Use file > print in the menu bar to print this page.

Forging the National Dream

William R. Morrison, University of Northern British Columbia

See the web tour

Introduction:

William R. Morrison, University of Northern British Columbia, 2003

Although many Canadians under the age of forty have never travelled by train, railways were once as vital to this country as highways and airplanes are today. Not only did they make modern travel and trade possible, they were also at the heart of Canada's growth as a nation. From the country's first railway, the Champlain & St. Lawrence, to the establishment of the Canadian National Railways in 1918, railways were the steel that bound this country together.

And it was the railway that made modern Canada possible. The Champlain & St. Lawrence, opened in 1836 between Laprairie and St-Jean, Quebec, linked Montreal to the Hudson River Valley and New York City via the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain, in the process greatly improving trade and travel. The Grand Trunk Railway, opened in 1856, joined Toronto and Montreal, and made it possible to travel between the two cities in a matter of hours. Prior to this, a trip by sleigh could take more than a week.

Canada's most important railroads, however, had as much to do with nation building as they had with trade. The building of the Intercolonial Railway Line, for example, is one of the conditions under which the Maritime Provinces agreed to Confederation. Stretching some 1100 kilometres, it was completed in 1876 and linked Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with Quebec and Ontario. But even more vital to the new country was the Canadian Pacific Railway, begun in 1875 but built mainly between 1881 and 1885 from Ontario to the Pacific Coast. Without the promise of a transcontinental railway, British Columbia would not have entered Confederation, and it would have been impossible to settle what are now the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The political careers of men such as John A. Macdonald, Georges-Étienne Cartier, and Francis Hincks (who once said "railways are my politics") depended largely on the success of their railway projects.

More than just a line of steel, the Canadian Pacific Railway was an integral part of the federal government's national policy in the years after Confederation. The company was heavily involved in the sale of prairie land, as well as in tourism and the hotel business. It also built a steamship fleet that carried passengers and trade goods from Canada to Japan, China and other countries. In the 20th century, it expanded into the airline and telecommunications sector - to name just two. Clearly, then, it is the railways that made the "national dream" of a united Canada a reality.

This tour will trace the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway from central Canada to the west coast, showing how it achieved the national dream of joining the country together "from sea to shining sea".


VIEW-6488.F
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Sir William Van Horne, C.P.R. official, Montreal, QC, 1904
A. H. Harris
1904, 20th century
Silver salts on film (nitrate ?) - Gelatin silver process
11 x 15 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-6488.F
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

William Van Horne (1843-1915) was the general manager of the CPR. Born in Illinois, he went to work as a railway telegrapher at the age of 14. Ambitious and hard-working, he was general superintendent of the Illinois Central by the age of 29. He became general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1882 and drove the railway across northern Ontario, the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. It was Van Horne who picked Vancouver to be the western terminus of the line. By the time he retired in 1899, the CPR had built over 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of track. He became a Canadian citizen, and was knighted in 1914.

What:

This is a view of a 20th-century Canadian business office.

Where:

Van Horne's office was at CPR headquarters in Montreal.

When:

Van Horne had been general manager of the CPR for more than 20 years when this picture was taken.

Who:

You would never guess from his plain office that Sir William Van Horne was one of the most powerful businessmen in Canada. What sort of office would a man in his position have today?

N-0000.193.316.2
© McCord Museum
Photograph
G.T.R. bridge over the Ottawa River, Vaudreuil, QC, about 1860
William Notman (1826-1891)
about 1860, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
7.3 x 7 cm
Gift of Mr. James Geoffrey Notman
N-0000.193.316.2
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This substantial stone and beam bridge was built across the Ottawa River at Vaudreuil for an earlier railway, the Grand Trunk. The GTR was, like the CPR, designed to link Canada together, in this case the provinces of Canada East and Canada West before Confederation. Chartered in 1852, it was completed in 1854 between Montreal and Toronto. It was later extended, and by 1867 it was the longest railway in the world. Eventually it built a branch to the Pacific Ocean and went bankrupt, becoming part of the Canadian National Railway system. Along with the CPR and the National Transcontinental, it was part of the "national dream" that tied Canada together from coast to coast.

What:

This is a stone and beam bridge built by the Grand Trunk Railway.

Where:

It spans the Ottawa River at Vaudreuil.

When:

The bridge was only a few years old when this picture was taken, around 1860.

Who:

The massive solidity of the bridge bears witness to the skill and efforts of the early engineers and workers who built it.

VIEW-1682
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Rogers Pass and Mount Carroll on the C.P.R., BC, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts, frosting on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1682
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The search for a route for the CPR through the Rocky Mountains was very difficult. Several were found, but one was too far north and another too close to the United States. The problem was solved in 1881-82, when the Rogers Pass was discovered by Major A.B. Rogers. At 1,330 m, it was one of the highest point on the transcontinental line. Over the years, 250 people, mostly railway workers, were killed by avalanches in the pass, until in 1916 the CPR built the 8 km long Connaught Tunnel through the mountain and abandoned the pass. In 1962 the Trans-Canada Highway was completed through the Rogers Pass. It is still a difficult drive in the winter, with avalanches often a danger.

What:

The debris of railway construction mars this scenic mountain view.

Where:

The place is Rogers Pass, in the British Columbia Rockies.

When:

The picture was taken in 1887, two years after the line was finished.

Who:

Thousands of workers, many of them Chinese, cleared the forest (note the large stump in the left foreground) and laid the tracks.

VIEW-1508
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Interior C.P.R. emigrant sleeping car, beds lowered, Montreal, QC, 1884
Wm. Notman & Son
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1508
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The CPR was an important part of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy. This involved encouraging the growth of industry in the East, settling the Prairies in the West and linking the two sections by the railway. The railway was given large grants of land, which it sold to raise money to fund construction and later to make money. Settlers were brought west in "emigrant," or "colonist," cars, where they sat on wooden seats during the long days of travel and slept on overhead shelves at night. The cars were used for troop transport in both world wars.

What:

This is a sleeping car for emigrants to western Canada.

Where:

The picture was taken in Montreal, where their journey began.

When:

The year was 1884, when the cars were probably nearly brand-new.

Who:

These cars provided cheap transportation for emigrants, mostly British and European, who slept on the shelves lowered over the seats, as in this picture.

II-93008
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Interior first class C.P.R. car, QC, about 1890
Wm. Notman & Son
1890, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
II-93008
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

At first glance, this first-class car may not look much different from a colonist car. But if you look closely, you will see that it has carpeting on the floor and, more important, comfortable padded seats instead of hard wooden ones. There were no rough bunks that let down from the ceiling-first-class passengers retired at night to comfortable sleeping cars with beds. There was also a luxury sleeping car called the "Honolulu," which had leather furniture and even a bathtub. Here is a later (1890) example of a CPR sleeping car.

What:

This is a first-class CPR passenger car.

Where:

The shot was taken in Quebec.

When:

In 1890 it would have been about five years old.

Who:

First-class passengers paid extra for the plush seats and the chance to avoid rubbing shoulders with emigrants and other third-class travellers.

VIEW-2098
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Mountain Creek bridge, on the C.P.R., BC, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2098
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The builders of the CPR wanted it completed as quickly as possible. In order to do this, trestle bridges such as this one were built across rivers and canyons, then later were replaced with more permanent structures. Some were impressively high and used a great deal of timber. Later some trestle bridges were built of steel; the CPR trestle bridge at Lethbridge is the largest in North America. The bridge in this photograph was built in Glacier Park, BC, and because of its height and length it became a tourist attraction.

What:

This is a CPR trestle bridge.

Where:

It crosses Mountain Creek, in Glacier Park, near Revelstoke, BC.

When:

The bridge was four years old when this photo was taken in 1889.

Who:

Built by skilled workers, whose names were not recorded, the bridge carried many thousands of travellers in safety.

VIEW-3261
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. train "Imperial Limited", about 1890
Wm. Notman & Son
About 1890, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-3261
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

There is something about steam locomotives that makes people nostalgic, even those not old enough to remember when they were used all over Canada. The Imperial Limited was the CPR's luxury express train, running non-stop between Montreal and Vancouver. A great many different kinds of engines were used on the CPR over the years, steam giving way to diesel engines in the 1950s. Visitors to Vancouver can still enjoy a trip on the Royal Hudson, an excursion train pulled by a 1940 CPR steam locomotive.

What:

This is the CPR train called the Imperial Limited.

Where:

The train carried passengers at high speed between Montreal and Vancouver.

When:

The picture dates from about 1890.

Who:

The engineers who drove these express trains held envied jobs. For many young boys, it was the 1890s equivalent of being an astronaut.

VIEW-2117
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Chinese work gang on the C.P.R., Glacier Park, BC, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2117
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Thousands of Chinese workers brought in from China and the United States laboured on the western sections of the CPR track. They were preferred as workers because they accepted low wages and poor living conditions, and were hard-working and self-reliant. They faced discrimination in the towns along the route, and the Canadian government later imposed a "head tax" to discourage Chinese immigration. Given the most dangerous jobs, as many as 1,500 were killed on the British Columbia section of the line. Safety measures were primitive, and it was estimated that two men died for every mile (1.6 km) of track laid.

What:

This group of Chinese men were working on the CPR.

Where:

The location is Glacier Park, BC, one of the most spectacular and difficult sections of the entire line because of its steep grades.

When:

The year is 1889. Work on the line did not end, of course, with the driving of the last spike. There was much rebuilding and maintenance to be done.

Who:

The Chinese were paid a dollar a day; others got $1.50 to $1.75.

VIEW-1595.0
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Interior of C.P.R. drawing room car, Montreal, QC, composite, 1886
Wm. Notman & Son
1885-1915, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
24 x 20 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1595.0
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

For many people, a first-class trip across Canada on the CPR was the experience of a lifetime. This looks like a lovely, civilized way to travel. How nice to sit in a comfortable, padded chair with plenty of legroom and no one to jostle you. Certainly this was better than sitting on a hard wooden seat in a crowded emigrant car rubbing elbows with goodness knows who. You can see by the look on the young woman's face that she feels she deserves this good luck. Perhaps she is weighed down by all that heavy material, but that was the price one paid for being from the prosperous class.

What:

This is a composite photograph showing the CPR drawing-room car: the figures were photographed individually, then pasted on a background, which was rephotographed.

Where:

The car was photographed in Montreal.

When:

The picture was produced in 1886, perhaps as an advertisement to show people how comfortable and genteel rail travel could be.

Who:

From the clothing, it is clear that only the well-to-do could afford to travel in this car. Is that a doctor's bag cleverly arranged on the right-hand seat to show that professional men travelled this way?

II-136538
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. freight department, Montreal, QC, 1901
Wm. Notman & Son
1901, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
II-136538
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This view of clerks typing orders in the CPR freight department is a reminder that at one time most office workers were men. So were all telephone operators. By 1890, however, 64% of stenographers and typists in the United States were women. The typewriter, invented in 1867 by an American named Scholes, opened a new field of work for women, eventually replacing domestic service as a major employer of women. Since this picture was taken in 1901, we may assume that the CPR was behind the times in the employment of women. Today typewriters, like male typists, are all but extinct.

What:

Here we see a roomful of typewriters operated by clerks.

Where:

The CPR freight office in Montreal.

When:

The typewriter was invented in the United States in 1867.

Who:

The typewriter made clerks much more productive and gave new employment opportunities to women. All the clerks in this photo, however, are men.

VIEW-2945
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. S.S. "Empress of Japan", Vancouver, BC, about 1891
Mayo & Weed
1885-1915, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2945
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The CPR had ambitions that stretched beyond Canada. It wanted to capture the passenger and the luxury goods traffic between Britain and the Pacific countries. When it won the contract to carry the Royal Mail from Asia to Britain, it built three fast ships: the Empresses of India, China and Japan. These carried mail, passengers and valuable cargo such as silk and tea. A new Empress of Japan began service in 1930, but the entire line was withdrawn when the war in the Pacific began in December 1941. Other Empress ships sailed between Canada and Britain. One of the greatest maritime disasters in Canadian history occurred in 1914, when the Empress of Ireland was sunk in a collision in the St. Lawrence River, with a loss of over 1,000 lives.

What:

This is the CPR steamship the Empress of Japan.

Where:

The ship was photographed in Vancouver harbour.

When:

The ship was launched in Barrow, UK, in December 1890. The picture must have been taken sometime within the next year.

Who:

The pride of the fleet, the ship held the trans-Pacific speed record for 22 years. By the time she was retired in 1922, she had crossed the Pacific 315 times and had steamed over four million kilometres.

N-0000.25.1056
© McCord Museum
Photograph, glass lantern slide
Shuswap Lake on the C.P.R., near Sicamous, BC, 1889, copied ca.1902
William McFarlane Notman
About 1902, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts and transparent ink on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
N-0000.25.1056
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

William Notman (1826-91), a Scottish immigrant to Montreal, was Canada's most important photographer of the later 19th century. His sons William and George were hired by the CPR to take scenic photographs of the new railway for publicity purposes. The railway provided a special car called "Photographic Car No. 1" for the Notmans to use. Because the Rockies are so scenic, and because the purpose of the trip was to stimulate tourist traffic, a great many of the pictures were taken in British Columbia. The photographs sold well, and are now highly collectible. In the days before colour photography they were sometimes tinted by hand to make them more attractive.

What:

This is a view of one of British Columbia's most beautiful lakes.

Where:

Shuswap Lake lies along the CPR line in British Columbia.

When:

The photo, taken in 1889, was hand tinted later.

Who:

William M. Notman was commissioned by the CPR to take scenic photographs to lure tourists to the CPR and its hotels.

N-0000.25.1060
© McCord Museum
Photograph, glass lantern slide
Construction of snow shed on the C.P.R., Glacier Park, BC, 1887, copied ca.1902
William McFarlane Notman
About 1902, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 8 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
N-0000.25.1060
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

These structures with their massive timbers were designed to keep avalanches off the CPR track. They did spoil the view of Glacier Park, however, so the CPR built a second track outside the sheds for summer use. Snow sheds used huge amounts of wood and were very expensive to build, but they were cheaper than tunnels and saved many lives. Some of the original sheds can still be seen in Rogers Pass. Modern snow sheds along the Trans-Canada Highway in the region are made of concrete and steel.

What:

This is a snow shed over the CPR tracks. Snow sheds made travelling through the Rockies much safer.

Where:

This snow shed is in Glacier Park, near Revelstoke, BC.

When:

Snow sheds were built along with the railway in 1885 to prevent avalanches blocking the tracks.

Who:

In January 2003, 14 skiers were killed near here in two separate incidents. It truly is dangerous country.

N-0000.25.1079
© McCord Museum
Photograph, glass lantern slide
C.P.R. docks, Vancouver, BC, 1889, copied ca.1902
William McFarlane Notman
About 1902, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts and transparent ink on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
N-0000.25.1079
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The city of Vancouver owes its existence and its growth to the CPR. When the first train crossed the continent in 1886, Port Moody was the end of the line. In 1887, however, the CPR built another 20 km of track and extended the track to the small settlement of Vancouver, originally called Granville. Docks and other facilities were built, and that year the first ship from China came to the new railway dock. The trains ran out onto piers right over the water to meet the ships. The city boomed as Canada's main West Coast port. Its population grew from 0 in 1880 to over 100,000 by 1923.

What:

These docks are at the western end of Canada's great commercial artery.

Where:

These are the CPR docks at Vancouver, BC.

When:

The docks were opened as soon as the railway was finished.

Who:

The ships, warehouses and freight cars employed thousands of workers, making the company hugely important to the city and the province.

VIEW-1794
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. tea shed, Vancouver, BC, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1794
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The tea trade was highly profitable for the CPR. Within three weeks of the arrival of the first train to Port Moody, in 1886, a ship arrived from Yokohama with a million pounds of tea aboard. It was quickly shipped to Montreal and from there to Britain. Three years later, a Japanese consulate was opened in Vancouver to deal with trade and immigration issues. Beginning in 1891, there was also a profitable trade in mandarin oranges from Japan. In the early years, before prairie settlement really took off around 1895, the railway depended on this trade for much of its revenue.

What:

This warehouse is full of boxes of tea, a precious and valuable cargo.

Where:

The warehouses were at the docks in Vancouver.

When:

The tea trade had started about a year before this photo was taken in 1887.

Who:

Grown and picked by workers in China and India, the tea was carried by express across Canada for the British market.

VIEW-2141
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. docks, Vancouver, BC, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2141
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The most valuable commodity the CPR's ships brought from the Orient to its Vancouver docks was silk. It was so expensive and so perishable that it was shipped to its destination in New York on special silk trains that ran across Canada non-stop. All other trains, even passenger trains, had to give way to them. They were the fastest trains on the line, averaging 90 km/h. By the 1920s, the silk trains were travelling from Vancouver to New York in just 80 hours. This must have seemed miraculous to people still living who could remember when the trip took months by canoe. CPR ships saw military service in both world wars.

What:

Here is another view of the CPR docks at Vancouver, BC.

Where:

Vancouver was founded by the CPR as its western terminus, and the city owed much of its early growth to the company.

When:

The picture was taken in 1889, when both railway and city were only a few years old. Vancouver was chartered in 1886, and the railway was completed the year before.

Who:

In the days before container ships, cargoes were handled by vast numbers of longshoremen, working mostly by hand.

VIEW-2028
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Sulky plough on the C.P.R., MB, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2028
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

From the beginning, the CPR was involved in farming on the Prairies. The company was given huge tracts of land to sell, to help finance its construction. It was also involved in improving the land, for example, by building irrigation projects in southern Alberta. The company set up demonstration farms to prove to settlers that the land could be valuable for crops, and to show off the latest machinery and farming methods. The sulky plough was a great advance in farming technology; earlier farmers had to walk behind the plough. The farm at Strathmore, Alberta, was particularly large and modern.

What:

The man is riding a sulky plough-a plough with a seat on it.

Where:

The scene is a CPR demonstration farm in Manitoba.

When:

These farms began operating in the 1880s, when the CPR was in the business of selling land.

Who:

The driver, who looks well dressed and is probably a CPR agent, is turning over the virgin prairie soil with a sulky plough drawn by three horses.

VIEW-1425
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. station, Winnipeg, MB, 1884
William McFarlane Notman
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1425
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This solid and imposing stone structure hints at how important and powerful a force the CPR was in shaping the cities of western Canada. After the completion of the railway, Winnipeg became the gateway to the West, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants passing through it on their way to start new farms. This station was destroyed by fire and was replaced in 1904 by a larger station that is now the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg.

What:

This is the new CPR station at Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Where:

Tens of thousands of immigrants passed through this station on their way to new lives on prairie farms.

When:

The picture was taken in 1884, not long after the station was built.

Who:

The group of passengers is dwarfed by the station, whose heavy stone construction hints at the power of the railway in the community.

VIEW-1426.1
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. yards, Winnipeg, MB, 1884
William McFarlane Notman
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1426.1
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

It is interesting to compare a number of different photographs of the CPR freight yards in Winnipeg. The Notman photograph, taken in 1884, shows few cars, since the line had not been finished through Ontario at that time, though there was a line south to Minnesota. By 1903 the West was booming, and there were many more trains. By 1925 the freight yards were full of grain, freight and cattle cars. Two things had not changed, however: there were still very few trees, and the land was still flat as a board. The horizon seems a very long way away.

What:

Here we see train tracks stretching off to the horizon.

Where:

The railyards were in the north end of town, in the centre of the immigrant community.

When:

This picture was taken in 1884, the year before the railroad was finished.

Who:

There is no "who" here, for there is not a single human being in the scene. The photographer has chosen to illustrate the immensity and perhaps the potential of the prairie west.

MP-0000.25.971
© McCord Museum
Photograph, glass lantern slide
Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona, driving the last spike, C.P.R., Craigellachie, BC, 1885, copied about 1910
Alexander Ross
1885, 19th century
Silver salts and transparent ink on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
MP-0000.25.971
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This is a hand coloured version of what is probably the most famous photograph in Canadian history. On November 7th, 1885, Donald Smith, one of the leaders of the CPR, drove the last spike at Craigellachie, near Sicamous, BC. Smith (1820-1914), had become wealthy in the Hudson's Bay Company and was later Canadian high commissioner in London. He was knighted and eventually made Baron Strathcona. The tall, bearded man in the top hat behind him is Sir Sandford Fleming. Fleming was one of the CPR's directors. He also designed Canada's first postage stamp and was the inventor of Standard Time.

What:

This well-known photo records the historic moment when the last spike was driven to complete the CPR line.

Where:

The place was Craigellachie, near Sicamous, BC.

When:

The date was November 7, 1885.

Who:

The great and famous-Donald Smith, William Van Horne and others-are at the centre, but ordinary workers are in the foreground, watching the event and staring into the camera.

VIEW-1378.1
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. round house, Medicine Hat, AB, 1884
William McFarlane Notman
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1378.1
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

A roundhouse is a kind of barn for trains, built in a round or semicircular form (like this one) with the doors leading to a turntable that revolves to send the train onto a chosen track. The form was used in Europe as well. Here is a French one, photographed in the 1860s, and an English one from 1844 that was used for 120 years. Note the total absence of trees in this photo, typical of southeast Alberta. Notman's photographs are an interesting look at the simple industrial architecture of the period, plain and useful.

What:

This is a CPR roundhouse.

Where:

It is in Medicine Hat, in what was later to become the province of Alberta.

When:

The picture was taken in 1884. The roundhouse must have been virtually brand-new then, or still under construction.

Who:

The photographer has chosen to picture a new industrial landscape without the workers who built it.

VIEW-2101
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Glacier Hotel, on the C.P.R., BC, 1889
William McFarlane Notman
1889, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2101
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The Glacier Hotel was built at the foot of the Illecillewaet Glacier near the Rogers Pass in 1886. It was at first only a restaurant. The grades were so steep on that stretch of the line that the CPR built a dining room to feed passengers, making it unnecessary to haul a heavy dining and cooking car over the pass. Several engines had to be used just to get the passenger cars over. Later it was expanded into a hotel and became the centre for mountaineering in Canada. The Connaught Tunnel, built in 1916 to bypass it, was closed in 1926.

What:

This is the Glacier Hotel, a resort lodge on the CPR.

Where:

It is at the foot of the Illecillewaet Glacier, near Rogers Pass, in the BC Rockies.

When:

The hotel opened soon after the railway was completed in 1885.

Who:

The railway made money by bringing people to its hotel to enjoy the scenery and the bracing mountain air. Some employees are posing for the photographer.

VIEW-1434.1
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. machine shop, Winnipeg, MB, 1884
William McFarlane Notman
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1434.1
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

This view of the CPR machine shop in Winnipeg, taken in 1884, tells a good deal about industrial technology in late 19th century Canada. In the foreground is a lathe that, like the rest of the machines, is powered by a leather belt that runs at the upper end around a large rotating shaft under the roof. The shaft is turned at one end by a larger belt connected to a steam engine. Some of the machinery rotates very quickly, and the danger of accidents from workers getting caught in the belts is obvious. Safety in the workplace was one of the reasons why railway workers organized trade unions in Canada and the United States.

What:

This is a CPR machine shop and equipment.

Where:

The shop is in Winnipeg.

When:

The year is 1884.

Who:

William Notman often chose to photograph the workplace without the workers, as if the machines were more important and interesting than the men who operated them.

VIEW-1634
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. Hotel, Banff, AB, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts, frosting on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1634
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The CPR hotel at Banff (named after the Scottish home of two of the company's directors) was built close to natural hot springs. The beauty of the Rockies was always a big drawing card for the railway, and the mineral hot springs were a bonus. The CPR built the hotel to increase passenger traffic, since at first it was accessible only by rail. The hotel was expected to show a profit, as well. The rooms originally cost $3.50 a night, expensive for 1888. The present hotel was completed in 1928, and is a world class resort, where room rates now range from $180 to $1,500 for the presidential suite.

What:

The Banff hotel was CPR's grandest resort hotel.

Where:

The hotel in Banff, Alberta, was put up on the site of hot springs discovered by the men who built the CPR. The area is now a world-famous ski resort and national park.

When:

The photo was taken in 1887.

Who:

Tens of thousands of people from all over the world have stayed at this hotel and its successor to enjoy the hot springs, the famous scenery and the other attractions of the region.

VIEW-2520
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. cooking car, Montreal, QC, about 1890
Wm. Notman & Son
About 1890, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-2520
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

In some ways, Notman's pictures of daily tasks on the CPR trains are the most interesting of his photographs. You can see all sorts of details of food preparation for the guests in the luxurious dining cars. Note the rails designed to keep the huge cooking kettles from falling off the stove when the cars are in motion and the chimneys to take the coal fumes out of the car. The cook is sawing through a leg of beef with a hacksaw. The wooden boards used for a table don't look very sanitary; one hopes they were regularly disinfected with bleach, for this was an age when food poisoning was more common than it is now.

What:

This CPR cooking car is a kitchen on wheels.

Where:

The picture was taken in Montreal, but it could have been anywhere between there and Vancouver.

When:

The photo dates from around 1890, but this kind of car was used for decades by the CPR.

Who:

How much were these three men paid? As skilled workers, they might have made as much as $3 a day, a laughable wage now, but enough to support a family in 1890.

VIEW-1749
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Cisco bridge on the C.P.R., BC, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts, frosting on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1749
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The stone and steel CPR bridge over the Fraser River at Cisco, BC, is a famous spot on the line. There was once a telegraph station here. When the Northern Transcontinental (now part of the CNR) was built in the early 20th century, it also went down the Fraser Canyon. The canyon was so narrow at that point that there was no room for both lines on one side, so the CNR had to cross over at the same location. Thus there are two bridges almost side by side at the same spot.

What:

This CP railway bridge is made of stone and steel.

Where:

It was built at Cisco, in the canyon of the Fraser River, BC.

When:

The picture was taken in 1887, soon after the bridge was built.

Who:

It is a solid and enduring testimony to the skill of the engineers who designed it and the workers who built it.

VIEW-1365.1
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. construction supply station, Laggan, AB, 1884
William McFarlane Notman
1884, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1365.1
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Laggan is a village in the Highlands of Scotland, used for a set in the BBC series "Monarch of the Glen." The use of its name in Canada is, like Banff and Craigellachie, a reminder of how important Scots were in the early days of the CPR administration. This picture shows the untidy nature of the temporary construction camps in the late stages of building the railway. Note the rather primitive building on the right, probably a bunkhouse for the workers. Laggan is still the name of a CPR subdivision in the Rockies.

What:

This is a construction supply depot on the CPR.

Where:

It is at Laggan, now a CPR subdivision in the Rockies of British Columbia.

When:

The picture was taken 1884, when the railroad was still under construction.

Who:

Where is everybody? Up the line laying track? Eating or asleep in what looks like a bunkhouse on the right? Those three options fairly well describe the life of the railway worker in 1884.

VIEW-1606
© McCord Museum
Photograph
C.P.R. elevator, Port Arthur, ON, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1606
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The CPR carried a great deal of wheat and other grain east from the Prairies, after the section between Winnipeg and the head of Lake Superior was finished in 1882. This huge elevator was built at Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay, Ontario) to hold grain for shipment by boat through the great lakes. The freight yards and elevator were built on the site of the original Fort William, a fur trading post dating back to the 18th century, which was demolished in the name of progress (it has been rebuilt in a different location). It took until 1885 to finish the railway through the rest of northern Ontario.

What:

Grain elevators like this one were once the symbol of every town from Thunder Bay to the Rockies.

Where:

This elevator is in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ontario), where the grain was loaded onto ships bound for eastern North American and European markets.

When:

At the time this was taken, in 1887, the elevator would have been a year or two old.

Who:

The fruits of the labour of many thousands of prairie farmers passed through these terminals. Most of the old ones have been demolished, to be replaced by larger but fewer structures.

VIEW-6805
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Royal Tour: arrival of the train at C.P.R. station, Vancouver, BC, 1901
William McFarlane Notman
1901, 20th century
Silver salts on film (nitrate ?) taped to supporting glass - Gelatin silver process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-6805
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The first railway station in Vancouver was little more than a wooden shed. The second station, shown here and from a different angle in in this photo, was much more substantial. It was demolished in 1912 to make way for the present station, which is larger, though no more impressive as architecture. In October 1901, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, later to be King George V and Queen Mary, visited Vancouver. The visit caused tremendous excitement. Even at remote places such as Golden, BC, children lined up in the snow with Union Jacks to cheer the royal couple as they passed by in a CPR train.

What:

The CPR station has been decorated for an important event.

Where:

This is the Vancouver railway station, at the western end of a royal tour.

When:

The occasion is the Royal Tour of October 1901.

Who:

Like a theatre waiting for the curtain to go up, the station waits for the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, later King George V and Queen Mary, on their cross-country tour.

VIEW-1741
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Kamloops on the C.P.R., BC, 1887
William McFarlane Notman
1887, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
VIEW-1741
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Many of Notman's pictures are beautiful works of art as well as being historically valuable. The light and shadows in this photograph, and the detail of the clouds, show great skill both in taking the picture and in making the print. Kamloops was the site of a fur-trading post founded in 1812, but as this photo shows, it was a tiny place until the railway came through. Like many other towns in southern BC, Kamloops owes its existence to the railway.

What:

Here is a view of a river town and steamboat.

Where:

This is Kamloops, BC.

When:

The photo was taken 1887.

Who:

The photographer, William McFarlane Notman (1857-1913), son of famous Montreal photographer William Notman (1826-91), made several trips across Canada taking pictures for the CPR.

Conclusion:

The Canadian Pacific Railway was built at a cost to the Canadian public of $25 million in initial grants (with additional smaller grants before the line was finished) and 25 million acres (over 10 million ha) of land. It was also given about 1,500 km of track already built by the government. Though it was a tremendous struggle to complete the line across the Rockies and over the muskeg of Northern Ontario, the CPR was a tremendous success. In financial terms, it made money from the day it was opened, especially in the early days from the Asian trade in tea and silk. Many prairie farmers, however, did not like it, and frequently cursed the fact that they were dependent on its monopoly over passenger and freight traffic. It was their resentment that led the government of Manitoba to build a rival line to the northern port of Churchill to provide competition, and the Laurier government to authorize the construction of two more transcontinental railways.

The CPR was far more than simply a railway. From the beginning, it operated hotels as well as steamship lines between Canada and the Orient in the West and Canada and Britain in the East. It also operated a fleet of coastal steamers in BC waters-the Princess ships. When one of them, the Princess Sophia, hit a reef off the coast of Alaska and sank in October 1918, killing all 354 people on board, it was the worst disaster in the history of the Pacific northwest coast. The company was also involved in farming, in communications and, beginning in 1930, in an airline. It is still an economic powerhouse in Canada.


Bibliography



Berton, Pierre. The National Dream: The Great Railway 1871-1881. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970.

Berton, Pierre. The Last Spike. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971.

Berton, Pierre. The Great Railway Illustrated. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972.

Cruise, David, and Alison Griffiths. Lords of the Line. Markham, Ont.: Viking Press, 1988.

Dean, Murray W., and David Hanna. Canadian Pacific Diesel Locomotives: The History of a Motive Power Revolution. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1981.

Dempsey, Hugh A., ed. The CPR West: The Iron Road and the Making of a Nation. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1984.

Glazebrook, G. P. de T. A History of Transportation in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970.

Innis, Harold Adams.A History of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Lavallee, Omer. Van Horne's Road. Montreal: Railfare Enterprises, 1974.

Mika, Nick, Helma Mika and Donald M. Wilson. Illustrated History of Canadian Railways. Belleville, Ont.: Mika Publishing, 1986.


© Musée McCord Museum