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History - Station, Loci's and Railway


The Train Station:

The Port Alberni Train Station is valued as a key early entry and departure point in the city.  It represents a connection with other Vancouver Island communities and is associated with travel by both rail and road between 1911 and 1970.  It is also significant that this building continued to function in its original capacity after rail travel dimished  and automobile traffic increased. Its current use for the tourist railroad reflects the historic value of rail travel within the community.

Built in 1911-1912 from drawings by R.A Bainbridge, the train station evokes the sense of importance that was associated with rail travel in Port Alberni in the first half of the twentieth century. The 1950's additions to the train station are significant as reflections of the changing nature of transport and business in the community, as truck freight traffic took the place of rail.  Because this building has played such an important role in the development of this community, the City of Port Alberni purchased the property and a group of volunteers restored the station to its original appearance in 1990.


1929 Baldwin Steam Locomotive:

The "Number 7" is a 1929 Baldwin 2-8-2T Steam Locomotive built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philidelphia, PA in 1929.  Weighing in at 90 Tons, this workhorse has a tractive force of 29,100 lbs and can travel at a maximum speed of 15 mph.  It burns fuel oil and has a water capacity of 1800 gal with operative steam pressure at 200 psi.

The Number 7 has served on Vancouver Island for over 80 years.  When it retired from industrial use in 1972, it was already the longest operating Steam locomotive in BC logging history.  The 1920's was a decade of amazing expansion in the coastal forest industry.  Locally the Great Central, Sproat lakes and McLean Mill sawmills all started up, supplementing the already established Alberni Pacific and Bainbridge mills.

Up-island, the Campbell River Timber Company was also expanding.  In 1928, it ordered two identical locomotives from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philidelphia.  These were the last steam locomotives ordered for use in Canadian Forests.  The cab and tanks were electrically welded rather than rivited.  Of a "Mikado" design, the side-rod engine is faster than the geared engines that were most popular with West Coast Loggers.  Its design,short and heavy, made it competitive with the Lima "Shay" geared locomotive - the most popular engine with Steam Loggers.  The popular "Baldwin" had fewer mechanical parts which meant less maintenance.  Being faster, rod engines were preferred for mainline hauling while the geared loci's did the logging on the rough hilly and sometimes crooked temporary spurs into "settings".

The two locomotives were delivered to Campbell River in early 1929 just before the Stock Market crash which began the Great Depression with its resultant decline in the demand for timber.  In the Campbell RiverTimber Company roster our locomotive was known as the "Number "2" while its twin was Number "3".

The great fire of 1938, which swept through the slash surrounding timberlands between Courtenay and Campbell River, bankrupted Campbell River Timber.  The H R McMillan Export Company bought up the assets of the bankrupt company. including the locomotives, in that same year.  Both Baldwins were shuffled to the Alberni Valley logging operations of the Alberni Pacific Lumber Company, which H R McMillan had acquired in 1936.  As A.P.L. had almost exhausted its timber limits, McMillan also bought the extensive Rockefeller forest holdings in the Ash River Valley, north of Alberni, that same year.  To access the timber, he built a railroad along the base of the Beaufort Range and he needed locomotives to move the logs to tide water.  Today, the right-of-way is popular with hikers as the "Log Train Trail"

The Number "2" became the Number "7" on the roster of the A.P.L. and the Number "3" became the Number "8".  Seventy years later the Number "7" is still with us while the Number"8" is only a memory, having been sold for scrap at the end of the steam logging era.  In 1954 the Number "7" had an accident.  In mid November, there had been a severe rainstorm that went on for days, turning rivers into raging torrents.  On November 8, the loci was pulling a short train of loaded cars across the Franklin River bridge near Camp A.  Unnoticed during an earlier inspection, the low bridges footings had been undermined by the river.  With the engine's weight added to that of the railcars, the bridge collapsed.  The car behind the loci fell through, dragging the engine backwards into the river.  Sadly, the Engineer and Head Brakeman were both killed.  The loci was recovered and found to not be badly damaged.

Over the years prior to its retirement in 1972 it worked throughout the Alberni Valley, the Nanaimo and Ladysmith areas.  After retirement the Provincial Government acquired the Baldwin and eventually donated it to the City of Port Alberni in 1990.  The Alberni Valley Museum and the Industrial Heritage Society received a number of grants and a major restoration of the loci started in 1994

It still operates to this day.

1954 Alco Diesel Locomotive:

The 1954 Alco RS-3 Diesel Locomotive - #8427 weighs in at 120 Tons driven by a 1600 HP Diesel Electric Engine (4 cycle - Model 244 V12), running at a maximun speed of 65 mph.

This locomotive was built by the American Locomotive Company in 1954.  It was out shipped in March of 1954 as CPR #8427.  It started its life in Eastern Canada.  One of it's original engineers moved to Port Alberni and occassionaly operates it almost 50 years later.  The #8427 served some time in Winnipeg in the rail yards.  It eventually ended up on Vancouver Island in the small logging town of Ladysmith.  It worked for Crown Zellerback which later became Crown Forest Company.  This is the colours it is now painted in.  It hauled logs from the woods to a large log dump in Ladysmith.  It was retired and became an historical locomotive for the Ladysmith Historical Railway Society.  The Ladysmith Society ran into financial and political problems.  They wanted the #8427 donated to the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society in Port Alberni because they knew ot would be looked after.  In 1995 the E & N attached the locomotive to the back of its regular freight run into Port Alberni and pulled it into town.  The locomotive operates on the most westerly portion of all of CPR's Canadian lines.  The locomotive is used as a back up to the #7 Baldwin Steam Locomotive  According to "experts" this is the last remaining MLW Alco built in a certain series for the CPR.

"Two Spot":


The "Two Spot" is a 1912 locomotive built by the Shay Locomotive Works in Lima Ohio.,June 12, 1912.  She is a Class B (Balloon) 42-2 (3 cylinders/2-trucks/8 -drivers) engine

Alberni Pacific No.2 was built for the Weist Logging Company and operated as No. 1 in Port Alberni.  Between 1912 and 1952 she operated as Alberni Pacific Co.Ltd #2, in Franklin River.  It operated in and around APL Lands for over 45 years.  In early 1952 after she had been retired, work had begun to demolish her.  Due to the intervention of a number of oldtimers in the Alberni Valley, a decision was made to save her as a memorial to its long history of steam railway logging.  In 1952 the Shay was donated to the City of Port Alberni, where she was put on display in a small park at the corner of Third and Redford streets.  In 1978 after over 30 years of rest, she was moved off of this corner to be restored.  In 1984 she was back in service as a passenger train taking people out to the McLean Mill National Historic Site.  In 1986 she was transported to Expo '86 in Vancouver, and was a favourite of visitors to the fair.  Currently she is not operational, but is brought out for display on special occassions.


"Number 11":

 The "Number 11"  is a 1942 GE Diesel Electric locomotive.  It is a 45 Ton "Switcher" Centre Cab with a 220 HP engine

The "Number 11"was originally built for the US Army at the Ozark Ordinance Plant, in Arkansas for moving military camps during WWll.  In 1973 it was sent to the US Navy in Jacksonville, Florida.  It was acquired and preserved by the Alberni Valley Museum in 1987.  It is still operational.


The "Buda":

The "Buda" is a 1928 Westminster Iron Works gas powered switching engine.  It was built by the Westminster Iron Works of New Westminster BC.  Two were originally built and one was purchased by the R.B. McLean Lumber Co. of Alberni, B.C. for switching rail cars at their Mill site and for pulling log cars - usually no more than one or two at a time, from their logging sites near the mill.

The McLeans bought the "Buda" as they were too small a company to afford to buy a steam locomotive and their production was too small to warrant operating a steam locomotive in any case.  The big logging companies in the Alberni Valley of the "Twenties" - "Alberni Pacific Lumber Company" and "Bloedel Stewart & Welch" - were steam railway "Shows", operating large logging camps with small fleets of steam locomotives but, that required big capital.

There was also the economic advantage that a gas locomotive was cheaper to operate, could be fired up when needed and shut down when it was not AND, it did not need a Steam Engineer to run it.  On the down side it did not have the power of a steam machine.

When the McLean Lumber Company shut down in 1965, the "Buda" was one of the pieces of machinery left behind.  It was restored in the1990's when the sawmill was declared a "National Historic Site".  Members of the Industrial Heritage Society restored it again.  It has a long deck that could be used for transporting anything - fuel, logging gear, supplies and lumber.  It could also switch boxcars and flatcars around the Mill site.

It is currently on display at the Mill.


Railway History


The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association was registered as a society on September 18th, 1997.

The purpose of the society is to acquire and maintain a rail museum, to reflect all aspects of railway transportation on Vancouver Island of: E&N, CPR, CNR and industrial / logging railways; to acquire and maintain artifacts for the museum, to operate an excursion train, record the history of the railways on Vancouver Island, publish & disseminate information and collaborate with other groups of similar interest.

The Vancouver Island Railway, first known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway, was incorporated on the 27th of September 1883 by Victoria coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, to support the coal and lumber industry and the Royal Navy Base at Esquimalt Harbour. Construction began on April 30th, 1884 and on the 13th of August 1886 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald drove home the last railway spike at Cliffside near Shawnigan Lake. The initial rail bed extended for 115 kilometres from Esquimalt to Nanaimo; hence the original name of the company. In 1888 the line was extended to the City of Victoria. 

Under CPR ownership, the Victoria Sub extension from Parksville to Courtenay was completed and opened in 1914. The total lengths of subdivisions on the E&N at its peak are as follows ~ Victoria Subdivision 139.7 Miles, Port Alberni Subdivision 37.9 Miles, Lake Cowichan Subdivision 18.6 Miles, Great Central Lake Subdivision 10.3 Miles, Osborne Bay Subdivision (later called the Crofton Spur) 2.6 Miles ~ Total Miles of all tracks ever identified as a Subdivision of the E&N Railway: 209.1 Miles. This would be the all time high and remained until circa 1952 when the Great Central Lake Subdivision was first removed from service and abandoned in 1953. The exact mileage the Great Central Lake Subdivision came off the Port Alberni Subdivision was at Mile Post 35.6 at a location called Solly Junction.

The E&N Railway was to have fulfilled the agreement which brought British Columbia into confederation, to become a Province of Canada. Although it was never completed, it was still considered a small piece of the Trans Continental Rail System.

In 1905, Robert Dunsmuir's son James sold the railway company to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) who extended it to Lake Cowichan, Port Alberni, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and finally Courtenay. At its peak, the E&N Railway had 45 stations on the main line and 8 on the Port Alberni line. Today about 25 stations remain with the majority unused and in a state of disrepair.

In 1953, CPR discontinued passenger train operations  into  Port  Alberni.  In  1979, VIA Rail , (a Crown Corporation) assumed operational responsibility for the remaining passenger service between Victoria and Courtenay but CPR retained ownership. VIA provided the rolling stock, passenger subsidy and ticket sales. Advertising was minimal so the railway was operating in isolation to the rest of Canada and North America. In 1998, CPR sold the east-west corridor between Parksvillle and Port Alberni to Rail America, and entered into an agreement to carry freight, which was taken to the barge facility at Nanaimo. At that time approximately 8,500 carloads of forest and paper products, minerals and chemicals were transported by rail on the island each year.

More changes occurred when Norske company which owned mills in Port Alberni, discontinued the use of rail service, opting for truck freight instead. With the loss of this significant revenue stream Rail America announced its intention to cease operations and leave Vancouver Island.

The railway on Vancouver Island had been operating in uncertain conditions for a number of years. Only a few freight customers remained and the trend that saw a general downturn of railways in North America was reflected in this part of the Trans Canada Railway System.

Vancouver Island citizens and communities were strong proponents of keeping the railway running and improving maintenance. Many groups tried to influence those who were responsible, but the decline continued. Finally, when Rail America announced that they would no longer provide freight or passenger service, communities on the island rebelled. The people of Vancouver Island now own the E&N right-of-way, it is managed by non-profit Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) and operator Southern Rail is under contract for the Victoria to Courtenay (Victoria Sub) portion only. The Cowichan Sub no longer exists and a section of the Port Alberni Subdivision is used for a tourist operation; with the remaining portion out of service. However, the E&N Division CRHA currently maintains and preserves this unused portion of the line on a regular basis.

Presently, as of March 2011, passenger service has been discontinued on the island due to current track and bridge conditions, however limited freight operations continue.

The E&N Division has been instrumental in the organization of E&N Railway Days, held annually, in a township along the E&N Railway since 1997. The celebration is in recognition of where construction crews from Esquimalt and Nanaimo met, completing the railway. The train arrived from Esquimalt shortly after 9:00am on August 13, 1886 at Cliffside Station (Mile 25) on the E&N Railway near Shawnigan Lake, BC. Here the party disembarked and Sir John A. MacDonald, provided with a golden spike and silver hammer by Dunsmuir's Chief Engineer, Joseph Hunter, drove home the last spike. This was very significant for it demonstrated the completion of the government's promise to the province of British Columbia in joining confederation for a Trans Continental Railway System that included the Colony of Vancouver Island.

The Alberni Pacific Railway was approved under the B.C. Railway Act, on April 29, 1983, to be operated by the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society.  They have successfully operated the railway from Port Alberni Train Station to the McLean Mill National Historical Society ever since.