N-0000.73.19 | Grand Trunk Railway Engineering Department group, composite 1877

Grand Trunk Railway Engineering Department group, composite 1877
Notman & Sandham
1877, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
27 x 35 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Art (2774) , composite (312) , Photograph (77678) , Train (185) , Transportation (2517)
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Keys to History

This group from the Grand Trunk's Engineering Department is posing near a bridge on which a locomotive has stopped. Canadian history is punctuated with several railway accidents; some were caused by infrastructure or rolling stock in poor repair or by technical failures. The bridge over the Desjardins Canal in Hamilton, that collapsed under a train in 1857, was a striking example. However, the railway companies increasingly took safety measures to ensure their trains would be totally secure.

Several technological innovations in the 19th century would play a very important role in this area. Westinghouse pneumatic brakes would soon replace manual brakes aboard trains. Then the telegraph and later the radio and telephone would facilitate communications. The work of experienced employees, who inspected the infrastructures and checked the alignment of the rails, also played an important role in ensuring the security of trains.

  • What

    Canadian engineers faced important challenges when building railways, particularly the long distances to be crossed and the varied and often uneven relief that had to be taken into account.

  • Where

    In the 1860s, the Grand Trunk linked the port of Portland, United States, open year round, to the city of Sarnia in Ontario. In the 1880s, the company would expand towards Western Canada.

  • When

    The Grand Trunk was created in 1852 to connect Toronto and Montreal. In 1867, the Grand Trunk was made up of 2 055 kilometres of railroad, which made it the largest railway in the world.

  • Who

    Painter and illustrator Henry Sandham was the associate of renowned photographer William Notman from 1877 to 1882. He notably perfected the composite photography technique, which consisted of a montage of individual photos on a painted background.