(CANADA, 1851 to 1900 – continued)

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Transcontinental Railway, to 1885

Map of transcontinental railway beginning in Bonfield

Map of transcontinental railway

The rail line in red, from Ontario to Port Moody on the Pacific Coast.

The building of the transcontinental railway to British Columbia had its beginning in 1880 when a group of Scottish-Canadian businessmen formed a syndicate to build it. Getting construction started involved financial credit from Canada's government and a grant by the government of 25 million acres. The government defrayed surveying costs and exempted the railway from property taxes for 20 years. On February 15, 1881, legislation confirming the contract received royal assent, and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company was incorporated the next day.

A southerly route was chosen – across the arid region between Winnipeg and Calgary, through the mountains west of Calgary and down to Port Moody on the Pacific Coast near the US border. The route crossed land controlled by the Blackfoot First Nation to the east of Fort Calgary. A missionary priest, Albert Lacombe, persuaded the Blackfoot chief, Crowfoot, that the railway was inevitable, and in return for his assent Crowfoot was awarded a lifetime train pass.

With the railway, Canada's own telegraph line to the West was constructed. Previously, messages to the West had to be sent via the United States. Canadian Pacific Railway began selling telegraph services in 1882, allowing the railroad to offset the costs of constructing and maintaining its pole line.

By 1883, railway construction was progressing rapidly, but the CPR was in danger of running out of funds. In response, on 31 January 1884 the government passed the Railway Relief Bill, providing a further $22.5 million in loans to the CPR. The bill received royal assent on March 6, 1884.

Canada's transcontinental railway was completed at Port Moody on the Pacific Coast in November 1885 – sixteen years after a transcontinental railway had been completed in the United States. It was primarily for freight, but for decades it would be a means of long-distance passenger transport and would contribute to the settlement and development of Western Canada.

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.