One of the CPR’s optional routes, and one which excited much interest in the north, saw the transcontinental railway go from Winnipeg to Fort Saskatchewan to St. Albert, past Lac Ste. Anne to Whitecourt, on to the Grande Prairie area and then through either the Pine Pass or the Peace River Pass to the Pacific watershed. The CPR did not, of course, choose this route, but the dream remained in the minds of northerners.
The first railway specifically intended to serve the northern part of Alberta was the Edmonton, Dunvegan and BC, chartered in 1907. Its mandate was a bit vague — to pass near Dunvegan and follow rivers to Fort George [Prince George]. When construction actually began, the railway split at McLennan with the southern branch reaching Spirit River in 1915, much to the delight of settlers pouring into the Rolla area, just 50 miles [80 km] away. The grade was extended thirty miles west toward the Pouce Coupe Prairie, trestle bridges built and ties laid on part of the roadbed. But politics took over and the railway retreated to Rycroft, leaving Spirit River at the end of a short branch-line, and headed for Grande Prairie, arriving there in 1916.
The construction of the rail link to Rolla was abandoned and the ties removed. The roadbed, however, became a major grain-hauling route — the Spirit River Trail — as farmers in the Rolla area took advantage of the relatively easy access to elevators in Spirit River.
The railway stopped in Grande Prairie until 1924 but was extended to Hythe in 1928 and most farmers in the BC Peace abandoned the Spirit River Trail and began hauling their grain to Hythe. The railway was absorbed into the Northern Alberta Railways in 1929 and further extension of the line to British Columbia led to much speculation about the route and the terminus. Rolla lay on the route of a proposed future link to Fort St John while Pouce Coupe was on the existing, surveyed right of way and a well-established centre.
In the end, of course, neither Pouce nor Rolla got the terminal. On January 29, 1930 the last spike was driven by old-timers Mrs Fred Chase and Mr Frank DeWetter and Dawson Creek became the end of steel. The old town picked itself up and moved to the railhead, just as Saskatoon Lake had done when the railway reached the Grande Prairie area.
The last steam locomotive left Dawson Creek in May of 1960 and, while freight is still hauled, the last passenger train pulled out of the station in June of 1974. The station and one of the original grain elevators are now the centrepieces of the NAR Park in their new roles as Museum and Art Gallery.