M993X.5.794 | A New Era of Railroading

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A New Era of Railroading
Anonyme - Anonymous
July 29,1880, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photolithography
39.4 x 26.6 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cartoon (19139) , politics (general) (2228) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) is portrayed here holding hands with what appears to be a likeness of Quebec Premier Sir Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau (1840-1898). The two seem rather content to show off their miniature locomotives as they, undoubtedly, contemplate the Canadian Pacific Railway plan in development at that time. Once built, the railway would stretch the country's transportation lines from Ontario to the Pacific coast. For the CPR to build a continuous line into Halifax, the federal government needed some of the existing railway that belonged to Chapleau's province of Quebec.

Through negotiations with Macdonald's Conservatives, British Columbia had secured a federal promise to complete the transcontinental railway as one of the principal conditions of it's entry into Confederation in 1871. By 1880, when this print was made, very little work had been done. The Canadian economy had slowed considerably in 1873, and Macdonald had yielded power to a Liberal government that was less interested in railroad development. As a result, construction on the CPR slowed to a halt.

Macdonald regained power in 1878. By the summer of 1880, there was an atmosphere of renewed optimism about Canadian markets and the Prime Minister was openly courting several bidders for the lucrative, albeit difficult, CPR railway contract. By fall, the contract was awarded to the CPR Syndicate, a group of Canadian capitalists led by George Stephen that would go on to complete the railway in 1885.

  • What

    This cartoon appeared in the Canadian Illustrated News (1869-1883) and its French counterpart, L'Opinion Publique (1870-1883). These illustrated weeklies were published in Montreal by George-Édouard Desbarats.

  • Where

    Sir John Alexander Macdonald had fallen from power in 1873 as a result of the Pacific Scandal. This time around, he was determined to have an open and public competition for the railway contract.

  • When

    The 1878 election returned Macdonald to power on a National Policy platform that included a proposal to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. At the time of publication in July 1880, Prime Minister Macdonald was overseas in London courting bidders for the transcontinental railway contract.

  • Who

    Sir Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau was a lawyer, publisher, newspaper editor and politician. Chapleau was the Premier of Quebec from 1879 until 1882 when he joined Macdonald's federal cabinet. He served as Secretary of State until 1891.