Aldergrove rail integrated with early local transport – Langley Advance Times | So Good News
By Frank Bucholtz/Special to the Aldergrove Star
Transport corridors are critical elements in moving goods and people, and play a significant role in shaping local communities.
In the case of Aldergrove, the main transport corridor in the early years of the 20th century was the railway.
This may come as a surprise to many current residents, as there is virtually no trace of any railway line today, other than a few street names – notably Station Road.
The railroad, which operated in Aldergrove from 1909 to 1929, was the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern (VV&E), a BC subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway, based in St. Paul, Minn., and headed by James J. Hill, a Canadian ex-Patriot who played a key role in transportation in Western Canada and the western United States for more than 50 years.
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He was one of the most important businessmen in the United States, due to his control of many important railroads—which played a paramount role in the economy at a time when other land transportation was primitive at best, and air transportation was non-existent.
Why did he set his sights on the Fraser Valley in BC?
It was a small part of a much bigger idea – to link the important mines of the Kootenay region with the BC Coast, as well as with the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and the mining center of Spokane.
There was also an element of revenge.
Hill had been one of the original partners in the Canadian Pacific Railway, but left the company when his chosen general manager, William Van Horne, insisted on an all-Canadian route between Ontario and the western provinces.
Hill had pushed for the CPR to connect to his railroads in Minnesota and reach Winnipeg through the United States.
Van Horne became HLR president in 1888, and he and Hill battled for control of various routes for the next 20 years or so.
While the fight was about money, there was also a strong personal element to it.
Hill’s Great Northern had reached the West Coast in 1893 and played a major role in the development of Seattle.
It also passed through Spokane, which was already a bustling mining center thanks to rich ore finds in the Coeur d’Alene area of Idaho and in the Kootenays.
When the CPR proposed building a railroad connecting the Kootenays with Vancouver, Hill fought back with a plan to move traffic between the Kootenays and the West Coast via the VV&E and a Washington State subsidiary, the Washington and Great Northern.
His railway line dipped back and forth across the Canada-US border, something Hill barely considered.
He early believed in free trade, and felt the differences between the two countries were insignificant.
His first foray into BC was the New Westminster Southern, which in 1891 crossed the border near the current Pacific Highway crossing in Surrey.
Its modern successor, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, remains an important link between the Vancouver region and the United States today.
Another early Hill-owned line ran between Spokane and Nelson, serving as an important feeder to the GN main line. It was in operation by 1893, long before the CP made its way to the Kootenays.
In the early 1900s, rail fever was intense in BC, and was a dominant political issue.
Hill saw an advantage in extending the GN from the BC bases of Nelson and Vancouver to all points in between. There was no shortage of traffic opportunities.
The VV&E charter allowed the GN to build through the Fraser Valley to Hope, and in 1908 the line was built to Aldergrove from the west.
The line opened in 1909.
Even before it was finished, a shingle mill had been located in Aldergrove in anticipation of being able to ship the product by rail.
Aldergrove was already an established community because of Yale Road, although it was small and predominantly rural.
The logging industry in the area grew rapidly after the railway line opened, and the railway offered faster and more comfortable transport for passengers.
It also carried express mail and many other goods, including supplies for farmers and local businesses.
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A current Aldergrove building that was almost certainly transported by the GN is the former BC Telephone Office, now the Aldergrove Museum at 271st Street and 32nd Avenue. It is an early modular building, and was assembled on site. It has been moved several times over the past 100 years.
The passenger service was never particularly fast or plentiful.
Initially, there were mixed freight and passenger trains between Sumas and Vancouver three times a week.
In March 1910 this service had increased to daily, except Sundays.
In 1916, a daily mixed train was established between Vancouver and Hope, as part of GN’s goal to have service all the way to the Kootenays.
The train to Hope only lasted until 1919. GN plans to offer through service to the Kootenays never came to fruition.
The remaining mining operations there were largely under the control of Cominco, owned by CP.
After that, a daily except Sunday mixed train started between Port Guichon (near Ladner) to Sumas.
The service was reduced to three times a week in 1924 and ended entirely in 1929.
The tracks remained in place until 1934.
Freight shipments, especially from the forest industry, had decreased. This was due to better roads (part of Yale Road was paved in 1922, and more paving followed).
A new, more direct road now known as the Fraser Highway opened in the early 1930s.
Other transport options became more viable.
The GN applied to close Aldergrove station in 1925, but this was rejected by the federal government, after loud protests from Aldergrove residents.
The station closed and telegraph service ceased in 1929, when the last train ran.
The station building stood for many more years.
There were also a number of railway outhouses 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 location on Fraser Highway just east of downtown, while another says it was dismantled and the lumber used to construct a new building at Lefeuvre Road and Fraser Highway.
It is possible that both reports are accurate, given that there was more than one building on the station site.
Another home owned by the railway was inhabited by the Lundeberg family. It stood at 2774 Station Rd.
Intensive housing development in the area where the GN buildings and tracks were located means that there are no tracks left 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 definitely helped Aldergrove grow significantly in its early years.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Much of the material in this story was collected by Ken Atkey, who wrote a history of GN in Aldergrove, which was published in 2005. The brochure is available at Aldergrove Museum.
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