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Northern Alberta Railway Station

Sexsmith

Other Names:
Sexsmith N. A. R. Station
NAR Station Building
Sexsmith Train Station

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Northern Alberta Railway Station is a one and one-half storey building situated on a single lot on Main Street in the Town of Sexsmith. Constructed in 1928, it is a 'Type B' station distinguished by its bell-cast roof, shed dormers and maroon-coloured exterior.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Northern Alberta Railway Station lies in its association with the development of transportation and agriculture in Sexsmith, a significant regional service centre in Northern Alberta and one of the province's most productive farming areas. It also possesses heritage value as an excellent example of typical railway architecture and as a symbol of the centrality of railways in the settlement and agricultural development of Alberta.

In 1916, the Edmonton-Dunvegan and British Columbia (ED and BC) railway company was nearing completion of a spur line between Rycroft and Grande Prairie. The new railway line stimulated the creation of the townsite of Benville, located along the track just north of Grande Prairie. Renamed Sexsmith shortly after its establishment, this new settlement was soon the centre of a thriving farming community, but because of the volatility of company finances, it did not get a proper railway station immediately. Between 1919 and 1928, Sexsmith was serviced by a basic, inexpensive railway office and a warehouse. It was not until 1928 that this railway station was built. A year after the station's construction, the ED and BC line was taken over by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Canadian National Railway (CNR), who operated it jointly under a subsidiary company called Northern Alberta Railways (NAR). Over the succeeding decades, this new station handled the storage and shipping of grain from one of the most productive agricultural regions in North America. The real boom years of Sexsmith and area began during World War Two, when wartime prices and demand for grain resulted in massive agricultural exports. During this period, the community often led all inland terminals in the British Empire in grain shipments. By the mid-1950s, Sexsmith had nine elevators. However, at the same time that the community's agricultural production was surging, its railway business was diminishing because of improvements to highways. The Northern Alberta Railway Station closed in the early 1970s and was sold to a local farm implements dealer, who relocated and partially restored it.

One of the few remaining NAR structures still extant in the province, the station is a 'Type B' design, constructed by Kezer and Loven of Grande Prairie for the ED and BC. This type of design is distinguished by its bell-cast roof and shed dormers. The maroon paint, added in 1929, marks it as an NAR building. The interior consisted of an office, waiting room, freight room, and washroom facilities on the main floor and living quarters for the station agent and his family on the upper level. The main-floor office also accommodated the district telegraph. In the 1980s, the station was relocated close its original site and restoration work was carried out. The building is a powerful symbol of the significance of railways in the settlement of Alberta and the development of agricultural economy.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1744)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Northern Alberta Railway Station include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- wooden-shingled bellcast roof with shed dormers and chimney;
- wide eaves support with brackets on the track side;
- horizontal drop-siding painted maroon, and "SEXSMITH" painted in white on opposite ends of building;
- fenestration pattern and style;
- door arrangement and style;
- track side platform;
- original interior elements of the station, including fir flooring, V-joint tongue-and-groove wall and ceiling coverings, wide baseboards with quarter-round trim, tablature-like window and door trim, and the five-panel doors;
- original interior elements of the freight shed, including plank flooring, exposed interior wall sheathing, exterior siding of the northwest wall, and the exposed joists of rafters in the freight area;
- spatial relationship to the railway tracks and grain elevators.


Location



Street Address: Main Street and Railway Avenue
Community: Sexsmith
Boundaries: Lot B, Block A, Plan 9120796
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
6
6
73
25
6 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
9120796
A
B


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
55.348996 -118.784713 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
6135133 0386782 GPS NAD 83

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2007/01/19

Historical Information

Built: 1928 To 1928
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Communications and Transportation
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Transport - Rail : Station or Other Rail Facility
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder: Kezer and Loven
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

When Premier Rutherford of Alberta announced a program of railway expansion in 1909, the Dominion government felt that, at long last, the Peace River Country could be opened for agricultural settlement. That same year, a Dominion Land Office was opened at Grouard and townships in the region began to be subdivided into quarter-sections for homesteading. In the meantime, both the Canadian Northern (CNor) and the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) Railways had made plans to enter the region. Settlement was thus begun and continued at a rapid pace until, by the end of 1914, 6,489 applications for land had been made.

The settlers, however, were somewhat disconcerted when both the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific failed to enter the region. With the recession of 1913, both railways were in financial difficulty, and the CNor line which had reached Onoway was put on hold. As a result, the provincial government gave lucrative bond guarantees to another railway, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia, to build to the Peace River region. Owned by John D. McArthur, the ED and BC made rapid progress, and, by the end of 1914, it had reached High Prairie by way of Westlock and Slave Lake. The site plan for the ED and BC called for the line to cross the Smoky River at present day Watino, and head west to the British Columbia border.

Wartime conditions put such ambitious railway plans on hold. Instead, McArthur decided to build a spur line from Rycroft south to the Grande Prairie, which was the most populated portion of the Peace River Country. As the line approached the Village of Grande Prairie in the spring of 1916, two townsites were subdivided to the north along the track at Clairmont and Benville. The name of Benville was soon changed to Sexsmith, which was the name of the earlier established district post office, which was now moved into the townsite.

Both Clairmont and Sexsmith soon grew into vibrant northern farming communities, with Clairmont incorporated as a village in 1917. Being only 10 kilometres from Grande Prairie, however, Clairmont did not expand much after that. Sexsmith, on the other hand, grew at a modest pace. It was 21 kilometres north of Grande Prairie and in the middle of a very large farming district, as farmers from as far away as Valhalla (35 kilometres to the west) and Bad Heart (35 kilometres to the east) began to haul in grain, obtain supplies, and conduct business. In 1928, the Grande Prairie Co-operative Livestock Association established its office and stockyards in Sexsmith, and, in 1929, the community led all others in Alberta in the export of agricultural produce.

Although a small railway office and warehouse facility had been in place in Sexsmith since 1919, a fully operational station was not built until 1928. Then, a Type B station was constructed by Kever and Loven of Grande Prairie on behalf of the ED and BC. It included an office, a waiting room, a freight room, and washroom facilities. The upper floor was made into living quarters for the station agent and his family. The office also accommodated the district telegraph office.

This was a hectic time in the district, and also for the ED and BC, which had been taken over by the Alberta government in 1920. The operation of the line had been leased to the CPR for a while, and, then, the government decided to operate the railway itself. In 1929, the line was sold to both the CPR and the CNR, which agreed to jointly operate it as part of a subsidiary company called Northern Alberta Railways (NAR). The station in Sexsmith was then painted the standard NAR maroon. It was also accompanied by a tool shed and a heavy-duty platform.

In the years that followed, the NAR station in Sexsmith saw extensive activity. When the Depression saw the price of Number 1 Northern wheat tumble by two-thirds to 32 cents a bushel, the yields in the Peace River Country were high, and records continued to be set for the amount of agricultural produce shipped out from Sexsmith. By the early 1940s, war in Europe was creating a greater demand in Britain for western Canadian grain, and high yields now combined with high grain prices to bring prosperity to district farmers. It was during this time that Sexsmith began to lead all inland terminals in the British Empire in the export of grain. The post war years also saw a high demand, as Europe struggled to overcome the effects of the recent devastation. By the mid-1950s, Sexsmith boasted nine grain elevators, as business continued to be brisk.

The 1950s, however, witnessed improved highways, which proceeded to curtail the extent of railway shipping. The completion of the highway between Whitecourt and Valleyview in particular saw a marked increase in trucking to the Northwest. Canadian Coachways also improved its service, and, in 1961, passenger service was halted on the NAR. In the early 1970s, the station in Sexsmith was closed and sold to a local farm implement dealer named Danny Shannon, who moved it to his Massey-Ferguson yard and began to undertake restoration of the structure. In 1983, it was acquired by the Sexsmith Museum Society, which returned it close to its original site and completed restoration. In 1994, the Station was designated a Registered Historic Resource.



HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of the NAR station in Sexsmith lies in its service as one of the most heavily used railway stations in northern Alberta during the middle years of the twentieth century. Its office facilitated the shipping of record setting quantities of agricultural produce to Edmonton and beyond. The building is also important in providing structural evidence of the functioning of a district railway station, and also of the northern farming village of Sexsmith.

(D. Leonard, September 2005)

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ARCHITECTURAL CONTEXT (Design)

The railway station at Sexsmith was built in 1928, according to a standard plan that was used between about 1913 and 1928. The station would have been part of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia (ED and BC) Railway line built from Edmonton to Rycroft between 1912 and 1915. Subsequently, this became part of the Northern Alberta Railway (NAR) network in 1929, when the ED and BC was merged with two other northern Alberta rail lines under the joint ownership of the Canadian National Railway (CNR) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). After this merger, this station plan was discontinued, and was replaced by CPR Plan WLS-16 in 1930.

Even though it was built before the existence of the NAR, the Sexsmith station plan is known as Plan NAR X-2: Standard Plan 'B'. This is because the original plan name is unknown; Les Kozma assigned this name to stations of this type after the fact in 1976 in his survey of railway stations in Alberta. Kozma's report indicates that this was "the most common line-side station utilized by the 'pre-NAR' companies." It is quite a plain building, distinguished by a gable roof with wide flared eaves at trackside, a projecting square bay for the stationmaster to observe the track, with a shed-roofed dormer directly above and two more dormers on the opposite side of the roof. It has a distinctive layout, with staff living quarters occupying all of the attic space and two of the five ground-floor rooms. In 1946 an addition was made to the Sexsmith railway station: the freight room was expanded.

Thirteen stations are known to have been constructed according to this plan. By 1976 none of these were in active service. One had burnt down in 1966, one was demolished in 1970, one was sold in 1971, six were no longer on their original site but their fate was unknown, and four were standing abandoned. The Sexsmith station was among the latter.

At some point after being decommissioned in the 1970s, the Sexsmith station was moved off its original site. Subsequently, it has been replaced near its original site, in a location that has the same orientation but is removed some distance laterally from the original track alignment. Extensive restoration work has been undertaken, reversing major alterations to the building.

Today, only one other intact NAR station is known to exist. It is a DR-H-109 plan station located at Peace River, and has been designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Two other NAR stations were extant in 1976. They were in Beaverlodge (on the municipal golf course) and in Fahler (daycare facility) and were also of a different type: NAR X-3.

(D. Field, November 2005)


Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0767
Designation File: DES 1744
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 38496
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1744)
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