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Canadian Northern Railway Station and Roundhouse

Big Valley

Other Names:
Big Valley C. N. R. Station
Big Valley CNR Roundhouse
Big Valley Railway Station
Big Valley Roundhouse
Big Valley Train Station
C. N. R. Roundhouse
C. N. R. Station
C.N.R. Roundhouse
Canadian National Railways Station Building
Canadian Northern Station Building
Canadian Northern Station Building and Roundhouse Site Complex
CN Station
CNoR Station
CNR Roundhouse
CNR Station Building

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Canadian Northern (C.No.R) Station Building is a one and one-half storey wooden railway station, built in 1912, located on Railway Avenue in the town of Big Valley. The station is adjacent to the rail line, which is still in use but not a part of the designated area.

The Roundhouse complex is an extensive collection of concrete ruins, pits and foundations remaining from the switching yards and facilities designed for servicing steam locomotives. These include the remnants of an ash pit, a mechanical coaling plant, sand house, a stores building, a water tank, a turntable, and a roundhouse with annexes and a 5-stall extension. The site occupies approximately 2.379 hectares of land.

Heritage Value
The historical significance of the Canadian Northern (C.No.R) Station Building and Roundhouse Site Complex at Big Valley lies in its direct association with Alberta's great railway boom between 1909-1920. On the Alberta Midland line of the Canadian Northern Railway, it housed the offices of a major divisional point, conducted traffic between Drumheller and Vegreville, and oversaw operations of the line west to Rocky Mountain House. The station is also an excellent example of standard railway architecture and is the least altered of the four surviving stations of this kind in Alberta.

The creation of branch lines like the Alberta Midland reflected an unprecedented degree of provincial - rather than federal - investment in railway construction after 1909, and the energy of economic expansion in the years before World War One. The line was intended to provide passenger service and open up lands for farming in the period of settlement, and to tap the rich coal deposits around Drumheller. A townsite was surveyed off the rail line in 1910, the stationhouse built in 1912, and the roundhouse complex between 1912 -18. But the 1922 merger of Canadian Northern Railway with Grand Trunk lines, to create the Canadian National Railway, rendered the line redundant.

The station and site components are also significant as examples of the standard architectural design created for the C.N.R.'s western operations by architect Ralph Benjamin Pratt. It is the only known complex of this nature remaining in the province and constitutes a landmark for the region.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2175)

Character-Defining Elements
Elements of the Canadian Northern Railway's (C.No.R) Standard Second Class Station (Plan #100-39) design, including:
- form, scale and massing;
- wood frame structure with exterior finished materials and fenestration pattern, including a bay window centrally located on the trackside;
- cedar roof shingles, decorative wood ridge finials and walls;
- high hipped roof on a one and one-half storey section, broken by a large gable dormer on the front and back slopes; secondary gable roofs over the one-storey baggage / freight rooms and waiting rooms, forming a shingled awning supported by large wood brackets with deep overhang;
- brick chimney on the roof;
- exterior platform;
- tracks beside platform;
- period landscape features associated with the station building such as trees and lawn;
- interior wood paneling and details (wainscoting) and wood strip flooring;
- interior floor layout.

Character-defining elements of the Roundhouse complex include:
- form, scale and massing of the roundhouse structural ruins;
- concrete retaining walls, depressed track bed, and concrete floor slab of the ash pit;
- remains of the last sand house under mounds of sand;
- concrete basement and stairs of stores building;
- water tank supply pipe and footings of the foundation;
- turntable: concrete circular wall, circular pit, cinder paving, catch basin grating;
- two excavated locomotive pits;
- concrete floor slab in the boiler room, remnants of wood plank flooring in the machine shop;
- anchor bolts on concrete walls of Roundhouse
- viewscape: including remains of pump houses, reservoir and dam to the east.


Street Address: Railway Avenue
Community: Big Valley
Boundaries: Area A, Plan Big Valley 8722315 and portion of Railway Plan 8493AI Station Grounds in Township 35, Range 20, West of the 4th Meridian
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 7
Buildings: 1
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
1-10,15,16 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
872 2315


Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.033253 -112.748660 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2010/06/15

Historical Information

Built: 1912 to 1918
Significant Date(s) 1909 to 1920
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Communications and Transportation
Historic Function(s): Transport - Rail : Station or Other Rail Facility
Current Function(s): Leisure : Historic or Interpretive Site
Architect: Ralph Benjamin Pratt

In the spring of 1909, Premier Alexander Rutherford committed his government to a program of vast bond guarantees to assist railways to develop branch lines throughout Alberta. Hitherto, assistance to the major transcontinental railway companies had come from the federal government in order that they might reach the Pacific coast. Prime Minister Laurier however had made it known that within the regions of the country, governmental assistance would have to be provincial. Taking the challenge, Rutherford ran his re-election campaign that spring on the theme of 'Rutherford, Reliability and Railways'. With his overwhelming victory at the polls, Alberta was about to begin a period of unprecedented railway development.

Among the principal players was the Canadian Northern Railway (CNor) which had arrived in Edmonton in December 1905 directly from the east. A firm of William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, the CNor was actually the parent company of a number of subsidiary railways in which Mackenzie and Mann had - or would come to have - an interest. Taking heart from Rutherford's announced commitment to railway development, they incorporated several new lines, among them the Alberta Midland which was chartered by the provincial government in May 1909. This line was intended to extend from Vegreville south to Calgary, paralleling and rivaling the old Calgary and Edmonton Railway to the west, which was a subsidiary of the CPR. So high was the optimism of the time that the Grand Trunk Pacific also got into the act and began to construct a third north-south line in between the two.

The objective of the Alberta Midland was to provide some passenger service and open up new lands for farming, but also to tap the rich deposits of coal, which was becoming an increasingly important commodity for domestic use by Alberta's booming population. It was also becoming very important for use by the rapidly expanding railway networks. Coal from the deposits around Drumheller could be taken north to Vegreville and shipped all the way east to Saskatoon and beyond.

Construction of the Vegreville-Calgary Branch of the Alberta Midland continued throughout 1909. By the end of 1910, it was completed all the way from Vegreville to Stettler. At various points along the way, sidings were erected, several of which were subdivided by the CNor into townsites. Those considered to have the greatest potential for development were designated as 'divisional points', meaning that they would be provided with switching yards and facilities for the servicing and repair of locomotives and rolling stock. A major consideration was the availability of a non-corrosive supply of water. This was apparently a key factor in determining that a divisional point would be located near the hamlet of Big Valley on Mott Creek, some 25 kilometres south of Stettler, where a store and post office had existed since 1907.

In the spring of 1910, a new townsite was surveyed off the rail line, and lots put on sale. So great was the demand that the CNor had to add an extra subdivision the following year. By the end of 1911, track was laid as far south as Drumheller, and a freighting service begun. The following spring, mixed train services were underway all the way from Drumheller to Vegreville. In July 1912, work was begun at Big Valley on a water tower, a turntable, a roundhouse and other buildings necessary for a major divisional center, including a new station.

For several years, railway activity at Big Valley was intense, as the center was home to 14 engine and train crews and a large contingent of related maintenance staff. When the CNor was taken over by the federal government in 1918, the divisional operation was extensively upgraded, and the population of Big Valley doubled in the space of two years. In November 1920, it was incorporated as a Town with over 1,000 people. Signs of decline were in the air however, for the Grand Trunk had also been taken over by the federal government which would endeavor to operate both lines as a single system called Canadian National Railways. This meant a consolidation of assets and services, and, in 1922, it was decided to make the former Grand Trunk line between Camrose and Calgary the main north-south artery of CN. Staff reductions were thus made at Big Valley, while the crew and facilities at Mirror were extensively upgraded.

In June 1923, mixed train service between Big Valley and Vegreville was terminated. By 1930, the population of Big Valley had dropped to 440. The station and maintenance facilities continued to survive however serving mainly to deliver district coal and mixed farming products to market. With the decline in the coal industry following World War Two rail traffic occurred with even less frequency, and, in the early 1890's, it was halted altogether.


The historical significance of the CNor station at Big Valley lies in its direct association with the intense railway boom preceding and immediately following World War One. On the Alberta Midland line of the Canadian Northern, it housed the offices of a major divisional point, and conducted traffic between Drumheller and Vegreville, and also oversaw operations of the Alberta Midland line west to Rocky Mountain House. The station is also important as a surviving 1912 western prairie railway station, and as the center of all commercial and passenger rail traffic into and out of Big Valley and its hinterland from 1912 until the 1980's. Today, along with other structural evidence of the early railway boom nearby, it constitutes a major element of Alberta Prairie Steam Tours.

(Canadian Northern Plan 100-39)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1043
Designation File: DES 2175; DES 0181; DES 1724
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 27330
HS 29377
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. 2175)
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