Calgary, looking along Memorial Drive, showing the new, modern LRT
What do the Avro Arrow, the Canadian Pacific Railway, Pearson Airport and the C-Train have in common? They are all on the list of 10 Triumphs of Canadian Transportation as chosen by the Transport Association of Canada in honour of its 100th anniversary. At least two of the above are resounding successes (sorry Pearson) and both the Railway and the C-Train have had a huge impact on our city.
The coming of the railway to Calgary is a pivotal point in the city’s history. Becoming the hub of the rail system west of Winnipeg insured that Calgary would be a “big city”. It was the starting point for settlement and was also the place where those settlers came to pick up their goods and machinery and deliver their products. This started the first of the city’s great population booms. Without the railway, we would not be the city we are today. The railway was so important to the people settled around what would become Calgary that when the location of the station was announced, folks packed up their homes and moved them to be closer to what was going to be the centre of the town.
The Imperial Limited arriving at Calgary
The C-Train also changed the landscape of our city. I remember when we got around the city on electric trolley buses. While great, they did not allow for rapid movement so commutes could be nightmarish (especially in the winter, when the slip-sliding trolleys would lose their contact with the overhead lines on a frighteningly regular basis). We became a city of cars, but not, sadly, of roads that could handle them. Rush hour was sometimes traumatizing – more than once a commuter, trapped in his or her vehicle in unmoving traffic, leapt from their car in a claustrophobic panic. The coming of the C-Train, fraught as it was with conflict, allowed us to move further and further away from the core (for good or ill) and has allowed the city to grow to over a million people. The C-Train just came to my neighbourhood and I am in total agreement with the Transport Association of Canada that it is a triumph (but that’s just my personal opinion)
Streetcar accident at the corner of 14th St and 17th Ave SW, 1919
The Community Heritage and Family History department has a lovely collection of early transportation images online as well as an outstanding collection of books and other documents about the history of both the railway and the transit system in Calgary. One of the newest books we have on how the railway could have shaped Calgary, had we followed their plan, is Development Derailed by Max Foran. Copies are available in the Local History room as well as in the general collection.