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A Canadian Story, Embracing Immigration

The restoration of Colonist Car 1202

April 21, 2017

The past speaks to us through antiquities, and Heritage Park’s colonist car project will introduce you to a 112-year-old Canadian Pacific Railway coach that will whisper in your ear, You’re a migrant, a newcomer, a colonist.

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the ongoing preservation and restoration of CPR Colonist Car 1202, a project as historically significant, far-reaching and interconnected with people in this country as the tracks of the transcontinental railway.

Colonist Car Exterior Beautifully constructed on steel wheels in 1905, almost 75 feet long with a varnished pine exterior, Colonist Car 1202 rolled out of the CPR’s Angus Shops in Montreal. Coupled to a train pulled by a steam locomotive, it joined a fleet of coaches specifically built to move settlers west onto the prairie, and went into service at the height of Canadian immigration.

In the first decade of the 1900s, the Prairie Provinces’ population grew by more than 300 per cent. By the millions, people from Europe, the British Isles, Eastern Canada and the United States boarded trains bound for the frontier. Aboard Car 1202, travel-weary passengers exhilarated by all the possibilities of their new lives, sat in wonder of the vast prairie landscape rolling past the windows, revealing precious evidence of other homesteaders, sparsely scattered on the land.

The CPR built more than 1,000 colonist cars between the 1880s and 1930s; only two remain. A meticulous effort to restore Car 1202 to the year of its 1905 origins is underway at the park’s Roundhouse, and visitors will begin to watch that process unfold this year. The work, expected to finish in 2018, is central to a larger project.

Heritage Park takes colonists’ stories to the nation

The restoration of Car 1202 is part of A National Pride: Alberta’s Gift to the Nation, a threefold program announced in autumn 2016. Beyond the work in the Roundhouse, and in honour of 2017's 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Heritage Park launched a travelling exhibit presenting the story behind Colonist Car 1202.

“This is a Canadian story of embracing immigration, then and now,” said park president and CEO Alida Visbach, unveiling the project. “Canada is a cultural mosaic and this car, exhibit and performance represent the stories of Canada’s early immigrants, while allowing today’s Canadians to share their own stories.”

The interactive exhibit, accompanied by a theatrical performance, enjoyed a 12-week journey in September 2017, crossing the country from Halifax to Vancouver. 

From January to April 2018, the exhibit returns home to Gasoline Alley at Heritage Park. 

A Lasting Legacy
Once restoration work on Colonist Car 1202 is complete, it will be on permanent display in the park’s Railway Car Shop and will play an exciting role in education programs.

A National Pride: Alberta’s Gift to the Nation has been made possible thanks to a generous funding partnership with BMO Financial Group, the Government of Alberta and the City of Calgary with support from local philanthropist Joan Snyder.

The places you will go

Colonist Car - Doug ZechFrom here, in future posts, you will meet the journeymen craftspeople in the Roundhouse and follow the progress of restoration. You will travel the geography and years of Car 1202’s epic life, which is far from over. From the formation of our country and settlement of the western frontier, to economic depression and war, it carried generations of Canadians across the full breadth of our land. Car 1202 is ready to tell us who we are.


Until next time....



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