If you take a drive along Railway Avenue or even Bow Valley Trail, it is impossible to miss the concrete pillars rising up over a site that for so many years saw little use beyond the occasional stint as a parking lot. The scale of the construction is impressive as the $39 million Canmore Multiplex will be home to new aquatics, recreation and climbing facilities, along with a new library, art gallery and community space.
But we need to understood, if we are to better understand who we are as residents of Canmore, that where the Multiplex is being built wasn’t just an old, empty field covered in coal dust and patchy yellow grass. That site, in terms of Canmore’s history, is perhaps more important than what is being built there as that is where Canmore began.
Canmore did not begin as a coal mining town. Coal would come to sustain this community throughout much of its history. However, we owe Canmore’s genesis to the Canadian Pacific Railway. It’s there on the flats north of Policeman’s Creek that the CPR established a divisional point when the railway construction crews finally reached the Bow Valley in the fall of 1883. As part of the divisional point, carpenters built a depot that included a siding, a 12-bay roundhouse, living quarters for its crew, a water tower, lumber yard to store fuel to feed the locomotives, and, of course, a railway station.
The depot remained in Canmore only until 1898 when the CPR shut the facilities down, moving them to Lake Louise and Calgary following the advent of more efficient locomotives. The railway facilities were eventually torn down and a string of rough-built stores and homes that stretched east along the tracks away from the station all closed as the focus shifted towards Mineside and what would become Main Street in downtown Canmore. The only remnant of the railway history now is the circular pit, located between the Multiplex and the Provincial Building to the west, that held the roundhouse turntable
Even though the CPR depot is gone and nothing really remains, it’s fitting that the site where Canmore began is becoming a place for the community. It is after all Canmore’s most important site, it’s birth place. Perhaps, and hopefully, the Multiplex will become what the railway divisional point once was: the start of something big, something important.