RAILWAY CONTRIBUTIONS: A HOT TOPIC OF DEBATE
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Chronicles of the railway industry in the Pincher Creek area presents a controversial chapter from our pioneer history. Our community remains one of the few NWMP and ranching settlements which never had a direct rail connection, a historical quirk considering that Pincher Creek pre-dated the arrival of the railway industry by a full generation. Established in 1878 as a horse ranch for the Mounties, the Crowsnest Line of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was built through this southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies during 1897-98. The railway giant chose to bypass Pincher Creek, as it wished to control local real estate development to help pay for the construction and operational costs of the line. Although the line helped to market agricultural products and brought in new settlers, the fact that it physically ignored the central settlement in the area became a sore point with local pioneers.
For twenty years following the CPR’s construction, early civic leaders lobbied – in vain – to have the company’s line re-routed through town, or to have a spur line built the two miles from Pincher City, the nearest rail station. Undaunted, local pioneers sought rail connections from competing rail companies that expressed an interest in accessing this district. Although half a dozen conglomerates made tentative plans, some accompanied by surveys and railway beds, only the Kootenay and Alberta Railway (K&A) was successful in building and operating a line in the area. A nineteen kilometer route travelled southwest from Kendary Junction (west of Pincher City) to the coal fields at Beaver Mines. Other efforts were cut short by the First World War and subsequent changes in transportation needs.
This caboose was manufactured for the CPR in 1946. The final car on the train, the caboose helped monitor progress and safety. From the top benches, visitors alike can see a commanding view of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. Depicted within the caboose are an array of railway artifacts, photos and histories highlighting that highly debated theme from our past.
Further artifacts illustrating frontier railway heritage include a set of numbered mallets used in the construction of wooden trestles, large railway tongs and a variety of rustic railway spikes dug up from the Kootenay and Alberta Railway, as well as from the spur line headed to Harrad’s Quarry located south of the CPR Pincher Creek trestle.