Rail History of
Progress on the Completion of the
Trans Canada Trail in Central Alberta
revised July 2012
The concept of a regional trails network in Central Alberta can be
traced back to at least 1987 with the development of the very popular Waskasoo Park
and its extensive trail system in Red
Deer. Other communities also developed municipal recreational trail
systems soon afterwards, including Innisfail, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake
with several other communities at that time planning trails for the
future. There was also a rural trail built linking Bentley with Gull
Lake along Highway 12.
Around 1994, a group of individuals, with support from Alberta TrailNet,
proposed a trail linking Red Deer with Sylvan Lake using the abandoned
Alberta Central Railway (a division of Canadian Pacific) right of way.
The proposal met with a great deal of resistance from adjoining
landowners who believed that they had first right of refusal to purchase
those lands. There was also considerable question about the viability of
using the railway trestle across the river. At the time, Canadian
Pacific was hesitant in selling the land in case they needed it in the
Meanwhile, around 1992, the idea of the Trans Canada Trail had
originated with the Canada 125 Corporation, the organization set up to
celebrate confederation's 125th birthday. They provided the initial
funding for the Trans Canada Trail Foundation, which launched in 1994.
The foundation spent the first year establishing itself with
user-related organizations throughout Canada, such as Alberta TrailNet
which is the Alberta representative organization and secured the support
of several sponsors including Canada Trust, Canada Post, Chrysler Canada
and TSN/RDS. Since then, other sponsors have contributed to the
promotion and building of the trail, including Bell Canada, Canadian
Pacific Railway, Canadian Geographic, Raleigh Bicycles, Canadian Tourism
Commission, and others.
The first sections of the Trans Canada Trail officially opened in
Early in 1998, a preliminary group of individual Central Albertans
representing various agencies including the City of Red Deer, Red Deer
County, Parkland Community Planning Services, Alberta TrailNet, Red Deer
Visitor and Convention Bureau, Normandeau Cultural and Natural History
Society, and Red Deer River Naturalists, came together to form the
Central Alberta Regional Trails Initiative.
This group proposed the creation of the Central Alberta Regional
Trails Master Plan project to identify the issues, concerns, support,
and ideas regarding the designation and development of recreational
trail linkages in rural Central Alberta.
The project's budget was $65,000, of which $43,500 was designated for
the hiring of Deb Comfort for one year (Sept. 1998-Aug. 1999) to
co-ordinate the development of the plan. Funding was supplied by the Red
Deer & District Community Foundation ($22,000), Lottery Funding
($41,000) and the City of Red Deer ($2,000). The city also contributed
office space and equipment for the project. Funding applications on
behalf of the project were submitted by the Normandeau Cultural and
Natural History Society.
The original terms of reference for the project proposal and
funding applications were as follows:
1. To ensure public participation and input as a vital component of
all stages of the project;
2. Complete a Master Plan and Development Strategy for a regional
trail and green space corridor system;
3. Facilitate the designation of a local regional trail system,
through the development of a comprehensive concept plan, which
incorporates the Trans Canada Trail;
4. Produce guidelines for standards, users, support and costs for
the development of the regional trail system;
5. Complete a map inventory of all existing trail linkages within
the project area from which regional trail alternatives can be planned;
6. Identify the Central Alberta trail component to be immediately
designated as the Trans Canada Trail;
7. Identify possible range of users including information on public
access, insurance, liability and legal issues related to trail
8. Be a unified and consistent voice in promoting the Regional
The initial project study area was broadly defined as an area from Innisfail
east to the Red Deer River, north along the river, west
through the villages of Alix, Tees, Clive, the towns of Lacombe and Bentley,
and south to Sylvan Lake and Innisfail.
With several other communities wishing to participate in the
project, the area was expanded to include the communities of Bowden,
Elnora, Mirror, College Heights, Markerville, Dickson and Benalto --
roughly the area encompassing the Counties of Red Deer and Lacombe.
A regionally representative Steering Committee
of 70 people was identified at a meeting in Springbrook in October 1998
that would act as
a guiding group for the process and progress of the ambitious project. An invitation by
both the Mayor of Red Deer and Reeve of Red Deer County, outlining the
project and its purpose, was sent to all municipalities, known
recreation boards, and previously involved interest groups.
A smaller management sub-committee set out to create a society that would continue to act as
a regionally representative group concerned with the future designation
and development process of trails in the region. In January 1999, this
sub-committee became the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society
There was considerable support and excitement from the various
municipalities, organizations, interest groups and individuals involved
with the project, including Red Deer County, Lacombe County and Central
Alberta Regional Museums Network.
A series of five public meetings were held throughout the project area, including Sylvan Lake, Innisfail, Delburne, Pine Lake and Lacombe. A sixth and final meeting
was held in Red Deer in June 1999 identifying trends and preliminary
recommendations based on public feedback.
Most of the initial feedback was generated
from residents of towns and villages rather than from rural areas. Some
of the publicity implied that identified conceptual routes were proposed
for immediate development, some going through private land, creating
great concern, alarm and even a feeling of betrayal by rural residents.
Many positive outcomes resulted from the process, including the
identification and feasibility of future potential trail routes, the
establishment of the Central Alberta Regional Trails Society as the
collective voice for the promotion of trail designation and/or trail
development, the compilation of a map inventory of existing and
trails for the project area, provision of public information regarding
the benefits of trails, the raising of community awareness and support
of regional trails, and the identification of the area's historic routes
and sites, community points of interest and natural areas.
During the first few years
after the final report was released, a number of
individuals and municipalities grew impatient and frustrated with the
slow progress of trail development in the region. A temporary loss of interest was noticeable with the rural
municipalities as they became increasingly influenced by the negative
reactions of a handful of rural taxpayers who were threatened by and
therefore opposed to rural trails. There was also a feeling that trails
would only benefit urban folks.
Meanwhile, major strides were made in the larger urban centres of the
region and urban trail networks became the focus of civic pride, often
attracting rural people to those centres in order to enjoy the trails.
Red Deer took an extra step in converting a historic railway bridge into
part of the Waskasoo Park and Trans Canada Trail system.
Trans Canada Trail pavilion at Red Deer's Bower Ponds was officially
dedicated in 2005. Other communities having TCT designation include
Innisfail, Lacombe and Ponoka with more pending.
At the same time, a stalwart handful of individuals persisted and persevered to establish rural linkages
in Central Alberta. The Society maintained a close
relationship with Alberta TrailNet and expanded its area to include
With restricted volunteer resources, the Society
has concentrated on the establishment of the missing links of the
north-south Trans Canada Trail
corridor between Penhold and Ponoka with the original goal of completing it by 2010.
Although considerable progress has been made, the revised goal is to
have it completed by 2017 and extended south towards Innisfail and
In recent months, several smaller communities and the counties of Red
Deer, Lacombe and Ponoka have taken a proactive role in planning for future trail
corridors linking communities and points of interest within their
jurisdictions. Most new residential developments have included plans for
trails as public surveys have indicated that more people want trails in their neighbourhoods to enhance a healthier lifestyle.
major pedestrian bridges, one across the Blindman River near Blackfalds
and the other across the Battle River at Ponoka, were completed in 2010.
Lacombe County has completed a TCT link between the Blindman River
bridge and the south boundary of Blackfalds and plans to complete the
rural TCT link between Blackfalds and Lacombe in 2012. Meanwhile Ponoka
and Ponoka County have completed a TCT link that includes an equestrian
component between Ponoka and the Lacombe County boundary. Lacombe County
plans to build the link between Lacombe and the north boundary of Ponoka
County in 2013-14.
A section of Trans Canada Trail south of Springbrook was completed in
2010 but has not progressed until an agreement is reached with the town
of Penhold for a connection. North of Springbrook, several options are
being examined including the use of a portion of the abandoned Alberta
Central Railway, possibly including the Mintlaw trestle. The bridge and
right of way were purchased by Red Deer County from Canadian Pacific
Railway in 1999 for $1. A study completed in early 2012 indicated that
the right of way and bridge will eventually be part of a regional trail
system but it will not happen until funding and a trail operator are
A steering committee has now been set up that includes Alberta TrailNet,
Central Alberta Regional Trails Society (CARTS), Red Deer County, and
the towns of Penhold, Innisfail and Bowden to examine options for the
Trans Canada Trail between Penhold and Bowden.
Alberta Regional Trails