The C.P.R’s Suffield subdivision – Part One

Bridge over the Bow at Cecil along abandoned Suffield subdivision c.2004
Bridge across the Bow at Cecil along abandoned C.P.R. Suffield subdivision c. 2004

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, barely a week passed by without somebody floating another proposal for a railroad running from one far-flung corner of Alberta to another. While the vast majority remained dreams and schemes, by 1930 around a dozen of these subdivisions actually made it off the drawing board in southeastern Alberta. For a period of time, branch lines such as the Suffield subdivision–which upon completion stretched for 150 miles over some of the flattest, driest, most desolate prairie Alberta had to offer–served as lifelines to vast spreads of barren grassland that were (and in many cases still are) hardly fit for anything on two legs.

Rumours of a branch line running from Suffield on the Canadian Pacific mainline to various points westward persisted in the years following the opening of lands between Lethbridge and the Bow River for settlement. However, it wasn’t until construction on the Southern Alberta Land Company irrigation project was well underway that preliminary work on the Suffield line would begin. In November 1910, a report appeared in the Lethbridge Herald noting the initial survey of a rail line to run from Kipp, just west of Lethbridge, to Suffield through the soon-to-be-irrigated lands of the Southern Alberta Land Co. had just been completed.

Word of this survey prompted much boosting for a Lethbridge connection to the Suffield branch from a number parties, including the Lethbridge Board of Trade, and the long-suffering farmers of the Sundial, Barney and Alby districts north and east of Lethbridge, who at the time faced a 40-mile haul to the nearest grain handling facility.

Subsequent reports in November 1911 seemed to confirm that an agreement was in place between the Southern Alberta Co. and the C.P.R. to construct two new branch lines: One running from Shepard, just east of Calgary, to Medicine Hat; and another running from Kipp to Brooks.

Finally, in May of 1912, the C.P.R. would begin construction of the much-anticipated Suffield subdivision. Two crews were dispatched for the project, one working eastward from the Barney district (north of Taber), and the other westward from Suffield, with both to meet at a point along the Bow River before year’s end.

As work commenced, the Lethbridge Herald, together with the city’s Board of Trade, continued to boost the Kipp connection. In the fall of 1912, the Herald confidently proclaimed that the location of the western terminus of the Suffield line would be Kipp, and it would hook up with the C.P.R. spur line to the Chinook Collieries at Commerce north of Lethbridge.

Some in the public, still none-the-wiser about the C.P.R.’s actual plans, began engaging in land speculation along the proposed route of the Suffield-Kipp line.  The Southern Alberta Land Company, lending credence to the Kipp rumours, began promoting “150,000 acres of dry lands in an irrigated belt” for sale along with eight townsites along the “new Suffield-Kipp Branch of the C.P.R.”

Some hypothesized that the Kipp-Suffield line would become the southern branch of the proposed Hudson’s Bay Railway, which was projected to run north through Bow City and Brooks, on its way to Saskatoon.

Everyone involved seemed sold on the fact that a branch line from Suffield to Kipp was a given. All except the C.P.R. that is.

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