Home for locomotive repair under repair

A turntable to move trains into the roundhouse for maintenance is part of the restoration of the railroad infrastructure found at Hanna, Alta.  |  Barbara Duckworth photo

The Hanna roundhouse, built in 1909, employed 60 people who put locomotives needing work back on track

HANNA, Alta. — A small group came forward with a big voice when the Hanna roundhouse was in danger of being sold for salvage.

“I thought that was a shame and somebody should do something about it,” said Sandra Beaudoin, a former lender with Alberta Financial Services Corporation with a passion for history.

She helped form the Hanna Roundhouse Society in 2010 to save the Canadian Northern Railroad building in the town of 2,800 in east-central Alberta.

The society bought the roundhouse located on about nine acres of land in September 2013 for $80,000.

The money came from an anonymous donor with repayment planned when the building is restored and starts to earn money as a community space and an interpretative centre.

“It is for the community to save the history for our area,” said Beaudoin, who has also self published a local railroad history.

Canadian Northern merged with the Canadian National Railway in 1923.

The Hanna roundhouse, perhaps one of the best preserved ones, is one of many built for locomotive maintenance.

The town was named for railway executive David Blythe Hanna and incorporated in 1912. It was meant to be the hub of the Alberta railway network.

It became a divisional point and was part of the Goose Lake Line linking Saskatoon to Calgary carrying people, mail, livestock, coal and other goods.

Construction on the roundhouse started in 1909 to support the railroad and as more families moved into the area, housing, a train station, water tower and workshops were part of the overall infrastructure.

At its height, 60 people were working at the site and ultimately 200 families were connected to the railroad and its service sector.

The roundhouse was a semi-circular building with 10 stalls to accommodate locomotives needing work.

A turntable was built to take each steam locomotive and direct the engine on a set of tracks into one of 10 bays for maintenance or repairs.

“They didn’t scrimp on anything. They had the best of everything. It was planned at that time to be a big thing,” Beaudoin said.

The original building was made of poured concrete with a felt and gravel roof, with the interior divided by a concrete wall every five stalls.

Each stall had an engine pit where the machinist or boiler man could stand to work beneath the locomotive.

“At that time, locomotives needed steam and coal and they needed a lot of maintenance,” Beaudoin said.

There were up to 19 tracks in the rail yard, but over time, business and transportation across the prairies changed. The Depression, world wars and improved train technology using diesel engines ushered in change and less need for the railway infrastructure.

Eventually tracks were pulled up and grain elevators were demolished across the Prairies.

The roundhouse operated until 1961.

Hanna Manufacturing Limited, a farm implement business, took it over until 1969 and it became a livestock auction market from 1974 to 1992.

When the historical society acquired the building, it was assessed as sound. It received a provincial historic resource designation in 2015.

The group of about 10 volunteers had to gut the place because there was a collection of junk that had built up over a century.

“It’s a little rough but it’s got a lot of character,” Beaudoin said.

Some rare treasures were found and displayed, including a safe, jacks, a caboose stove and other railroad memorabilia. Wooden office furniture is among artifacts donated from other railroad sites.

The group wants to start a heritage carpentry workshop at the site because artisan skills are needed to restore the building.

“We have over 100 windows that need to be rebuilt and we thought why not get our youth involved,” Beaudoin said.

For more information, visit the Hanna Roundhouse Society on Facebook.

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