The Canmore Connection

© David Watts



There’s a town in the Rockies on the CP line

Just east of the national park that grew from Siding Twenty-Nine

A green belt for golfers, and not so long ago

The place they dug the coal to makethe railway go:


 Canmore coal: north of Kananaskis

Canmore coal: from the Canmore mine

Canmore coal: that’s the grade you’re gittin’

If you want to fire an engine on the CP line.


There’s an engine by a Calgary lake that runs on coal no more

In CP lines and lettering: “Canmore Number 4”

A Caterpillar diesel in her firebox

She pulls the people ’round the track at Heritage Park:


Canmore Four: still workin’ on the railroad

Canmore Four: hear her diesel whine

The Canmore Goat: ’round the HP circle

Like she used to haul the coal to feed the CP line.



Notes on “The Canmore Connection”


1        “Siding Twenty-Nine” was CP’s original name for what is now Banff, Alberta. When thermal springs were found at the Cave and Basin on Sulphur Mountain, CP General Manager Van Horne arranged to have the surrounding territory deeded back to the Dominion of Canada (which had granted it to the Railway in the first place) to become Canada’s first national park.

Discovery of coal at Canmore led to its becoming the first major supplier to the Railway. CP originally made it a divisional point with roundhouse, shops and yard trackage for handling the hopper cars that were shipped throughout the system at a time when coal powered steam locomotives were the sole mode of propulsion.

With the later discovery of harder coal elsewhere on Company land (e.g., the Crowsnest Pass) and of oil at Turner Valley AB almost a century ago, Canmore lost its sole supplier status. After years as a dark, depressed and dying community, it experienced a rebirth as a green one on the fringe of Banff National Park and within commuting distance of Calgary.


1 ref  “Kananaskis” was an aboriginal name originally applied to a  lake and tributary of the Bow River. (Kananaskis waters, diverted, now enter the Bow through a steel conduit down the valley side to a hydro station now located in Canmore proper.

The original quote is from Van Horne himself: “Canmore coal is good enough for anyone who wants to fire on the CP…”

Canmore Number 4 was the last working steam locomotive in Alberta, operating into the early 1960s. With the creation of Calgary’s Heritage Park in 1963, it was picked up as a park exhibit, intended to haul passengers around the grounds in a string of three coaches from the Morrissey, Fernie and Michel Mine Railway in the Crows Nest Pass. However …


2        The founding Park planners decided it would be too costly to restore and operate the locomotive as a steam engine. They had the fire tubes—which would probably have to have been replaced anyway—removed from inside the boiler shell, and planned to install a Caterpillar diesel motor in the firebox, linked to the axel of the third pair of driving wheels with a huge bicycle-style chain. Originally there were plans to supplement this cosmetically with a steam generator to power the whistle and bleed vapour out the sides of the cylinders but in time that, too, proved to a point to economize.

The diesel motor that was ordered proved to be underpowered and, as a result, overheated. From the first day’s operation, smoke was pouring out of the boiler from places it should have been—even for a working steam engine—and the smoke box door had to be left open to provide additional ventilation.

A variety of measures was attempted to increase circulation within the boiler shell. Each made the shell look less like a boiler and the locomotive less like a steam engine. The smoke box door and plate surrounding it were set out from the front of the boiler with 10 inch bolts and the space created covered with screening to admit more air.

Then holes were cut in the steam and sand domes atop the boiler for the same purpose. These too were covered with wire mesh sprayed black, possibly to lead anyone who wasn’t look closely to believe this was a solid structure instead of the porous sieve it now had to be.

Increasing the number of holes in the shell and decreasing the number of railcars in tow and the possible installation of another fan finally stopped the smoking and made Canmore 4 functional—barely. But the damage was now irreversible and the mistake was admitted. There were nothing in sound or smell that could evoke a 1914 atmosphere for anyone visiting the park, except perhaps the clanging brass locomotive bell which functioned as it always had on compressed air.

Park management eventually found a matched pair of American Baldwin steam switchers, shipped them out to the Vancouver firm that serviced BCs “Royal Hudson” steam train. There they were tested and commissioned, were renumbered and had passenger type cowcatchers installed where their shutting buffer plates used to be and later auto-type headlights mounted atop the front of their smokeboxes. Not convincing in all respects, but they do run on, and smell of, steam.


2 ref  Meanwhile, the old Canmore No. 4 “goat” (that term refers to a yard engine or switcher rather than a road one) is used for switching in the down season and for weekend only operations in spring and fall when it would be costly in labour and fuel to maintain under pressure. It has since also discarded its authentic Canmore Mines lettering/numbering to don a CP number and diamond stack that’s even more incongruous.


Despite the criticism, I do retain some affection for the old goat in her Borg-like reconstruction as I hope will be apparent from the song! She served the Park with the limitations she was placed under, though she deserved better as Alberta last steam engine in regular mine operation.