Sunday, May 3, 2015

Abandoned Rails: CN Turtleford Sub

This is first instalment of "Abandoned Rails" on the Going Trackside Blog, and will feature the former CN Turtleford Sub in St. Walburg area, as I had visited some friends there in April 2015.

Former CN Station at St. walburg

The Turtleford Subdivision was a line that ran 77 miles from North Battleford to St. Walburg, Saskatchewan. Today, all that remains are 10 miles of track from North Battleford to Hamlin.

Lets start with a bit of history about the Turtleford Sub.

In 1919, the Canadian Northern Railway planned to extend into North Eastern Saskatchewan, but the planned routing took it 5 miles from the 1919 location of St. Walburg. The residents, knowing the value of having a railway in their town, packed up and moved to the present day town location. 1921 saw the completion of the railway into St. Walburg, and it became known as the Turtleford Sub.

Former routing of the Turtleford Sub (red). Current CN operations marked in orange

According to this article by Sean Pratt of the Western Producer, the Turtleford Sub hadn't seen a train since August of 2000, and April 2, 2002 marked the first train in nearly 2 years. The only reason that the line did see a train was because of farmers loading railway cars on their own. They did this because they felt that they shouldn't have to ship directly to the new concrete elevators to the south.

Prior to abandonment, the main customers shipping on the line were from the numerous grain elevators. After many of the elevators on the line closed, CN abandoned north of mile 10 in 2005. July of 2008 marked the end as CN began pulling up the rails no longer in use. A good source of pictures from the 2008 work is this website, showing the rail train at work.

Milepost 69
If you drive from North Battleford to St. Walburg, as I did in April, you will follow along the old right of way for the majority of the trip. It is interesting to note that although CN has torn up all the rails and ties, they left the old milepost markers in place. The highest marker that was within view of the road was mile 69 just north of Spruce Lake (photo on left).

As mentioned before, the subdivisions main customer was the numerous grain elevators. St. Walburg alone had three still standing in April. Below we will have a look at those three.

The first was the former Pioneer elevator which was the most northern on the line, and was located directly off of Railway Ave. This elevator wears the classic Pioneer orange, as seen on the right.

Also located on Railway Ave. was the next elevator in the form of the former Searle/Federal Elevator. The old circled S was still visible when I visited (as seen on the left). Here is a better view of the old elevator from 2008.

Finally, we come to the ex. Sask Pool elevator. The Sask Pool logo had been painted over, and just below where it used to be now showed "St. Walburg Agro Ltd.". This elevator looked as though it may still see some use, but at the time no one was around. Below is a shot from the former railway crossing on  highway 26.

After scouting out the areas elevators, I went back to the old railway station which I had past earlier in the day. 

This old building located on Railway Ave. was built in 1922, and closed in 1982. It is now a municipal heritage building, and used as a "chuckwagon interpretive centre". When I was there, the building wasn't open to see inside, so I took a walk around and got the shots below of the front (left), and west side (right) of the building.

Finally, a look back at the two elevators from the station, which are now sitting vacant, aside from the birds, mice, and old animals that likely now call them home

Extra content!

While exploring, I came across the former Bolney Spur which ran from Spruce Lake Junction to Paradise Hill, a length of 15.4 miles. The interesting point here is that the rails are still in place, and the road crossing has simply been paved over as seen in one of the pictures below. 

Looking east at highway 26

Looking west at highway 26



  1. Great description of the area, David! I've never been there but now I want to go!

  2. Great description of the area, David! I've never been there but now I want to go!

    1. Hey thanks, Steve! It was fun exploring around, and finding the old stuff to share with others.

  3. I live and farm at St. Walburg. It was a shame when they closed all the elevators and tore up the line. The old Searle/Federal was officially called Sask Wheat Pool C and was used as overflow for Sask Wheat Pool B (the newer one off of highway 26. The Pioneer could load up to 24 cars, the Searle/Federal 16, and Sask Wheat Pool 26. Up to the late 1990s, train service was weekly and then bi-weekly. Most of us along the line bought the elevators and even attempted to buy or lease the rail line and sidings from CN rail but the deal fell through. Pretty heartbreaking actually. Now our local highways are disintegrating as grain has ti be hauled to Hamlin (North Battleford), Marshall, or Lloydminster now.

    1. I forgot to mention a bit more perhaps interesting information. The entire line from North Battleford to St. Walburg was 100 lb rail and the line was in excellent shape when It was torn up. The line in the old days was intended to go to Loon Lake, Goodsoil, Pierceland,and link up at Cold Lake, AB. This was not installed although the grade from St. Walburg to Loon Lake was built in the late 1920s.
      The Bolney line originally continued passed Paradise Hill to Frenchman Butte. That line was also intended to follow the river to Heinsburg, AB but was also not completed as thr Depression began. I'm not sure why the rail from Spruce Lake Jct to Paradise Hill remains but I am assuming because it is mostly 80 lb and 60 lb rail. The service on the spur was more spotty than the Turtleford line (usually every two weeks to just once a month). Cargill had the two elevators there (one was originally a Sask Wheat Pool) and I believe the last train was in 1998 when those two elevators closed. That line also did not have the "Train Of '02" that the Turtleford line had.