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Key Number: HS 27330
Site Name: Big Valley C.N.R. Station
Other Names:
Site Type: 0803 - Transportation - Rail Facility: Station


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
35 20 4

Town: Big Valley
Near Town:


Type Number Date View


Style: Railway Station Standard Plan
Plan Shape: Rectangular Long Facade
Storeys: Storeys: 1 1/2
Foundation: Basement/Foundation Wall Material: Concrete
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure: High Hip
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes: Dormer Type: Gable
Dormer Type: Triangle
Chimney Stack Material: Brick
Roof Trim - Special Features: Cresting
Exterior: Wooden bumpers (painted green) around entire building at 2' and 3' levels, ornate brick chimney, 4-6 gable dormers, extended wrap-around eave supported by large wooden brackets, ridge peak ornaments.
Triangular dormers, central gable peak. Raised portion of top floor has a hipped roof.
Interior: N/A
Environment: Next to commercial core and tracks, nice trees, and grass on site.
Condition: Structure: Good. Repair: Fair. 1 JUN 1979.
Alterations: 1938 - addition 1942 - addition 1942 - foundation upgraded


Construction: Construction Date:
Usage: Usage Date:
Railway station
Senior citizens drop in centre & picture Museum
Owner: Owner Date:

Architect: R.B. Pratt
Builder: N/A
Craftsman: N/A
History: C.N.R. Plan 100-22/39 Pratt designed the #39 variation in 1910. He was an architect for the C.N.R. This is a plan 100-39 varation of the 22 plan. Pratt also designed the basic 22 in 1905. Big Valley was the divisional point for the CNR line in central Alberta.


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, and 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 & 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 kms. 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. Also important to Big Valley's service as a divisional point was a roundhouse where the locomotives could be stored, repaired and serviced. In 1913, five stall roundhouses were erected, replacing the single frame engine house built two years earlier. Each stall was 90' long.

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. Among the improvements was a five-stall extension to the original roundhouse, indeed a virtual replica of the original building.


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. With this development, the roundhouse at Big Valley fell into virtual disuse. By 1940, the windows were boarded up and the building virtually abandoned. Subsequently, the roof and post-and-beam structure were removed and the building stripped of all its fittings, leaving only a concrete shell. In 1990, the annex attached to the west end wall was demolished.

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 II, rail traffic occurred with even less frequency, and, in the early 1890's, it was halted altogether.

The historical significance of the CN station and roundhouse at Big Valley lies in its direct association with the intense railway boom preceding and immediately following World War I. 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 at 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, and has become the centerpiece of the railway interpretive park at Big Valley.

SITE: Canadian Northern Station Building
FILE No(s): 4204-2 & 4615-15/Des. 0181 & 1724
DATE: Fall 2000

Station Building

This Railway Station was constructed in 1912 by the Canadian Northern Railway Company shortly after Big Valley was selected as the site for a divisional point on the Vegreville to Calgary branch line. The designation of "divisional point" meant that Big Valley would also be the site of switching yards and facilities for servicing and repairing locomotives and rolling stock.

The station building style is referred to as a Standard Second Class Station (Plan #100-39), designed by architect Ralph Benjamin Pratt for the Canadian Northern Railway Company. It was the design used by the CNR for its divisional point depots, the largest station design built by the company in the west. This particular station building is apparently one of four remaining in Alberta. It stands on its original site and is the best unaltered example in the group.

The various classes of railway station designs produced by R.B. Pratt for the CNR all had consistent features which developed a distinctive recognizable station style for the company. The primary stylistic feature was the roofline that consisted of a high hipped roof on a one and one-half storey section, broken by a large gable dormer on the front and back slopes. Secondary roofs over the one-storey baggage/freight rooms and waiting rooms were gable roofs that extended over the waiting platform, forming a shingled awning supported by large wood brackets. In the case of the Standard Second Class Stations, the bracketed overhang wrapped around the entire structure.

The Big Valley Railway Station is an excellent, unaltered example of standardized railway architecture from the early 1900's.

The design of the Standard Second Class Station (Plan #100-39) was used by the Canadian Northern Railway Company for all divisional point depots. The obvious reason for standardizing various building classes was to provide required stations at a reasonable cost but also to produce an instantly recognizable corporate style. This station in Big Valley appears to be unaltered and possesses all those characteristic components that in contribution produce the unique CNR artistic composition. In addition, that station demonstrates the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into the construction of these buildings.

The CNR Station in Big Valley is a long rectangular plan building situated on Railway Avenue with its longitudinal axis, as expected, following closely the line of the tracks. The foundation is a combination cast-in-place concrete grade beam and full basement wall and concrete floor slab. The full basement is situated under the one and one-half storey section and provides storage space as well as a furnace room and space for abandoned cistern.

The station proper is a wood frame structure with a distinctive steeply pitched hipped roof covering the central one and one-half storey section. The roof is covered with sawn cedar shingles, wood ridge boards and decorative wood ridge finials. Six gable dormers enlarge the second storey living area, three on the rail side of the building and the other three facing the community. The two central dormers contain two single hung windows each, and the flanking dormers contain smaller double casement windows. The baggage/freight shed and waiting room on either side of the one and one-half storey central section is surmounted by a gable roof which is extended around the entire perimeter of the building to provide a shelter supported by large wood brackets. A semi-octagonal bay window is the only extension of the basic rectangular plan and is centrally located on the track side of the building, corresponding to the station office, below the exterior semaphore signaling device.

Stucco was applied in 1938 by the CNR over what was likely painted wood siding. Exterior details typical of railway stations appear to be complete, although their condition varies according to location. This is also true for first floor interior rooms as well as second floor private quarters.

Although construction materials and techniques are somewhat common, the building possesses a complete compliment of architectural features associated with the Standard Second Class Station (Plan #100-39) and should be preserved.

As previously reported, this resource is one of four remaining examples of a CNR Standard Second Class Station (Plan #100-39), on its original site. It is apparently also the most complete example of the group, with the most surviving original architectural features.

Some structural alterations have occurred over the years. Most have been by the railway company and have included:

" conversion in 1917 of the north end of the express room to an office space by replacing the sliding door with a passenger door and window;

" the addition of stucco to the exterior walls in 1938;
" installation of electricity in 1942;
" installation of insulation and plumbing in the 1950's;
" reconstruction of the exterior railway platform in 1989;
" renovation of the south baggage room with carpet, wall board and a dropped acoustic ceiling; and,
" modernization of the north waiting room in the 1970s by the Senior Citizens' Club.

Much of the original station is extant, including windows, doors and decorative walls. The condition of these components, however, varies according to location. A synopsis of the areas of concern are listed below.

" The cast-in-place concrete foundation appears to be in sound condition with no evidence of structural movement translating to the rigid stucco or plaster walls above. Some efflorescence was noted on the interior concrete walls but spalling so far, is not severe in this location. Watermarks from rising damp were observed on wood posts and periodic standing water was confirmed by the Northern Railway Society member. Chimney bases penetrate or est on the concrete floor slab and are of particular concern since the porous bricks are absorbing water and are spalling badly. In addition, the lime mortar between the bricks is deteriorating.

" The sawn cedar shingles on the roof were apparently installed in 1990 and were found to be generally in good condition. Areas on the west slope, where mature trees overhang the station, are remaining wet and moss is growing. Shingles are also starting to cup in these locations. Wood ridge boards are generally in poor condition and should be replaced. The station is presently without eavestroughs and leaders, however, this is apparently the next project for the Society.

" Mortar joints in the corbelled brick chimney have deteriorated and some bricks were found to be missing. Although flashing at the chimney/roof interfaces appear from the ground to be functioning, shingles are cupping in this area which may be a symptom of excessive moisture being trapped in this location.

" The condition of the doors, window sash, trim, jambs and sills vary, however, it appears as though those on the second floor have not been repaired as have the first floor units. Missing putty, rotted bottom rails and deteriorated paint finishes were observed.

This resource is a particularly important landmark for this region, especially given the fact that it is on its original site and is a part of a complex of structures that include ancillary station buildings, operating tracks (Alberta Prairie Excursions), grain elevators, vintage railway cars and the ruins of the CNR Roundhouse. This station is the southern terminal for Alberta Prairie Excursions which operates steam and diesel locomotive-powered passenger excursion trains from Stettler that carries 25,000 visitors per year.

As reported in previous sections, this CNR station is one of four Standard Second Class Stations on its original site between the railway tracks and Railway Avenue in Big Valley. The structure is a complimentary part of the downtown streetscape, but most importantly, is a critical component to the assembly of structures, ruins and features of this railway divisional point.


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
Provincial Historic Resource
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/09/12


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-1043
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