Incline Railways – A Part of Edmonton’s History and Possible Future

My name is Kiera. I am a fifth-year student taking a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Sociology and minor in History at MacEwan University. Over the winter semester of 2015, I took a History 497 class where I worked under the supervision of both Dr. Carolee Pollock and Tim O’Grady, a local archivist at the City of Edmonton Archives. My task was to research and create an online exhibit for the City of Edmonton Archives on the Edmonton Incline Railway that once transported cars, wagons, and pedestrians up and down McDougall Hill.

EA-10-2967 "Edmonton Inclined Railway" c. 1912

EA-10-2967 “Edmonton Inclined Railway” c. 1912

Today, from time to time, I hear discussion surrounding the proposal of a new moveable staircase or incline railway on McDougall Hill, connecting downtown Edmonton to the greater River Valley. Currently, especially since there has been much encouragement for the public to have their say on the idea, it has been interesting to be simultaneously working with the archival material regarding Edmonton’s first Incline Railway.

In digging through the archival material at the City of Edmonton Archives, both in their reference room and through their online catalogue, I have discovered a picture of Edmonton that is hard to envision today. With the existence of the Incline Railway in 1908-1912, a picture showing Edmonton’s River Valley -specifically Rossdale and the downtown core – today looks substantially different. Although some of the buildings continue to stand, the Incline Railway itself has been lost, as the location has completely changed.

EA-267-99 "Inclined Railway" c. 1910

EA-267-99 “Inclined Railway” c. 1910

ET-17-28 "Chateau Lacombe under Construction" Dec. 1965

ET-17-28 “Chateau Lacombe under Construction” Dec. 1965

The discussion around the establishment of an Incline Railway began in 1905, however the Agreement was not signed until 1907.

Memorandum of Agreement, November 27, 1907. A96-59 Joseph Hostyn Contract #12

Memorandum of Agreement, November 27, 1907. A96-59 Joseph Hostyn Contract #12

Lasting until 1912, the Incline Railway provided residents and businesses with an alternative route to the downtown sector, coming from the River Valley. Today, with numerous bridges and routes to downtown from Strathcona and Rossdale, it is easy to cross the river. But this was not always the case. In 1908 there were only two options if you were coming from Strathcona: the John Walter Ferry, or the Low Level Bridge. As well, once across the river, traveling up the McDougall Hill by horse and wagon proved to be difficult, especially during the rainy months.

EA-1-11

EA-10-247 “McDougall Hill” 1914

Although it has been over one hundred years since the first Incline Railway scaled the McDougall Hill, as I hear and see the discussions around the establishment of a similar railway today, it makes me remember the original discussions that began in 1905 that ended in the construction of Edmonton’s first Incline Railway. It is interesting to see, how yet another link to the past may be created.

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1 Comment
  1. Elizabeth
    4 months ago

    The Edmonton Incline Railway exhibit is now available online!

    https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/edmonton_archives/the-edmonton-incline-railway.aspx

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