By Frank Bucholtz/Special at Aldergrove Star
Transportation corridors are essential elements for the movement of goods and people, and play an important role in shaping communities.
In the case of Aldergrove, the most important transport corridor during the early years of the 20th century was the railway.
This may come as a surprise to many current residents, as there is hardly any trace of a railway line today, apart from a few street names – notably Station Road.
The rail line, which operated in Aldergrove from 1909 to 1929, was the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern (VV&E), a British Columbia branch of the Great Northern Railway, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and operated by James J Hill, a Canadian expat who has played a key role in transportation in Western Canada and the Western United States for over 50 years.
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He was one of the most important businessmen in the United States, due to his control over many key railroads – which played an outsized role in the economy at a time when other ground transportation was at the forefront. better primitive and non-existent air transport.
Why did he set his sights on the Fraser Valley in British Columbia?
It was just a small part of a much larger idea: to connect the important mines of the Kootenay region to the coast of British Columbia, as well as to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and to the mining center of Spokane.
There was also an element of revenge.
Hill had been an early partner in the Canadian Pacific Railway, but left the company when its general manager, William Van Horne, insisted on an all-Canadian route between Ontario and the western provinces.
Hill had lobbied for the CPR to link up with his Minnesota railroads and reach Winnipeg through the United States.
Van Horne became CPR president in 1888, and he and Hill fought for control of various routes for the next 20 years or so.
While the battle was about money, there was also a strong personal element.
Hill’s Great Northern had reached the West Coast in 1893 and played a huge role in Seattle’s development.
He also passed through Spokane, which was already a bustling mining center thanks to rich ore discoveries in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene region and the Kootenays.
When the CPR proposed building a railroad connecting the Kootenays to Vancouver, Hill retaliated with a plan to shift traffic between the Kootenays and the West Coast through the VV&E and a Washington State affiliate, the Washington and Great Northern.
His rail line ran back and forth across the Canada-US border, something Hill barely paid attention to.
He was an early proponent of free trade and believed that the differences between the two countries were insignificant.
Its first foray into British Columbia was the New Westminster Southern, which in 1891 crossed the border near the current Pacific Highway crossing at Surrey.
Its modern successor, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, remains today an important link between the Vancouver area and the United States.
Another first line owned by Hill ran between Spokane and Nelson and served as an important feeder line to the GN main line. It was operating in 1893, long before the CPR went to the Kootenays.
In the early 1900s, railway fever was intense in British Columbia and was a dominant political issue.
Hill saw a benefit in expanding the GN from its BC bases of Nelson and Vancouver to all points in between. The possibilities of circulation were not lacking.
The VV&E charter allowed the GN to build through the Fraser Valley to Hope, and in 1908 its line was built to Aldergrove from the west.
The line opened in 1909.
Even before it was completed, a shingle factory had been set up in Aldergrove in anticipation of being able to ship its product by rail.
Aldergrove was already an established community, because of the Yale Road, although it was small and mostly rural.
The region’s logging industry developed rapidly after the opening of the railway, and the railway provided faster and more comfortable transportation for passengers.
It also carried express mail and many other products, including supplies for local farmers and businesses.
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A current building in Aldergrove that has almost certainly been carried over by the GN is the former BC Telephone office, now the Aldergrove Museum at 271st Street and 32nd Avenue. It is a modular building at first, and was assembled to its destination. It has been moved several times over the past 100 years.
Passenger service has never been particularly prompt or plentiful.
At first, there were mixed freight and passenger trains between Sumas and Vancouver three times a week.
By March 1910, this service had changed to every day except Sunday.
In 1916, a daily mixed train between Vancouver and Hope was established, as part of the GN’s goal of having service to the Kootenays.
The train to Hope lasted only until 1919. The GN’s plan to provide direct service to the Kootenays never saw the light of day.
The remaining mining activities were largely under the control of Cominco, owned by CP.
After that, a daily mixed train except Sunday between Port Guichon (near Ladner) and Sumas started.
Service was reduced to three times a week in 1924 and ended completely in 1929.
The rails remained in place until 1934.
Freight shipments, particularly those from the logging industry, had declined. This was due to better roads (part of Yale Road was paved in 1922, and more paving followed).
A new, more direct route now known as the Fraser Highway opened in the early 1930s.
Other transportation options have become more viable.
The GN called for Aldergrove station to be closed in 1925, but this was rejected by the federal government, after strong protests from Aldergrove residents.
The station closed and telegraph service ceased in 1929, when the last train ran.
The station building stood for many years.
There were also a number of railway outbuildings on or near Station Road which stood for many years.
Conflicting reports about the station make it unclear exactly what happened to the building. One report says it was moved to a site on the Fraser Highway just east of downtown, while another says it was dismantled and the timber used to build a new one. building on Lefeuvre Road and Fraser Highway.
It is possible that both reports are correct, given that there was more than one building at the station site.
Another residence owned by the railroad was inhabited by the Lundeberg family. He was standing at 2774 Station Rd.
Intensive residential development in the area where the GN buildings and tracks stood means that no trace of them remains today. However, many street names in the area have railroad themes, such as Roundhouse Drive, Whistle Drive, and Caboose Place.
The availability of rail transport certainly helped Aldergrove grow significantly in the early years.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Much of the material in this story was compiled by Ken Atkey, who wrote a history of the GN in Aldergrove, which was published in 2005. The booklet is available from the Aldergrove Museum.
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