Prairie Dog Central, Movie Star, Part 1

The Prairie Dog Central Railway is a real gem, a great asset for the city of Winnipeg and surrounding areas. They entertain thousands of people every year on their trips between Inkster Junction and Grosse Isle, and occasionally they wander further (on GWWD tracks to Hadashville, for instance). In early June 2021, they roamed off their own rails and onto those of three of Winnipeg’s other railways.

The CBC is producing a TV special, The Porter, inspired by Cecil Foster’s book They Call Me George, about Black railway porters. I wrote a lot about this book on Canada Day 2020. The eight-part series has a Black-Canadian creative team and you can read a lot more about it here.

Back to the Prairie Dog. Since The Porter will be about Black porters on trains, they needed to film some scenes on a train! The PDC was contracted to bring their train to Union Station in downtown Winnipeg for filming. The production crew and the PDC volunteers did a lot of preparation to get the train ready for the shoot, and the time came on June 2 to move the train downtown.

The route they had to take was a bit convoluted. They had to run south to Woodman Junction where they got onto the CP main line, head east into the CP yard, then south on the CP Lariviere subdivision to BNSF Manitoba, switch onto the CN main line, then head past the CN Fort Rouge yard to downtown. Believe it or not, this is the best route.

Here’s a map to help you envision the route – their route is highlighted in light green. If you’re colour blind, I apologize – it might not make much sense.

The train was headed by one of the PDC’s sturdy diesel locomotives, PDC 4138, followed by the famous #3 steam engine and a collection of passenger cars and freight cars.

I had some advance notice that the train was departing, so I headed out late in the morning of June 2 to record their passage. I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, so I decided to head to the BNSF yard and then head north.

Just before I reached the CP yard, I spotted them heading south on the CP Lariviere subdivision. I quickly set up near Notre Dame Avenue to capture this rare move.

PDC 4138 leading the train south
PDC 4138 leading the train south

I exchanged waves with a few of the crew who recognized me, then packed up for my next photo spot. I didn’t think I could catch them passing Polo Park but I thought I had a chance of getting them on the bridge over the Assiniboine River.

This bridge is shared by CP and BNSF Manitoba, and the bridge is shared between the single track and a walking path. I had never been on this bridge before, so it was a good opportunity for me to check it out. I quickly parked and sprinted over to the bridge, hoping I hadn’t missed them. I probably didn’t need to run but I didn’t have a lot of time before they showed up.

The Prairie Dog crossing the Assiniboine River
The Prairie Dog crossing the Assiniboine River

That steam engine was spotless, as usual.

PDC 3 aka the Cross Continental Railway
PDC 3 aka the Cross Continental Railway

The steam locomotive and the passenger cars were repainted for the “Cross Continental Railway” for the TV series. In the photo above you can see the Prairie Dog Central Railway lettering under the black paint.

The caboose on the rear
The caboose on the rear

Once the train passed, I jogged back to my car to get to the next spot. I was able to get to Lindsay Avenue just before the train did and get a few shots of the entire train… difficult to do in the city.

Entering the BNSF yard
Entering the BNSF yard

Note that the steam engine had been fired up at the Prairie Dog’s yard and was kept under steam for the whole time it was downtown. I imagine it would have been logistically impossible to coal the locomotive while it was at Union Station.

The whole train
The whole train

They had to wait at the BNSF yard at Lindsay Avenue for a while before they could get onto the CN main line, so I had plenty of time to get into position. I set up on Taylor Avenue and sweated a bit in the hot sun before they got on their way.

PDC 4138
PDC 4138

Once they got onto the CN main line, I followed east along Taylor Avenue. I tried a shot from Taylor but I don’t think it worked out really well… too much background clutter and the light wasn’t great.

Not the best shot
Not the best shot

I knew there were no real photo angles from there to downtown, so I skipped any attempt to get them around Fort Rouge and went down to the Forks to park. I was just able to get up to trackside to record them passing the west end of the train station.

Downtown at last
Downtown at last

The two tracks in the foreground are part of the first mile of the CN Rivers subdivision, and the tracks in the background go to the VIA train station (and the Winnipeg Railway Museum).

The Cross Continental Railway has arrived
The Cross Continental Railway has arrived

The building under construction in the background with the crane is 300 Main Street, now the tallest building in Winnipeg.

Even though the train had arrived downtown, it still had to get into the train station.

I’ll continue the story in part 2 with the rest of the downtown shots, plus the return back to the Prairie Dog Central 10 days later.

In the meantime, you can watch this video showing the train “coming and going”.

View part 2 of this story

5 thoughts on “Prairie Dog Central, Movie Star, Part 1”

  1. Great shots of an exciting move through my old neighborhood! I used to cross that bridge a lot, but never when a train was on it. (Brings back memories of my dog realizing how high up above the water we were, and freaking out.) Looking forward to part II, and to seeing The Porter some day.

    Reply
  2. That is exiting to see the PDC on different railway lines around Winnipeg. I used to live off Taylor Ave in Winnipeg in the 1960s and watched train action there and on the RiversSub. I now live in Lindsay Ontario, a former railway hot spot for CN in the Kawarthas, but no rails or shops exist any more.

    Reply
  3. My son is one of the carpenters building train cars for the movie. What an enormous project with so much attention to detail and accuracy. What they have built are truly works of art.

    Reply

Leave a Comment