The Mill Creek Ravine

 

 

99-Ravine

Designed by Amanda Schutz

 

By Jan Olson

1

Paths in the Ravine by Jan Olson

Paleo-Indigenous peoples, Cree, Blackfoot, Papaschase, European settlers, and modern residents have all used the Mill Creek Ravine. The ravine has been an area for nature to thrive and hunting to occur; a location for spiritual rituals; a place for industrial plants (meat packers, brick makers, dumps, clay works); an area for adventure; and an area for recreation.

A frequent comment I hear about the ravine is that you feel as if you are in the country and not in the city. It is an oasis away from the busyness of daily life and the noise of cars. Wilderness in the middle of the city is a luxury that the residents do not take for granted.  There once was talk of turning the ravine into a highway to get downtown, like Groat Road. The many activists in the area, such as Carolyn and Butch Nutter, stepped up and fought to preserve the ravine in its natural state. And thanks to their voices, the Mill Creek Ravine continues to be a wonderful place of refuge and peace.

As one enters the ravine by a wooden staircase or a well-trod path, you feel moistness in the air.  As you walk through the ravine you encounter vegetation that has been modified by its close proximity to urban residential development.   Both boreal and grassland environments influence the ravine as noted by the white spruce stands located mostly going south towards the 82nd Ave bridge.  Balsam poplar and aspen stands are located throughout the area along with an occasional white spruce.  Because of the ravine’s location in an urban centre, the expected forest climax did not develop into an exclusive population of white spruce.  Humans have interfered with the ravine’s natural development.  Nonetheless, that does not deter from the beauty of listening to birds, like woodpeckers, warblers, jays, siskins, chickadees, starlings and sparrows.  We even hear the unfortunate screech of the magpie and see the night shadows of brown bats or the occasional resident falcon.

 

2

Bridge crossing Mill Creek by J.Olson

But, this peaceful oasis was once threatened. In the 1960s, Edmonton’s Transportation Department proposed a freeway connecting Cloverdale (and thus downtown) through the west side of the ravine, under 82nd Ave, curving through 91st St, through Argyll to reach the QE 2. Opposition was immediate from community leagues, the head of parks and recreation, and individuals. Recreational parkland was becoming increasingly valuable in the rapidly expanding city and it became a war between car and creek.  In fact over 3000 people signed a petition that stated:

“By virtue of Mill Creek Ravine’s unique elongated shape it has served, not only the year-round recreational needs in a large area otherwise without such facilities, but has also provided a natural wildlife sanctuary.” (from Edmonton Journal July 25, 1964).

 

3

Lavine Bike Path by J.Olson

Political pressures mounted with an election in sight.  So, the mayor and aldermen did not want to deal with such a sensitive topic and left the ravine alone.  But, the danger was that after the election the ravine topic would rise again.  Also, at the time, awareness was growing as to the importance of the natural environment for humans.  With many urban residents not knowing a farm or campground, urban recreational experiences in wilderness were crucial.  The City of Edmonton is dominated by a wide and deep river valley in which vegetation grows more rapidly than on the high banks.  The heavily wooded banks and ravines inspired discussions about making this natural space into one of the “pride” selling points of Edmonton, as a destination and as a home. Citizens began to pressure the city to connect the system of river valley ravines and to create bike and walking paths along both banks of the North Saskatchewan River.

During the 1970s, the ravine was a dumping ground for mounds of litter; vehicles were eroding the ravine banks; and water and air pollution were present from ravine industries.   On May 26, 1971 the proposal to turn the ravine into a freeway was denied.  I am sure that cheers and shouts of joy were heard as kids could continue to play in the creek, build forts in the brush, and ride bikes along the old E, Y & P railway line. Then in 1975, the idea for an official Mill Creek Ravine Park came to the forefront. The Cree had first called it Stony Creek, but the European residents knew it as Mill Creek, named after the grist mill built by William Bird in 1878. The proposed park was to cover a large area and include play parks and museums. It would have threatened over 300 homes in the ravine community.  And again, the activists of the surrounding nine communities came together to push the city to keep the Mill Creek Ravine Park as natural as possible with only the intrusion of pathways, walking trails, bike paths, picnic sites, and bridges to cross the ravine.

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Ravine Park Sign on Cement Milestone by J.Olson

 

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Sunny Fall Day in the Ravine by J.Olson

Even though Edmonton has expanded to the west and to the south of the city at unimaginable rates, residents continue to value the river system.  The network of parks on the North Saskatchewan River are now connected by an extensive trail system of paved, graveled and chipped wood bases referred to as the River Valley Trails. Our Mill Creek Ravine joins the other river valley parks to give Edmontonians one of the largest areas of community parkland in North America.

In the winter the ravine is used for bird and bat watching, walking, skiing, tobogganing and snow forts. In the summer there are many dog walkers, off road bikers, commuters on bike and foot, runners, baseball, soccer, hide and seek, tag, adventure play, community and individual picnics.  There are sitting benches, the outdoor Mill Creek pool, built in the 1950s, and weddings.  It is a place where neighbours run into each other.  The continual use of the ravine, over centuries, makes it a special location.

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Mill Creek Pool by J.Olson

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Tobogganing in Ravine(1950s) by S.Harpham

 

It also has spiritual overtones as people have seen the northern lights at night in the wintertime, or felt the warmth of a fire at the Mill Creek Ravine Winter Festival; some feel transported to another place. The light through the trees can help one to move through mourning, or to experience peace with a gentle sun on their face. When my friend’s dog died she planted an indigenous bush in its memory in the ravine.  She planted a dogwood. It makes me smile just to think of it.

 

9

Baseball in the Ravine(1920s) by G.Gilmore

8

Winter Festival by J.Olson

 

The Train Preceded the Mill Creek Path

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Prairie Trails by J.Olson

This is a story of how the dream of a rail line that could connect South Edmonton to Edmonton, to the rest of Canada, and to the world became a reality. This “dream” went right through the district of Hazeldean and then through the Mill Creek Ravine to the Low Level Bridge.

In the prairies of the 1890s, there were no cars, or buses, highways or even roads; just lengthy prairie trails formed by wagon tracks, horses and feet. Soon a new form of regular transportation, the stagecoach, would run between Fort Edmonton and Fort Calgary five days a week. Traveling from Winnipeg was a six-week journey by Red River cart. By 1875, stern-wheeled riverboats could be seen on the river, but service was both unpredictable and irregular.1

The “Great Trail”, across Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway, was built by the federal government under Sir John A. MacDonald. In the 1860s, steam locomotives were moving through the United States, and Canada wanted a train system to get settlers to occupy its west.

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Map of C&E Railway

Eventually the federal government gave local government charters for railways to hand out to developers. Businessmen and homesteaders alike wanted to know where the rail line would go. The government had mapped out various routes, mostly with Edmonton as a stop on the best route. Yet, at the last minute, decisions changed the fate of Edmonton and the planned mainline went through Calgary. Epic battles were waged between communities and governments about where the railway would travel across the country. Finally, it was decided that a southern route across the Canadian prairies and the Rocky Mountains would be the best. This left Fort Edmonton and surrounding communities out of the rail loop.

In those days rail lines determined where communities would be built and which ones would grow into cities. In fact, in some communities people would lift their houses off of their foundations and move them closer to the railway line to establish more “connected” communities. It was that important! But Edmonton wanted to ensure its connection to the north and so people and businesses remained in Fort Edmonton and Rossdale, waiting for a bridge to the south. Eventually the Dominion government agreed to have such a bridge built over the North Saskatchewan. The possibility of a bridge across the river made it more likely that a railway would reach Edmonton. In 1895, the government sold a charter to J. McAvity and Associates of New Brunswick. The charter owners were “gold struck” with the prospects of the yellow metal and amended the charter to extend to the Yukon Territory. During the Klondike gold rush many prospectors tried to reach the Yukon by foot or on horse back, but few made it in time to profit from the soon to be picked over gold fields and returned poorer for the experience. On August 11, 1899 the Edmonton District Railway was re-named the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway (EY&PR). Its new charter allowed the company to build a line from Edmonton to the Pacific Coast as well as a line from Edmonton to the Yukon.2

In 1899, a consortium of businessmen led by William Mackenzie (as president) and Donald Mann (as vice-president) created the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) and purchased the EY&P from McAvity. Their idea was to connect the EY&P with their rail line to the east through Winnipeg and Ontario, and to push the EY&P west to the Pacific coast. At the same time, they also announced that they would build a route from Calgary to Edmonton naming it the Calgary & Edmonton Railway (C&E).

Many lines were built throughout the province with several going to Edmonton and area. Mackenzie and Mann kept their finances tight, which led to cheap construction of the C&E line. There were continual complaints about the line’s service and safety. Mackenzie and Mann purchased land quietly, as needed, when they headed north from Calgary to discourage wild land speculation. The railway backers negotiated in secret with landowners in South Edmonton to purchase land and subdivide it into lots. This move made the company rich, but put them in conflict with the shareholders of other railways charters. In the process William Mackenzie became one of the wealthiest men in Canada and both he and Mann were each awarded knighthoods for their efforts in 1911.3

“The first train arrived in South Edmonton – from Calgary – at 1:00 p.m., August 1, 1891. The load consisted of mixed freight care and passenger cars, with lumber and other building supplies and twelve passengers bound for Edmonton.”4

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William Mckenzie and Donal Mann – Railway Tycoons

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Replica of Original Wooden Station by J.Olson

“The first train arrived in South Edmonton – from Calgary – at 1:00 p.m., August 1, 1891. The load consisted of mixed freight care and passenger cars, with lumber and other building supplies and twelve passengers bound for Edmonton.”4

The first station was a small wooden building (now  reconstructed at 10447-86th Ave and operating as a museum).  In 1907, the CPR built a new, more elaborate structure to meet the needs of the growing number of passengers coming to Strathcona. The new station, typical of turn-of-the-century CPR design, was built south of the old 1891 depot, at 81st Ave and 103rd St. The platform was 600 feet long, and the station itself measured 134 ft long and 38 ft wide… a size that reduced the congestion associated with the smaller building.5 The C&E engineers had originally planned the railroad track to cross the river to Ross Flats, just east of downtown Edmonton. Although their plans for a river crossing were developed, they were never carried out. McKenzie and Mann decided to stop in Alex McLeod’s field on the south bank of the river near what is today called End of Steel Park.6

McKenzie and Mann knew from experience the difficulties of building a bridge across a large deep river valley. They felt that since the beneficiaries would only be a community of 700 people, it would not be worth the expense and effort. As Historian Rod MacLeod notes: “The surest way to make money in the railway business was by determining the location of town sites and developing the surrounding lands. Control of a thousand acre parcel of land on the south side together with the very considerable engineering difficulties and expense involved in building a bridge across the river provided a double disincentive for not extending the line to Edmonton.”7

Shocked Edmontonians appealed to the C&E to extend its line across the North Saskatchewan River, or at least to the water’s edge; but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Mackenzie and Mann’s ingenious plan expanded Strathcona to include a train station, a hotel and commercial area, and a large amount of land that they sold to private interests. This left Edmonton worried that their south side neighbours would soon out-populate them.

15

Horses Waiting at CPR Station – Peel Postcard Library

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CPR Station on Whyte Ave – Peel Postcard Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer James MacGregor records that the mood in the old settlement was not amicable. “From then on the new town [Strathcona] began to figure into Alberta’s history, the town which Edmonton in their huffiness declared had been born a mule, a creature with no pride of ancestry, which they hoped, like a mule, would have no prospect of prosperity. Buttressed by the railway, the Strathcona mule was soon kicking Edmonton’s ass.” 8

16

John Walter’s Ferry – Peel Postcard Library

In the early 1890s Edmontonians were frustrated with the CPR (which took over the C&E in 1891) because it did not add a connection to Edmonton from Strathcona as promised. The only ways to cross the river were by the unpredictable Walter’s cable ferry and a secondary ferry closer to where the Low Level Bridge was to be built. During the freeze-up and thaw seasons, amounting to six weeks per year, the North Saskatchewan was impassable. Either the ferry could not pass through the ice, or the ice-roads across the river were too soft. This was fine when Edmontonians were only importing 100 lbs of goods and materials per week. But, after the C&E railway was built more people came to settle or to pass through on their way to destinations north or west.  Although their needs for goods increased each week, the heavily loaded wagons were not able to negotiate the steep and slippery riverbanks on the North Side.9

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Low Level Bridge – Peel Postcard Library

Early in the discussions, Edmonton mayor John McDougall together with other prominent businessmen, including Frank Oliver, urged the federal government to build the promised bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. To prove it was worthy of a bridge, Edmonton incorporated itself as a town in May 1892, and adapted strategies to increase its population. Finally, the federal government agreed to build the Edmonton Bridge (also referred to as the Interurban or the McDougall, and, after the High Level Bridge was opened, the Low Level Bridge), provided that Edmontonians could come up with $25,000. Although Edmonton, at this time only had a population of 1500 citizens, it had enough wealthy businessmen to gather the necessary funds to send to Ottawa.10

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Men Walking on Scona RD – Peel Postcard Library

In 1895, they received a grant to build a 703 foot long bridge. This limited the location of the bridge to the bottom of now Scona Hill. With a potential bridge completion in 1901, Edmontonians were excited that the railway would finally come to Edmonton. Further excitement arose when the original route of the CPR through Edmonton to the Yellowhead pass was approved for the future. As well, the CNoR and the Grand Trunk were developing a northern line from Winnipeg through Saskatoon to Edmonton and on to Vancouver. Both projects were many years away, but avidly anticipated.

 

Because of the minimal amounts of available cement and steel and the lack of companies wanting to subcontract for the bridge platform, the bridge was delayed. Ironically when the steel finally arrived a year later, the North Saskatchewan River began to flood and the piers were completely submerged by 4 feet of water – an amazing 42 feet above the normal water level. The height of the flood convinced the designers to add 8 feet to the pier height. By December 1902 the final rivets were set into the centre pier by Donald Ross completing the Cloverdale – Rossdale connection (Edmonton and Strathcona). The rail track was laid in the centre of the bridge deck on standard ties, a dirt road followed the same curves as the track on the west side of the bridge and a footpath was laid on outboard trusses spanning the same side.11

20

Low Level Bridge – Peel Postcard Library

A rail track was planned from the Strathcona station winding through the Mill Creek Ravine to reach the bridge. Edmontonians were persistent and hired a surveyor, Mr. Bruce, to calculate a possible entrance to the creek bed where the Big and the Little Mill Creeks joined. The line would then follow the creek bed to where the Edmonton Dairy was located on the Gallagher Flats by the proposed entrance to the bridge.

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E,Y & P Tracks – Peel Postcard Library

The design called for a 1.5% grade, 2.4 miles in length at a cost of $44,000.12 The eventual line did not follow the original plans, but would “come down the west side of Mill Creek Valley to the bridge site a little south of the creamery at a higher level. After crossing the River, the line is carried at a comparatively high level across Ross’s flats to strike the bench on which Mr. Ross’ house stands then along the bench to the Hudson Bay Company Fort and up the hill by way of Eleventh street and thence eastwards to a terminus about the race tracks.”13 Inside the Ross Station a large heating stove was set up in the waiting room and a good fire was kept going all the time. The doors of the waiting room were unlocked during the day and a telephone was installed in the operator’s office, ready for use. The small station was quite comfortable for the day.14 The end of the line was to be located roughly between present day 106 and 109 Streets and 104 and 107 Avenues.

 

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First Mill Creek Bridge – Peel Postcard Library

A new survey proposed that the line would begin at a new junction (Terminal Junction) roughly one mile south of the Strathcona Station. The Bulletin reported that Superintendent Pace had “a gang of men at work this morning laying out the site for a building at the junction of the spur line with the C&E (Calgary and Edmonton) below Strathcona. This building will be about 20 feet square with platforms. The size of the platforms has not been stated yet. The telegraph wire on the C&E line will be tapped at this point and an office arranged and operator kept in the building. A ticket office and small waiting room will also be provided. The telegraph line will be run into Edmonton, and an operator kept at this end of the spur.”15

In this plan the rails would run east to the Mill Creek Ravine and proceed down the ravine at a 1% grade. In 1901, Malcolm McCrimmon won the contract to grade the rail bed. He hired 70 to 80 men to build the rail line down the 1% grade into the ravine. McCrimmon could not start until the following spring and lost most of his workers to other jobs, mostly in agriculture, which paid better and were not as difficult as rail work. The rail bed crossed from the west side to the east side of the ravine depending on the stability of the banks. It continued to 76th St. where the original Mill Creek Bridge was located. He used mules and draught horses to pull graders, scrapers and wagons to grade the line. But around Vogel’s Abattoir (meat butchering plant located in the ravine just north of the Mill Creek Bridge on Whyte Ave) problems arose. Many difficulties delayed creation of the rail bed including a structure too close to the surveyed rail line, heavy clays which needed to be blasted through, and rains that made the ground so wet and unstable that sections of the rail bed slumped into the ravine at least three different times.16 By the early summer they ran low on money and had to start digging with the cheapest means possible. This meant they dug the bed and laid tracks by hand. The CNoR built the trestles in the ravine themselves, as the bids were all too high. It had also been a very wet June in 1902 and not enough culverts had been put in place so no trains could be run that month. The railway got its water on the banks of the ravine from a spring somewhere near a house by Vogel’s Abattoir. The rail line got its coal from the north riverbank beneath where the MacDonald Hotel now stands. This hand-dug coal was high in ash and water, which was more suitable for heating houses than for industrial use. Eventually coal suitable for steam engines had to be shipped in from Rocky Mountain House.17 All rail companies were affected by this increase in capital expense.

22

First Train Across Low Level Bridge from Jean Mckenzie

Mackenzie and Mann incorporated their business with both the EY&PR and CNoR as subsidiaries of their larger company. They then demanded that the CPR operate the short rail line (EY&P) as they had earlier negotiated. The CPR told the two businessmen that they no longer would fulfill their agreement with McKenzie and Mann.

Mackenzie and Mann asked the federal government to rule on the disagreement. The CPR appealed the judgment against them and won. Mackenzie and Mann retaliated by building the railway to within feet of the CPR line. The CPR officials were more than frustrated with Mackenzie and Mann’s actions.  A CPR official was heard saying, “no rail will ever go to Edmonton.”18 The federal judge finally ordered the connection between the lines to be completed. On Oct 8, 1902 Railway Superintendent W. J. Pace led his crew to the site at 68th Ave. A CPR crew followed them with a constable to stop the connection. When Pace ordered the workers to continue, the Strathcona constable showed a warrant to stop all work. As this was happening, a CPR train came from the Strathcona station and intentionally stopped, covering the connection spot.  The obstructing train was cheered on by the Edmontonian Teamsters, who stood to lose their jobs unloading freight in Strathcona and transferring it across the river. Eventually the excitement died down and the Edmontonians went home. The regular 5:30 C&E train arrived at the station forcing the CPR train to move. Mr. Pace and his men had been waiting for this opportunity and jumped out of the bushes. Within half and hour they had completed their mission to connect the lines.19

On Oct 20, 1902 the first train, Engine #26 arrived in Strathcona from Winnipeg over the CPR and the C&E rail tracks. It came pulling a second-class passenger coach, a boxcar, and 2 flat cars.  It arrived at 4 pm with engineer J.E. Enwistle and fireman N. Bohm at the helm. On Friday there was a civic holiday and it was not until Wednesday that citizens could ride the “first train” to cross the Saskatchewan River. Many jumped on board, while others were in seats fitted on top of the flat car for the occasion. But even before the train crossed, J.J. Duggan (the first mayor of Strathcona) and other dignitaries crossed to Edmonton on an old hand-pump car. At dusk they had their revenge by being the first over the bridge on the rails! Eventually, four trains per day were crossing the bridge at 25 cents a ride.20

Through the Mill Creek Ravine and across the bridge, the train’s journey was bumpy and shaky until an improved track bed allowed the train to glide swiftly and smoothly along the rails.21 Well, swiftly, perhaps not! Carolyn and Butch Nutter mentioned that their neighbour who worked for the downtown post office was able to jump on the very slow moving ravine train with all of his bags.22

The EY&P was important to many people in Strathcona and Edmonton as it offered jobs and kept companies operating. Without the trains the residents of the Edmonton area would have been severely deprived economically. Although the EY&P carried a geographically ambitious name, it never got far beyond Edmonton’s boundaries, much less up to the Yukon or the shores of the Pacific. Even though other lines joined it, the EY&P kept its record as the shortest rail line in Canada.

Eventually the historic path of the EY&P came to an end. It had served to connect two very competitive communities in 1902, to reach as far as Edmonton’s Molson’s Brewery by 1906, and by 1907 to extend to Stony Plain and Spruce Grove (a 90 minute ride). The EY&P had also delivered freight for the following industries.23

1)    Gainer’s Meat Packing Plant

2)    Vogel’s Abattoir

3)    Twin City Coal Mine

4)    Anderson’s Brickyard

5)    City Abattoir

6)    Edmonton Lumber Company

7)    Edmonton City Dairy

8)    Arctic Ice Company

9)    Edmonton Ice Company

10)  John Walter’s North Lumber Mill

11)  Dowling Flour Mill

12)  Edmonton Brewery & Malting Co.

13)  Alberta Boat Company

14) Huff’s Gravel Yard

23

Streetcar on Scona Rd – Peel Postcard Library

The following passage recounts the path of the train. “To leave Edmonton the trains would leave the rail line at EY&P and travel south down the eastern slope of the Groat Ravine above the civic golf course (Victoria golf course) under the CPR High Level Bridge and east along the river flats past McDougall Hill up to the site of the 1902 station. Then the trains went south across the Low Level Bridge shared with the Edmonton Radial Railway past the Edmonton City Dairy plant.  Then the train entered the Mill Creek Ravine passing the Gainer’s Plant to join up with the CPR at the Strathcona Junction. The trains proceeded south to the Terminal Junction and backed-up north over the CN western spur to the Strathcona Station.” 24

In mid winter 1903, Tom Williams, came from Calgary to Strathcona and later homesteaded in Clyde. Mr. Williams later admitted that the trip was “anything but impressive, but the “abbreviated railway with it sights on the Yukon caught his fancy.”25

Perhaps our perception of the beauty of wilderness has changed over time, but in 1903 the ravine was just another treed area. In our era imagine coming into Strathcona from the relatively barren plain and then entering into the Mill Creek Ravine for the final leg to Edmonton. Keith Davidson, in a more modern statement, said, “this was by far the most picturesque exit/entry route that Edmonton has had to this day.”26

Mackenzie and Mann began to branch out to develop railroads and real estate in other areas of Alberta. These were the “Golden Years” of railway construction on the prairies. Railway owners who held titles to land lots had very profitable years from sales to settlers who were too late to grab free land in the United States and had come up to Canada. Land sales provided the CPR with money to expand their railway lines. Between 1905 and 1916 the CPR alone constructed 900 miles of “branch rail lines” in Alberta.26 In 1905 the EY&P was used to bring lumber across the bridge to Ross’s Flat to build the CNoR rail line between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan, as well as build other structures such as the High Level Bridge, the Provincial Legislature and assorted commercial and residential buildings in downtown Edmonton.27

The EY&P, however was not without its accidents. The ravine walls were not stable and had to be kept in good repair. Mr. Bishop recalls that one of the trains going though the Mill Creek ravine was delayed by a spruce tree that fell on the tracks in front of a trestle. It had to be lifted before the train could continue on its assignment to pick up loads of dirt for railroad repairs.28

On September 12, 1910 a 25-car southbound train derailed at the north end of the Low Level Bridge. The train had come to a complete stop, but the 5th car derailed off of a “frog,’’ or railway switch, where the streetcar line crossed the rail track.  Two cars derailed and almost piled into the girder.  Apparently, the defective “frog’’ was installed by the Edmonton streetcar railway crew. The EY&P claimed no fault. Two years later six cars left the tracks near by the Twin City Coal Mine at the north end of the Mill Creek ravine. The cars were loaded with cement and coal. The train was too heavy and the soil too soft. As a result fifty yards of track were torn up as the right of way sank. 29

26

Train on Bridge during Flood – City of Edmonton Archives. EA160-1399

Another reason for the decline in the EY&P was the Great Flood of June 1915, which was even higher than the famous flood of 1889. This 1915 flood came within inches of covering the Low Level Bridge. The flood carried away trees and dead animals, houses and barn structures and businesses in its surge. All the debris was heading toward the Low Level Bridge. To prevent the bridge from being dislodged, the Edmonton authorities drove loaded freight trains onto the bridge. One train faced south and the other north. In case the bridge gave way each train could try to reach the closest shore. On June 28th, the water was rising at 1ft per hour. The next day the level dropped by the same amount. Although the bridge survived, the flood wiped out most of the major industries on the flats included the power plant, Walter’s north lumber mill, coal mines, ice companies and abattoirs. Many people were left both homeless and without money to start again.30

 

27

Train Tracks Looking to 99th Street – Peel Postcard Library

The network of rail lines in Edmonton was complex and competitive. The Grand Trunk and the CNoR struggled and the government bailed them out by purchasing shares in the companies. The government felt that if the railways became bankrupt the country would suffer a financial collapse…one that would rival the future market crash of 1929. Mackenzie and Mann were forced to give back a significant amount of their railway. Ultimately, the Grand Trunk Railway and the CNoR  became assets of the government. They merged and were renamed as the CNR.31

The CNR absorbed many of the area rail lines and declared many of them redundant thereby reducing the network considerably. For example, the Stony Plain line was abandoned in 1926, with only 1.89 miles at the east end of the track at 127 Ave and 15th St. kept for storage track.32 The CNR developed better tracks than the smaller individual lines.  They developed a track over the Low Level Bridge with a grade half as steep that had no load restrictions. Also, the CNR’s stronger engines helped increase tonnage by over 2%.

28

Gainer Spur of the EY & P Railway – Provincial Archives PA-14978

In the mid-1920s the EY&P proved to be uneconomical to operate, but the city was legally bound by a CNoR agreement to move people from Edmonton to Strathcona. In 1927 the City of Edmonton let them bow out of the obligation and by 1929 passenger service to Strathcona ceased and the station closed. At this point the EY&P was taken over by the CNR.

29

Kids on Abandoned Rails (1970s) Edmonton Journal

In 1929, the EY&P only ran freight cars. Two trains crossed the Low Level Bridge during the day, and four more trains ran between midnight and 4 A.M. The bridge was often clogged with debris, such as sand, salt and pebble dirt. This made it difficult for rail movement and increased maintenance costs significantly. At this time flagmen were used to let different forms of vehicles know if they could cross or not. Jim Daymond was one of those flagmen: “I can remember one day this guy gave me the finger and drove right by me. He got down all the way to the other end of the bridge and then had to back up. The engine was just belching steam and smoke and he was scared spit-less. He didn’t do that again.”33

 

 

Edmonton twinned the bridge for north and south bound vehicular traffic with a new bridge almost identical to the original Low Level Bridge. Other bridges were also being designed, but with flooding in mind. The Walterdale Bridge over 105th street was 3 feet higher and then 18 inches higher at each end than the Low Level Bridge. Finally, a 1950 transportation study recommended that the EY&P tracks be removed. This was not a huge surprise as the industrial area of the Rossdale flats had moved higher up the valley to Edmonton proper.34

As a final salute to the EY&P, on June 11th 1952, the RCAF 700 Wing Association organized “Operations Pioneer Excursion” to raise money for scholarships. These scholarships would assist students to go to the College at Royal Roads in B.C. On that day over 1120 passengers rode on the 10-car train. The train left the downtown CN station at 7pm and returned at 11:15 pm. Entertainment on each car was provided and a dance was held at the South Edmonton CN station. “It was quite a colourful party. Many turned out in early nineteenth century suits and dresses, and this was prior to the establishment of Klondike days.”35

The fate of the EY&P was sealed in April 29 1954 as the Lieutenant Governor J.J. Bowlen pulled the first spike to remove the rail line on the North Side, eliminating 23 level crossings and 9.2 miles of track. Of the 3.2 miles of track at the north end of Mill Creek Ravine, which had opened in 1908, all but .06 miles at the EY&P junction was abandoned. As well 4.5 miles of track laid across the bridge to the top of the grade in Strathcona were removed.  All that was left was a 2.7-mile spur that went from Terminal Junction down 68th St. (Hazeldean Greens), through the Mill Creek Ravine and up to Gainer’s Meat Packing Plant. This track was used until 1958 and then abandoned.36

The City of Edmonton converted the abandoned EY&P grade into a bicycle and pedestrian path extending through Mill Creek Ravine Park for 3.5 miles (5.6 km), using four of the original timber trestles and ending near 63th Ave & 93rd St. Running beside 76th Ave between 91st & 93rd Streets, the largest of the timber trestle bridges still stands. It has been recognized as a historic site having both cultural and architectural significance. Its historic site designation protects it from demolition or alteration. In 1988, the Edmonton Historical Board erected a plaque in Mill Creek Park commemorating the Edmonton Yukon & Pacific Railway.

 

 

General References

  1. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005
  2. Ibid.
  3. R.B. Flemming. Railway King of Canada. UBC Press, Vancouver 1999
  4. Les Faulkner. “The Calgary and Edmonton Railway: Strathcona’s End of Steel.” Plainsdealer, Summer, 1995 in The best of the Strathcona Plainsdealer edited by Ken Tingsley. Pioneer Press, Edmonton, pg 57, 1999.
  5. Lon Marsh. “A Story of Two Stations,” Canadian Rail, no 383. Canadian Railroad Historical Association. Eustache, Quebec, pg 15, 1984.
  6. 6.     Ibid
  7. Dr. Rod MacLeod. Edmonton’s Story,  www.epl.ca/edmonton-a-city-called-home/edmonton-story. Retrieved May 2012.
  8. Edmonton Journal. Oct 20, 2000.
  9. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Edmonton Bulletin 1901 cited in Lon Marsh, “A Story of Two Stations,” Canadian Rail, no. 399. Canadian Railroad Historical Association. Eustache, Quebec, pg 8-13, 1987.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Bulletin 902 cited in Lon Marsh, “A Story of Two Stations” Canadian Rail, no. 399. Canadian Railroad Historical Association. Eustache Que, pg 8-13, 1987.
  16. Tom Monto. Old Strathcona, Edmonton’s Southside Roots. Edmonton: Crang Publishing, 2011.
  17. Interview with Alan Vanterpool, Feb. 2012.
  18. Tom Monto. Old Strathcona, Edmonton’s Southside Roots. Edmonton: Crang Publishing, 2011.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005.
  21. Edmonton Examiner, No 3, 2004.
  22. Interview with Butch and Carolyn Nutter, 2010.
  23. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005.
  24. Old Timer. Edmonton Journal, Nov 5, 1963.
  25. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, pg 46, 2005.
  26. Atlas of Alberta Railways. http://railways.library.ualberta.ca. Retrieved June 2012
  27. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005.
  28. Mr. Bishop, interviewed by Janet Write and Sherri Parran, 1974.
  29. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005.
  30. Interview with Alan Vanterpool, Feb 2012.
  31. Interview with Alan Vanterpool, Feb 2012.
  32. Ibid
  33. Interview with Jim Daymond.
  34. Interview with Alan Vanterpool, Feb 2012.
  35. Ed Cooke and Les Faulkner. “The Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway: McKenzie and Mann’s Connection With Strathcona,” Plainsdealer, Spring 1991. in The Best of the Strathcona Plainsdealer edited by Ken Tingsley. Pioneer Press, Edmonton, pg 63, 1999.
  36. Alan Vanterpool. The Edmonton, Yukon, and Pacific Railway. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association. Edmonton, Alberta, 2005.

 

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