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Canadian Pacific Railway - Construction

Finally, in 1880, it was decided almost by common consent to surrender the work to a private company. On October 21, 1880 a group of Scottish Canadian businessmen finally formed a viable syndicate to build a transcontinental railway. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was incorporated February 16, 1881, with George Stephen as its first president.

The political reasons for building the railway were lost sight of and commercial reasons took their place, and there was no difficulty in finding a party of capitalists ready and willing to relieve the Government of the work and carry it on as a commercial enterprise. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was organized early in 1881, and immediately entered into a contract with the Government to complete the line within ten years.

The explorations and surveys for the railway had made known the character of the country it was to traverse. In the wilderness east, north, and west of Lake Superior, forests of pine and other timber, and mineral deposits of incalculable value, were found, and millions of acres of agricultural land as well. The vast prairie district between Winnipeg and the Rocky Mountains proved to be wonderfully rich in its agricultural resources. Towards the mountains great coal-fields were discovered, and British Columbia, beyond, was known to contain almost every element of traffic and wealth. Thousands of people had settled on the prairies of the Northwest, and their success had brought tens of thousands more.

The railway system of Eastern Canada had already advanced far up the Ottawa valley, attracted mainly by the rapidly growing traffic from the pine forests, and it was from a point of connection with this system that the Canadian Pacific Railway had to be carried through to the Pacific; coast, a distance of two thousand five hundred and fifty miles. Of this, the Government had under construction one section of four hundred and twenty-five miles between Lake Superior and Winnipeg, and another of two hundred and thirteen miles from Burrard Inlet, on the Pacific coast, eastward to Kamloops Lake in British Columbia.

The company undertook the building of the remaining nineteen hundred and twenty miles, and for this it was to receive from the Government a number of valuable privileges and immunities, and twenty-five million dollars in money and twenty-five million acres of agricultural land. The two sections of the railway already under construction were to be finished by the Government, and, together with a branch line of sixty-five miles already in operation from Winnipeg southward to the boundary of the United States, were to be given to the company, in addition to its subsidies in money and lands; and the entire railway when completed was to remain the property of the company.

With these liberal subventions the company set about its task most vigorously. While the engineers were exploring the more difficult and less known section from the Ottawa River to and around Lake Superior, and marking out a line for the navvies, work was commenced at Winnipeg and pushed westward across the prairies, where one hundred and sixty miles of the railway were completed before the end of the first year. During the second year the rails advanced four hundred and fifty miles. The end of the third year found them at the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and the fourth in the Selkirks, nearly a thousand and fifty miles from Winnipeg.

While such rapid progress was being made west of Winnipeg, the rails advancing at an average rate of more than three miles each working day, for months in succession, and sometimes five and even six miles in a day, armies of men with all modern appliances and thousands of tons of dynamite were breaking down the harriers of hard and tough Laurentian and Huronian rocks, and pushing the line through the forests north and east of Lake Superior with such energy that eastern Canada and the Canadian Northwest were united by a continuous railway early in 1885.

The government section from the Pacific coast eastward had meanwhile reached Kamloops Lake, and there the company took up the work and carried it on to a connection with the line advancing westward across the Rockies and the Selkirks. The forces working towards each other met at Craigellachie, in Eagle Pass, in the Gold or Columbian range of mountains, and there, on a wet morning, the 7th of November, 1885, the last rail was laid in the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The energies of the company had not been confined to the mere fulfilment of its contract with the Government. Much more was done in order that the railway might fully serve its purpose as a commercial enterprise. Independent connections with the Atlantic seaboard were secured by the purchase of lines leading eastward to Montreal and Quebec: branch lines to the chief centres of trade in eastern Canada were provided by purchase and construction, to collect and distribute the traffic of the main line; and other branch lines were built in the Northwest for the development of the great prairies.

The close of 1885 found the company, not yet five years old, in possession of no less than 4,315 miles of railway, including the longest continuous line in the world, extending from Quebec and Montreal all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of three thousand and fifty miles; and by the midsummer of 1886 all this vast system was fully equipped and fairly working throughout. Villages and towns and even cities followed close upon the heels of the line-builders; the forests were cleared away, the prairie's soil was turned over, mines were opened, and even before the last rail was in place the completed sections were carrying a large and profitable traffic. The touch of this young Giant of the North was felt upon the world's commerce almost before his existence was known; and, not content with the trade of the golden shores of the Pacific from California to Alaska, his arms stretched out across that broad ocean and grasped the teas and silks of China and Japan to exchange them for the fabrics of Europe.

Canadian Pacific Railway

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:42 ZULU