Posted on 10-07-2012
Filed Under (Alberta 1970s, CPR) by Broken Rail

Throughout the 1920s Canadian National and Canadian Pacific added to their prairie branch line network, the federal government approved extensions for both railways, and as suggested by Sir Henry Thornton CNR president the CPR did negotiate running rights over sections of one another’s lines. With the construction of the joint track between Rosedale on the CNR and Trefoil both railways gained access to the coal reserves East of Drumheller. The Trefoil-Rosemary section of this line was built by the CPR and serviced land in the CPR’s central and east irrigation districts. The CNR never worked East of East Coulee

The Rosemary Subdivision ran from Rosemary Mile 0, where there was a junction with the Bassano Subdivision, to East Coulee Mile 53.6 going through Matzwin, Mile 4.8, where there was a wye to service the Gem spur that ran 4.94 miles to service the community and its grain elevators, Verger, Mile 11.7, a siding Control Mile 20.0 that had a mail drop of when the mixed trains used to carry the mail for the community of Hutton, there was also a gravel pit that was used for track ballast, and there was a bridge that crossed the Red Deer River, Bullpound Mile 25.1, had a water tank to service steam engines, Finnegan Mile 30.5, Trefoil Mile 36.7, Dorothy Mile 45.6. My CPR timetable from 1974 shows that the speed limit was 15 mph, with a 5 mph permanent slow orders between Mileages 47.0-48.0 and 17.6-17.9, this due unstable banks and chances of mudslides, and that Trains must not operate between mileage, 17.9 and mileage 29.8, so at that time service on the Rosemary sub was limited to servicing the Gem spur from Rosemary, and Finnegan from East Coulee. Eastward trains out of East Coulee were restricted to daylight operation, and to one unit operation between mileage 29.8 and 53.3. During the 1930s up till the 1950s when coal was replaced by more convenient natural gas for domestic heating, there were many coal mines in the Drumheller Valley, at East Coulee the CPR had built a large yard with the capacity to hold 400 cars, there were eight tracks directionally South of the mainline, and the scale track was adjacent to the mainline on the North side, along with seven storage tracks, The scale track gave the yard, the ability to service weigh, and ship the coal from the mines in the area, coal traffic ran in both directions southbound on the Langdon subdivision through Drumheller down through Langdon and West on the Strathmore subdivision through to Calgary. East traffic ran on the Rosemary subdivision to the junction with the Bassano subdivision, then East to the Empress subdivision, and down to the mainline to Swift Current and eastward through Moose Jaw. Retired conductor Jim McKinnon told me that when he hired on in 1945 he worked out of Empress, Alberta and one of his first trips was from Empress to East Coulee to drop off coal empties for loading at the mines, and to pick up a train load of coal of about 40 cars to take back to Empress, there was usually a train each day running eastward, and before winter set in it was not uncommon to see two trains daily, a lot of the elevator tracks along the subdivision had coal sheds, and agents to distribute the coal for domestic heating in these communities.

I made six trips on the CPR Rosemary Subdivision during 1974, we were called to make Finnegan turns to service the Alberta Wheat Pool elevators at Dorothy, and Finnegan, all these trips were short flips going 23.1 miles in each direction, looking at my CPR trip ticket books for 1974-75 shows the following trips:
May 24 Unit 8411 from 15:00 to 20:40 131 miles five hours and 40 min. total time on duty. Conductor Jim McKinnon, Locomotive Engineer Grant Cunningham
May 31 Unit PNC 123 from 15:00 to 21:20 136 miles, six hours and 20 min. total time on duty. Conductor Jim McKinnon, Locomotive Engineer Grant Cunningham
October 29 Unit 8815 from 14:30 to 21:10 124 miles, six hours and 40 min. total time on duty. Conductor Fred Foulston, Locomotive Engineer Stan McPhedran
November 5 Unit 8822 from 14:50 to 20:35 113 miles, five hours and 45 min. total time on duty. Conductor Fred Foulston Locomotive Engineer Stan McPhedran
And 1975:
Januaray 24 Unit 8833 from 14:00 to 22:20 145 miles, eight hours and 20 min. total time on duty. Conductor Jim McKinnon
February 14 8776 from 14:25 to 21:30 131 miles seven hours and 5 min. total time on duty. Conductor Ron Gauvrau.

I remember stopping at Dorothy after we had finished switching out the elevators, and going over to the general store there, it was very old, with two gas pumps with glass cylinders that the gas was pumped into for filling cars, they were sitting there derelict, the store was run by two old brothers, and who knows what they had stored away in the back rooms. At Finnegan were we turned there was of ferry service that ran across the Red Deer River.


1.) CPR operating timetable 1973-74 Rosemary Subdivision.
2.) Map of Western Railway lines showing East Coulee to Rosemary circa 1973
3.) East Coulee yard looking geographically West from a hill above the station, I took this picture in the summer of 1975, the yard was full of storage cars waiting disposition for repairs, or scrapping. The mainline runs down the middle, there is a back lead running alongside the little section house for servicing the Atlas mine across the Red Deer river, next to it the ladder track for the eight tracks on the South side of the yard, to the left-hand side of the main track was the scale track, and seven other storage tracks,
4.) East Coulee looking East at Red Deer river, and the countryside where the Rosemary sub ran through
5.) East Coulee station, and yard, mainline in front of station with silver diamond shaped whistle post sign, and silver marker showing the beginning of the Rosemary subdivision. the East Coulee station at the time was all boarded up, and no staff were working there. The CPR had put it up for sale, and a section Foreman from Nacmine Willy Hermann had put a bid of $10 for it, he planned on salvaging all the lumber on this well-built structure. Fortunately, his bid was rescinded, and a local rancher moved the building West of the town, and restored it into a nice ranch house.
6.) Turntable behind East Coulee station, we used this when we had one unit operation, as there was no wye at East Coulee, we would center our locomotive on the turntable deck, until it was perfectly balanced, then we would hook up locomotives train line to an air hose that operated the turntable by a set of geared wheels that traveled on top of a rail the circled the inside rim of the turntable pit, the gears were driven by a modified air pump from a scrapped steam locomotive. in the winter, when the turntable pit filled with snow, the sectionmen would have to be called out to shovel out the snow. Also visible is the bridge tenders shanty on the wooden trestle that crossed the Red Deer River to the Atlas Coal Mine.
7.) Trip to Finnegan May 31, 1974 looking South at cattle, and trees along the Red Deer river.
8.) Alberta Wheat Pool Elevators at Dorothy, Alberta
9.) Alberta Wheat Pool Elevators at Finnegan, Alberta
10.) Return trip going West on Rosemary subdivision.
11.) Rosemary subdivision going West between mile 47 and 48, were there was a permanent 5 mile an hour slower due to slides coming off the embankments on the North side of the track, stray cattle wandering along the right away.
12.) Rosemary subdivision running along Red Deer river approaching East Coulee.
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(1) Comment   


Jay Russell on 25 January, 2015 at 9:30 am #

Thanks for the informative article. I’m wondering if the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site can add this article and photos to our archives? This information is historically significant. As you likely know, 60 million tons of coal was shipped on these lines out of Drumheller to heat the homes, cook the food, run locomotives and turn on the lights of Canada from Vancouver to Ottawa. If you happen to have scans of these photos (300 dpi or better) we’d love to add them to our archives as well. Furthermore, if you happen to be visiting the Drumheller Valley, please drop by the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site! We’d love to hear your experiences in the Drumheller Valley.

Jay Russell,
Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, 403.822.2220

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