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When the Steel Went Through
Calgary and Edmonton Railway, 1890-91


THE NEW YEAR at the ranch began with temperatures well below zero. Consequently I did not stir far from the house for the first week or two. But after that, it was fairly mild for the rest of the winter, and I was able to go farther afield in comfort.

I spent some time going with Bryce Wright to the foothills, and cutting down trees for fence posts; afterwards hauling these to the ranch. John Turner stayed at the ranch and looked after it while we were away. I helped also on other jobs, and altogether had a pleasant time.

Toward spring, however, I moved to Calgary in order to be on the spot when word should come telling me to report for duty on the location of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway.

I put up at the Royal Hotel, which was owned and run by James Reilly "the people's James". There, I made the acquaintance of quite a number of people who were boarding at this hotel. Among these, were Col. Wainwright and his two attractive daughters. One of these ladies afterwards was married to Thomas Stone; and the other later became Mrs. Dudley Rickards.

I recall, too, meeting then for the first time, Dr. Lafferty who was at that time Mayor of Calgary; William Pearce, Inspector of Mines; Dr. H. B. Mackid; and his young son, Stewart Mackid, now one of the leading surgeons in Calgary.

The project of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway included a line from Calgary to MacLeod, as well as the one from Calgary to Edmonton. And James Ross, who was still engaged in finishing the construction of the railway from Regina to Prince Albert, had also undertaken the construction of the C. & E. Rly.; and Holt, Mackenzie, and Mann, were his associates on this work too.

Individually, each of these four was prominent among the railway contractors of the day; and thus associated, they might well be referred to as the Big Four in railway promotion and construction.

One day, about the middle of April, I happened to be engaged in a game of billiards at the hotel, when I received a telegram telling me that a camp outfit was on the way from Regina to Calgary, and that I was to take charge of it on its arrival. I at once put away my billiard cue, and hurried to the station to find out when the outfit was due to arrive.

It arrived that evening. It consisted of tents and full equipment of wagons and mules; and was accompanied by Jack Lee, who had been one of the teamsters on our locating party the year before. He promptly got the outfit unloaded, and the mules stabled in Bain's stable.

Stewart, who held the position of Chief Locating Engineer, arrived the following morning, and I learned from him that he was putting two parties in the field: one to locate the line from Calgary to Red Deer; and the other to locate from Red Deer to Edmonton. I was to have charge of the former party; and M. MacLeod was to have charge of the latter. I learned, too, that Lumsden would be the Inspecting Engineer for the government.

I spent a few days looking over the ground with Stewart until the members of my party arrived; and as soon as I got them together I started locating up the Nose Creek valley on the north side of the Bow River.

I was highly pleased to have my old friend Mather as transitman on my party. I had not, however, met the leveller before. I remember well his appearance and genial personality, and still retain pleasant recollections of our fellowship on that work. But I never heard what became of him afterwards; and his name has completely slipped my memory. So, much to my regret, I can only speak of him now simply as the leveller.

The other members of the party were: Cameron, rodman; Symonds and Norquay, picketmen; Simon and Bell, chainmen; Lee, Hall, Forrest, and Bliss, teamsters; and the axeman and cook, whose names I do not recall.

Mather had gone in for photography as a hobby, and he took some interesting photographs of our camp, and of the members of the party, which vividly recall the appearance of each individual.

The party proved to be an excellent one. Each one knew his job, and did it well. All were keen to do their best. So, with such a party it did not take long some eighteen days to get to Red Deer, and connect with MacLeod's line there. We then moved back to Calgary and started locating the south branch to MacLeod.

Work on this location went on as smoothly as on the north branch. We had, however, a unique experience after we had passed High River. We found ourselves in a district that had been burned over by a prairie fire; and we happened by that time to have run out of stakes for marking the location line.

But our axeman, whose duty it was to make stakes, was resourceful; and he collected a lot of buffalo bones which were strewn all over the prairie, and used these for stakes. The line thus marked by these bleached bones, showed up like a white streak on the blackened prairie. It was so prominent and well defined, that Mather and the leveller facetiously dubbed it "Bone's Line".

When we had finished this location, Stewart and Sykes came to our camp, just outside of MacLeod, and spent the night with us. Stewart then told me that I was now to take charge of the draughting office in Calgary, and prepare the necessary plans for construction; and Sykes was to revise the location back to Calgary. This was the usual procedure in connection with locations. Locations made by one engineer were generally revised by another. And revision of locations was Sykes' specialty.

So I turned over the party to Sykes the following day, and drove back to Calgary with Stewart.

I opened an office in Calgary in a small building on the north side of Eighth Avenue, between Centre Street and First Street West. Jack Innes was my draughtsman. Besides being a good draughtsman he was also a good artist; and in after years became well known for his pictures of western, and cow-boy life. Bemster, a Dominion Land Surveyor, was also in the office, preparing plans and descriptions of lands required for right of way.

About the middle of July, Sykes' party arrived back in Calgary; and some of the men like sailors when they reach port had to have a blow-out. The camp was consequently practically deserted; and the job of rounding up the absentees was placed on Bill Bliss.

He told me afterwards some of his experiences on that job. One of these was in connection with Cameron, one of the missing men. He had managed to get hold of Cameron, and got him to consent to go back to camp with him. Cameron, however, asked Bliss to first come with him round a block, and he would show him where he had found Bell another of the missing ones. So he took Bliss round to a vacant corner on which an excavation for a cellar had been made. Pointing to that hole in the ground, Cameron said: "It was in that hole that I found Bell."

"But how did you come to find him there?" asked Bliss.

"I was taking a short cut across the corner, and fell in; and found Bell asleep in the hole."

Cameron evidently could appreciate a joke against himself birds of a feather flocking together.

Bliss finally got the missing men all back to camp. And Sykes proceeded north, revising the location.

Calgary people were much interested about this time, in watching Marriagi well-known restaurant proprietor roast a steer on a spit in an excavation for the basement of a new building, which the Hudson's Bay Company was going to build. This roasted steer was for a barbecue which was to form part of the ceremony of turning the first sod in the construction of the railway.

The ceremony was performed by the Honourable Edgar Dewdney, Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories. It did not need much physical exertion on his part, to do this. He simply took his place between the handles of a wheelbarrow, in which a few sods had been placed; and on a given signal, he took hold of the handles, and dumped out the sods.

The Rev. Leonard Gaetz, pioneer settler of Red Deer, then made an eloquent oration, in which he presented a glowing picture of the prosperity which was bound to follow the completion of this connecting link with the north. In this, he but voiced the mind of the assembled crowd; for all had visions of untold wealth to come through the building of the railway.

Ross, too, made a speech; but public speaking was not his strong point. He lacked a good carrying voice; and the only words I could catch were: "Land Grant".

This ceremony took place in East Calgary, near the junction of the C. & E. Rly. with the C.P.R. It was a gala day for Calgary; and the people ate and drank their fill.

Following this ceremony, construction headquarters and material yards were established at the junction; and I took up my quarters there. I was to have charge of the bridges to be built.

The first of these was the bridge over the Bow River. It was to be a truss bridge, of two spans of 150 feet each. But to avoid delay in track-laying, a temporary pile bridge was first to be built, over which the track-laying cars, which were expected soon from Regina, could pass on their arrival, to the north side of the river.

Work on this temporary bridge was started about the middle of August; with Weller as head foreman in charge of the pile drivers and the bridge carpenters.

I had, as rodman for a few days, P. C. B. Hervey one of the old-time residents of Calgary, still to the fore. I have a rather hazy recollection of his having narrowly escaped a cold dip in the river; and of seeing him, on that occasion, clinging to a pile for a time until rescued.

By the time the track-layers arrived, the bridge had been completed; and their cars identified by the name "James Ross" prominently painted on them crossed to the north side of the river. The road-bed there had also been completed by Joe Laidlaw, one of the grading contractors. So track-laying got under way without delay.

Neilson, too, arrived about this time to take up his duties as Chief Engineer on construction. I got to know him well; and our intimacy developed into real friendship.

Sykes had now finished revising the location, and his party was disbanded. The members, however, were given work on construction. Mather and the leveller were each put in charge of a section; and Bill Bliss was sent to me as rodman.

The bridge work was not being done by contract.

Weller and bridge crews were employed directly by James Ross just as I was. So that simplified matters in connection with my camp. Weller's camp and mine were combined in one. I had a tent for Bliss and myself; and we had our meals in Weller's dining-tent. Thus I was always in close touch with the bridge crew.

The bridges between Calgary and Red Deer were, for the most part, small. So the work progressed quite rapidly. We moved to Red Deer toward the latter part of November, just as winter was setting in; and immediately started work on the bridge over the Red Deer River. The track got there a day or two later.

The bridge was on the same plan as the one over the Bow River, two Howe-truss spans of 150 feet each; and the framing and erection of these was to be our work for the winter.

We had comfortable quarters in a box-car, and the winter passed very pleasantly. In the evenings we generally had some game of cards, or checkers, to while away the time. Whist, however, was our favourite game. We got news, from time to time, of the doings in Calgary. One item which caused considerable excitement, was the news that James Reilly had beaten Dr. Lafferty in the election contest for mayor of Calgary.

The weather all through December was mild. There were a few cold dips in January, but, on the whole, mild weather was prevalent during that month too; and by the end of the month the bridge had been completed.

We then set out for Calgary; some by hand-car, and others by wagon. I was one of those who travelled by wagon. The weather was fine, with clear bright sunshine, and the road free from snow. The crew kept singing cheerfully on the way; and this contributed greatly to the enjoyment of the journey.

We made the trip 100 miles in two days and a half; and after we had our camp established at construction headquarters, we started work on the permanent truss bridge over the Bow.

When we were building this bridge, a General Election for the Dominion Parliament took place, which created a diversion by giving us something quite different to think about, and take part in.

Alberta at that time was not a province, but simply a constituency of the North West Territories, entitled to elect one member to the Dominion Parliament.

D. W. Davis of MacLeod who had been the member in the former parliament and Mayor Reilly of Calgary, were the candidates in this election. Both ran as Conservatives. Reilly laid some claim to be an orator; but Davis had no such pretensions. He, however, beat Reilly; and so became, for the second time, the representative at Ottawa for the Constituency of Alberta.

I have not yet made any mention of A. P. Patrick, a Veteran of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870. He had been a pioneer of the west for a number of years by the time I first reached Calgary. I did not, however, meet him then, and I can't say just when I did meet him for the first time; but I think it was when the C. & E. Rly. was being built. And now, at an age well over ninety, he is still carrying on his business in Calgary, as a Dominion Land Surveyor.

Toward the end of March, I had disquieting news of my father. Bryce Wright had just returned from a visit to Scotland, in connection with the settlement of the estate of his brother James, who had died but a short time before. He brought me word that my father had had a stroke, and was longing to see me.

That gave me much to think about. I had intended, in any case, to visit him on the completion of the rail-
way; but the more I thought over the matter, the more it seemed to me that it was my duty not to delay my visit till then.

However, I continued looking after the erection of the Bow River bridge until it was completed. And when track-laying started again, I went to Red Deer on the first train going there, since the closing down for the winter.

I continued on the bridge work as far as Blindman; but there I finally decided to tender my resignation, and pay my visit to my father. It would be about the middle of May when I gave up my position.


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