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Railroad yarns

This is an excerpt from “Some Railroad Yarns” written by R.E. Gard, University of Wisconsin, in the March, 1946 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.

Alberta is a great railway province. Do you know that there have been something like 125 railways chartered in Alberta? Of course, only a very small per cent of this number actually exist and function today, but just think what Alberta might be like if all 125 of these railroads had been actually built and were functioning. Alberta would be a spiderweb of steel — a network of criss-crossing railway lines.

And a few of these railways which were actually built, or partly so, had names which were more glorious than the actual railway. The E.Y. and P. for instance — the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific — truly a name to be proud of, and a name of dreamy accomplishments — which never came to be. Or take the old Edmonton, Dunvegan and B.C. Railroad, the line which is now part of the Northern Alberta Railways. There were dreams in that name, too. For Dunvegan, on the banks of the Peace River was to have been a wonderful city — the dream city of the North. Around 1912 Dunvegan had a real estate boom. There wasn’t anything much at Dunvegan, just a Hudson’s Bay Post, a Catholic mission, an Anglican mission and a few Indians. But the real estate boom was big-time stuff. Picture-posters were made portraying Dunvegan as a mighty metropolis, set along both sides of the mighty Peace River. Dunvegan, in fact, became so well marked on all the maps that it was at that time undoubtedly the best-known place name in the Peace River country. Little wonder then, that the railway’s name should be Edmonton, Dunvegan and B.C.

Then there’s the railroad to Waterways, way down on the Athabaska River. This road is also now part of the Northern Alberta Railways System, but it was not always thus. The line was once called the Alberta Great Waterways Line, and was the subject of perhaps the most heated debate ever held in the Legislative Assembly. R.B. Bennett in 1910, then a member from Calgary, spoke against the construction of the railroad for five solid hours, while the Hon. C.W. Cross staunchly defended it. Mr. Cross spoke glowingly of the entire northland — of the richness of mineral wealth to be topped by the railway.

Mr. Cross and his side won, and the railway was completed. Early travellers on this line, however, were not sure that it had been completed. The early train had a very bad habit of jumping the track, bucking like a mean horse, and making life generally miserable for the travellers.

One traveller making the northern trip got very hungry. There had been so many washouts, and the train had been derailed so many times that it took five days to go 60 miles. There wasn’t anything to eat. The traveller went to the conductor and complained very loudly. “Now, now, now, said the conductor, patting the ravenous traveller on the shoulder, “you just wait. In fact, sir, we’ll be stopping for dinner in exactly three minutes.” When they had gone three miles the train pulled up beside a patch of blueberries. “First call for dinner,” yelled the conductor. “Get out there and help yourselves.”

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