9 Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was part of an ambitious
plan developed by the Laurier Government and Charles
Melville Hays to build a transcontinental railway from
Moncton, New Brunswick to the Pacific. The evolution of
this project began in 1902 when Hays was given permission
to prepare an application for federal assistance for a new
railway to the Pacific but not permission to commit the
Company to such a project. Hays’s first plan for a western
branch envisaged a line starting at Callander, Ontario and
going west via Winnipeg and Edmonton following the original
Sandford Fleming survey across the prairies. West from
Edmonton, the line would use the Yellowhead Pass to reach
Laurier responded positively to this proposal since it
gave him an opportunity to escape from an earlier
commitment to support another railway to be build across
the desolation of the Canadian Shield. The Trans-Canada
Railway was projected to run from Roberval, 187 miles north
of Quebec City to James Bay. It had been conceived by
Colonel Church to serve the needs of the British Empire by
linking its various parts in an All Red-Route. Despite its
origins, support for this project had come from Quebec
nationalists and the Roman Catholic Church who saw it as a
way of settling the Canadian Shield and exploiting its
Incorporating the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
While supporting the Grand Trunk Railway in its efforts to
extend its activities to the West, Laurier had countered
with another proposal. The Laurier Government suggested the
construction of the National Transcontinental Railway with
eastern and western divisions. The western division from
Winnipeg to the Pacific was to be built by the Grand Trunk
Railway under the auspicious of a wholly owned subsidiary
the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The eastern portion of the
National Transcontinental from Winnipeg to Moncton via
northern Quebec was to be built by the GTPR on behalf of
the Dominion Government from whom it would lease the line
for operation. The GTPR was incorporated on October 24,
1903 and the agreement for the construction of the National
Transcontinental was finalized on February 18, 1904.
At the same time that the incorporation of the GTPR
was taking place in Ottawa, Hays was making contact with
its potential supporters in the west. In 1903 the town
council of Edmonton was approached by him for their support
for the GTPR, with the result that an agreement regarding
terminal facilities was signed in 1905.
The agreement provided for the payment of $100,000 to
the GTPR and allowed the company to follow a right-of-way
into the city that the Canadian Northern Railway also
intended to use. The GTPR was given the right to construct
tracks south of MacKenzie Avenue and was exempted from
municipal taxation for five years. The GTPR made use of the
funds to purchase land where the Calder Yards, located
north of the Hudson’s Bay Reserve, were built. Other
economic contributions of the GTPR to Edmonton included the
construction of the Hotel Macdonald. Other important
terminals in Alberta in the Grand Trunk Pacific system were
Wainwright, Edson and Jasper.
The GTPR’s mainline, in contrast to the Canadian Northern
Railway was constructed to a high standard from the very
beginning. Hays took this approach because he argued that
costs of construction were constantly increasing thus his
competitors would sooner or later be obliged to bring their
lines up to the same standard. The longer this process was
delayed the greater the cost. On the prairie section he
tried for maximum grades of 0.25 percent and four degree
curves. This standard he thougt would give him a decisive
advantage in operating costs. The advantage of these lower
grades was in the increased tonnage. A locomotive of that
era could haul 495 tons on a 1.2 percent grade; 576 tons on
a 1.0 percent grade; 1,058 tons on a 0.4 percent grade; and
2,183 tons on the level. He obtained a 0.4 percent grade;
and 2,183 tons on the level. He obtained a 0.4 percent
maximum for eastbound and a 0.5 percent maximum for
westbound traffic with no curve of over three degrees
except in passing through the towns. He also used eight-
five pound rails instead of the standard sixty-five pound
rail. Upon completion, first-class rolling stock was placed
in service to handle the anticipated traffic.
Construction of the Prairie section started on August
29, 1905. By December 1908 the roadbed was completed from
Winnipeg to Wolf Creek. By the end of 1907 the railhead was
near Saskatoon where the bridge over the Southern
Saskatchewan was opened on March 30, 1908. The Clover Bar
Bridge, which provided entry into Edmonton, was completed
by December of 1908 but the track was not laid until 1909.
The track was laid to Wolf Creek by the end of 1910. On
August 13, 1909 the first Grand Trunk Pacific Railway train
entered Edmonton and by the middle of the following year a
daily service was in operation between Edmonton and
Winnipeg that was four hours shorter than its Canadian
The most difficult section of the Grand Trunk Pacific
Railway was the line west of Edmonton. This section did not
have the open terrain that had made railway construction
easier to the east. It was also not settled and thus did
not produce immediate traffic. In an effort to speed
construction the completion of the mountain section was
undertaken from both ends. Problems west of Edmonton
included the need to bridge the deep ravines of Wolf Creek
and the McLeod River and excavate a 800-yard long cut
between the two. The completion of these task required
1,200 feet of bridging and the shifting of 130,000 cubic
years of soil. Sixteen miles west of McLeod the crossing of
the Sun Dance Creek coulee required a trestle 2,250 feet in
length while ten miles further west a cut 2,250 feet in
length was necessary to preserve the grade.
Branch line construction in Alberta by the GTPR was
undertaken by a wholly owned subsidiary the Grand Trunk
Pacific Branch Lines Company that was incorporated on June
30, 1906. This company built lines to Calgary from Tofield
and from Bickerdike south to Lovett to service the coal
miners in the foothills. Both lines were opened in 1913.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s limited system of branch
lines as compared with the Canadian Northern Railway did
not allow it to make the best use of its high quality main
The Pacific Northern and Omineca Railway Company (Inactive
Subsidiary of GTPR)
The Pacific Northern and Omineca Railway Company was first
incorporated under British Columbia Act 64, Vic., Chap. 50,
August 31, 1900, to build from a point on the Kitimaat
Inlet in the Coast District to Hazelton on the Skeena
River, District of Cassiar. The company was reincorporated
under the Dominion Act 2, Edw. VII, Chap. 90, May 15, 1902,
to build to a point on the northern boundary of British
Columbia at Teslin and Atlin Lakes; from Hazelton via the
Skeena, Babine, Driftwood, Omineca and Finlay rivers to
Peace River Pass, thence easterly to the eastern boundary
of British Columbia; thence to a point at or near Edmonton.
The company was organized under Dominion Charter on
November 30, 1909. No construction work was carried out but
$243,604 was spent on surveys and preliminary work in
British Columbia. The company was officially dissolved on
March 27, 1927 (British Columbia 17, Geo. V, Chap. 55).
The Coal Branch
Vast deposits of coal lie along the eastern slopes of the
Canadian Rockies. Coal was the primary source of energy in
western Canada until the mid twentieth century when oil and
gas supplanted it.
The railways depended on coal to fire their
locomotives and became a major user of the coal produced
from the Rockies. The railways also were the primary means
of transporting it to market, as the coal extracted from
the mines in Alberta was used mostly in the prairie
One rich mining area came to be known as the Coal
Branch, located southwest of Edson on the main line of the
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The presence of coal in this
area was known and it would have been mined earlier if the
Canadian Pacific Railway had not abandoned Sandford
Fleming’s surveyed route through the Yellowhead Pass in
favour of the Kicking Horse Pass.1 The decision by the GTPR
to use the Yellowhead Pass allowed the area to be
The Grand Trunk Pacific Branch Lines Company was
incorporated in 1906 to build connecting lines to the
National Transcontinental and the GTPR into areas not
reached by branches authorized to be constructed by these
companies.2 Of the nearly 8000 miles authorized (most of
which was never constructed) 258 miles were built in
Alberta.3 One line was built from Tofield to Calgary
between 1911 and 1913 with a projected extension to the
United States border and the other the Coal Branch line
from Bickerdike to Coalspur and Lovett (1912–13). This
branch had an Alberta government guarantee of $20,000 for
58 miles.4 The line was able immediately to transport coal
from the Yellowhead Pass Coal and Coke Company and the
Pacific Pass Coalfields Limited.5
On February 6, 1911 the Branch Lines Company signed an
agreement with the Mountain Park Coal Syndicate (superceded
by the Mountain Park Coal Company Limited) to construct a
railway from its line to Mountain Park.6 The cost was to be
borne by the coal company that was obliged to construct, at
its own expense, tracks and sidings on its property. The
Branch Lines Company in turn undertook to reimburse the
Syndicate for the cost of the line on the basis tonnage
shipped plus interest. On completion of the reimbursement
the line would become the property of the GTPRBL. The line
was opened for traffic on November 19, 1913. A similar
arrangement was concluded with Luscar Collieries Limited in
1921 for a 4.91 mile spur from Leyland to Luscar opened on
December 21, 1921.7
The Coal Branch was divided into two districts—
Mountain Park and Coalspur.8 The community of Coalspur was
a railway centre where the GTPRBL built a round house and
repair services for the locomotives and cars.9
The quality of the coal differed between the two
districts, Mountain Park’s coal was better for steaming10
and hence became dependent on the railway for 90% of its
sales.11 The Coalspur coal was preferable for the domestic
market although mixed with a higher grade was used by the
railway that purchased about half of that mined.12 At its
peak the Coal Branch accounted for about 22% of Alberta’s
With the onset of the Depression in 1929 the fortunes
of the Coal Branch declined. There was a reduction in the
need for steam coal and all mining operations south of
Foothills ceased.14 Although there was a resurgence of
activity during World War II this was ended by the
introduction by the railways of oil burning diesel-electric
locomotives, and the growing dependence on oil and gas as
the primary sources of energy for industrial and domestic
use.15 By the early 1960s the region had become a series of
ghost towns, except for Cadomin (limestone quarrying) and
1. A. A. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch‖ (Thesis, Dept. of History, University of Alberta,
1967), p. 4.
2. Dominion, 6 Edward VII, Ch. 99, 1906.
3. Canadian Department of Agriculture, Canadian National
Railways Synoptical History, p. 337.
4. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch,‖ p. 19. Reference Edmonton Bulletin, 7 February
5. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch,‖ p. 16-17.
6. Canadian National Railways Synoptical History, p. 577.
7. Ibid., p. 578.
8. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch,‖ p. 72.
9. D. Lake, ―The Historical Geography of the Coal Branch‖
(Thesis, Dept. of Geography, University of Alberta, 1967),
10. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch,‖ p. 11.
11. Ibid., p. 79.
12. Ibid., p. 72.
13. Ibid., p. 96.
14. Ibid., p. 190.
15. Lake, pp. 65, 73.
16. Ibid., pp. 2-3.
Inspection Tour, September 15, 1920
Operated from Bickerdike to Coal properties as follows: the
Park Coal Company property at Mountain Park and the Cadomin
Collieries at Cadomin are producing a Bituminous Coal of
fair quality, principally used by the Grand Trunk Pacific
Ry. for Locomotive Fuel. The G.T.P.Ry. uses some Hart
Convertible Ballast Cars, 40 tons carrying capacity when
not in use in ballasting the line, with a few foreign
gondolas 40 to 50 tons capacity available occasionally. The
Principle shipments are handled in 35 tons capacity G.T.P.
box cars. These branch lines are poorly constructed, mostly
skeleton track with very little ballast, heavy grades, some
places over 3% and much curvature. With present power the
maximum train load of empties into Coalspur is 14 cars.
This governs the out shipments which are handled between
the Coal Mines and Coaspur by two or three ―turn around‖
trips per day. These branch lines require such work done on
them and a supply of suitable coal equipment is necessary
for their economical operation.
From Geo. O. Somers, PAC RG 36, 35, Vol. 15, File: Field
A Look at Mirror, November 1, 1920
Plant here consists of a 6 stall roundhouse, steam heated.
Roundhouse is served by a 75’ turntable, motor driven.
There is 1 small drop pit for truck wheel purposes.
Machinery is located against outer wall of roundhouse
and consists of 1 lathe, 1 drill press and 1 emery wheel.
This machinery is driven by a small Fairbanks gas engine.
There is 1 locomotive type boiler, also one vertical
for emergency purposes. A tank is used here instead of a
well for washing out purposes, 1 boiler washing pump being
provided for this purpose. The air supply is from 2
locomotive air pumps. There is 1 blacksmith forge located
between pits in the roundhouse.
A small frame building has been provied for Locomotive
Foreman’s office and stores combined. A freight car body is
used as an oil house. There is also 1 engineer’s bunkroom
supplied with lavatories and 16 beds.
Roundhouse is wired for electric lighting, the power
being furnished by a Pyle National equipment. Water supply
There are 4 engines stored outside, all of the 4–4–0
typpe, numbers, 55, 72, 104, 112. The first 3 are held
awaiting general repairs and 112 is laid up.
There is a 100 ton 2 pocket coal dock with mechanical
hoist, also 1 cinder pit. Sanding arrangement consists of a
small frame building with air hoist, sand being dried by
stove. This building had recently been wrecked by wind and
was awaiting repairs.
Railroad Company pump their own water here.
9 engines are assigned to this point, 3 freight, 3
way-freight, 2 passenger and 1 switcher.
The following engines were inspected in the
roundhouse: Engine 822, type 2–8–0, tire wear 1/8‖. In good
condition. Engine 607, type 4–6–0, tire wear 1/16‖. Good
Foreman Waters is in charge here.
Car Department. Car yard consists of 3 tracks, 1 of
which is used for auxiliary outfit. 14 men are employed,
including car inspectors. There is ample room betweent eh
tracks for an Industrial track, which, however, in not
Joint Inspection made by
Messrs. Wheatley & Graburn
Excerpt from Public Archives of Canada, RG 36, 35, Vol. 20.
Halfway Between Heaven and Earth
The Coal Branch began its half century of life in the high
settlement period of the Canadian West, as the Grand Trunk
Pacific Railroad laid track south of Edson, Alberta.
Tunnelling before the appearance of steel, the mines were
producing by year-end 1913. Townsites mushroomed in 1912
and 1913, but the great influx occurred in the five years
after 1916. In 1916, the total population in the Branch was
315; by 1921 it was 1,527; by 1926 2,758.7
The Coal Branch sold its fuel mostly to the railways.
From 1922 to 1926, it produced 2.5 million tons of
bituminous coal, and 1.9 million tons of sub-bituminous
coal, the former 27 percent, the latter 84 percent of the
The total payroll for the Coal Branch in 1923 was $2.4
million. Most colliers were neither wealthy nor poor, but
could save enough for periodic voyages to the old country,
to England or Italy, for example, or a trip to the coast.9
Mining paid well when there was work. By the early 1940s,
Mrs. E.A. Brown, desk clerk at the Imperial Hotel in Edson
recalled Coal Branchers sauntering up and down main street.
Said she, impressed, ―Many of them had diamond stick pins,
diamond and gold cufflinks.‖10
In the years of Father Louis Culerier’s ministry, the
towns of the Branch, though never incorporated, grew to
maturity. Of the three largest, Mountain Park burgeoned
soonest, with a modest 141 souls by 1916 and 336 five years
Rarely has a town been more magnificently placed. The
setting for this highest village in Canada was an alpine
wonderland, a perfect postcard, evoking the spirits of the
mountain, sprites and gnomes cavorting 6,200 feet above sea
level. The Edson Herald once said that ―the
thriving…Mountain Park lies, as some of its inhabitants
think, halfway between heaven and earth.‖12 Nestled in a
glacial valley fronting Mount Cheviot and Mount Tripoli,
the camp was breath-taking with its sunlit ―towering peaks
and vistas of drop-curtain scenery.‖ Proper description,
said another Edson paper, would ―challenge the novelist...
to an exercise of his best genius‖; it would ―bankrupt the
The high meadows were awash with mountain flowers,
hummingbirds, bluebirds and swallows. In the crisp
mornings, deer, elk and moose grazed with horses and
cattle.14 Fur bearers abounded, and trappers took them in
spades—one in a single winter bagging 137 coyotes, 34
weasels, 19 lynx, 3 mink, 2 foxes, and 10 skunks.15
It was a berry picker’s paradise, with huckleberries,
blueberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, and red and
black currants at every step round the coal camps. A single
foray at the height of season could yield a hundred pounds
In Mountain Park, as elsewhere, life was regulated by
the mine whistle—one long blast meant work tomorrow; three
shorts, no work. At 9 pm another whistle ushered in
By 1926 Cadomin and Luscar were both larger than
Mountain Park, Cadomin, with 806 inhabitants, almost twice
the size.17 Four years on, Cadomin had three hotels, three
churches and a spacious community hall where tipple boss
Fred Falkner ran movies twice a week.18 There were two
department stores, a butcher shop, drug store, dairy, bank,
and a new recreational complex, fixed with bowling alley,
curling rink, and billiard tables, courtesy of the Cadomin
Coal Company.19 The town boasted a symphony orchestra, the
only one between Edmonton and Vancouver.20
Despite these amenities, the streets and alleys were
sometimes a refuse heap of cans, rot, and muck. As in most
communities on the lee of the Rockies, it was ever windy,
and the gales contributed to the human-made disarray. Once,
Mina Gourlay saw a woman’s nightie darting aloft, followed
by a horse trough! Coal and stones sometimes hurled through
the air, and one time several box cars blew off the railway
More dangerous were the mines—less so in the hard coal
areas like Bryan, Lakeside and Mercoal, more so in the soft
coal centres of Cadomin, Luscar and Mountain Park. ―At
Mountain Park,‖ Vic Riendeau recalled, ―you could count on
at least one [death] a year.‖22 From 1920 to 1929 forty-two
men were killed in the Coal Branch and eighty-seven
Individually, the miners were courageous, even heroic.
On the last shift of the last working day of 1939, workers
were just drawing the pillars inside the Cadomin mine when
a deadly exhalation of methane gas released without
warning. Hugh Docherty went down first and was dragged by
fire boss Pete Nicholson to the chute. Just as Nicholson
arrived, he fell into the chute, and with Docherty in tow,
cascaded one hundred fifty feet down, damaging his back,
slamming his body and landing at the bottom on his face.
Alex Woods pulled out Joseph Nickjoy. But Jimmy Maddams,
like David Murray at Hillcrest a generation before,
clambered to safety, realized two comrades were still
entombed, and ran back into the cloud of death to save
them. At age 29, he died with them.
Excerpted with permission from David C. Jones, Feasting on
Misfortune: Journeys of the Human Spirit in Alberta’s Past
(Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 1997), pp. 213-
Notes to the excerpt from David C. Jones, Feasting on
1. A.A. den Otter, ―A Social History of the Alberta Coal
Branch‖ (Thesis, University of Alberta, 1967), p. 40.
2. Report of the Alberta Coal Commission, 1925 (Edmonton:
King’s Printer, 1926), pp. 59–60.
3. den Otter, ―Social History,‖ p. 174.
4. Toni Ross, Oh! The Coal Branch (Edmonton: Friesen,
1974), p. 131.
5. Prairie Census, 1936, p. 873.
6. ―Celebration at Mountain Park,‖ in The Edson Herald, 13
July 1917, p. 1.
7. ―Mountain Park Banquet Great Social Affair,‖ The Western
Leader (Edson), 21 April 1917, p. 1.
8. Ross, pp. 219, 189.
9. Ibid., p. 30.
10. Ibid., pp. 201-202.
11. den Otter, ―Social History,‖ p. 189; Prairie Census,
1936, pp. 873, 881.
12. Ross, p. 74.
13. Ibid., p. 80.
14. Ibid., p. 72.
15. Ibid., pp. 232, 215.
16. Ibid., p. 124.
17. den Otter, ―Social History,‖ p. 100.
CAPTIONS - Chapter 9
Proposed Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Transcontinental
Sources: Canada, 58–59 Vic. Ch. 68, Trans-Canadian Railway
Company; Canada, 60–61 Vic. Ch. 65, Change to the Trans-
Canadian Railway Company; PAC, RG 12, Vol. 1883, File 3268–
98, pt. 2.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
After the Grand Trunk Pacific Timetable, Stovel Co.,
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Alberta and British
Columbia, As Constructed and With Alternative Routes
Relief shading from Atlas of Alberta, 1967.
Proposed Lines of the Pacific Northern and Omineca Railway
Sources: British Columbia Act 64, Vic., Chap. 50, August
31, 1900; Canada, Dominion Act 2, Edw. VII, Chap. 90, May
Grand Trunk Pacific Trestle, Duhamel
PAA Photographic Collection A4438
Detail showing the location of the Duhamel Trestle Bridge
of the Grand Trunk Pacific Branch Line
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Alberta
Jasper–n– Division Point
Niton –°– Station and elevation
RH Round house
° Post Office
Base derived from Sectional Maps, 3 miles to 1 inch, 1914–
The Grand Trunk Pacific Branch Lines Company Tofield–
The Tofield–Calgary Line passes through very good country,
but it is hampered by ruling grades of from 0.75% to 1%
against traffic in both directions. These ruling grades are
scattered all over the Line, some of them up to 8 miles in
length, aggregating 30 miles against Northbound business
and over 40 miles against Southbound business.
Public Archives of Canada, RG 36, 35, Vol. 16. File:
Roadway Section G.T.P.
Mirror–n– Division point
Alix –°– Station and elevation
RH Round house
EH Engine house
° Post Office
Base derived from Sectional Maps, 3 miles to 1 inch, 1914–
Detail of the Grand Trunk Pacific Branch Line near Mirror,
Nos. 55 and 72 built in Montreal in 1908, scrapped June,
1926. No. 104 built in Montreal in 1909, scrapped November,
1935. No. 112 built in Montreal in 1909, scrapped April
No. 607 built in Montreal in 1910, scrapped August, 1955.
No. 822 built in Montreal in 1911, scrapped October, 1959
by Interprovincial Steel Corp., Regina.
Reproduced with permission from Anthony Clegg and Ray
Corley, Canadian National Steam Power (Montreal: Railfare
Enterprises Ltd., 1969).
Mountain Park Coal Company
Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1392.
Timetables for the Lovett Subdivision, the Mounta Park
Subdivision and the Luscar Subdivision, 1929.
Source: Grand Trunk Pacific Time Table No. 1, Effective
July 28th, 1929.
Mountain Park, looking southwest
Photo by A. Godby, courtesy of L. Godby.
Mountain Park, circa 1940
5 Post Office & Store
7 Pool Room
8 Skating and Curling Rink
9 Power House
11 Heating Plant
12 Water Tank
14 Locomotive Shed
15 Car Repair Shop
16 Wash House
17 Powder House
19 Time Office
20 Office & Warehouse
21 Warehouse & Garage
23 Oil House
26 Theatre & Social Club
From Mountain Park Collieries Insurance Plan, ca. 1940.
The Coal Branch
Weald –°– Station and elevation
RH Round house
° Post Office
Base dervied from NTS 1:50,000.
1947 to 1959, Geological Survey, 1:63,360, 1929.
Contour interval 200 feet.
Coal Mines in Operation 1910–1949
Source: ERCB Coal Mine Atlas, Second Editon, 1968.