New Arrivals

Glenbow train station, circa 1921, PD-450-1-69e. Courtesy of the Glenbow Western Research Centre, Archives and Special Collections, University of Calgary.

There is always something happening at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. With each new season, the wildlife varies and different plants highlight the landscape. Human use of the area also changes.

A human alteration with a huge impact was the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1881 and 1885, men and machines raced across the West, creating a transportation link between eastern Canada and British Columbia. On average, three to four miles of track were laid each 10-hour day. The world record was set on a flat section of the line (one mile of track per hour), but west of Calgary the rate slowed to about two miles per day. On 31 August 1883, the construction crew reached Glenbow.

The front train carried enough resources to build a mile of track. The first engine pushed two cook cars, and two sleeping cars in front of it, and pulled six cars of rails behind. Then came the second engine, followed by ten cars of ties, two cars of bridge supplies, and two cars of telegraph poles and materials. When the supplies had all been unloaded, the first cars were detached and the two engines took the rest of the train back to the last siding to reload.

The 110 men on the crew were divided into groups with specific tasks, to allow track to be laid a half-mile at a time. First, the materials were unloaded. Then, 35 teams of horses hauled the ties and other timbers the half mile. Simultaneously, the steel rails were loaded on a push car, which was then pulled by two horses. The men laying this track used rollers to slide the rails off the push car and into place. Then a group called road gaugers tested the rails. Finally, another group called spikers, affixed the rails to the ties. The telegraph line was erected beside the track and the telegraph operator transmitted a message when every half-mile was completed.

Water tanks and section houses sprang up beside the line to supply the trains and house the men who maintained the track. The first stations placed in settlements were railcars. In larger communities, these were eventually exchanged for permanent buildings. For a time, Glenbow did have a station, with its attendant supporting structures: freight house, coal shed, section house, bunkhouse, tool house, and stockyard.

The most recent development at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is another new building: the educational facility (officially known as the Glenbow School House). Hopefully, it will also have a vast influence on people in the Glenbow area. If you watch carefully over the next months, you may spot a similarity to the Glenbow train station pictured above: the new sign for the Glenbow School House is modelled on the Glenbow train station sign.

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