Friday, August 11, 2017

Leavin' on a Steam Train & the Big Valley Roundhouse

Locomotive #41

I have been through these parts of Alberta several times. They are some of my favourite areas to explore. This time we took the train! The Alberta Prairie Railway Steam Train from Stettler to Big Valley to be exact. What a great trip! The gentle swaying motion of the cars, the sounds of the train as it clickety-clacks down the line at 18mph...I am pretty sure I traveled this way in another life. I loved it. If you ever have the opportunity to ride in an old passenger train...DO IT. It was a great way to spend the day with my family. The views from the train are ones you won't see by car, the entertainment is great and you might even get robbed by bandits.

Our 10 car train was lead by Locomotive #41. She was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1920 and served on the Mississippian Railroad from 1947-67. Central Western Railway brought her to Canada in 1989 and Alberta Prairie bought her in 1990. She was repainted to match the style used by the Canadian National Railway from 1920-60. In 1986 she was converted from coal to oil and currently consumes reclaimed oil. She uses 100 gallons of water for every mile traveled, or 10 gallons every 4 minutes. Wow!! It's quite literally a moving piece of history.

Old coal mine camp (as seen from the train)

Fenn: Population 3. Former General Store (as seen from the train)

Gadzooks! Train Robbers!

The trip from Stettler to Big Valley was about 1.5 hours. We then had 2 hours in Big Valley, after eating and looking in some shops, we spent the majority of the time at the roundhouse ruins. Climbing, looking, and exploring the concrete remains of this once great train hub.

The History:
Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) chose Big Valley to be one of it's divisional points, this shaped the future for Big Valley. In 1912 a second-class station was built as well as a 5 stall roundhouse, coal dock, turntable, storage sheds, water tank and more. 5 more stalls were added by 1918. The railway coming to Big Valley brought full time employment and made it a busy railway town. Sadly, the railway boom was not to last for Big Valley.

Canadian National acquired the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1923 and some facilities became redundant. Personnel from Big Valley were transferred to Mirror, AB (a former divisional point for the GTP). The Big Valley line became a branch line and traffic dropped dramatically, this was devastating for the town and the population declined quickly. The roundhouse was closed by 1948 and the station closed in 1967. The line was pulled up, except for the section that we traveled on of course.

Today the town has a population of 364, and has several great attractions. I will show you a few here but mostly I took photos of the Roundhouse site.

St. Edmund's Church (taken on a previous visit). Built in 1916.
It sits on a hill overlooking the town. You can't miss it. 

Restored grain elevator historic site, open for viewing.
(Photo taken on a previous visit)
Classic small town bank building.

McAlister Museum. Local artifacts, vehicles and machinery.
Sunfire not part of the collection. 

Now on to the roundhouse, get ready, there are a lot of pictures. I really like the roundhouse site. Also, it would be a neat place to take a drone.

Can you spot the guy that wouldn't get out of my shot? 

Grain elevator over the roundhouse wall.

The turntable. You spin me right round, baby right round like a record baby, right round round round. 

Boiler Room and Machine Shop


My kiddo doing stuff

The Pits. The others had been filled in.

I will be back in Big Valley soon to spend more time exploring the roundhouse. There are things I missed since we had a limited amount of time there.

References: History of the area from the Alberta Prairie Railway promotional material


  1. I really like the shade of blue on that building

    1. Thanks Adam! It's fantastic in person!!

  2. We did that train trip a few years ago and had a blast! And the BEST roast beef dinner I've had in a long time at the Big Valley legion hall! OMG it was good. You can't beat local church ladies for knowing how to cook for a crowd.

    1. Hi Debra.
      Agreed, the meal we had was awesome! It was a day to remember.

  3. What a nice visit! :) LOL at the "legs" that wouldn't get out of your shot! ha ha...I worked at CN for a year a long time ago...I never knew the history that you posted, thanks for that! :)

    1. Hi Rain! LOL I had to hide him behind the sign...he wasn't leaving. Glad to share some history!

  4. I have driven by the roundhouse a few times and never stopped. I will have to fix that.

    1. I didn't even stop at the roundhouse my first visit to Big Valley, now I always stop.

  5. This sounds like a great way to spend a day. I must try to get up there to check it out first hand.

    1. Hi Michael! It's worth a trip, Big Valley is a lovely area.
      I will now have to make a point to go see the Hanna roundhouse.

  6. Those train robbers...they're getting more and more brazen. And where's the law? No where to be seen. It's an epidemic I tell you...happened at Aspen Crossing too. Cost me two toonies, three quarters and dime!

    Haha! Nice stuff as always Jenn. Been a while since we rode that train...I think you're post will inspire us to pay them a revisit.

    1. It's a good thing Gabriel Dumont saved the day!
      I didn't take any photos of the train or station unfortunately. Other than #41.

  7. Super cool places Jenn. I myself have never explored up that way yet, but have been to the Big Valley Jamboree a few times years ago. Keith Urban yessss !

    1. Hi! The Big Valley area is a great area to explore! It's worth the trip...Keith Urban would also be worth the trip lol!