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Photo: The Crowsnest Historical Society and Crowsnest Museum & Archives

ROCKY MOUNTAIN RAIL ROAD

In the 1880s, Western Canada could have become a part of the United States.

Due to the topography in British Columbia and parts of Alberta, the provinces were cut-off from the rest of Canada – which was already connected by rail in many directions, and as a result, the West had closer ties with the United States than with its own country.

In an effort to ensure the natural resources of the West were shared with the rest of Canada, the Federal government and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) initiated a railway line build through Crowsnest Pass, and worked to ensure that railway traffic did not go to the Great Northern Railway, located just south of the international border.

Funding and economics would not allow for any new rail lines to be built until 1893 when CPR leased the Dunmore-to-Lethbridge narrow gauge line, protected the eastern flank of the route 5, and later acquired control of what would become the first 173 km of the Crowsnest line.

In 1897, the Crowsnest Pass Act was approved by parliament and a formal contract between the government and the CPR was signed to construct a line from Lethbridge through the Crowsnest Pass and on to Nelson.

CPR faced labour issues, the Frank Slide, and other delays during construction, but the Crowsnest line soon became a major route hauling in freight and supplies, and sending out coal, coke, timber, minerals and ore to Eastern Canada.

The line was completed to Kootenay Landing (BC) west of Lethbridge, and a steamer service on Kootenay Lake enabled passengers and freight to travel to Nelson and beyond.

The “Golden Years” for Western Canada (1898 to mid-1914) saw an increase in immigration, innovation in farming techniques and further development of agriculture, which in turn increased the use of the Crowsnest Line, and set the stage for other lines to be developed

Farms and orchards which began to crop up around settlements like Nelson and Creston were able to transport their yields for resale.

A resurgence in coal mining spurred on a total redevelopment of the Crowsnest railway line, and by the late 1990s, the entire line had been completely rebuilt. Today, the Crowsnest line continues to connect industries and communities.

The Canadian Pacific Railway’s expansion across Canada went hand-in-hand with the development of resource-driven towns, including Blairmore, Hillcrest and Frank. Newly built industrial projects (sawmills and coalmine) served as economic engines for the towns.

Completed more than a century ago, the Canadian Pacific Railway line completely redefined life on the Prairies because it allowed much easier access to Alberta and British Columbia from the rest of Canada, and enabled improved trade and personal mobility.

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