain elevators. The left (west) one dates from 1918 and replaced an earlier 1912 structure that burned down the year prior. It’s painted up with an Alberta Pacific Grain (APG) logo, a firm that was a good sized player in the province’s grain industry, which once owned the elevator (1910s-1960s). Later Federal Grain operated the building. Federal owned APG since the 1940s and later merger it into itself in the 1960s. Old photos from the early 1990s show the building in Federal colours.
Reports state that the elevator was last used in the mid-1980s. It’s not mentioned, but by then, assuming the data is right, it must have belonged to the Alberta Wheat Pool. That firm took over Federal’s Alberta operations in the early 1970s. It’s only a guess however. The society that owns the building acquired it in the late 1980s. It was fixed up and repainted at that time.
Inside are a number of displays and bits related to the day to day operations of an elevator, including a very old drive engine, in the attached office, and a wagon that just emptied its load of grain. And then there’s the signs – No Smoking! – Children Not Permitted! – and others – all those rules! Inside the smell of wood and grain permeates the air. The rail car seals shown in one photo, work this way – once a car was filled, the door was closed and a seal applied, which if broken or missing on arrival at the destination would indicate that the load may have been tampered with.
Naturally, fire was a big worry for elevator operators and all that wood and grain was quite flammable. Many steps were taken to prevent such an event, but even so over the years, many burned down. Lighting or vandalism and not so much smoking, were two common causes.
Next door is a former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, earlier AB Farmer’s Cooperative and United Grain Growers. There is some confusion as to when it was constructed. Some sources say 1915, others 1935 and still more, 1915 with a rebuilding in 1935. The latter seems to make the most sense to me. Closed in the mid-1990s, the building was later acquired by a private individual, who repainted it. What “Vertical Payne” means is unknown. We asked, but no one knew. If the owner reads this, please, we’re curious.
As mentioned this building is not part of the station and elevator complex but it’s still pretty photogenic in its own right.
The Pool as it was known, was once the largest grain handling firms in the province. A farmer owned cooperate, they have been merged out of existence starting in the late 1990s.
At one time there was a third elevator in Meeting Creek. It’s last owner was the Pool. Prior to that it belonged to Federal Grain and earlier Searle Grain and Home Grain. It closed in the 1970s.
You’ll notice that these elevators have each developed a bit of a lean.
Parked in behind is a nice 1957-60 era Mercury truck, simply a rebadged Ford. These were only sold in Canada and not always in huge numbers, and so are pretty rare. Love that yellow!
Meeting Creek today is home to perhaps a couple dozen people. Oddly, the station is at the corner of 50th and 50th. Why there are such numerically big streets for such a small town (it’s a couple blocks square) is unclear. Perhaps they wanted to appear bigger then they were?
Accompanying us on this adventure was Tim Swaren, who acted as a guide while were in the area. Thanks Tim! If you’d like to join us on an trip or collaborate in some way, drop us a line.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July, 2014.
Location: Meeting Creek, AB.