The first photograph in this “then and now” report shows a circa 1992 railway scene captured in the small town of Irricana Alberta. We see a row of grain hoppers sitting on a side track not far from an elevator, perhaps waiting to be loaded there, or maybe having already been filled, they could be pending pick up by the next train. There are two competing railways here, paralleling each other, a CNR line to the left and opposite and seen curving away is a connector track to the now abandoned CPR branch a few dozen metres to the east.
In the second picture let’s us see how that same location appears today.
Interestingly, the old photo was taken by yours truly and this is the first time we have used our own picture for the “then” component of a report. In all the rest, these have been shot by others.
The first image (from a scanned 35mm slide) has us looking roughly north. The CNR’s Calgary to Edmonton line is to the left. The side track we were standing on once served the elevators seen peeking out just to the left of the grain hoppers in the old picture. Today it is are used to store cars and a number were seen way off in the distance sitting on this track roughly where those buildings were once located.
This grain elevator, as far as we know, was constructed in the 1920s for a private firm. In the 1940s it came under control of the Alberta Wheat Pool. The exact date it was torn down is not certain, but I have been told the late 1990s. I visited Irricana in 1997 or 98 and it was still extant, so it must have been shortly after that.
The rail line seen, the CNR’s Three Hills Subdivision, was built by a predecessor company, the Grand Truck Pacific, in the 1910s. The GTP amalgamated with several other railways, in the early 1920s, forming the Canadian National Railways we know and love today This line sees perhaps a few trains per day. Sadly, none showed for us.
The line curving to the right connects the CNR and CPR to each other. It’s not known exactly when it was put in place and what specific purpose it served. Did it allow either railway to reach both elevator complexes? Perhaps…
Or, as it’s been suggested by some, did it the CPR use it to access it’s own line via the CNR tracks after it abandoned the section south of here, which was devoid of any customers. This seems to make good sense since the two lines originated near each other and for the most part ran parallel, sometimes a few kilometres apart and other times within shouting distance of each other. By sharing track to here, this allowed the CPR to save on maintenance and the like. The two railways, by the way, continue to run close to each other all the way to Beiseker, the next town down the line (north). Shortly after they go their separate ways. The CPR line turns north, where as the CN one takes a more northeasterly heading.
This CPR branch was fully abandoned by the mid to late 1990s – some reports say 1995, others 1998 or so.
The two elevators to the right were actually twins sitting side by side and considered operationally as one. It dates from 1911 (one twin), 1929 (the second twin) and 1960s (the annex). This building was at the time of my 1992 visit under control of the Alberta Wheat Pool. The previous owner was Federal Grain, which AWP purchased in the 1970s.
At one time there was a third elevator complex nearby, but little is known about it and I am not even sure if it was along the CN or CP tracks. Information in regards to Irricana’s “prairie sentinels” is hard to come by and rather spotty at best. As always research is ongoing and corrections and additions are possible. We also love to hear from our readers if they can add anything.
Let’s see what’s changed between the then and now shots…
The CP line is abandoned and pulled up, the grain elevators are long gone and some new houses have sprung up in back. None the less the layout of the current railway line and the ghost of the abandoned one makes the location instantly recognizable even if much of the area is, for the most part, featureless.
While the grain elevators seen in the old photo are gone, wandering about the area we found three others of sorts. There is a shed and birdhouse, each in the shape of one, located in a yard that backs on to the old CPR branch. They are even painted in Alberta Wheat Pool colours just like the big “vators” seen in the old photo.
Then there is this large playground made with an elevator theme. Just looking at it, we know it’d be endless fun. Kids have it so good today. When I was one (a cliched saying like “back in my day”), we were happy to have swing, a slide and teeter-totter. That’s all. One this elaborate and exciting, to my child self, would have seemed like Disneyland. I would have never left!
Update: May 2014. Larry Buchan, a long time CPR employee (now retired) has sent us some information regarding the connector track. It allowed the CPR to abandon the Calgary to Irricana section of its Langdon Subdivision branch, an unproductive slow order riddled section of track with no customers, and instead use the CNR line in from Calgary to access the remainder of it. This happened in 1989. Thanks Larry, we can always count on you.
Check out this museum which is located not from where our pictures were taken…
Old farm tractors Pioneer Acres Museum Irricana.
Old road and construction machinery Pioneer Acres Museum Irricana.
Unrestored trucks Pioneer Acres Museum Irricana.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Irricana, AB.