Back in the fall of 1997 we were passing through the area and so paid a brief visit to Nordegg Alberta with intentions to explore the old CNR rail line located nearby. Fast forward a few years to 2001 and we are in the area again and have a bit of time to kill and so we decide to retrace out steps to see what has changed. It’s such a fascinating place and I hate that we did not have more time to explore it but I am hoping to devote it some time in the future.
We start at the site of the old rail yard and train station. On our first visit there were still some tracks here, extending west for less than a kilometre (just past a large trestle). Beyond that the rail bed was (is) bare and converted into a trail used by quads in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. On this second pass the tracks have been cut back further west a few hundred metres compared to last time, for reasons unknown to us.
Starting our short trek we follow the old railway grade until we come to the fenced-in tipple (an historic site you can visit). Along the way we pass over a small trestle which has shifted badly. It appear to me that since our visit in 1997 it has moved considerably. The structure appeared solid as I recall and the shifting may be caused by ground heaves. The current end of track is on the east side of this structure.
Just past the bridge is a second small yard, this one completely intact with all the tracks and even the switch stands still in place. As well there are some old buildings and such, including the remains of an old rail car. Specifically it’s called s a flanger and while it looks much like a caboose it’s not. Instead it is used to clean the track and it has some small plows and blades that scrape the area right on either side of the rail. This cleans out packed-in snow and ice, either of which could derail a train.
It looks like the car was retried and the body used as an office of some sort or as a shelter – perhaps for the trains crews switching the coal mine surface plant. I don’t recall seeing wheels on it, which makes sense I guess. Inside it’s a little rougher than on out last visit. Most windows are gone and between the snow and rain the old veteran is taking a beating. The roof is sagging as you can see in one picture.
How long does it have or is it gone now? After all it was a dozen years ago since we were there.
Just beyond it is another structure, what looks to be a storage building for railway maintenance crews. It too is suffering from the ravages of nature and it sagging badly in the middle.
Before long we are the site gate and inside we can see the large tipple, the loading area and other out buildings needed to clean, sort and load the coal. We also see an old friend, a boxcar that’s now sitting inside the complex near the tipple. In the past it was parked at the site of the old station where we just came from. In the interim it was moved inside and represents a reasonably typical box car of the era used for coal loading. Yes they used boxcars, odd as that seems. In fact they loaded grain that way too and this car was actually used for that purpose.
It’s what’s know as a Manitoba Buffalo car, which were the very last grain handling boxcars on the CNR system. Their smaller size and lighter weight (when compared to grain hoppers cars) allowed them to be used on lightly built branch lines and they lasted in the mid 1990s before being retried. It’s assumed they’ll repaint the car at some point so it better represents the era when the coal mine operated.
The tipples here is huge and I do hope to visit the site. There is clearly lots to see and explore. The Brazeau Collieries mine operated here from the teens into the mid 1950s. The rail line was little used after that and eventfully abandoned. I believe the rails remained in place for some time, into the 1980s or so, just in case coal mining returned. That never happened though, even though there are large proven reserves here, and outside of the tipple area, most of the track was removed – although I have seen a recent picture from Saunders east down the line showing some tracks still in place. This invites further research.
In the future we’d like to come back to Nordegg and area, giving ourselves a couple solid days to really soak in what the area has to offer. The town, which we have ignored to this point, needs to be explored, the rail like checked out again, there are old mine artifacts to be discovered and we’d like to summit some of the ridges in the area.
It’s not clear what’s in store for the railway infrastructure seen here. It’s outside the protected historic site but given that it’s so intact I am hoping that it will be incorporated into it. Fingers crossed! This line, indecently, was built in the years 1911-1912 under the charter of the Canadian Northern Western Railway, a subsidiary of the Canadian Northern Railway. The CNoR system was later amalgamated in the present day Canadian National Railways and while in operation for that company, the branch was known as the Brazeau Subdivision.
These images were scanned from 35mm prints and this series may have been one of the last we shot on film.
To see pictures from our 1997 trip here, follow this link…
Canadian National Railways Nordegg – 1997.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2001.
Location: Nordegg, AB.