Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Canadian Pacific Railway



The contract for construction of the railway was signed October 21st, 1880, the surveys having already been carried out under the direction of Sandford Fleming. Work was begun on the railway in May, 1881, and the last spike driven by Donald A. Smith (afterwards Lord Strathcona) on November 7th, 1885. This was the culmination of a long movement for a transcontinental railway across Canada. George Johnson in his Alphabet of First Things in Canada traces the evolution of the idea from the search for an overland route to the Pacific in the days of New Prance down to the various suggested transportation projects, first for a waggon road across the continent, then for a water thoroughfare, then for a combined water and rail route, then for a railway from Lake Superior to the Pacific, and finally for a transcontinental railway from Montreal to the Pacific. Under the terms of union, British Columbia had been promised, in 1871, railway connection with the east. The following year two companies were chartered, and these were finally merged in a third, which was to receive a heavy subsidy from the government for building the railway. The Pacific Scandal followed, and the downfall of the Macdonald government. The Mackenzie government adopted the policy of government ownership, but on Macdonald's return to power in 1878 he reverted to the original plan, and two years later the contract was signed for construction of the railway, the company receiving a Dominion subsidy of $25,000,000 and a land grant of 25,000,000 acres. Pessimistic views were held in many quarters as to the success of such a gigantic undertaking in a sparsely settled country but, although the early years of the road were extremely difficult, it ultimately more than realized the dreams of the men of vision who had stood behind it. The railway to-day has a mileage of 13,600, controls fleets of steamers on the Atlantic, Pacific and the Great Lakes, besides many other interests, and the capital of the company is $677,582,000.


Source : Lawrence J. BURPEE, "Canadian Pacific Railway", in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Canadian History, London and Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1926, 699p., p. 84.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College