Canada’s first transcontinental railroad, Canadian Pacific Railway, was marred by delays, financial issues and red tape.
A transcontinental railroad had been promised to the colony of British Columbia to entice it to enter confederation. If the promise was not fulfilled, the province might choose to leave the dominion.
A transcontinental railroad also was used a recruitment tool in Europe to encourage emigration. New settlers were offered 160 acres for a $10 deposit.
A railway would not only make settlement to the west easier, it would link the entire nation for commerce.
The Montreal Gazette presented another benefit, one cited four decades earlier in the 1840s. “… a railway across British North America was urged as a means of relieving the pauperism and decreasing the criminal population of the United Kingdom.”
Facts About the Railroad
Construction Begins: 1881
Mileage Covered: 25 million acres, starting in Ontario and running through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Demographics: 15,000 Chinese were employed in the construction as were European immigrants.
During Construction: First Nation people were offered compensation for their land, but not all felt the farmland they had been promised was a good deal.
A route was chosen near the U.S. border to keep American railroads out of the Canadian market. However, this route meant working through some rough terrain.
Cost: Canada Pacific Railroad estimated it would cost $100 million to complete the railway.
What is known as the Pacific Scandal erupted when it was uncovered that a contract had been awarded to a man who had contributed to the prime minister’s election campaign. Conservative members of Parliament had accepted bribes to influence the contract’s awarding.
In the scandal’s aftermath, a syndicate was formed, and the government granted it a $25 million loan. The money quickly ran out and attempts to raise funds in Britain were unsuccessful. By 1885, the railroad was facing bankruptcy and requested a $5 million loan from the government.
Construction Completed: November 7, 1885.
Last Spike: Craigellachie, British Columbia.
Legacy: Shortcuts taken during construction because of weather meant the first trains had to wait months to use the line.
During World War I, Canada Pacific Railway’s vast network, that also included ships, were used to transport troops and supplies.
Updated: 20 October 2020
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