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Canadian Pacific Railway - At War

The CPR was not just an economic and political tool to link Canadas east and west in the 1880s. CPR was also a major Canadian strategic weapon. As strange as it may sound, CPR actually served to keep Americans and their manifest destiny at bay below the 49th parallel. There was a definite move afoot in 19th Century United States of America to push the western international border between Canada and the US northward. In the first half of the century, cries of 54-40 or fight rang out in the US in a bid to push the boundary as far north as 54 degrees, 40 minutes of latitude in the northern hemisphere. The arrival of the CPR established a presence in the Canadian West. CPR linked British Columbia with Central and Eastern Canada, putting an end to all this talk.

Aside from strategic benefits, CPR actually helped quash an armed insurrection at home on the Canadian Prairies. Trouble started brewing soon after Canada was formed, July 1, 1867. The Hudsons Bay Company (Hbc) sold a huge tract of land it owned in the Canadian northwest to the Canadian government. In 1869, Hbc sold the 1.5-million-square mile Ruperts Land to the federal government for $1.5 million. This was almost twice the size of the USs Louisiana Purchase at only one-tenth the cost. The feds were happy with their purchase from The Bay.

The natives and Mtis (half native and half French-Canadian or Scottish-Canadian) were not. After all this was really their land that was trading hands so quickly, easily and cheaply. So the natives worked on setting up reserves. And Mtis leader Louis Riel set up a whole province Manitoba. Not as big as todays Manitoba, provincial status came nevertheless to the province on July 15, 1870only after a bitter Riel-led insurrection. CPR was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1885. Half a year before the last spike was driven, Louis Riel teamed up with Gabriel Dumont, Poundmaker and Big Bear, and waged a bloody battle at Duck Lake, on March 26, 1885. His actions proved the national security benefit of the CPR. CPR came to the rescue with logistical finesse, transporting troops from the east over its nearly completed main line, to the western hot spots. The 1885 rebellion was quelled in a matter of weeks. Whereas, back in 1870, it took Colonel Wolseley three months just to get his troops to Manitoba.

Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) were very much involved in the Great War. CPR put the entire resources of the worlds greatest travel system at the empires disposalthis, during CPRs heyday, when the railway was much more than just a railway. Not only were the railways trains and tracks at the British Empires disposal, but also its ships, shops, hotels, telegraphs, and, above all, its people. Aiding the war effort meant transporting and billeting troops; building and supplying arms and munitions; arming, lending and selling ships. Fifty-two CPR ships were pressed into service during World War I, carrying more than a million troops and passengers and four million tons of cargo. CPR was the strongest and most viable railway in Canada. So it set up and formed the major part of the Canadian Overseas Railway Reconstruction Corps a group of skilled railroaders and engineers who went overseas during and after World War I to rebuild Europes railway infrastructure.

With the outbreak of World War II, the entire CPR network was again at the disposal of the Allied war effort. On land, CPR moved 307 million tons of freight and 86 million passengers; including 150,000 soldiers, nearly 130,000 army and air force re-patriots, and thousands of sailors. At sea, 22 CPR ships went to war with 12 of them being sunk, including CPRs largest passenger ship ever, which was almost as big as the Titanic the Empress of Britain II. CPR reorganized its entire shop system for the war. Much of Angus Shops, in Montreal, was turned over to building Valentine tanks and munitions.

In a logistics move reminiscent of World War II or before (minus the movement of troops), CPR moves all sorts of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) vehicles to and from online bases, such as CFB Suffield in Alberta. CPR participates to this day in Canadian troop movements and field exercises, shipping army vehicles and equipment by rail to remote training grounds or in preparation for shipment overseas.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:43 ZULU