For this then and now we’re in the “almost” ghost town of Rowley Alberta. Home today to a couple people at most, in the past it was a much busier and more populace place. Many of the buildings in town, long vacant, have been lovingly restored. Included in that are three impressive grain elevators, various stores and businesses in “downtown” (Sam’s Saloon: come for pizza AND beer!) and the subject for this piece, the old Canadian National Railways train station down by the tracks.
We’ll be looking at it, first in the early 1990s as a freight passes, a photo coming in from a reader, and again, under much more wintry conditions, in 2016. While not much in the scene has changed, one important element has, the trains are long gone, the last one visiting a few years after the first image was captured.
The station building dates from 1922. It was not the first depot here and replaced an earlier temporary one put in place around 1911. said to be a converted boxcar, but photos show a more shed like structure.
Rowley was founded in 1910-1912 concurrent with the coming of the railway. This line was built by Canadian Northern Railways (Alberta Midland charter), a company later amalgamated into Canadian National Railways around the time the current station was constructed. The building is a CNoR class three design suitable for modest sized villages, so like Rowley was at the time – second class versions were for larger towns, fourth, for tiny communities – all versions we’re similar but differed in size. Each also had an attached freight room.
Class two and three types had living quarters upstairs for the station agent and his family. This person’s job was to sell tickets, manage parcel or less than carload express shipments, send telegrams, inspect passing trains, and sometimes even arrange car shipments to local consignees. He could be a busy fellow. Sometime after the 1950s, exact date unconfirmed, the agent’s position was eliminated. Business had fallen off by then and he was no longer needed – the train crew themselves would handle paperwork for tickets and a local business, acting on the railway’s behalf, would take care of express shipments.
The line here continued to see passenger trains all the way into the early 1980s. For the last few years the run was under the auspices of Via Rail Canada, which took over the passenger businesses of both the CNR and CPR, nationally, in the 1970s. For the last decade or two of service, passenger trains comprised a single self propelled rail car. By that point the station was only used sparingly – Rowley was pretty much a ghost town by the 1970s so few people needed it – with only the station platform being used. The building was otherwise locked up.
I guess they could have torn down the station around this time, but thankfully they didn’t. Was it that passenger run that saved it, or just a general lack of interest by the railway in spending the cash to demolish it? Regardless, it managed to survive.
Even with the end of passenger service, the building, at various times, at least based on one report, was used for storage (track materials being suggested). The CNR sold the line through Rowley in the mid-1980s. The new operator was the Central Western Railway out of Stettler to the north. Even they could not make a go of it and the last freights to pass through town were in the mid-1990s, so not long after the “then” image was captured.
From the late 1980s to about 1996/1997 tourist trains from Alberta Prairies Railway Excursions (sometimes steam powered) visited Rowley. Once that ended, the rails were pulled up, although a section in front of the station and to the nearby grain elevators was kept in place, for looks.
Fast forward to today and the building is a display and has been fixed up to look as it did when built. It’s even painted in the traditional CNoR cream colour. One can prearrange a tour of the interior in summer. A speeder sits on the track out front.
Along the remains of the same railway line (last known as the CNR’s/CWR’s Stettler Subdivision) are a few other former CNoR stations that managed to survive. There’s one in nearby Big Valley (still used by those tourist trains spoken of earlier) and further north in a community called Meeting Creek. We’ve visited both.
The then photo was send in by reader Bill Hooper, a long time railway buff and photographer (thanks Bill). It shows a passing grain train pulled by a couple Central Western vintage 1950s General Motors locomotives.
Beside the obvious, being trains don’t visit Rowley any more, the main scene is little changed from then to now. The station is much as it looked, although it’s been repainted. The trees sure have grown up. On the old elevator siding sits that horse pulled trailer seen extreme left. The stop sign and crossbuck, protecting the road crossing from trains that will never come, appears to have been placed after the then image was captured (the post looks fairly new). The boxcar seen in the old photo has been moved and is now behind the photography position.
If you have an old photo you think should be included in a BIGDoer then and now, please contact us. It can show an old street scene, vintage building or like the one Bill sent, trains from way back when. We’ll revisit the location seen and shoot a similarly composed image and then talk about it all on this website. Photos can be scans or original (we’ll send them back) but must be your copyright.
Being purists our now shots are always lined up in camera only (no post trickery). We did a good job here although we were shooting much too low. It bothers us, but I doubt it does anyone else. Still, it conveys exactly what we want.
We toured Rowley in 2013…
Rowley Alberta ghost town.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2016.
Location: Rowley, AB.
Article references: Book: Pioneer Days – Scollard, Rumsey, Rowley, CNR records and archives, CNR timetables, Photographer Bill Hooper.
Everything seen in this report is publicly accessible.