18” x 24”, Acrylic on Wood Panel, 2007
Doug Phillips Collection
Text by Doug Phillips
Calgary May 2007
For me, July 1955 was to be the last great summer for watching passenger trains on the Canadian Pacific mainline on the
prairies. What I did not know then I was watching what was to be a slow beginning of an end to a way of life that would in a
generation end forever. The time is 08:35, a summer’s day at mile 102.4 on the CPR’s Broadview, Subdivision. The train is
eastbound No 54, the “Broadview-Brandon Local”.
In 1882 on the new Canadian Pacific Railway, the track laying season began just west of Oak Lake, NWT, now Manitoba.
Those same rails would pass through this location on June 29, 1882 and the site would be first named ‘siding number 7’.
The name Wapella has been found to have various meanings, “water underground” and “gently falling snow”. It would
appear that “gently falling snow” is more likely as “wape” means “to snow” in the Dakota language group, as this would
seem to be consistent with the dominant Indian dialects in the Wapella district.
The station structure, the second for the town, opened in 1905, replacing a Van Horne designed type structure, built in 1883.
CPR records indicate 1905 was date of construction, and plans for the station were drawn-up in 1904 at the office of Chief
Engineer, Western Lines, Winnipeg. The building is very similar to the 1899 field stone structure at Virden, Manitoba
designed by the famous Canadian railroad architect William Pratt. The station would be improved upon again in 1940. In
July of 1955 the station was 50 years old, and it was in its ‘Jubilee’ year.
Station Agents over the years were: Mr. Benoit (1883), Mr. Chas. Williams, Mr. S.W. Hooper, Mr. F. Mc Alpine, Mr. Mc Laren,
Mr. Wilson, Mr. Don Black, Mr. Jack Corbett and Mr. E. Gatey. The station telegraph call signal was “WA”.
In 1907, my great uncle, Robert Winters started work here as a caretaker and would later retire as station agent at Provost,
Alberta in the mid 1950’s.
The milk and cream cans were regulars on the trip to Brandon and return on Trains Nos. 53 and 54, as many of the farms in
the area were mixed farms, including my uncles’ located seven miles south of town. My grandmother’s house was located a
few blocks east of the station on South Railway Street. Many other express items would come by way of this train, usually
ordered through the catalogue and of all the trains passing through town this one was my favorite. Another counterpart ran
west of Broadview to Regina and a third Regina to Moose Jaw.
The empty cans standing on the platform are from the previous evening, waiting for the various owners to retrieve them. The
agent loads the last of the loaded milk cans into the express car. A postal employee from the mail car walks down the far
end of the platform to retrieve mail from one of the two post boxes located on the front wall of the station. One was lettered
‘For the West’ the other was lettered ‘For the East’. Later, after the train had departed, the train courier from the post office
would arrive to pick up any mail left for the town and district. It was an important part of the mail service, and he could be
seen going back and forth twice a day, six days a week between the post office and train, pushing his mail cart.
In 1905 Saskatchewan became a province. Wapella was no longer in the District of Assiniboia, North West Territories, but in
the new Province of Saskatchewan. 1955 was the province’s ‘Jubilee’ year and the town’s population at this time was
approximately 675 and would have reached its zenith.
The locomotive 2911 was built by the Canadian Locomotive Company, Kingston Ont., the second in an order of 20 (2910-
2929) 4-4-4 type steam locomotives named “Jubilee’s” in honor of the 50th year (1936) of the inauguration of Canadian
Pacific Railway transcontinental service. Designated class F1a, these small engines were designed by H.B. Bowen and built in
1937. The fast, local intercity services for which they were designed for never materialized and 15 were assigned to
secondary local passenger service on the prairies. However, one assignment, to the west of Wapella, the Regina-Moose Jaw
‘local’ train, called for the 16.4 km (10.2miles) between Pasqua and Bella Plaine, Sask., to be effected in ten minutes, an
average start-to-stop speed in excess of 98 km (61 mph). This was, for some time in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the
fastest scheduled speed attained by a Canadian passenger train. The trip on No 54 to Brandon would have similar fast starts
Engine Number 2911 was retired from service and scrapped at Winnipeg, May of 1957. It and engine 2910 were of the last
locomotives assigned to this train.
In the summer of 1955, ten passenger trains passed through Wapella during a week day, five trains in either direction, but
only three, in each direction would stop.
02:29 eastbound No 18 carrying express and mail (old No 2).
03:00 westbound No 1 “The Canadian”, no stop
03:51 westbound No 17 carrying express and mail (old No 1).
06:55 eastbound No 2 “The Canadian”, no stop
08:32 eastbound No 54 The Broadview-Brandon “Local”, daily except Sunday
12:35 eastbound No 6 (known locally as “The Advanced Dominion”), no stop
13:18 eastbound No 8 “The Dominion” stops to detrain from Regina and west and entrain for Winnipeg and east
15:00 westbound No 5 (known locally as “The Advanced Dominion”), no stop
15:52 westbound No 7 “The Dominion” stops to entrain revenue passengers for Regina and west and to detrain
revenue passengers from Winnipeg and east
19:34 westbound No 53 The Brandon-Broadview “Local”, daily except Sunday
The train order signal displays rule 401A ‘Stop for Orders’ (form19 R train order) for westbound trains, indicating a restriction
order is in place to the next train for the west. The other signal, for eastbound trains, displays a caution signal for 19 Y
orders, already delivered to Train 54, Engine 2911, on its arrival at the station.
The “Local”, No 54, was discontinued on February 4, 1956. It was considered by most to be an institution on the main line
west of Brandon going back to the 1890’s. The last train crew member’s were: conductor Maurice Long, engineer Park,
trainman G. Farrar and fireman G. Wylie. The express messenger was Mr. M. J. McKinnon. Another fireman who would have
worked this train from time to time would be none other than Lawrence Stuckey, western Canadian rail photographer from
Mail and express service on the subdivision was replaced by Trains 17-18 and 5-6. Trains 5-6 were Toronto-Vancouver in
summer months and Toronto-Calgary in winter. This train would be discontinued September 1960. No 17 and 18 would be
replaced in the fall of 1956 with Moose Jaw -Winnipeg over night Trains 43 and 44, only to be discontinued in June of 1960.
The water tank and pump house, built just prior to the completion of construction of the station, were both removed in the
summer of 1962. The position of the ball on top of the tank indicates the amount of water in the tank.
Wapella had what was called in railway terms lap sidings. Here two sidings existed, one on the south side of the main track
(68 cars) and one on the north side (82 cars), but the west and east ends of the two sidings overlapped each other allowing
for three way train meets. This unusual arrangement was necessary due to the amount of freight and passenger train traffic
on the single track portion of the Broadview Subdivision between Virden, Manitoba (mile 47.2) and Whitewood, Saskatchewan
(mile 116.5). Initially the only other such siding arrangement like this was at Elkhorn Man. (mile 64.1). Later Red Jacket,
Moosomin, Fleming and Hargrave would have the sidings as well on this 69 mile stretch. The CPR main line between Port
Arthur (Current River Ont.) and Swift Current Sask. (Java) was all two main tracks, except for these 69.3 miles on the
Broadview Sub. Signal protection between Virden and Whitewood was with absolute permissive block signals (A.P.B.) more
commonly referred to in the rule book as Automatic Block Signals (ABS). This system was put in placed in the summer of
1927 and remained until replaced in the late summer of 1966 by Centralized Traffic Control (CTC). This would mark the end
of the semaphore block signals on this portion of the main line. CTC would see the remaining two main tracks reduced to
single track and elimination of the unique lap sidings.
CTC would also be the end to train orders on this subdivision and the train order board, as well as the north siding were
removed as new longer sidings with powered switches were constructed out side of town. However the station agency would
remain until 1971 with the introduction of a customer service centre in Brandon, Manitoba. By now the role the railways had
once played within the small prairie towns and centers had been greatly changed. As passengers, mail and express traffic
were all diverted and disappearing to the road systems developed and paid for by the governments, the railway now looked
to its new role of moving grain and coal in single or solid bulk commodities and other types of traffic through inter-modal
and containerization, all being handled in dedicated trains.
Mergers and centralization of grain elevators would parallel this new vogue in transportation on the prairies. The Lake of the
Woods grain elevator would be sold to Saskatchewan Pool as No. 872 and in 1966 the structure was relocated to the east
end of the station grounds as an annex to the Saskatchewan Pool No. 104. Both would be torn down in the late 1980’s. The
National Elevator, formerly the Northern Elevator was sold to Cargill and the Consolidated, acquired by United Grain Growers
(UGG) would also be removed. Only the Cargill structure would remain, but under private ownership. Today large high-
through-put style grain elevators stand at Moosomin and Whitewood replacing all the smaller facilities now closed or
Until the late 1950’s, each Monday a stock car was spotted by the way freight at the small stock yard located just west of the
Lake of the Wood’s elevator. All cars billed to and from this station would be given station number 5630. Periodically a tank
car would be spotted at the Esso agency for bulk fuel oil and a car of coal at one of the coal storage shed locations until a
natural gas pipe line was constructed in town in the 1960’s.
The last regular passenger train, VIA Rail No 2, “The Canadian” passed through the town of Wapella in January of 1990. The
last scheduled passenger train to have stopped was the “Dominion”, discontinued in January of 1966.
In 1972 the station building is sold and removed and the 100 lb jointed rail was replaced with 115 lb Continuous Welded Rail
(CWR). With removal of the station structure a station name sign was placed at mile 102.5, the half way point between
switches and 102 and a half miles west of Brandon.
Summer of 1999 the two main track switches to the siding and elevator tracks at either end of Wapella were removed as the
last rail customer Cargill Grain had stopped shipping its products by rail and the structure was sold. With the issue of
employee time table number 21 on, Friday, November 01, 2002, the name Wapella was removed as a station name forever.
The kid, in red shirt, on the platform would later work almost 36 years with the railway, retiring in 2006.
Today – gone are the passenger trains, gone is the water tank, gone is the station and gone are the grain elevators. Pretty
much everything in this picture has disappeared some 50 years later, except the main track, the young lad, now much older,
and ‘one’ of those cream cans! The memory remains, and this painting “Wapella Jubilee”.
Copyright © 2005-2013 David A. Oram