By Carson Ellis
A rail line through your town meant many things in the early 1900’s. It made getting supplies easier since a team of horses would take three or more days. It also increased the chances of people moving to your town with passenger services often being loaded with investors, and hopeful settlers looking for a new home, or businessmen looking to start a new venture or branch.
It was very rare for places to have more than one train station, aside from the major centers like Calgary and Edmonton. Other exceptions included four operating stations in Red Deer at one point and the brief time Nevis had two stations with CP and CNoR running parallel through the community at one point.
Although Stettler was started by Canadian Pacific, when word spread that the Canadian Northern was building a southern route from Vegerville to Drumheller, everyone assumed that the town would be part of the route. CNoR, however, felt differently and originally had no intentions of running their south-bound route through Stettler.
Cue the scrappy community-minded people of the Board of Trade, and community leaders such as Robert L. Shaw, who bought the National Hotel from Carl Stettler after the fire of 1908 and was part owner of it and the new Royal Hotel. Also C.W Willis, who had recently moved across the country to Stettler and assumed ownership of the Stettler Independent. These two men were key motivators in getting CNoR to change their route, even travelling to Ottawa to talk to the heads of the company and government officials. They also worked to put pressure on the provincial government to help persuade Canadian Northern.
This was not an ideal situation for CP, which was enjoying their monopoly on rail service in town and stood to lose income on both passenger and freight charges if another railway came through. Although they were limited in legal ways to block another rail company from coming to town they did have one advantage. They still owned much of the land in and around the townsite, and in the hopes of making Stettler financially unappealing, they raised the price of land in the community. However, as talks with those in charge turning favourable, the Stettler Board of Trade, acting in good faith on behalf of Canadian Northern, purchased a parcel of land on the south end of town for a station site, as well as the necessary land for the railroad’s right of way.
By 1911 CNoR was running a line through Stettler. They built their second-class station on the area purchased by the Board of Trade in July of that year and began running passenger and freight operations through town. Shortly after coming through Stettler, they would connect the Vegerville – Drumheller route with a line coming from the west out of the Brazeau coal fields. Passenger service would continue along the Stettler line until 1980. Afterwards, the station was moved to the Stettler Museum.