Welcome to the Camrose Railway Station and Morgan Railway Park
In July 1911, the Canadian Northern Railway opened its Vegreville to Drumheller branch line, running through Camrose, Stettler, and Big Valley. Camrose would become an important point on this line, serving as a railway junction and freight distribution centre. The same year, this historic depot was built to the company’s Standard Third-Class Station plan. The depot was soon enlarged to handle increased levels of freight and passenger traffic.
While the Canadian Pacific Railway depot was located on the north end of Main Street in downtown Camrose, the CNR station was located considerably to the east of the town centre. A “depot-hack” taxi service would ferry travellers and their baggage to the various downtown hotels such as the Arlington, Windsor, and Alice during the glory days of passenger train service through Camrose.
This depot served both the Canadian Northern and Canadian National Railways until 1989. It has now been preserved as a Provincial Historic Resource and community centre by the Canadian Northern Society. The Morgan Railway Garden Park is named for Sgt. Flight Engineer Gwynfryn Morgan, RCAF, and honours his memory along with the thousands of other Canadians killed in action in the service of their country. It was dedicated on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen in 2002. Located within the park are two original Canadian Northern Railway structures, together with a display shed containing railway maintenance artifacts.
To learn about the Camrose Station restoration effects by the Canadian Northern Society, visit Camrose – Then & Now.
Freight trains have been passing through Camrose and serving railway customers in the community for over a century. The Canadian Northern Railway built its Battle River branch from Vegreville to Drumheller to take advantage of the coal traffic that would become available in both the Brazeau (Nordegg), Dodds, Big Valley, and Drumheller regions. The coal would move in boxcars to markets in Edmonton, eastern Alberta, and Saskatchewan. In the days prior to the widespread use of natural gas, coal was the primary fuel used in home and industrial heating. The Vegreville to Drumheller branch also traversed rich agricultural lands, and grain elevators were constructed at virtually every siding along the line where box cars were loaded with wheat, oats, barley and rye—destined for eastern mills and overseas markets through the Canadian Northern’s ports at Vancouver and Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay).
In the early days of railroading, there was a great amount of express or “less than carload” traffic moved by rail. To handle this traffic, the Canadian Northern constructed a freight shed (or “freight house”) to the south of the station at Camrose where shipments such as groceries, hardware, beer, and all types of bagged or crated freight were handled. The local “dray wagon”—led by horses and in later years using a cube van—would handle this freight from the various stores and warehouses in town back and forth to the railway station and freight shed. Today, trucks handle the “less than carload” traffic that historically was handled by the railways. However, freight trains remain more important than ever—handling millions of tons of grain, plastics, chemicals, sulphur, coal, and potash safely each year. Passing by the Camrose station each day are Canadian National Railways trains that also handle ocean containers of consumer goods from Asia, as well as domestic “intermodal” containers to distribution hubs in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Prince Rupert. Please enjoy watching the trains; however, be sure to keep safe and off railway property while doing so.
An ADZER is a hand-operated tool, or in this case a machine, used to “cut” slots in railway ties where necessary in order to replace steel tie plates when rail is relaid on existing ties. The Adzer machine grinds down the two “seats” on the railway tie where the tie plates are placed—using a cutter head operated by a small gasoline motor. This Adzer takes one man to operate, making it a favorable replacement to the large crews originally required when using a hand Adzer. The Adzer on-site at the Camrose Heritage Railway Station was sold to Canadian National Railways in 1953, by the Nordberg Manufacturing Company.
Railway Station Victory Garden
The term victory garden was coined at the end of the First World War as a descriptor for the “war gardens”—an initiative by the Allied governments to encourage citizens to garden vegetables so that farm produce and preserved foods could be sent to the troops overseas. Garden plots were available for families to cultivate for their own needs, the size of the plot dependant on the families’ requirements. In 1917, planting a “war garden” was considered a “national duty” and was wholeheartedly supported by Canadian citizens.
In the Second World War, the Canadian government initially did not support or advocate for victory gardens, stating that materials would be wasted in starting these gardens unless the citizens were willing to put in the time, effort and knowledge. In 1943, the government was facing food shortages and decided to fully support the victory gardens with the slogan “Food will win the War.” That year, it was reported that over 209,000 gardens were being grown with each producing an average of 550 pounds of produce. Vacant lot gardening expanded. Even the railway station gardens became vegetable gardens to help out. The idea was to produce enough to satisfy domestic markets with the victory garden produce so farm produced food supplies could be redirected to overseas troops.
During the Second World War the Camrose Victory Garden was located adjacent to the current Camrose Heritage Railway Station location—in fact; the row of trees on the west property line was the eastern border of the victory garden, where a row of houses are currently situated. According to reports, it was quite large, potentially covering the entire length of the block. The vegetables grown in the plot were a welcome addition to the family supplies during the war, as there was rationing, food shortages and little money.
Organic and Chemical-Free Gardening
Biodiversity is the norm in nature. Insects are attracted to injured plants. Healthy plants on fertile soil with adequate water are toxic to insects as they can tolerate attacks better than plants suffering from nutrient deficiency, water stress, crowding or improper light levels.
If you would like more information on creating your own healthy soil, managing garden pests organically, becoming a garden detective by keeping a watchful eye out for problems, or maintaining a healthy, chemical-free garden environment, please visit the links below:
• Create A Healthy Soil
• Manage Pests Organically
• Become A Garden Detective
• Maintain A Healthy, Chemical-free Environment
The Healing Garden
“Those of us who garden see what we do as creating a sanctuary from the forces of darkness, within and without. A haven of serenity, a respite from the noisy civilization around us.” ~ Marjorie Harris, The Healing Garden
Through gardening we form a symbiosis that allows us to feel a deep connection to something other than ourselves. This connection can draw us away from our current troubles and allow a spiritual understanding of our true place in the world. Through caring for another life, we are lifted beyond mere ego. Take a moment to sit in the gardens and reflect on our connection to nature. We, as human beings, have profound effects on the world around us, and it too has profound effects on us. We have evolved side by side with nature and have an innate need to feel its presence.
Although the definition of spirituality is very broad, many first residents of Camrose who came through this station found it important to connect to their new land by the building of churches to express their spirituality. People worked the land and helped one another, and the deep connections with nature and the community are part of what we now define as permaculture. A permaculture design which in the past was often developed through a need to be interdependent with the community and land provides us with shelter, food, water, income, community and aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment with a balanced and healthy biological community. It is based on the ethical principal Care for the Earth, Care for the People, Care for the Community.
The importance of the church in the lives of settlers in this area is reflected in the diverse and numerous congregations found here. There are currently over 20 churches in Camrose. The first church built in Camrose is believed to be the Methodist church in 1905. It served the parish until 1925, when the congregation merged with the Presbyterian congregation and built a United Church (completed in 1926). The United Church still stands today on Main Street.
Moving Black Diamonds
Railways were required to develop the Canadian prairies. But it was coal that fuelled the railway boom; for without coal, not a locomotive wheel could turn. Conversely, railways were required to economically market and transport coal. It was truly a symbiotic relationship. Further coal was a basic necessity on the prairie – a fuel required by settlers and townsfolk alike to survive the cold prairie winters.
The Canadian Northern Railway was responsible for the development of two major coal fields in central Alberta: at Brazeau, 100 miles west of Red Deer, and at Drumheller, 70 miles northeast of Calgary. Almost the entire production from Brazeau was bituminous coal, secured by the CNR to fuel its locomotives throughout the West. The lignite coal mined around Drumheller was marketed in a raw state and shipped across the prairies primarily for domestic heating.
The first coal mine near Drumheller was opened by the Newcastle Coal Co. in 1910. Coal was being shipped by rail as soon as the Red Deer River was bridged two years later. By September 1917, fourteen mines were in operation, and between 1912 and 1966, the total production of the 124 mines in the vicinity of Drumheller was an amazing 56,964,808 tons, representing over 1.8 million of carloads of outbound traffic to the railways. Coal was the economic driver that led to the construction of the railway line you see operating in front of the Camrose station today. A century ago, coal and grain loaded in box cars would have been the primary commodities moving in freight trains that passed by the station. Today, new sources of traffic have replaced coal on this route as steam locomotives have been replaced by diesel, and natural gas has long-since replaced coal as the prairie’s primary source of home heating fuel.