The Charters authorizing the construction of the lines now comprising the Northern Alberta Railways were granted many years earlier, except in one instance where construction was carried out by the Alberta Provincial Government. The history of the railways which make up the present lines of N.A.R. follows.
The E.D. & B.C. Railway was incorporated in 1907 to build a standard gauge railway from Edmonton in a northeasterly direction to a point at or near Dunvegan, and then, following the various rivers, to a point at or near Fort George, B.C. Construction started in 1912, but the line did not reach Dunvegan. It stopped at Spirit River with a branch south from Rycroft to Grande Prairie, which was completed in 1916. In 1924 an extension of fifteen miles was constructed to Wembley, and in 1928 a further extension of twenty-four miles extended the line to Hythe. In 1930 the present Company extended the line to Dawson Creek, the present terminus.
In February, 1909, a Provincial Charter was granted to the Alberta & Great Waterways Railway to construct a line to Waterways, Alberta, at the junction of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers. As a result of disputes and litigation with the Provincial Government, the original incorporators of the Company were unable to continue with the construction. In 1913, by mutual consent, control of the property was acquired by J.D. McArthur, of Winnipeg, who was building the E.D. & B.C. Railway. Construction started from Carbondale in 1914 and was completed to Lac La Biche in July 1916. The line was completed to Draper in 1922, and was completed into the present terminus at Waterways in November 1925.
The Central Canada Railway was incorporated by Provincial Statute in 1913 to build a line from Winagami Junction ¾ 1.3 miles west of McLennan ¾ to Peace River Crossing, and construction was started in 1914. This portion of the line was completed in 1916. An extension of twenty-three miles to Berwyn was completed in 1921. The line extened thirteen miles to Whitelaw in 1924, and fourteen miles to Fairview in 1928. In 1930 the Northern Alberta Railways added a further extension of sixteen miles to Hines Creek.
The E.D. & B.C., A. & G.W., and C.C. Railways were built and operated by the J.D. McArthur Co., of Winnipeg, until 1920 when, as a result of financial difficulties occasioned by the first Great War, the Provincial Government was obliged to take over. They entered into a five year operating agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway in July, 1920, to operate the E.D. & B.C. and C.C. Railways, but retained the operation of the A. & G.W. Railway for themselves.
At the expiration of the agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1925 the Provincial Government endeavoured to make arrangements to have the C.P.R or C.N.R. purchase the properties but without success, although they were both prepared to enter into operating agreements. In the meantime, the C.P.R. Agreement was continued, subject to three months notice of termination. Having failed to sell the property, the Provincial Government took over the operation of all the lines on November 11, 1926.
The provincial Government as authorized by Statute in 1926, constructed the Pembina Valley Railway from Busby, Alberta, a point on October 18, 1927.
In 1928, the Canadian Pacific Railway made an offer to purchase, contingent on the Canadian National Railways being permitted to participate on a fifty percent basis. This was accepted and the Northern Alberta Railways was incorporated as a separate company under joint ownership on January 1929, with head offices located in Edmonton.
It must be appreciated that these were all pioneer roads, built to open up the farm lands of the Peace, the Tar Sands of McMurray, and to connect with the river boats at Peace River which the Hudson Bay Company operated to Hudson Hope and Fort Vermilion and at Waterways, for all points down the Mackenzie River.
During the early years of separate operation traffic consisted mainly of grain, lumber and livestock, with the grain shipments reaching a record handling of 11,506,630 bushels in 1927 for all lines. At the same time, farming areas were being further developed and settled. This was reflected in the steady increase of grain shipments with the exception of a few years when crop failures occurred.
This was a single track railway with light steel which was adequate for the traffic being handled at the time, but in 1930 a rail relay program was set up to provide heavier steel to take care of the increasing traffic with heavier locomotives and larger capacity cars. This program has been continued, with the result that the main line to Dawson Creek is now laid with 85 and 100 pound rail. Up to March, 1942, the traffic was more or less stable and seasonal, but in that month the Alaska Highway project was commenced with the Canol Project following shortly afterwards. These projects changed the category of the railway from that of a pioneer road to an important defence link and, with this change traffic increased tremendously. For example, on March 1, 1942, sixteen locomotives were sufficient to take care of the bi-weekly passenger train service to Dawson Creek and Hines Creek, mixed bi-weekly service to Lac La Biche and Barrhead, weekly service to Waterways, and all freight service. But by January 1, 1943, the passenger service was increased to daily service to Dawson Creek and tri-weekly to Hines Creek. In addition, freight had reached the point where it became necessary to schedule four trains daily to Dawson Creek. The services of 41 locomotives were required. With this increase in train service, sidings and other facilities were found to be inadequate and necessitated installation of new water supplies, coaling plants, wyes, siding and the renewing of old ones. In addition, extra manpower had to be secured at a time when this was extremely difficult to obtain. However, the Parent Lines came to the rescue and were able to assist with employees, power, and equipment. As a comparison, the total carloads handled in and out of Edmonton during the year 1941 was 23,898. In 1943 this had increased to 47,226 cars and in 1955 to 54,130 cars. Also during 1942 and 1943 special passenger trains were operated to handle American troops and workmen, in addition to our daily service.
Following completion of the Alaska Highway and other wartime projects traffic continued at a high level for some years. The publicity given to the area during the years following the war, land clearing projects inaugurated by the Provincial Government, and the opening of the MacKenzie Highway from Grimshaw to Hay River providing year around service to the mining industry in the vicinity all aided in this respect.
On October 26, 1955, the Whitecourt-Valleyview cut off was completed and officially opened by the Department of Highways, Province of Alberta. This all-weather road provided rapid access to the area served by the main line and Peace River Subdivision of these Railways and as a result, competition from Highway transport for the lucrative local freight, express and passenger traffic was quickly intensified. The inroads of such competition, together with the completion in 1958 of the extension of the Pacific Great Eastern Railroad by the Government of the Province of British Columbia to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. were very marked and as a result, service had to be curtailed. Passenger train service between Edmonton and Dawson Creek was ultimately reduced to two days per week in each direction and such service was withdrawn from the Peace River Subdivision. Passenger train service inaugurated on the Lac La Biche and Waterways Subdivisions in 1957 was, however, not affected and remained on a bi-weekly basis.
Carload freight traffic was also affected by the road improvements and railway extension mentioned, the latter being particularly noticeable to and from points in the vicinity of Dawson Creek where the major share of traffic, particularly grain and lumber, was lost to the Pacific Great Eastern.
This Company did, however, enjoy a banner year of grain movement during the 1961-62 crop season when, due to a poor crop elsewhere on the prairies, a bumper crop in the Peace River area and the large sale of grain to Red China, it was possible to dispose not only of the current crop but much of the surplus held in storage. As a consequence, this Company moved a total of 43,381,236 bushels of grain, unprecedented in the history of these lines.
The Northern Alberta Railways has over the past 20 years, and particularly since the conclusion of the second world war, pursued a policy of improvement in track and power. In addition to the main line to Dawson Creek the Peace River Subdivision as far as Grimshaw has been relaid with 85 and 100 pound rail, as has much of the Lac La Biche and Waterways Subdivisions. These latter subdivisions are involved in a rehabilitation program commenced in 1959 which embraces improved drainage, embankments, ballast, and rail relaying. Many bridges throughout the system have also been replaced or filled. Commencing in 1958, a program aimed at replacement of steam with diesel power was undertaken and full dieselization was accomplished in October, 1960. The Company now owns 17 General Motors diesel locomotives of varying capacities.
Prior to 1942, communications north of Edmonton were basically via the telegraph lines of the Company and the Government Telegraphs, the latter operated by the Government of Canada, which had a land line from Edmonton to Fort St. John, B.C., with a supplementary line serving points between Peace River and Fort Vermilion and from Athabasca to Fort McMurray. Commencing in 1942 the facilities of this Company for commercial communications were gradually expanded and improved to the point where we are now able to provide all types of service. In the process the facilities of Government Telegraphs were abandoned in September, 1956, and absorbed into the Railway Company operations.
In 1943, the Government of the United States of America constructed a communication line from Edmonton to Alaska. This line was built, in some areas, on the right-of-way of the Northern Alberta Railways. Following the termination of hostilities, the U.S. Government gave this system to the Government of Canada and it was placed in the hands of the Canadian National Railways. The operation was undertaken by the latter under the name of the Northwest Communication System and has subsequently been added to the Canadian National Railways Communication System, enlarged and expanded until it now serves a vast area of the North by land line, microwave, and radio. Alberta Government Telephones have also purchased or constructed facilities throughout the north.
Over the past few years development in the area served by these Railways and to the north thereof has accelerated. In 1962 the Government of Canada engaged in the construction of the Great Slave Lake Railway. The project, commenced at a point in the vicinity of Roma, Alberta, on the Peace River Subdivision, extends to Hay River, N.W.T., located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, a distance of 377 miles with a branch of some 53 miles in length to Pine Point, N.W.T., also on the shore of Great Slave Lake. This railway was completed in 1964 and is primarily intended to tap the immense lead and zinc deposits at Pine Point. The Great Slave Lake Railway, basically intended for the transportation of ore from the mines at Pine Point to the smelters at Trail, B.C., will in addition provide lumber, grain, and other traffic. Discovery, in 1965, of the Rainbow Oil fields has focused much attention on Northern Alberta and the N.W.T. Large gypsum deposits in Wood Buffalo National Park are waiting to be exploited. The Great Slave Lake Railway is operated by the Canadian National Railways.
In the vicinity of Spirit River, Fairview, and Hines Creek large iron ore deposits are being studied for feasibility of development.
Oil and gas exploration activities have in the past resulted in the establishment of the number of development areas in or near the territories served by these railways. While there are numerous small areas of production, the main fields presently established are Swan Hills, Red Earth, and Worsley. Considerable development has also taken place in the area adjacent to Girouxville. The Railway Company has played and continues to play an important part in the transportation of equipment and supplies necessary to develop the fields and in the marketing of the production thereof prior to the servicing of the areas by pipeline.
A $291,000,000 oil extraction plant north of Waterways, developed and built by Great Canadian Oil Sands Limited has tapped a small area of what is believed to be the largest deposit of oil in the world plus by-products of sulphur and coke. The plant went into operation in September 1967. The Provincial Government has completed a highway to Fort McMurray. Waterways continues to be a shipping point for merchandise destined to points in the N.W.T. via river barges during the summer, but emphasis on this form of transportation is being switched to Hay River ¾ which increases the rail haul obtained by the N.A.R. from northern traffic.
The Northern Alberta Railways Company, keeping pace with the expanding economy in the North, on May 31, 1965, inaugurated daily truck service to handle l.c.l. freight and express on five different routes. N.A.R. truck service now reached 32 communities on the Northern Alberta Railways.
On July 15, 1965, station facilities were established at Dunvegan Yards to expedite the handling of freight, express, and passenger business, formerly handled at the Canadian National Freight Shed, and effective October 31, 1965, all passenger trains on the Northern Alberta Railways originated the terminated at Dunvegan Yards. A new 6,000 square foot freight and express warehouse at this terminal was opened on November 2, 1968. The building is of steel construction, fully insulated and heated, and is designed to handle loading and unloading at 18 truck doors and two rail car doors simultaneously.
On March 10, 1967, we began operating trains with end to end train radios. The three base stations are located at Dunvegan Yards, Smith, and McLennan.