In my last entry I talked about the coming of the railway into the Prairie Provinces and the effect that had on settlement. As I was researching some of the small towns in Alberta for our presentation for Historic Calgary Week, “Wish you were here,” I discovered that the coming of the railway had a very profound effect on some settlements. In fact, the announcement of the route of the railway caused the denizens of quite a few towns to pack up and move, buildings and all.
One such town was Castor Alberta. It was started one mile from where it is now and was known as Williston. The site of the town was sold and homes and businesses were moved to the rail line. It’s new location at the railhead for the district east almost to the Saskatchewan border led to booming enterprise. A postcard which dates to around 1910-1914 says it all: “More business is done in Castor in one day sometimes than in Waterford in a week. It supplies a country one hundred miles east, forty miles south, twenty miles north and five west. More than Boston city?” Castor was the distribution centre for building materials for towns such as Coronation and Hanna. Sandstone was plentiful in the area and the town boasted many fine sandstone buildings.
National Hotel, Castor
Postcards from the Past, PC 488
Another town that moved was Wainwright. It started its life when an ex-policeman from Winnipeg, J. H. Dawson, invested $50,000 in land and other concerns in the area in 1906. He built a stable and a rooming house and soon other buildings sprang up. In 1908, however, the Grand Trunk Railway surveyed a town site 2 ½ miles west and named it Wainwright after William Wainwright, the second Vice President of the Company. The buildings were all moved to the new site, including the hotel which was pulled along the railway grade by a team of horses. By 1909 Wainwright was incorporated as a village. An indication of the effect the coming of the railway had on this little town, was that the first new building built was an Immigration Hall to handle the influx of settlers. You can see the old Wainwright Hotel at Heritage Park in Calgary.
Wainwright Hotel, Heritage Park
Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1289
Possibly the most famous town that moved was Bankhead. The town was founded in 1903 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, to provide homes for the miners who worked in the nearby Pacific Coal mines. C.P.R. needed coal from the area to drive its steam locomotives but the coal was of an inferior quality and the mines were wracked by labour unrest. They closed in 1922 and many of the residents chose to move, house and all, to Banff, seven kilometers down the road. What was left behind is still visited by tourists who want to see the remains of the most famous “Town that moved”.
Bankhead Coal Mines
Postcards from the Past, PC 1348
Information on these and many other towns in Alberta can be found in the library. The Community Heritage and Family History collection houses a vast collection of local histories, but copies can often be found in the borrowing collection as well. And if you'd like to see pictures of these towns, you can access them through the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library by clicking on the link in the left hand column of this page.