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The Impact Of Railway Development On Canada

1011 words (4 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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As stated by Leonard Tilley at the time of Confederation “[Canada]…shall have the dominion…from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” In 1867 Canada had many challenges to overcome to reach this dream since at the time Canada consisted of the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. How did Canada develop from the small Dominion of 1867 to the Canada ready to help Britain fight in World War One in 1914? Railways were one piece of this puzzle to achieve this early vision of Canada. This dream of a Canada from ‘sea to sea’ would become reality with the help of the Intercolonial Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and finally the Canadian National (CN) and Grand Trunk railways. Each distinct phase of railway development in early Canada had a profound impact on the growth of Canada before 1914.

The first phase of railway development was the completion of the Intercolonial line from Rivière de Loup, Quebec to Halifax, Nova Scotia. This line provided stability, new jobs and allowed for growth of future lines such as the transcontinental. First of all, part of the British North America Act was “…it shall be the Duty…of Canada… within Six Months after the Union, [to construct] a Railway connecting the River St. Lawrence with the City of Halifax in Nova Scotia…” [2] . Very soon following Confederation, certain politicians in Nova Scotia tried to secede from the new union. [3] These anti-confederates pushed the first Prime Minister to get this railway completed in order to secure their place in the union, which helped to stabilize early Canada. [4] Secondly, the intercolonial line also provided much needed jobs for the new country of Canada. [5] Thirdly, the line was completed in 1876, and paved a way for the upcoming transcontinental line that was already being constructed. Although the transcontinental idea was not a new one, the completion of the intercontinental set the stage for the new line to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Threat of annexation from the United States, growth of the recently acquired North-West territory, and a full expansion west with the addition of British Columbia into Confederation were all factors that helped Canada construct its first transcontinental, The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Without a railway or road system leading from the newly linked eastern Canada, the west of Canada was at risk from the Union Pacific Transcontinental railway recently completed in the United States. The North-west Territory had huge untapped resources and in order for Canada to gain access to this remote area, a railway needed to be built through it. Early trading in this area was all done by the Hudson’s Bay Company and Britain, but now with an established railway running through it, resources began to stay more in North America. [6] Part of British Columbia’s terms of joining the union was the following “…commencement…within two years…of the construction of a railway…to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada…” [7] Although this was not achieved within the 10 years stated in the original union terms, the last spike was driven on November 7th, 1885, completing this second phase of railway expansion in Canada and helping to secure the west. [8] 

Now that a complete transcontinental line existed across the country, growth of agriculture and resources, increased immigration, and job creation were needed in order for Canada to continue expanding. The third wave of railway production began with the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk lines. Expansion of the existing railway in order to gain access to the agriculture and resources of the west was paramount to Canada’s growth in this boom time also known as the Laurier boom. [9] The North-west Territories had a great amount of resources, and these were essentially untapped with only one line going through this vast wilderness expanse. Immigration was the third part to Canada’s National Policy adopted earlier by the Conservative government, and this became central to the new lines going in [10] . Economically, this was a boom time in Canada as well, and the new railway construction created many jobs as 18, 000 km of prairie railway was built. Canada now had more railway than any other country in the world per capita. [11] 

Without the railways, Canada would not be the country that it is. Would Nova Scotia and the Maritime Provinces have remained in Canada without the intercolonial line? Would British Columbia have joined Canada without the promise of the railway to link it with the rest of Canada and create the “all-red route to the orient.” [12] ? Would the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta exist as they do today without the many spur lines that were built in the early 1900’s as well as the Canadian Northern Line extending the prairie north to the west coast? Each of these three phases played an integral role in early Canada up to 1914, and set the stage for future growth to the Canada that we know today.


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