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Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> The Thunder Bay Historical Society > Incident in the History of the Canadian Pacific Railway by Peter McKellar


By Peter McKellar.

The Thunder Bay Historical Society is collecting information regarding all past important events relating to this District.

One of these outstanding events was the seizing of a C.P.R. train for overdue taxes by Port Arthur. As I was one of the people living here at that time, I have been prevailed upon to give my view upon this historical action, as it resulted in transferring the business from Port Arthur to Fort William. A great many C.P.R. officials were transferred to Fort William and a great deal of money was expended in this city which otherwise would have been spent in Port Arthur. This activity occurred for some years.

For a great many years in the early years of Port Arthur the leading men were Thomas Marks and his nephew George, who had been mayors for a number of years, and who had a very strong following. These officials had allowed the C.P.R. to get off with paying only half the taxes. By a great many this was considered to be too lenient towards such a strong corporation. The Conservative majority managed to keep control of the city affairs for a number of years until finally a leading lawyer, Mr. Gorham, was elected mayor. The main plank in his policy was supposed to be that an equitable proportion of the taxes was to be paid by the C.P.R.

At this time it was customary for the C.P.R. boats to call at Port Arthur first coming in and at Port Arthur last on the return trip. At Fort William they exchanged cargoes, took on passengers, then started for Port Arthur and eastern points.

In the fall of 1889 the C.P.R. boat, on her last trip, when loading and taking on passengers at Fort William, remained longer than usual, and it was speedily rumored that the officers at Port Arthur were going to seize the boat when she docked there. It oozed out in Fort William that telegraph communication was in evidence between Winnipeg and Fort William and Montreal, and we thought the expected seizure was responsible for the delay. As a result of this activity of the wires, the boat was ordered to leave Fort William and to sail direct for the Soo and eastern points and not to call at Port Arthur. The consternation of the citizens of Port Arthur, and more especially of the would-be passengers who were left on the Port Arthur dock, may be better imagined than described.

The same evening a large card party was held in Port Arthur at which were all the most influential citizens of both Port Arthur and Fort William. The main topic of discussion was the action of the C.P.R. in ignoring Port Arthur. The same evening a C.P.R. train, on regular route west, duly called at Port Arthur and was at once seized by Port Arthur officials. The wires were at once made busy, and President Van Horne ordered that all taxes be paid up in full and at once. The train was thereupon released and proceeded on its way, but President Van Horne remarked that "for this I will make grass grow on the streets of Port Arthur." This saying went all over the world and became not only a famous by-word but also a true prophecy. For years after this the great bulk of the C.P.R. business was transacted in Fort William.

When McKenzie & Mann were building their transcontinental railway, the Canadian Northern, the citizens of Port Arthur saw their opportunity and by valuable concessions, including a grant of $25,000, induced the officials to locate the terminals of the C.N.R. in their city and revive its almost defunct existence.

[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.