Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Canada’s first transcontinental railway and the instrument that enabled the nation of Canada to expand across North America from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. Primarily constructed between 1881 and 1885, the CPR ran from Canada’s largest city, Montréal, Québec, to the new city of Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Pacific coast. Today, the Canadian Pacific Railway is one of the longest railroad networks in North America.
The CPR was primarily constructed to satisfy the province of British Columbia, which had agreed in 1871 to become a part of Canada on the condition that a railway be built from eastern Canada to the Pacific coast within ten years. The CPR also was designed to open up the prairies of western Canada to settlement and agricultural development, and to serve as part of a transportation system for increasing trade between Britain, Canada, and East Asia. In addition, a surveyor for the CPR, Sandford Fleming, played an important role in the development of the concept of international standard time as a means to simplify and standardize transcontinental train schedules.
|II||A FALSE START: THE PACIFIC SCANDAL|
In order to attract entrepreneurs to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Conservative Party government of Canadian prime minister Sir John Alexander Macdonald offered a C(Canadian)$30 million cash subsidy and a land grant of 20 million hectares (50 million acres) along the route of the railway. In 1872 the CPR contract was awarded to a group of businessmen headed by Sir Hugh Allan, a Montréal multimillionaire. The next year, the Liberal Party, the opposition party in Parliament, uncovered evidence that Allan had given Macdonald and one of his cabinet members C$350,000 to help the Conservatives win the 1872 election. The Liberals charged that Allan had obtained the CPR contract in return for his campaign donations. By November 1873 it was clear that the Conservatives would be defeated in Parliament because of this Pacific Scandal, and the Macdonald government resigned. The Liberals won the 1874 general election, and Allan was forced to give up the CPR contract. The Pacific Scandal had brought the CPR venture to a standstill.
|III||GETTING UNDER WAY|
The new Liberal government of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie invited proposals to build the CPR with incentives similar to those of 1872. However, the Pacific Scandal had tainted the CPR project, and a major economic depression from 1874 to 1879 made investors unwilling to undertake such a risky venture. In the absence of serious offers from businessmen to undertake the project, the government was forced to start construction itself.
The government began construction by building the Pembina branch of the railway from Winnipeg, Manitoba, south to the Canada-United States border. Completed in 1878, this line connected with an American railroad to Saint Paul, Minnesota, linking Manitoba by rail with the neighboring province of Ontario via the United States. Mackenzie was faced with strong demands from the government of British Columbia to carry out the Conservatives’ promise to have the CPR completed by 1881, but he was unwilling to finance such an expensive project during a period of declining government revenues. The Liberals tried to appease the province by conducting extensive surveys of the CPR route through the prairies and British Columbia. This had little effect, and in 1878 British Columbia’s legislature passed a resolution affirming the province’s right to withdraw from Canada.
Macdonald and the Conservatives were returned to power in the 1878 general election. In 1879 the government awarded American railroad contractor Andrew Onderdonk a contract to build part of the main line in British Columbia from Port Moody, at the head of Burrard Inlet, to Savona’s Ferry (now called Savona), 40 km (25 mi) west of the city of Kamloops. This action helped to alleviate much of the dissatisfaction in British Columbia.
The economic depression temporarily lifted from 1879 to 1882, and several groups of businessmen and financiers made offers to build the CPR. In 1880 the government signed a contract with a Montréal-based group headed by Sir George Stephen and Donald Smith. Stephen, the CPR’s first president (1881-1888), played a key role in completing the railway by using his financial skills to raise large amounts of private capital needed for the project.
|IV||BUILDING THE RAILWAY|
The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was established in February 1881. The new company, which was to complete the railway by 1891, would receive a cash subsidy of C$25 million to complete the main line, and a land grant of 10.1 million hectares (25 million acres) in the prairies of western Canada. The federal government would turn over, at no charge, the sections of the railway it had begun: the Pembina branch from Winnipeg to the Canada-U.S. border; the 343-km (213-mi) section from Port Moody to Savona’s Ferry; and a 686-km (426-mi) section from Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, to Winnipeg. The CPR was to use the government money to build three sections: the 669 km (416 mi) from Savona’s Ferry to Calgary; the 1352 km (840 mi) from Calgary to Winnipeg; and the 1052 km (654 mi) from Fort William east to the town of Callander, Ontario, on the eastern end of Lake Nipissing. The company would have to use its own capital to construct the 554-km (344-mi) link from Callander to Montréal.
|A||The Prairie Line|
The CPR’s first task was to complete the prairie section (from Winnipeg west to the city of Calgary, Alberta) in order to stop American railroads from building branchlines into the region and rerouting rail traffic to the United States. The company recruited an American railway official, William C. Van Horne, who became general manager of the CPR on January 1, 1882. In a ten-month period from April 1882 to January 1883, 673 km (418 mi) of track were laid on the prairie section, and the entire line from Winnipeg to Calgary was finished in August 1883.
|B||The Lake Superior Line|
The construction of the Lake Superior section of the railway from Fort William to Callander provoked severe conflict between George Stephen, the CPR president, and American financier James J. Hill, a founding CPR director. Hill, president of a railroad linking Saint Paul, Minnesota, with the CPR’s Pembina branch to Winnipeg, hoped that Van Horne could persuade Stephen not to build the Lake Superior section at all. Hill wanted his own railroad to become the permanent link between the CPR’s eastern and western sections. Stephen also had serious doubts about the need for this section, since it would be expensive and difficult to build. However, Prime Minister Macdonald firmly insisted that all of the CPR main line had to be located in Canadian territory, so Stephen went ahead with construction. Hill resigned from the CPR board in 1883.
The construction of the Lake Superior section, which began in late 1883, proved to be difficult and extremely costly, as it ran through the peat bogs and hard rock of the Canadian Shield. Costs on the first leg east of Fort William were kept down by locating the line close to Lake Superior so that workers and supplies could be brought in by water. Government dissension grew at the high cost of completing the rest of the line because long stretches of it had to be reached by difficult and hazardous roads constructed inland from the lakeshore. However, this changed with the outbreak in Saskatchewan of the Northwest Rebellion by Louis Riel and his supporters against the authority of the Canadian government in March 1885. Despite the fact that the railway was not completed, a contingent of troops was able to reach Winnipeg from Montréal in only seven days, much faster than they could have gone overland, and get from there to Saskatchewan in time to successfully put down the rebellion. This action helped the government pass a bill to loan the CPR C$5 million. The last rails on this section were laid on May 16, 1885.
|C||The Mountain Line|
Before construction began on the section west from Calgary to British Columbia in the fall of 1883, the CPR had decided to build through Kicking Horse Pass (west of Banff, Alberta), instead of the more northerly Yellowhead Pass as they had originally planned, in order to save time and money. However, in order to build a direct, short line to the Pacific coast from Kicking Horse Pass, it became necessary to traverse the Selkirk Mountains in southeastern British Columbia, through which no pass had yet been discovered. A CPR engineer, Major A. B. Rogers, successfully located a pass, which was named in his honor, in the summer of 1882. The route through the mountains was successfully completed in early 1885.
In 1884 and 1885, Andrew Onderdonk was pushing construction of the mountain line in British Columbia east from the Fraser Canyon to Savona’s Ferry, and from there to Eagle Pass in the Monashee Mountains. The line from Calgary met the line from the west at Craigellachie in Eagle Pass on November 7, 1885. To mark the occasion, a ceremony was held at which Donald Smith drove in the last spike of the railroad. The first passenger train left Montréal on June 28, 1886, and arrived at Port Moody six days later.
The total length of the main line from Montréal to Port Moody was 4656 km (2893 mi). Van Horne decided that the railway’s western terminus should be moved to the Burrard Peninsula, and he established good port facilities there at Coal Harbour (that portion of Burrard Inlet east of modern Stanley Park). He named the new town Vancouver after the British naval captain George Vancouver, who had explored the area in 1792. The CPR line was extended west from Port Moody to Vancouver, and the first train from Montréal arrived there on May 23, 1887.
After the completion of the main line, the CPR’s biggest challenge was to develop enough rail traffic to make the company self-sustaining. In 1885 the CPR took over from the Québec government the North Shore Railway connecting Montréal with Québec City. The company then gradually developed an extensive branchline network in Québec and Ontario. Some attention was devoted to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island by the opening in 1889 of a line across northern Maine from Montréal to Saint John, New Brunswick. This gave the CPR access to a Canadian Atlantic port.
The CPR also devoted attention to developing shipping overseas, as well as rail traffic in western Canada. In 1891 the company purchased three new ocean vessels for passengers and cargo, which operated out of Vancouver. They quickly became profitable, bringing tea, silk, and other items from Japan and China, and providing luxury accommodation for wealthy tourists eager to visit East Asia. Starting in 1898 the CPR began construction of a rail line from Lethbridge, Alberta, into the Kootenay region of southern British Columbia to capture the commercial traffic from the region’s expanding mining industry. This eventually led to the CPR’s involvement in mining and metallurgy.
After 1896 large-scale immigration to the prairie areas led the CPR to substantially increase its branchline network in the region. The main line from Winnipeg to Fort William was double-tracked between 1905 and 1909. These measures enabled the company to handle much of the rapidly increasing prairie grain crop.
The CPR also earned large revenues from its hotel chain, which was founded by William Van Horne. Recognizing the tourist potential of the hot springs near Banff, discovered in 1885, he decided to build the Banff Springs Hotel (1888), a five-story building with a view of the Rocky Mountains. The CPR’s first city hotel was the luxurious Hotel Vancouver (1887). Next was the famous Château Frontenac in Québec City (1893), which introduced the château style used for the Empress Hotel in Victoria (1908), as well as for hotels built by other Canadian railways. Luxury hotels were also established in Montréal (1898), Winnipeg (1906), and Calgary (1914).
|VI||EFFECTS AND INFLUENCE OF THE RAILWAY|
Major urban centers developed along the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the west. Winnipeg, the western headquarters of the CPR, became the center of the western grain and wholesale trades, a major factor in the city’s rapid population growth in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Much of the early growth of Vancouver was centered around its extensive service facilities, which built and maintained an increasing amount of the CPR’s equipment. The gradual expansion of Vancouver’s port facilities also contributed substantially to the city’s development.
Additionally, the development of the CPR and American transcontinental railroads played a major role in the establishment of international standard time in 1885. Until then, every city and town had its own time system. While directing government surveys of the route of the CPR in the 1870s, Sandford Fleming realized that constant time changes from city to city across the continent would cause serious confusion in the CPR’s passenger and freight schedules. He promoted the concept of international time zones that was adopted by the CPR and major U.S. railroads in 1883. This system was adopted internationally the following year.
|VII||THE RAILWAY TODAY|
Today, the Canadian Pacific is a large, diverse, and complex enterprise. In 1962 the non-transportation interests such as real estate, mining, and oil and gas production were vested in a holding company. Diversification into other modes of transportation (trucking and airlines) led the company to change its name to Canadian Pacific Limited in 1971 and later to the Canadian National Railway Company.
For revenues, profits, and other information about this corporation, see the table attached to this article.