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Chapter IV

What the Canadian Pacific Railway has done for Canada

At some periods in the dim ages before man appeared to lord it over creation, the part of North America now known as Canada was the scene of titanic upheavals. On the west, in Labrador and Ontario, rose the Laurentian Mountains, hard and crystallised, but pregnant with mineral wealth incalculable. As years—centuries—passed, vegetation gradually clothed the slopes of the depressions which contain the great lakes, and the mighty cleft through which the St. Lawrence flows. Two thousand miles further west the earth's crust, propelled by some enormous internal energy, pressed eastwards, causing the Rocky, Selkirk, and other ranges to rise like the folds of a cloth pushed across a table. Between the two great mountain systems of Canada stretched—so the geologists tell us—a great sea, which in the course of time disappeared, leaving as a memento of its existence a rich earthy deposit, many feet deep. On this grass grew; and to eat the grass came the buffalo; and to kill the buffalo, the Indian; and finally, the white man to oust the Indian. At first the whites were few, and the Indians many, and it took a century of continuous skirmishing and massacre to prove which was the stronger. But, as usual, the lighter colour prevailed; the Indian withdrew further and further westwards with his mustangs and squaws, and the European pressed pass the lakes into the great plains beyond.

They were hardy men, these early settlers. Except for Nature's waterways, roads there were none. Each settler made a small clearing if he found forest, and sowed his grain, to discover in a year or two that the land which would grow trees and grass was good for corn also. So he called his friends, and they followed his example, till gradually the provinces of Manitoba, Assiniboia, and West Ontario were dotted over with farms, set far apart on the rolling prairie.

One day a small band of newcomers arrived on the edges of the plain, armed with stakes and flags and queer-looking instruments. They made observations, and stuck in the flags, and went on. A few years later came a large band of railwaymen, digging, levelling, scooping, and laying the bright steel rails that were to run from the eastern provinces right across to where the fertile belts of British Columbia nestled between the stern Selkirks and the Pacific Ocean.

The railroad track was but a few feet wide, and a few feet higher than the plain. It could not be termed imposing in any way, in the plain region. Yet its presence foreboded a great change in the lands through which it passed. Before the last spike had been driven in the far-off Columbian forest a train drew out from Montreal, heading for the western seas. Ever since 1886 the locomotive has flashed backwards and forwards, depositing human freights at many points on the way. Where the forest once waved, may now be seen smiling cornfields; where the lonely settler beheld uninhabited prairie to the horizon, busy towns pant and throb. The railway has done it all, this wonderful track, wonderfully built in a few short years. One more channel has been cut, through which large populations may overflow into the hitherto waste portions of the earth. It is no exaggeration to say that since the opening of the C. P. R. the prairie has been turned into a garden, amid which towns, villages and hamlets have sprung up and flourished on the scenes of the pioneers' early hardships. The Canada of to-day is not, of course, the Canada of fifty years hence, when the hamlet will in turn have become a town; but it is such as would have astounded the old Frenchmen who first looked upon it, had they possessed prophetic vision.

To grasp the real meaning of the Canadian Pacific Railway as a maker of history, let us in spirit pass over its metals and see what we can see.

In the summer you may reach the western terminus, Quebec, by boat direct; but in winter, when the ice has blocked the river, you disembark at the old city of Halifax, and are spun across New Brunswick and Maine to Montreal, where the British, in the palmy days of the Hudson Bay Company, established a flourishing headquarters for the fur trade. Now it rises from the broad St. Lawrence to the slopes of Mount Royal (Mont Royal=Montreal), and looks over a densely-peopled country, dotted with bright and charming villages—a large and beautiful city, half French, half English; half ancient, half modern; with countless churches, imposing public buildings, magnificent hotels, and tasteful and costly residences. Its trade is shown in the long lines of warehouses, grain elevators, and factories, and by the miles of docks crowded with shipping of all kinds, from the smallest river craft to the largest ocean vessels.

But we must not linger in Montreal or Ottawa. To see the railway at its best we should look westwards. Before the bell rings for departure we may spare a few minutes to glance at the giant locomotive, hissing gently through its safety-valve to remind us of the power stored within its painted barrel. At the front is the cow-catchers, which would make short work of the famous "coo" held up to George Stephenson as a possible cause of trouble on his first projected line. The catcher is meant for business, and out West it often finds business to do among the herds of the prairie.

Next to the engine we have an express or parcels van, then a long post-office van, in which a number of clerks busily sort letters and neatly stow the mail sacks. After this a luggage van, full to the roof of all manner of personal property. Following it are two or three bright and cheerful colonist coaches, with seats which may be transformed into sleeping bunks at night, and with all sorts of neat contrivances for the comfort of the emigrants bound for the corn-land of Manitoba. The most striking part of the train is made up of the handsome dining and sleeping first-class saloons, built on a far more generous scale than those of the Old Country, where tunnels and bridges are numerous, and the "load-gauge" much lower. The "sleeper" is larger and more luxurious. It has soft and rich cushions, silken curtains, thick carpets, delicate carvings, and beautiful decorations; in fact, it reminds one of a part of an ocean liner got adrift on to wheels.

A few miles beyond Ottawa, the scene of more than one devastating fire, we quit the French country. The farms are more extensive, the houses more imposing, until the run across to Lake Superior has fairly begun. In the forest-clearings villages have sprung up here and there. Men are hard at work felling trees and making homes for themselves. They build in faith; the railway runs within sight of their windows, ready to carry out into the wide world the products of the fields which in imagination they already see ripening to the harvest.

At intervals of a few ours the train rolls into the railway divisional stations, where the engines are cleaned, changed, and repaired, if necessary. On reaching Sudbury—half-way between Montreal and Fort William, on Lake Superior—we have our first insight into the mineral wealth of Canada. In the sidings are long strings of cars, piled high with copper and nickel ores, for transport to the sea. Close by is the richest known deposit of nickel in the world, and nickel is now a very valuable metal. Sudbury connects with the United States systems by a rail running to Sault Ste. Marie, and thus has a position ensured for it as a future town of great importance.

The trains that have passed us laden with cattle, grain, and flour remind us that Canada's chief asset is not, after all, minerals. We have only to look out of the windows and see the great forests stretching away right and left of the line to remember what wealth those serried ranks of firs represent in a world where the timber supply is rapidly decreasing. The C. P. R. aids the great waterways of Canada to transport this timber to the sea coast, whence it is shipped in vast quantities to Europe.

We are now running over one of the most difficult and costly sections of the road to the north of Lake Superior. "For many hours we look out upon the lake, its face just now still and smooth, and dotted here and there with sails, or streaked with the black smoke of a steamer. At times we are aback from the lake a mile or more, and high above it; again we are running along the cliffs on the shore as low down as the engineer dared venture. Hour after hour we glide through tunnels and deep rock-cuttings, over immense embankments, bridges, and viaducts, everywhere impressed by the extraordinary difficulties that had to be overcome by the men who built the line."

Fort William, on Thunder Bay—the lake is large enough to have bays— is the lake terminus of the western section of the railway. Here we begin to understand what the North-West is. By the lake side rise huge buildings, aggressive, unpicturesque. They are grain elevators, with a capacity of nearly two million bushels each. In the harvest season grain-laden trucks steal up behind them on the sidings day and night. Endless chains of buckets, or suction pipes, whisk the grain from the cars to the division of the elevator reserved for that particular quality of produce. The farmer is handed over the money value of the grain, and there is an end of the business as far as he is concerned. In this way enormous quantities of wheat, &c., are collected, ready for distribution at a convenient time when there is most demand and prices are good. The grain is run through shoots into cars for the railway, or into boats for the lakes. Direct water communication exists between Fort William and Montreal. A grain boat passes from Lake Superior to Lake Huron by the Sault Ste. Marie three-locked canal, from Huron into Erie by the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, and from Erie into Ontario through the Welland Canal, which turns the flank of the Niagara Falls. The last lake of the series is connected to Montreal by five canals, all of which will float a boat drawing a maximum of 14 feet of water.

As a sign of the change that the railway has worked in the Lake superior region, it may be mentioned that the fur-house of the old fort is now used as an engine-shed.

For the next 400 miles we are traversing historic country, through which, in 1870, Colonel (late Lord) Wolseley led his troops to quell Louis Riel's rebellion on the Red River. It is also a country of great woods, which furnish timber to the prairie region, by rail, after the trees have been sawn up in the mills deriving their motive power from the Lake-of-the-Woods. "Its waters break through a narrow rocky rim at Rat Portage and Keewatin, and fall into the Winnipeg River. Near Keewatin are the immense works of the Keewatin Power Company, creating one of the greatest water powers in the world, making of the Lake-of-the-Woods a gigantic mill-pond, with an area of 3000 square miles, and affording most convenient sites for pulp-mills, saw-mills, flouring-mils, and other establishments for supplying the needs of the great North-West, and for manufacturing its products on their way to eastern markets."

In 1871 a little fort, built by the Hudson Bay Company, kept solitary guard on the Red River at its junction with the Assiniboine. It had a population of 241 people. Then the railway was talked of. In 1874 arose a small town of nearly 4000 inhabitants. In 1878 the railway arrived. To-day it is a city of about 276,000, with electric street trams, electric lights, parks, mills, factories, and fine public buildings. It is the locomotive centre of the western section of the C. P. R.. "Situated just where the forests end and the vast prairies begin, with thousands of miles of river navigation to the north, south, and west, and with railways radiating in every direction like the spokes of a wheel, Winnipeg has become, what it must always be, the commercial focus of the Canadian North-West. Looking at the long lines of warehouses filled with goods, and the fifty miles or more of railway tracks all crowded with cars, you begin to realise the vastness of the country we are about to enter. From here the wants of the people in the West are supplied, and this way come the products of their fields, while from the far North are brought furs in great variety and number." Winnipeg is as far from what it was in the days of the first Red River Rebellion as from what it will be fifty years hence—the Chicago of Canada.

On leaving Winnipeg we enter the biggest "run" of the journey—the 1000 miles or so to the Rockies, through Manitoba and Assiniboia. Only a few years ago this trip took six weeks under favourable conditions, and the ox-trains through they did well to accomplish it in three months. Now it occupies two days.

In his interesting book, "3800 Miles across Canada," Mr. J. W. C. Haldane thus writes of Manitoba: "Previous to 1870 Manitoba was known only as a fur-bearing country, inhabited by Indians and half-breeds. At that time the population numbered 10,000, not more than 1000 of whom were whites, who were chiefly in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company. In 1881 the population had increased to 65,000. Owing, however, to the tremendous impetus given to the colonisation of the whole country by the opening of the C. P. R., the population has risen by leaps until it is now more than half a million. Further than this, it may be said that when the wonderful capabilities of the province are better known to the millions of people in the crowded portions of old countries, and in the non-productive parts of others, the increase will be much more rapid."

To provide for the influx of settlers, the Government has accurately surveyed Manitoba and the North-West provinces, and cut them up into a gigantic chessboard of squares. Each square is six miles on the side, and is called a "township," being cut up into thirty-six smaller squares, called "sections," which are again subdivided into four squares. A road allowance, one chain wide, is provided between each section running north and south, and between every alternate section east and west. All the sections are numbered, the odd numbers belonging to the C. P. R., the even to the Government and the Hudson Bay Company. Two sections, Nos. 11 and 29, are reserved for schools in each "township." The Government lands are open for free settlements by any person who is the sole head of a family, or by any male over eighteen years of age, to the extent of 160 acres each.

Manitoba is an Indian word signifying "God's Country," and the title is indeed justified by the productive qualities of the rich, black soil, two to four feet deep, that overlies a stratum of valuable loam varying in thickness from five to sixty feet. Even the "black earth" of Central Russia and the mid-Siberian plains are not more ready to laugh with a harvest if ticked with a hoe. This fertile belt, as large as the whole of the British Isles, could grow wheat to feed the Empire; and to-day "Manitoba No. 1 Hard" is the standard of excellence by which all other wheat crops are judged. In 1920 this province yielded nearly 38,000,000 bushels of wheat crops; and of its 25,000,0000 acres of arable lands not one-half are yet occupied. Twenty years hence, when the constant influx of British, American, Scandinavian, and settlers from other countries has filled the vacant places, and more scientific methods of farming prevail, the output will be doubled, if not trebled.

Leaving Winnipeg, we roll out into a broad plain, as level and green as a billiard table, extending north and south far beyond the horizon. To the left well-tilled farms and comfortable farmhouses succeed one another in a continuous line; to the right countless cattle pasture on the vast meadowland. The railway is as a cue laid across the table, stretching for leagues in a perfectly straight line, over which the train runs with almost imperceptible motion. We pass through Portage la Prairie—Winnipeg on a smaller scale—whence a branch line runs hundreds of miles in a north-west direction towards Prince Albert in Saskatchewan. Then on to another thriving town and junction, Brandon, on the eastern edge of the steppes that gradually rise all the way to the Rockies. We are now on the real prairie of the buffalo and Indian, not the monotonous, uninteresting plain that you may have pictured, but a "great billowy ocean of grass and flowers, now swelling into low hills, again dropping into broad basins, with gleaming lines of trees marking the watercourses. The horizon only limits the view; and, as far as the eye can reach, the prairie is dotted with newly-made farms, with great black squares where the sod has just been turned by the plough, and with herds of cattle. The short, sweet grass, studded with brilliant flowers, covers the lands as with a carpet, ever changing in colour as the flowers of the different seasons and places give to it their predominating hue. The deep, black soil of the Winnipeg valley has given place to a soil of lighter colour overlying a porous clay, less inviting to the inexperienced agriculturist, but nevertheless of the very highest value; for here is produced in the greatest perfection the most famous of all varieties of wheat—that known as the 'hard Fyfe of Manitoba'—and oats as well, and rye, barley, and flax, and gigantic potatoes, and almost everything that can be grown in a temperate climate. All these flourish here without appreciable drain upon the soil. Once here, the British farmer soon forgets all about fertilisers. His children may have to look to such things, but he will not."

Running through a country well stocked with game we reach Regina, the capital of the North-West Territories. It lies just 360 miles west of Winnipeg, and is an important trading point, as railways run into it from north and south. Here the North-West Mounted Police, a very fine body of men, have their headquarters. During the construction of the C. P. R. they played a notable part in maintaining law and order among the track-layers. After leaving Moose Jaw—the junction for the Minnesota and St. Paul connection—the scenery becomes absolutely treeless. In places the only vegetation is the coarse buffalo-grass, but this grass has its roots in good soil, and will presently give place to corn. Here and there an antelope, startled by the train, leaps lightly away, or a covey of prairie-chickens take wing. The line is gradually rising, a few feet a mile, from one steppe to another. It passes north of the Cypress range to Medicine Hat—named after a man who made "great medicine" for the Indians—a very important station, as here the railroad forks into two distinct routes to Vancouver. The more northerly, through Calgary and Revelstoke, was built first, as part of the original main line; but since 1886 it has been deemed advisable to run another track through Macleod, a great ranching centre, and Kootenay, famous for the gold deposits of its neighbourhood.

Alberta, in which we now are, contains a large area of wooded land, besides the usual fertile, arable soil, which yields, in some places, 14 quarters of oats to the acre, and produces potatoes of two or three pounds weight. The latent fruitfulness of this virgin country is prodigious, and in spite of the cold winter the harvest is ready early, thanks to the head and length of the summer days. Alberta is remarkably free from the blizzards which work such havoc further east, and as a consequence is very favourable for cattle raising. In the southern districts, where the warm Chinook blows, the winter is punctuated by spells of spring-like weather, which enables the rancher to keep his horses and cattle "out" all the year round, much to the benefit of his pocket. Many an Englishman eats beef that once roamed on the plains of Alberta.

At Calgary, a busy town of 70,000 inhabitants, the Rockies come into full view, and soon the locomotive begins to taste the heavy grades, threading its way through scenery that cannot be outmatched anywhere in the world. The Canadian Government, following the example of the United States, has reserved an area of 26 by 10 miles as a national park, near Banff, where tourists stop to make excursions into the magnificent country round about. The railway has done some very important work in thus throwing open the Switzerland of Canada to the world. before the coming of the rails the Alps of Columbia were almost inaccessible. Now they lie exposed for any daring mountaineer to attack. Mr. Edward Whymper, the great Alpinist, has said of these mountains: "If all the mountain-climbers in the world to-day were to make a combined attempt to explore the Canadian Rockies, their task would not be completed within a century. . . . The vast ranges are appalling in their immensity and grandeur, for here are fifty or sixty Switzerlands rolled into one."

A few miles beyond Banff comes the "Great Divide," the highest point on the line, just a mile above sea-level. The railway begins to sink towards the Pacific, through the celebrated Kicking Horse Canyon, to Field, near which is the lovely Yoho Valley, containing the Takakkaw Falls, about 1200 feet in height. This region of rivers and lakes is a very paradise for the angler, and contains marvels of engineering. The canyon rapidly deepens till the mountains rise vertically on either side for thousands of feet, their tops but a stone's-throw apart. down this vast chasm goes the railway, crossing from side to side to ledges cut out of the solid rock, and twisting and turning in every direction. With the towering cliffs almost excluding the sunlight, and the river roaring down below, the passage of this gorge is a thing to remember.

Almost before the traveller has recovered from his astonishment, he finds fresh scenes to admire. The track crosses a broad valley and breasts a second range, the Selkirks, climbing up through dense forests of enormous trees to a level of 4500 feet. The descent is accomplished by means of a series of sixty wonderful curves or loops, and up we go again, this time over the Gold Range. A splendid plain crossed, the last mountain chain, the Cascades, is climbed. At Kamloops, a health resort for people with weak lungs, commences the marvellous Fraser Canyon, down which runs the river of that name. "The view," says a writer, "here changes from the grand to the terrible. Through this gorge, so deep and narrow in many places that the rays of the sun hardly enter it, the black and ferocious waters of the great river force their way. We are in the heart of the Cascade Range, and above the walls of the canyon we occasionally see the mountain peaks gleaming against the sky. Hundreds of feet above the river is the railway, notched into the face of the cliffs, now and then crossing the great chasm by the tall viaduct, or disappearing in a tunnel through the projecting spur of rock, but so well made and so thoroughly protected everywhere that we feel no sense of danger. For hours we are deafened by the roar of waters below, and we pray for the broad sunshine once more. The scene is fascinating in its terror, and we finally leave it gladly, yet regretfully."

Vancouver, the Pacific terminus of the railway, is a beautifully situated city of 150,000 inhabitants. Until May 1886 its site was covered with a dense forest. In the harbour ride vessels from China and Japan, Australia, New Zealand, California, and Alaska, discharging or taking in cargoes of tea, sugar, fish, fruit, and meat. In time Vancouver will be to Canada what San Francisco is to the United States.

To appreciate fully the importance of the C. P. R. there is but one thing to do—to make a journey over its 3000 miles, noting the signs both patent and latent of Canada's wealth, and the manner in which the railway has materialised it by making the huge strip of territory it traverses easily accessible to mankind. The conclusion of the whole matter has thus been tersely stated: "The completion and operation of the Canadian Pacific has revolutionised the trade of three continents, developed an unknown region, and transformed an unpeopled wilderness into a coming world's granary, given birth to prosperous cities, and towns, and villages, grid-ironed the different provinces of the Dominion with branch railways, and by creating an Imperial highway, brought Canada nearer to Great Britain."1

1 "The Railway Year-Book."
[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: The author or authors of this work died in 1964 or earlier, and this work was first published no later than 1964. Therefore, this work is in the public domain in Canada per sections 6 and 7 of the Copyright Act. See disclaimers.