WARDEN – Mile 55.8 CNR Stettler Sub

WARDEN: HUB OF THE LINE | Mileage 55.8 CNR Stettler Subdivision

Warden, five miles south of Stettler was the junction of the Battle River Subdivision and the Brazeau Branch.  The line to the Brazeau coal fields curved south-easterly to a junction with the Battle River line just north of the east-west road allowance.  Another track diverged from the main line forming the north leg of the wye.  The remants of the grade are visible on the west side of the track today.

Warden Station. ©CNoS archives

Warden Station. ©CNoS archives

Under normal circumstances Warden should have developed into an important station and townsite, but it was clearly too close to Stettler, an established commercial centre.  Indeed the opening of an alternative track connection joining the Battle River line a further 1.4 miles north of Warden station  made Stettler the de factojunction.  Subsequently all passenger and mixed trains from and to the Brazeau Branch were obliged to make a side trip to Stettler, before proceeding west to Brazeau or south to Big Valley.
The Warden station ground were established south of the depot, across the road allowance.  A two-track storage yard and business track west of the mainline served a grain elevator (built in 1927), grain loading platform, and stockyard.  While a two-block plat was surveyed on the east side of the main line in 1910 and lots put up for sale, there was apparently little or no public interest and a town never materialized.  A general store and post office however was constructed to the south of the depot.
It soon became obvious however that even without a town, a depot was still required at Warden for operating purposes.  Hence in 1915, a Standard Fourth Class depot was constructed east of the mainline just to the north of the Brazeau branch switch.  After this building was destroyed by fire, a Standard Third Class depot was built on virtually the same spot.
Warden’s distance from the Big Valley divisional point and Stettler caused operational challenges.  Northbound and westbound trains originated in Big Valley.  Westbound trains destined for the Brazeau branch passed through Warden, making their obligatory diversion up to Stettler, and then were forced to make a reverse move back to the Junction at Warden prior to resuming their long 174 mile westward trip to Brazeau (Nordegg).  Coal trains lifted empties at Warden to go west, and set loads out for northbound trains in the small yard before running “caboose-hop” to Big Valley.
Employee Picnic Special leaving Warden on Brazeau Branch, c. 1920. ©CNoS Archives

Employee Picnic Special leaving Warden on Brazeau Branch, c. 1920. ©CNoS Archives

In 1921, the effects of the Canadian Northern Railway – Grand Trunk Pacific consolidation were felt almost immediately at Warden.  With the completion of new connections with the former GTP line at Alix, Brazeau coal trains were diverted to the former GTP divisional point at Mirror.  Subsequently the Battle River line south of Camrose became quiet.  The effects of this traffic reduction were mitigated somewhat three years later with the exciting announcement that the CNR cut-off from Hanna to Warden – promised since the pre-World War I boom – would finally be constructed.  The line would provide a more direct route for Brazeau coal destined for southern Saskatchewan markets and for westbound grain from the east bound for Vancouver ports.
With the cut-off  line Warden once again became an important junction where freight, express, and passengers were transferred.  In anticipation of this, the depot freight shed and office were doubled in size.  Numerous dwellings, bunkhouse and tool sheds were also erected for the section crews working on the lines east and west.  Warden’s population exploded – relatively speaking – comprised almost entirely of railway workers!  In addition, rudimentary engine facilities – comprised of an emergency coaling ramp and a locomotive storage spur were built off the south leg of the north junction wye.
The second depot at Warden in its later years – 1979.

The second depot at Warden in its later years – 1979.

Under normal circumstances the agency work at Warden was relatively light, with some mail and express and ordering cars for the lone elevator and grain loading platform.  In contrast the agent at Stettler was constantly overworked.  Thus in the 1950’s Warden provided an interesting example of railway teamwork.  The respective agents struck up an informal arrangement whereby the Warden agent handled most of the train orders, while the Stettler agent was responsible for the agency work.
While closed in 1961, the classic Warden depot continued in service as a passenger waiting room for the Edmonton to Drumheller railiner service until November 1981.  It was sold to and salvaged by a local resident in 1984. Today, the Warden Yard is once again an important location for short line operator Alberta Prairie Railway for its rail car storage business, and on company business storage.  Warden is also the location of the company’s secondary locomotive shelter which was originally built by the Central Western Railway in 1987.

WARDEN SOUTH JCT.  |  Mileage 56.6 CNR Stettler Subdivision

The Western Construction Company commenced grading operations from Warden south-easterly towards Hanna in 1924.  Early the next spring, a material yard, for stockpiling the thousands of ties and tons of rail required was established a half mile east of Warden.

Aerial view of junction with the Brazeau Branch at Warden, and Canadian Northern Depot - 1981. ©C. Bohi Photo

Aerial view of junction with the Brazeau Branch at Warden, and Canadian Northern Depot – 1981. ©C. Bohi Photo

In late September 1924, the line reached Endiang – 33 miles south east.  On 15 October 1926 a twice weekly Mixed train service was inaugurated between Hanna and Warden, making connections with other trains on the Battle River line, and returning the same day.  In early 1927, the train run was extended from Warden to Mirror and increased to tri-weekly, returning to Hanna the following morning.

The Hanna – Warden line remained an important line for coal shipments, until its demise as a domestic heating fuel in the 1950’s.  The development of all-weather roads eroded the reliance on the branch to the extent that the train service dwindled, and even Mixed services became non-remunerative.  The line soon became grain dependent and it wa abandoned in 1978.  The grade is still clearly visible on the east side of the track at Mile 56.6.

Also noted at Mile 56.6 on the west side of the track is the tiny “train register booth”, located on the foundation of the former coal dock.  In the days when trains were operated under the authority of “Time Table and Train System” – trains operating to and from the Endiang Subdivision were required to “register” at Warden South Jct.   In this manner, other trains checked the register to determine whether other trains had arrived or left, and they they would then proceed upon that authority..

The Canadian Northern toolhouse on the east side of the track near the junction location is a visible reminder of “first generation” maintenance of way activities.  It has been preserved by the East Central Alberta Heritage Society.

NEXT STATION: FENN Mile 64.3 Stettler Sub