More Coming for Wheatland Express

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Wakaw Recorder. Wheatland Express Excursion's new building arrives in Wakaw.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

At the regular April 2021 Town of Wakaw Council meeting, a motion was made and passed to approve Wheatland Express’ proposal to start construction of a false western town front along Railway Ave. on the Wheatland Rail property, subject to receiving confirmation from Wheatland Rail that they were in favour of the development. Upon receiving consent from Wheatland Rail to “advance tourism-related infrastructure improvements on Wheatland Rail property”, the Town of Wakaw, at their regular council meeting in November 2021, furthered their support with three tourism development incentives: no charge for water/sewer hook-up, three years of free minimum usage basic water/sewer charges, and a three-year tax break on the new improvements associated with tourism initiatives. What resulted is what now stands as ‘Little Big Town’.

The Cudworth Subdivision was a branch line of the transcontinental Grand Trunk Pacific built from Young, SK to Wakaw in 1911 and completed to Prince Albert in 1917. During World War I, the Grand Trunk Pacific went bankrupt and was absorbed into Canadian National Railways in 1920. Wheatland Rail now owns and operates the Cudworth Subdivision which includes the approximately 75 km of track that runs between St. Louis and the Totzke junction, which lies about 10 km west of the Town of Bruno and 1.6 km east of Dana, SK. Wheatland Express Inc. was formed in 2017 with an aim to generate tourism, economic, and employment opportunities for local communities while providing experiences and events for visitors. In 2018 the dining car, The Lake Erie, was purchased and interest was so great in the tours offered that instead of the planned eight tours, by December of that year, the Wheatland Express hosted 25 excursions.

More cars were purchased and added to the train until today, the diesel engines move along the line pulling a total of six rail cars. The oldest car of the fleet, a 96-year-old former baggage car, has received a makeover and is now a come-and-go lounge through a partnership with Backroad Spirits. The ‘Alibi Car’ besides being a place to wet your whistle, is the place guests will find Bill Noble the resident Heritage Interpreter. Bill’s wealth of knowledge about trains and history and how the two intertwine, may just turn a few more people into history-buffs. Another car, a sleeper car, has been purchased, and Wheatland Express is eagerly awaiting its arrival. The California Zepher, built in the 1950s by the Budd Company, ran between Chicago and California. These all-room cars with six double-bedroom and ten ‘roomettes’ were also referred to as a “Pullman” after the designer, George Pullman, who perfected the design of the sleeper car. Wheatland Express has plans to turn their California Zepher into “Saskatchewan’s only moving bed and breakfast” with as yet undisclosed new experience packages.

Furthering their aim to generate tourism, Wheatland Express, last week, moved a newly built building onto its foundation adjacent to Little Big Town in Wakaw. The building, constructed by Zak’s Building Group in Hague, will be where tickets are purchased and will house accessible bathrooms, the Wheatland Express’s Railway Hall of Fame, a future railway museum, and their long-term planning including the development of a learning centre. A platform, yet to be constructed, will provide boarding access to the train. It is hoped that the building will be ready for the 2024 tour season, but much interior work remains to be completed before the doors are ready to be opened to the public. 

The Hall of Fame is an initiative to honour past and present railway employees in four different categories: operations, maintenance, builder, and historical. From Wheatland Express’ Facebook page, “Railway employees have been an integral part of building Canada. The dedication that many displayed over the last 100-plus years has helped [make] Canada what it is today.” Application forms can be received by emailing Wheatland Express at or by calling the office at (306)233-3068. The entry deadline is December 31st, 2023.

The three regular tours offered on the Wheatland Express Excursion Train in 2023 were a murder mystery, Adeline’s wedding, and the ever-popular Prairie Train Heist. All money collected during Wheatland Express’ Train Heists goes to the Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation. All together Wheatland Express ‘heisted’ $6000.00 for the Foundation during the 2023 tours. Two Halloween excursions will run on October 27 and 28, the Friday and Saturday just prior to Halloween, and the Christmas excursions are yet to be released. The Christmas excursions are tremendously popular and even by adding an extra excursion after the schedule had been released, the seven tours were sold out by the middle of November last year with the majority of their passengers for all their excursions coming predominantly from Saskatoon, Humboldt, and Prince Albert it is safe to say they are fulfilling their aim of promoting tourism to the area.