A Tale of Royal Line

In the Fall of 2005, a few years after my parents had purchased the historic hamlet of Countess, I began seeking out more information around the history. A touch point at then was CPR to gain more information, and some was furnished by the corporate Historian, which follows:

The CPR Caboose getting ready to be moved home to Countess, AB

Before the Great Depression, immigrants and settlers flooded the
Prairies. CPR developed immigration and colonization programs, including
irrigating large portions of southern Alberta, setting up experimental
farms, and building ready-made farms in Alberta and Saskatchewan that
settlers could move right into and start cultivating. CPR also expanded
its hotel and resort chain and its fleet of Pacific Ocean ships. CPR
acquired a fleet of Atlantic Ocean steamships and ferries on both
coasts. CPR doubled its track mileage and double-tracked most of its
western main line. CPR was also locked in deadly competition on the
Prairies with Canada’s two other transcontinental railways – the
Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific – railways that eventually
went bankrupt and were rolled into the huge Canadian National Railways
supported by the public purse until the early 1990s.
CPR embarked on its major mainline double-tracking program on the
Prairies between 1911 and 1914. This is where Countess and its
importance comes into play.
Most double-tracking took place as track twinning, except through
Countess. CPR opted for a “kinder, gentler” route with better grades
west of Swift Current, Sask. The second mainline single track that
served as a double track in western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta
took a bit of a circle route. It branched off the original mainline
just west of Swift Current at Java, Sask., ran up to Westerham, Sask.,
skirting the Red Deer River into Alberta, at Empress, and back down to
the original mainline just east of Bassano, through Countess. CPR
twinned the first four-and-a-half miles of mainline east of Swift
Current. And then the second track diverged northwest at Java toward
Empress, Alta. The first 33 miles out of Java went into operation on
November 2, 1911. The small gap between Mile 33 and Cabri saw traffic on
June 25, 1912. The section between Cabri and Westerham, Sask., went into
operation on September 29, 1913. In the meantime, construction crews were
busy building northeast off of the CPR mainline at Bassano, Alta.,
through the “regal” communities of Countess, Duchess, Princess and
Majestic toward Empress and the Alta./Sask. border. This whole 126-mile
section was completed before World War I and put into operation, from
west of Countess right through to Empress and eight miles beyond across
the provincial border, on June 12, 1914. There was only a missing
16-mile link left to hook it up at Westerham with the secondary main
line out of Swift Current and Java. This went into operation on November
23, 1914.
Empress was the divisional point on this line. East of Empress to Java
(Swift Current) was called the Empress Subdivision. And west of Empress
to Bassano, through Countess, was called the Bassano Subdivision.
But the world changed after World War II. Passenger and small break-bulk
freight traffic went over the road. CPR dieselised its operations in the
1950s to cut operating costs. And CPR’s secondary main line through
Countess toward Empress and the Saskatchewan border became less vital.
CPR abandoned from Leader, Sask., to Empress, Alta., in 1990. And, in
December 1997, CPR closed down the 115.4-mile Empress to Bassano line
through Countess. Only a small stub of this former secondary main line
in Alberta exists today. It juts northeast from near Bassano pointing
toward the former hamlet of Countess and serves as a storage siding.
–Corporate Historian


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