Jan 142014
CPR tracks Ogden

For this then and now post, we look at a couple rail scenes in Calgary separated by over three decades. In the “then” image taken in by noted rail photographer Mike Dunham-Wilkie, we see Via Rail’s Canadian heading eastbound. For the “now” shot we revisit that same location to see what things looks like today.

These pictures were taken in the community of Ogden on the east side of town. The rail line sits atop a huge embankment as it makes a gently sweeping curve south, before turning east not long after. The track, then as today, is busy, but by the time we visited, only freights use the line.

In the old image it’s the summer of 1979. The train seen is the Canadian which travels all the way from central Canada, to the west coast. Formerly run by the CPR, beginning in the mid-1950s, it was by this time only recently acquired by Canada’s passenger carrier, Via Rail. That company was created in 1978 to oversee the nation’s passenger trains and it took over many routes from Canada’s two major railways (CNR and CPR).

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Via Rail also inherited an eclectic mix of equipment of both railways to run the trains. As you can see some cars and locomotives are in the company paint of blue and yellow. Also note the ex-CPR locomotives and cars (red or bare steel with red) and even an ex-CNR car, the black and white one near the end. With Via Rail (officially Via Rail Canada) always being cash strapped it would take many many years before all rolling stock would carry the same colours.

Seen in front is #1410, a GMDD (General Motors Diesel Division, London Ontario) model FP9A. This unit was built in 1954 and was bought from the CPR (same road number). It was later retired in the early 1980s. Directly behind it is an unidentified F9B unit, similar to the lead locomotive but lacking a cab. The third engine, also unidentified, may be another FP9A or it could be a slightly older but otherwise similar looking FP7A model. It’s hard to tell from this distance.

Of great interest are the cars in the consist. Most have long since been scrapped except for those that are steel coloured with red stripes. Many, including no doubt some seen on this very train, are still on the Via Rail roster. Made in the mid-1950s from stainless steel (an incredibly durable metal) they continue to be used in Via’s long distance trains, some of which are almost operating museums. They are durable cars for sure.

As mentioned the train seen in the Canadian, which Via inherited from the CPR. It continued to run until 1990 when the budget cutbacks killed it. Well sort of…the train lives on, only it does not travel along the traditional CPR southern route, but rather takes a more northerly journey (CNR tracks) that passes though Edmonton before heading to the coast. This is the former route of the Via Rail Super Continental, an ex-CNR train also killed due to budget shortfalls.

It’s funny but the most famous train in Canada whose origins are with the CPR, is now operated almost exclusively on CN tracks using mostly ex-CPR cars.

Back in 1979, long before any cut backs, business on the train seemed pretty good. You can count 16 cars in total, comprised of a baggage car, several coaches and sleepers and two dome observation cars. At peak times in the 1970s and 80s, I’ve been told the train could swell in size to almost double what you see here. Wow, that would be a monster train!

I recall riding the Canadian a couple times in the 1970s and 80s, once from Calgary to Banff and back and another from Regina to Calgary. It was like a big long party bus. What a hoot!

Fast forward to today and we see a huge CPR double stack train heading west. We lost count but it was easily 120-150 cars (or platforms) long. It’s a giant! It was being pulled by a two GE locomotives, a model ES44AC (8913 built 2011) up front and a similar looking AC4400CW mid-train (9640 built 1997 or 1998). These model engines power every freight in the area and as a result, train watching is often (I hate to say), boring. Not that the CPR could care, as they are here to make money and not to make train geeks happy.

We waited a long time for this train. We hoped to catch an eastbound, so it would better match up with Mike’s shot, but after a couple hours, the one we photographed was the only one to show.

Looking at both photos there are only a few differences between them. Very cool given just over thirty years separate the two. The flat-roofed houses seen in back are the same, the empty field is the same, the chain link fence is there and only thing missing today is the old telegraph lines on the left. Otherwise little has changed.

We have a great time making these then and now articles and if have an old photo showing a place we could still visit today to see what it looks like, be sure and drop us a line (contact info below).

Mike Dunham-Wilkie’s photos are under copyright and are used with permission and see his work and that of his late father Dave Wilkie, click the the link below…
Mike Dunham-Wilkie’s and Dave Wilkie’s photos

To see another then and now that used Mike’s photos, follow this link…
Then and now overlooking Wayne Alberta.

To see some other railway themed posts, go here…
The little yellow locomotive.
Kelowna BC rail yards – 1989
East Coulee road/rail bridge.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Mike Wilkie Via Canadian

A 1979 photo from Mike Dunham-Wilkie showing Via Rail’s Canadian in Calgary.

CPR tracks Ogden

The same spot today. That’s my shadow!


CPR ES44AC 8913

The lead locomotive.


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4 Comments on "Calgary train scenes – then and now"

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Mike Dunham-Wilkie
Mike Dunham-Wilkie

Very nice article! I lived in Calgary in 1979-1980 and one of my favourite Saturday activities was to get on the westbound Canadian at around 9 or so in the morning, take it to Banff or Lake Louise, spend some time there and then take the eastbound back. And it wasn’t at all expensive to do this.

Barry Ross
Barry Ross

(via Facebook)
Captured from in behind the Glenmore Inn, neat comparison. I like the 1979 photo of the Via Canadian.