Located deep in a river valley in a remote part of the province, Finnegan Alberta is nothing more than a little point on the map and that’s likely all it has ever been. A siding on CPR branch line (long gone), there is not much to see here, nor was there ever. It’d be easy to pass by the place never knowing that at one time something stood here – not much, but something. Outside the train line which can be spotted in places, the only real remnants left is the old railway loading ramp. Even that’s hard to see, being completely overgrown by vegetation.
It’s a simple wood and earthen structure used for off loading rail cars. Mostly for inbound shipments, lumber for example could be brought in to build a house in the area, or perhaps they’d unload new farm equipment here. The freight car was spotted on one side of the dock and a wagon or truck on the other, allowing freight to be easily transferred between the two. Wheeled freight, tractors for example, could be driven off the car and then down the ramp.
Every town on the prairies had one of these loading ramps, most are long gone though, and they were essential back when everything travelled by rail. They are framed with heavy beams and the centre is filled with packed dirt or gravel. It was cheap and simple and assured the railway additional traffic.
Why it survives today is anyone’s guess? One would think it would have been bulldozed when the line was pulled up.
If there was ever a town here, in the traditional sense, this author has found no evidence of it. Sure there was one grain elevator (the town’s entire “business district”) but outside that, nothing can be found. Walking around the field near the ramp and researching Finnegan online both turned up little.
As mentioned there was once a single grain elevator here, a Parrish and Heimbecker built in the early 1930s and gone by the late 1970s. Note: some sources list two elevators here, but I believe they are in error. An image at the Royal Alberta Museum shows a pair, but it’s clearly not Finnegan as the river flats shown are too broad and the rail line is too far from the valley edge.
There are sections of the rail line to be seen here, remnants of the CPR’s Rosemary Subdivision which came through in the late 1920s. This line ran from its namesake town to East Coulee and was a conduit for coal moving east coming from the numerous mines in the Red Deer River valley near Drumheller. When that traffic dried up in the 1970s (it had been in decline since the 1950s), the line was cut back with Finnegan becoming the end of steel. At that time the only product moving was grain and even then only sporadically.
Surprisingly, this sleepy little branch managed to hang on until the 1970s, with the occasional short train visiting the town to service the grain elevator. Larry Buchan, a good friend and former CPR employee even managed to document a visit to Finnegan (link below). By the time he worked the line in 1974-75, train service was rare along this section and not long after his last trip the line was abandoned.
Further up the line, west of Finnegan, is the very photogenic ghost town of Dorothy Alberta. There is an abandoned grain elevator there, one of only a handful painted in Alberta Pacific colours, along with two very nice churches. It’s a worthwhile visit if you are in the area. Further west again is the historic Atlas Mine, a museum you can visit.
The next station east of Finnegan is called Bullpound, a railway water stop and not a real town, and home to a large abandoned bridge, which we visited in the fall of 2013. See a link below…
Finnegan is home to one of the few river ferries operating in the province. If you head south from the rail line, a small scow will take you across the river. I guess there is not enough traffic to justify building a bridge here.
To see Larry Buchan’s report where he documents a trip to Finnegan click the link below…
Zone 3 Wayfreight trips on Rosemary Subdivision .
To see the Bullpound bridge mentioned in this report, go here…
Bridge hunting – Bullpound Alberta.
If you’d like to know more about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: May 2013.
Location: Finnegan, AB.