Hanna Alberta was once a busy railway division point and the facility seen here, the old roundhouse and turntable, were used to service the steam locomotives that would work this section of line. This was an important place for the railway. Today the trains are gone, but the roundhouse remains. It’s abandoned, empty and vandalized, but at least it survives.
It was the 1990s since we last visited here, and then only briefly at that, although I always wanted to return. Fast forward to August 2013 and finding ourselves in the area, we made sure to set aside the time to explore this fascinating and historically significant subject.
It’s located at the west end of the overgrown rail yard which requires a bit of bushwhacking to get through. Weeds are everywhere. The tracks are still in place, but hard to see, so it’s easy to trip over them. Eventually though we find an old road to take us to the building.
Surprisingly nothing much has changed since our last visit, and while it’s clearly been a magnet for vandals all these years, it’s in remarkably good condition. We find our way in via an open stall door and except for some bird poop, a couple junked cars (stolen?) and some miscellaneous stuff, the building is mostly empty. One can easily imagine the old days when it was a bustling place.
It’s clear that saving this building, and plans are in the works to do just that, won’t be a difficult challenge. It’s in reasonable condition as mentioned, as good as an abandoned building can get. I guess its robust construction has helped here too – like most railway infrastructure, it was made to last.
At one time they employed many people here and these hard working crews kept the engines running.
This railway came through town in 1913 and this building dates from that same period. Wow, it’s a full century old!. Built by the Canadian Northern Railway (aka, the CNoR), that company was folded into the CNR system, along with some rivals, in the early 1920s.
As built the roundhouse had ten stalls, but they added additional five not long after (around 1920 I am told). These must have been removed at some point thought, as today the building is back to being ten stalls wide. In addition to the roundhouse and turntable, other support facilities were constructed close by including fuelling stations, a water tower, bunkhouses and lunch rooms for the crews and offices for the clerical staff. It was a hoping place.
The roof in the original section of the roundhouse was raised in the early 1940s to accommodate larger locomotives then in use.
To supply water for the steam engines, a nearby stream was dammed. The reservoir that was created can still be seen today and it’s located just south of the old yard.
A company that manufactured farming machinery utilized the structure afterwards and did so for most of the 1960s. When they closed down at the end of that decade, the building sat empty for a time and as is the case with abandoned or empty buildings, it was a target for vandals.
At some undermined date, a cattle auction company moved in, before it too closed (also undermined date). Since then the structure has sat empty. Overall though it’s still in good shape.
Plans are being made to save the facility, one of very few original roundhouse/turntable combinations still standing in all of Western Canada. At this point though, no actual work has taken place, but here’s hoping something gets done soon.
The turntable itself is very interesting. It’s essentially a bridge resting on a centre pivot, with support wheels at each end, resting on rails embedded in the turntable pit wall. A simple and compact arrangement, this allowed an engine to align with a specific stall, or to be turned. To power them they utilized a turbine type motor using steam from the power plant (or the locomotive itself), or simply an electric motor. At smaller facilities, the turntable was moved by the Armstrong method – meaning the train crew pushed it. Either arrangement required the locomotive to be almost perfectly balanced on the turntable.
The rail line here is CNR’s former Calgary to Saskatoon secondary line, once a fairly busy line. This section, from Oyen Alberta, through Hanna and on to Lyalta near Calgary has been closed for close to half a dozen years now, although the tracks remain in place (for now anyway). For years now there has been talk of a short line company taking over the section, but nothing has come of this. I’d say they have an uphill battle – the track has degraded and there are few potential customers. In addition to this line, for good measure there were a couple branches in the area.
I have to admit, I am not crazy about our photos, especially the inside ones which turned our grainy. I should have heeded the advice of photographer pro John Sharpe, who tells me time and again to always use a tripod in low light. Maybe we can return soon, to take another stab at it. I’d like better pics.
Update: October 2013. We were notified that the Hanna Roundhouse Society had successfully purchased the structure in late September and almost immediately have taken steps to clean up the property. Fantastic! I have been in touch with that organization and as work progresses we may post updates here. It has been saved!
To see what the building looked like in 1997 or 1998, follow this link…
Hanna Alberta roundhouse.
To see what’s left of the turntable and roundhouse in Fort MacLeod Alberta, click the link below…
Fort MacLeod turntable and roundhouse remains.
To see some old closed up hotels in Hanna, you might like to check out this link…
The Seymour and New National have served their last drinks
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2013.
Location: Hanna, AB.