Home » Riding the Rails
In this guest post from Fort Edmonton Foundation, Historian Laureate, Tim Marriott recounts his travels as a child from Bonnyville, Alberta to Edmonton and, how importance the roles railways played in connecting rural Alberta with the rest of the province as well as highlight Tim’s passion for trains, train stations and history.
I remember very well my first trip by train, on the Railiner that ran from Bonnyville (where my family lived from the early ‘50s to the mid ‘60s) to Edmonton. My confirmation ceremony at church was coming up and I was in Grade 2 and seven years old. My mother said that I needed a suit and tie for the occasion, and that we would go to “the City” to get it.
It was the winter of 1962-63, and a cold and snowy one as I recall (my memory tells me that all the winters in those days were that way). My father, of course, had to work, my mother did not drive, and in those days the highway route was not direct, and roads were mostly gravel.
The train was the way to go.
The station (I think it was a “Class-3”) was an old looking structure on the north side of town; the train was a sleek, self-propelled single car. The station was white stucco, as were many CN stations.
As you can see in the photograph above, it was equipped with the necessary accoutrements of a rural station: a small platform, a baggage cart, the station identifying signboard, things one would be familiar with when walking past. The inside of the station was sparse and austere.
On board the car, however, was an aspect of the world I had never seen before: people I didn’t know from outside our town; plush seats; the conductor in uniform. I remember a laborious journey, with snow on the tracks. I particularly remember the extraordinary ice-cold water from a fountain from which I filled a succession of cone-shaped paper cups. I apparently could not get enough and drank continuously throughout the trip.
If the train was a new experience, the CN downtown station in Edmonton was another world altogether. Many remember the 1928 downtown station, its formal brick and stone exterior outshone by the gleaming stone finishing in the interior passenger hall. Stepping out of the station, a 7-year old country boy might have thought he had stepped onto another planet.
Two short blocks east of the station and one south was the Army and Navy store; a few blocks south and a block was the Woodward’s Department Store, with Eaton’s across the street; Zellers was kitty corner across 101 Street; the Hudson’s Bay store a block south and a block west on Jasper Avenue. As well, there were Edmonton only shops like Walk-Rite and Johnstone Walker (“Edmonton’s Own Store”). These BIG stores (certainly by Bonnyville standards) anchored and dominated streets of dozens of shops filled with shoppers, pedestrians, news vendors, and characters like Sam the popcorn man by the King Edward Hotel. I do not recall where in this whirlwind the suit was purchased (and did I look sharp!), but I still have the burgundy (clip-on) necktie!
That experience of being invited into another world, as a favoured guest, to a magical place filled with wonders and curios must be what the thousands upon thousands of visitors to Fort Edmonton Park have felt over the years. A few years ago, the downtown Edmonton train station was the gateway to a lifetime of fun, entertainment, and excitement.
The train and station at Fort Edmonton Park is the gate post to memories to be kept and treasured for a lifetime!
A very famous passenger (besides me) passed through the Edmonton CN station in 1959 (she also visited Fort Edmonton Park in 1978), who must have felt the same excitement as she contemplated the wonders of downtown Edmonton. I wonder if she drank as much ice-cold water as I did.
Yet another wonderful day at Fort Edmonton Park begins with waiting for the train.