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Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway Reporting mark: EDBC

The Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia (ED&BCR) began as an ambitious plan to build a line from Edmonton to Prince George, via the Peace and Parsnip Rivers.

Construction on the ED&BCR began in December 1911. By January 1914, the first divisional point was established at Smith on the south bank of the Athabasca River. By July 1914, the railway was completed to the point where freight could be hauled from Edmonton to the Peace River.

John Duncan McArthur
Archives of Manitoba. McArthur, J. D., 1.

The project collapsed shortly afterward following concerns from the BC Government over a dominating presence from Alberta. As well the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP), which was then under construction, had hoped to build a branch line into Peace River country which would have rendered much of the ED&BCR unnecessary.

By 1911 the picture had changed considerably. The GTP, mired in financial difficulty, handed those contracts off to two other contractors, Foley, Welch and Stewart and J.D. McArthur, while it focused on completing its main line to Prince Rupert. McArthur used the opportunity to pick up the dormant ED&BCR charter. Next he obtained bond guarantees of $20,000 per mile to build a 350-mile railway from Edmonton northwest through the Slave Lake and then onward to the border of BC.

Traffic and settlement patterns had changed considerably over the course of construction. In 1915, the government asked McArthur to build a branch line to Grande Prairie. By the time the line was completed in late 1916, McArthur was in severe financial straits as a result of wartime conditions. Bond interest, which had been guaranteed by the provincial government, was left unpaid. More serious were problems with the road. Deferred maintenance had resulted in unsafe track conditions leading to major service disruptions and delays, which further exacerbated the ED&BCR's financial problems.

By 1919 the road was considered so unsafe that service was all but halted. Following bitter complaints from both farmers and other groups, the government was forced to step in and order the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to come to the ED&BCR's assistance. Although bond interest was covered by the provincial government, as per its guarantee, McArthur failed to qualify for subsidies as the work had not been completed to standard.

To remedy the situation, the Alberta Government cut a deal with McArthur and the banks to take a first mortgage on the McArthur railway properties. The government then completed rehabilitation of the line which in turn was leased to the CPR for a five year period from July 1920-25. In 1924 the line was extended to Wembly at the government's expense.

The government's relationship with the CPR had not been particularly satisfactory. Although service had been reliable, the CPR had been inflexible in its rate structure, leading to complaints of price gouging. In November 1925, the provincial Department of Railways took over operation of the railway, followed by full ownership in November 1926.

The provincial government continued to make improvements to the railway until 1929 when it obtained a charter to create the Northern Alberta Railways (NAR). The NAR consisted of a number of distressed railways that had been built or acquired by the province over the previous 10 years. In 1930 the NAR was jointly sold to the Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railways, to be operated as a separately owned affiliate. By then the ED&BCR stretched from Edmonton to Dawson Creek.

In 1981, CN bought out the CPR's share to become the sole owner. Portions of the original line remain in operation under CN.