Dec 232015
CPR ES44AC 8862

Fifty years separate the two images used in this then and now. Our subject will be the Canadian Pacific Railway and the location, a spot by the Elbow River, in the community of Inglewood, just east of downtown Calgary. We’ve been supplied an old image showing a passing train and our goal is shoot a photo similarly composed, same angle and all and then compare the two. We love how these demonstrate just how closely linked time and change are.

The “then” image comes via our friends at the Galt Railway History Park (Great Canadian Plains Railways Society) in Stirling Alberta and is their copyright used with permission. It’s from the Ken Hooper collection of railway images which that group oversees (it’s extensive and no doubt will spawn more posts like this). Have an old street/building/transit/train scene photo you want included in a then and now? Send it our way!

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The old image is dated October 1965 and shows a passenger run heading towards the camera position. Data accompanying the photo mentions it’s heading southbound (temporarily eastbound here) on the railway’s MacLeod Subdivision. That’s in error, but only by a small margin. At this point the train is a few hundred metres west of the junction with that line. At this position it’s on the CPR’s east/west mainline, here, the Brooks Subdivision. The MacLeod line is branch off it.

The train has just left the CPR’s downtown Calgary station, off frame and to the left. The final destination is the city of Lethbridge, either via the entire MacLeod Subdivision or the more easterly Aldersyde Subdivision (the train alternated between them). This run would take several hours to complete.

Instead of a traditional locomotive hauled consist, the train is comprised of two self propelled RDC (Rail Diesel Cars). These came on the scene in the 1950s and were generally used on the lesser patronized and/or shorter runs. The lead unit, as can be seen, has a small baggage compartment in the front so it’s an RDC-2. The other is all coach, so it’s an RDC-1. There were also other configurations. These came from the Budd company in the US, although a number were also assembled in Canada by Canadian Car and Foundry (or Can-Car). Both major Canadian railways operated them. The CPR called them “Dayliners”. Another RDC run out of Calgary was to Edmonton.

The drive train was located sub-floor with the prominent hump on the roof housing the radiators (I assume a leak there would be disastrous). These cars are made of stainless steel which makes them quite durable. A few are still in use today.

The Calgary to Lethbridge service was cancelled in the early 1970s. The last true passenger run of any kind to serve Calgary (discounting expensive “tour” trains), under the auspices of Via Rail, who took over CPR’s passenger business in the late 1970s, was in 1990.

On our visit we catch a slow moving sulphur train, which stirred up the pigeons. Since it’s eastbound, it’s empty (read on). Pulled by a trio of GE locomotives (all model ES44ACs built in the mid to late-2000s), two in the lead and a third DPU, aka Distributed Power Unit, bringing up the rear. That last unit, #8862, was once painted up in celebration of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The sulphur comes from various gas plants in Alberta, as a by-product, and is transported to the west coast for export. A low value product, these trains are at best spotty and run only when the commodity price is favourable. Cars in this dedicated “unit” train are aluminum hoppers that get rotary dumped at the destination – so flipped upside down without being detached form the train.

A lot has changed in the fifty years between shots. The skyline, my oh my, how that differs – in 1965 the city had a population of some 300 000, today, it’s over a million! As a result, downtown keeps growing to the right. The railway bridge is different (BTW, the old one makes a brief appearance in the 1970s film Silver Streak). One line pole, right of centre remains, hard to see, and helped us line up our shot. The 9th Avenue road bridge in back right connects both photos. Some of the trees blocking the view to it are the same, as seen by their position, but are perhaps a bit bigger. One is certainly leaning more.

The fence got in the way in our shot, but we have to duplicate the position as best we can, so have to live with it. Side note: in the old photo notice the white car to the right, complete with massive tail fins.

One thing that bugs us doing these then and nows, a technical problem, is how different the photos look when compared one way over another. Notice how the tracks in the stacked photo seems to trail off at diverging angles (we call it the fall-away problem) yet when placed side by side, they seem to match up pretty well. Optical illusion! I have no idea why this happens. Still, the one atop the other version is visually a better arrangement, even with that issue.

Our now photos are composed in camera. We line-em up, take a shot or a few and hope like hell it or they end up looking like the original. That’s how it’s done and it’s more challenging than it appears. We could of course do it all in post production I guess. But no. We’d rather have them imperfect, and doing it this way, we’ll never totally ace it, than to fake the results.

A similar subject on the opposite side of town…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Downtown West End Calgary.

More trains…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Greg McDonnell edition.
Trainspotting – Field BC edition.
Aspens Crossing’s new locomotive gets delivered.
North Vancouver waterfront trains 1989.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: December, 2015.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article references: Canadian Trackside Guides, Galt Railway Historic Park/Great Canadian Plains Railway Society, CPR records @ Exporail Quebec.
Our photos were shot from public property.

CPR tracks Calgary AB

The CPR tracks, east end of downtown Calgary, fifty years apart.

CPR tracks Calgary Alberta

Putting them side by side eliminates the “fall away” problem seen in the first image.

Sultran Sulphur car

The “now” train is used to carry sulphur and here’s a representative car.

CPR ES44AC 8862

The trailing DPU locomotive.


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10 Comments on "Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Downtown East End Calgary"

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Greg McKee
Greg McKee

Cool pic of the RDC!

Ken Dolphin
Ken Dolphin

As a kid, I loved riding on the dayliner.

jas churchill
jas churchill

My buddy is a conductor and took me along on his hot shot into Cowtown. I got to sit in the engineers seat of the second locomotive ( “just don’t touch nothing!” ) all the way in to Alyth yard. When we crossed Glenmore trail I slid the window open and hung my arm out, thinking someone I know might see me, but nobody did. It was a very cool ride. I may not have been a huge railway fan before that night, but I was after.

Paul von Huene
Paul von Huene

In behind the RDC (current site of Fort Calgary) was a Macosham (sp?) warehouse. It was served by rail, but I don’t remember how it got in there. Across 9 Ave or along the river berm behind Inglewood (I think).