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End of the Line
Guest post from Fort Edmonton Foundation, Historian Laureate, Tim Marriott
The “End of the Line” of the White Pass and Yukon Railway in Skagway, Alaska
Our lives are circumscribed by lines. We are bounded by lines and directed by lines. We stand in line, and, in argument, we draw a line. In advertising we are fed a line. An actor wants to know “what’s my line. In the world of railways, when we arrive at the “End of the Line”, we are at a place that marks the end of steel, the place where the tracks run out. We are at the point of division where the settled world is behind us, and Terra Incognita is before us. In the case of Edmonton’s railway history, it was not just at the end of the line, but was actually beyond the end of the line, way out there in the forest primeval. The tracks ended at today’s Saskatchewan Drive, which was an industrial spur north of the yard and station, the river and the deep river valley separating the end of steel from the straggling cluster of shacks that on the north side comprised the place known as “Edmonton” on the early maps of the time.
Edmonton’s first railway, the Calgary-Edmonton Railway, had a plan to deal with this engineering difficulty. Their plan was to stop there.
Although trains are very beautiful things, railway companies are businesses. It is not the business of businesses to fulfil the grand plans on unincorporated settlements with an uninsured future, as was definitely the case for the Edmonton Settlement in 1891. The Calgary and Edmonton Railway was a business. The C and E, which did not actually start in Calgary, but rather in Fort Macleod, planned that instead of ending in Edmonton, they would stay on the south side and become Edmonton!
In the June 13, 1891, edition of the Edmonton Bulletin, it was reported that the tracks of the C and E railway had reached north of the Battle River, and the grade had been levelled to near modern Leduc (“this side of Telford’s Stopping Place”), only 18 miles from Edmonton. Edmontonians, which had been denied being on the transcontinental route of the Canadian Pacific Railway a decade earlier, were excited that they would finally have a rail connection, and that the world would soon be steaming into Edmonton. The C and E was not being on the ‘main line” which status had been stolen from them when the Pacific railway project was moved south and made that obscure North West Mounted Police Post, Fort Calgary, the important rail centre in what was to become the had Province of Alberta, but it had potential.
But, in the Bulletin though the summer carried some disturbing news. In the July 11 edition, it reported that the “northern terminus” of the line had been decided,” …on the very brink of the valley of the Saskatchewan river, about 300 feet above and about as many yards back from the water’s edge…”. The Bulletin then goes into detail about some of the construction methods for moving the earth dug up from the construction. There is no mention of a bridge.
The next edition of the Bulletin on July 18 notes that the railway is surveying a town site on the south side, creating a business district around the station, which was to be located at modern Whyte Avenue and 103 street, Gateway Boulevard. The Bulletin then goes on to argue that even with this development. the historical importance of Edmonton, and the fact that most of the people live on the north side, and most of the business is there also, means that Edmonton will survive.
The Bulletin’s optimism not withstanding, it is a blow to Edmonton’s aspirations to be beyond the “end of the line”. There is no doubt that there is a surge of interest in buying lots in the new town site; being “near the station” is a key business advantage, certainly. Although the Bulletin suggests that Edmonton will survive, even prospe, with all the new business the railway will bring to the district, it warns its fellow Edmontonians that they must not adopt a “do nothing” attitude. Edmontonians must be vigilant that “public offices” and public works are not moved to the south side. The paper advises Edmontonians that they must excel in everything they do, to guard against a gardula movement to the south side of important institutions.
A decade later, Edmontonians who “excel” in innovation bring the railway tracks to the north side, over a bridge which is only built because north siders jealouly guard their belief in the future of Edmonton proper.
THAT is another story!