The railway's arrival in Calgary in the 1880s ensured the frontier town a leading role in
the development of the Canadian West. But it was the huge infusion of faith and capital which the CPR brought to its most important
division point west of Winnipeg that transformed the city...
From Cowtown to Now Town
Jones - C&PA Montreal
The daily CPR passenger train from Winnipeg arrives in Calgary shortly after
regular service began in the fall of 1883 - 1884 Canadian Pacific Archives NS4811.
Stepping down from a varnished coach of the "Imperial Limited" on to the platform of
the sandstone station, one could hardly recall the bare prairie vistas that had filled the car windows for most of the previous day. It
was the summer of 1899 and the frontier community of Calgary had taken on a look of solidity. Where hastily assembled structures had once
maintained a tenuous foothold, elegant sandstone edifices now graced the bustling streets.
Not far to the east came the clatter of shunting rail cars in the new freight yard dubbed the West Calgary Shop, but known as the
"Mountain Shop" to those who prepared the trains for the assault on the great granite sentinels which dominated the western
And if you, hungry traveller, were to cock your head just right, you could discern the faint, but unmistakable ring of Mrs. Bowden's
When the CPR had arrived in 1883, Calgary had been designated as a way-station, with nothing more than the most basic facilities.
Though the town was on the "Calgary Section," the division points at either end of the section, where the railway had
constructed more extensive yards, were at Gleichen to the east and Canmore in the west.
But all that had changed in 1898, when Calgary's importance as a centre for the western livestock industry and the junction point between
the CPR and the recently completed Calgary & Edmonton Railway had become impossible to ignore.
The Crowfoot Section, named for the respected chief of the Blackfoot, was extended from Medicine Hat to Calgary, relegating Gleichen to
secondary status, while the Calgary Section continued on to Laggan (now Lake Louise), leaving Canmore to the same fate.
Passengers now alit at a thriving divisional point, complete with the extensive freight yards that its new designation called for, along
with the sure sign of prosperity, a brand new roundhouse and turntable. And right there, alongside the sandstone station, was Mrs.
Bowden's dining hall.
A party of colonists from Colorado arrive at Bassano, Alberta, to occupy their CPR
ready-made farms - March 1914 Canadian Pacific Archives NS13230.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the CPR had much to be thankful for. But there was one burning issue to resolve, land grants.
In agreements between the railway and the federal government, land grants had been restricted to areas deemed "fairly fit for
settlement," a stipulation that was becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil in the prairie sections of Palliser's Triangle.
The Triangle, taking in most of the lands in southern Alberta and extending into Saskatchewan, had been identified in the 1860s by a
group of surveyors led by John Palliser as a semi-arid region with questionable prospects for agricultural exploitation.
Two things saved the day: a large influx of American immigrants, anxious to take advantage of available lands in the "Last Best
West" and the introduction of irrigation to the area.
The centralization of Canadian Pacific's irrigation efforts in Calgary, in 1903, ensured the continued availability of land suitable for
settlement. The prosperity of many southern Alberta towns is a direct result of the decisions that were issued from that office.
Three blocks of land east of Calgary were divided into the Western, Central, and Eastern irrigation districts, each of which encompassed
about 400,000 hectares (one million acres) of land.
To irrigate some 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) in the Western District, water was diverted from the Bow River at Calgary and carried
southeast along a 27-kilometre (17-mile) canal to a natural reservoir. From there, the reservoir water was fed as required to a system of
canals hundreds of kilometres in combined length.
By the end of the decade, with more than two-thirds of the land in the Western District sold, the much more ambitious irrigation plan for
the Eastern Section was implemented. It, too, would ultimately bring life-giving water to an enormous area of farmland.
"Ours is neither a land nor a water-selling scheme," said a railway circular. "The CPR is spending millions of dollars on
this project purely and simply to build up the most prosperous agricultural community in America. This sounds like philanthropy but it
isn't. The railway wants a prosperous community in order to create the greatest possible volume of traffic."
Meanwhile in Calgary, the CPR was able to control townsite development by the imposition of strict guidelines for building in the various
neighborhoods which were laid out by railway draftsmen.
To the southwest were the residential districts of Sunalta and the more exclusive Mount Royal. On the bluffs above the north bank of the
Bow River was the working-class suburb of Bridgeland. And in the southeast quadrant, a huge industrial complex would soon emerge that
would solidify Calgary's position as the railway centre west of Winnipeg.
By 1907, the CPR was the largest employer in Calgary. Hundreds of cars were switched every day in the yard. Traffic was increasing with
each new settler that poured in from the United States and Eastern Canada.
That same year, in a letter to second vice-president William Whyte, CPR President Thomas Shaughnessy approved yet another new station to
reflect Calgary's rising prospects: "There can be little doubt that Calgary itself will continue to grow and that a building
which at this time would appear almost extravagant will in the not so remote future be quite warranted by the traffic."
Thus Shaughnessy brought in the company's own architect, Walter S. Painter, to design the four-storey building, with two wings half that
height, that would serve as the railway's Calgary headquarters until 1966 when it was torn down to make way for the Husky Tower and
Palliser Square complex.
CPR's fourth station at Calgary - circa 1914 Canadian Pacific Archives
By this time, it was clear that a major new investment in yard facilities and repair shops would
be required between Vancouver and Winnipeg. Several communities in southern Alberta vied for the honour, and the considerable revenue that
such a development would inevitably bring.
While for many reasons Calgary was the obvious choice, Medicine Hat held one key advantage: the presence, in large quantities, of
inexpensive, easily extracted natural gas. But, in 1910, with the completion of the Calgary Power Company's massive Horse Shoe Falls
project, power was no longer an issue, and the choice of Calgary was finalized.
At the eleventh hour, the secretary for the Town of Bassano's board of trade tried one last gambit. Bassano is willing to offer
"freedom of taxation for 25 years, together with any other reasonable concession," he said in a letter to Shaughnessy. "We
guarantee this location will be the best in the west by a dam site."
While it was true that Bassano had the "dam site" (it was at the centre of the Eastern District irrigation project), the
decision to locate in Calgary was, nevertheless, final.
In 1911, work began on a new yard and engine terminal at Alyth in southeastern Calgary, on land now occupied by the Alyth Diesel Shop.
When a new 36-stall roundhouse was completed, the older facilities at the West Calgary Shop and the Calgary & Edmonton Shop were
The following spring, ground was broken for the 86-hectare (213-acre) Ogden Shops, named for the railway's vice-president of finance and
accounting, and the oldest living officer of the company at the time.
The firm of Westinghouse, Church, Kerr, Company of New York and Montreal were retained to build the vast industrial complex, under the
supervision of CPR civil engineers J.G. Sullivan and N.E. Brooks.
A mere eleven and one-half months were required to erect the estimated 2 million kilogram (4.5 million pounds) of steel that went into the
The shops brought a new source of employment to the city, along with skilled laborers from as far away as Montreal's Angus Shops, a trend
which has continued into the 1990s. Calgary's population surpassed the 50,000 mark.
On 31 Dec 1912, the Calgary Municipal Railway inaugurated its new street railway line to Ogden by offering free rides to the construction
site and allowing workers to scout out the subdivisions which would soon see an incredible boom in housing construction.
The new shops alone were enough to expand both the prestige of the CPR and its power to shape Calgary's future. But more plans were in the
The CPR's Department of Natural Resources was set up in Calgary in 1912, primarily to develop coal mines on railway lands near Banff and
Lethbridge in Alberta and in the Kootenay district of B.C.
And just west of the CPR station and gardens, a new hotel was rising that would, in Shaughnessy's words, "be almost an essential link
in our mountain hotel system, if we are to avoid difficulties about accommodation in the hotels and on the trains that we experienced last
The Palliser Hotel, built to the drawing specifications of architect William Maxwell, was opened in May 1914. The hotel was an immediate
success, in part due to the decorative scheme created by Kate Reed, wife of the CPR's manager in chief of hotels, Hayter Reed, whose
treatments of the public rooms were said to render the place quite "homey."
The Canadian Pacific Railway station at Calgary with the Palliser Hotel in the
background - circa 1928 Canadian Pacific Archives NS22064.
In a wildly effusive letter to Shaughnessy from a group of prominent Calgary businessmen, among
them Pat Burns, the cattle and meat processing baron, the prevailing mood was put to words:
"We can hardly realize we are in a Calgary hotel," the message gushed. "The magnificence and splendor of the Palliser is
beyond the wildest dreams of the ever-optimists who came here thirty years ago."
Indeed, it had been 30 years of growth and mostly prosperity for both Calgary and the Canadian Pacific Railway. And it-was just the
Though Canadian Pacific's original contract to build the transcontinental line across Canada
gave the railway $25 million and 25 million acres of land (10 million hectares), deemed "fairly fit for settlement," much of the
land available to the railway was unfit for agricultural purposes without intensive irrigation. Townsite holdings, however, grew
increasingly in economic value, by virtue of the railway's central role in the development of many Western