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What Is the Importance of the Canadian Pacific Railway?

    Background

    • The province of British Columbia agreed to enter into Confederation in 1871 with the provision that a transcontinental railway be started within two years and completed within 10. Without the railroad, British Columbia would have closer ties to the American West than to the Canadian capital in Ottawa. Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, recognized the danger of American westward expansion to Canada's tenuous ties with its own western territory. Macdonald championed the need for a railway to unite the new Canadian Confederation.

    Financial Considerations

    • The British government saw a railway stretching across Canada as a good way to increase Britain's influence in the Pacific. British merchant bankers were encouraged to invest in the new rail line and agreed to help finance the venture. The construction contract, signed October 21, 1880, provided $25 million and 25 million acres of land fit for settlement to a syndicate willing to undertake the project. The railway act was passed into law on Feb.15, 1881.

      On February 16, the syndicate deposited $1 million to secure construction and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company was born. The new company was expected to complete the transcontinental rail line by May 1, 1891. William Cornelius Van Horne, at the time working for American railway interests, was offered $15,000 a year to become the new Canadian corporation's president and general manager. It was Van Horne's experience and leadership that contributed to making the project a success.

    Construction

    • Steel trestles were originally constructed in wood.an angle on the trestle image by Stormy Ward from Fotolia.com

      The CPR company hired a locating engineer, Major A.B. Rogers, to look for a route through the Selkirk Mountains. Originally the line was to pass through the Yellowhead Pass. Sandford Fleming, who had surveyed the Yellowhead option, agreed to a more southerly route found by Rogers and eventually named Rogers Pass. The construction of the line necessitated the building of huge trestles and dangerous blasting through miles of solid rock. The last spike was driven by Donald A. Smith (later named Lord Strathcona) at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885.

    Western Expansion

    • The Canadian Pacific Railway owned 25 million acres of land that they were eager to sell. Offices were opened in Europe to advertise the land and sell settlers on the idea of locating their homes in western Canada. Settlers meant more revenue for the railway as supplies were shipped west and crops and animals grown in the new lands were shipped to eastern markets. Freight from China and Japan arrived in seven sailing ships chartered by CPR to ship goods across Canada to Toronto, Hamilton, and to New York. Steamships were introduced on the sea routes from British Columbia to China and Japan and brought more passengers for CPR, and a contract with the British Post Office to carry the mail to ports in Asia. Western Canada grew and thrived with the economic successes of the CPR company.

    Later Successes

    • In later years the Canadian Pacific Railway company became involved in communications, hotels, insurance, manufacturing, mining, pulp and paper, trucking, waste management and aviation. In 1941 the CPR bought and amalgamated 10 commercial aviation companies to form Canadian Pacific Airlines. Today's CPR continues to maintain over 22,500 kilometers of track and ships western grain, fertilizer, cars and container freight across the country. Passenger and tourist traffic is currently handled in Canada by VIA Rail (formerly Canadian National Railway), as Canada's two major rail companies share the wealth through differing mandates.

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