|November 1941, No. 2||Upper Canada Railway Society Bulletin (Toronto)||Page 3|
Thoughts on the 56th anniversary of the completion of the Canadian Pacific
John William Griffin
We celebrate today an event that must hold a place of great importance in the minds of all Canadians, and especially in the minds of all Canadians who are concerned with railroads. In 1867 the Fathers of Confederation erected a political edifice that has stood the test of time but there are none to deny the great part that the Pacific railway has played in the history of the Dominion.
From the earliest times of North American settlement men had spoken and written of a northwest passage, an easy road to what they believed to be the immense wealth of the East. To this dream there was added, after 1840, in both the United States and British North America, the more practical need of securing some physical connection between the older east and the newer settlements of the Pacific coast.
In Canada this need became a matter of politics, for one of the conditions of British Columbia's entry into the Dominion in 1870 was that a transcontinental railway be built.
In 1871 the government of Sir John Macdonald decided that this project could best be carried through by a private company, liberally subsidized in land and money. In the same year Sandford Fleming, of Intercolonial Railway fame, was appointed engineer-in-chief, a position he held for nine years.
These nine years saw many vicissitudes in the fortunes of the road, political, financial and geographical. Governments fell and rose again, a scandal came and went and new routes were surveyed time after time but the great dream was never relinquished. It was in 1880 that George Stephen and his associates undertook the construction of the road. The charter of the railway called for a subsidy of twenty-five million dollars and a tremendous amount of land, as well as the existing properties that had already been built. The company, on its part, agreed to reach the Pacific by May 1, 1891.
The story of the great difficulties encountered during the next five years has been told again and again. Tracks were built and disappeared beneath the Lake Superior muskegs, lines were graded and swept away by Rocky Mountain avalanches, personal fortunes were pledged when funds ran out; men ware maimed and men were killed. But no difficulty, geographical, financial or political was allowed to stop the progress of Canada's northwest passage. Fifty-six years ago today, in a little British Columbia village, Donald Smith drove the last spike of the Canadian Pacific.
The results have been beyond the imaginations of the project's most ardent supporters. The C.P.R. is today one of the great railroads of the world, in extent, in financial stability, in physical equipment and as a force in the affairs of the nation that it serves.
We celebrate Dominion Day as the birthday of Canada. We might just as appropriately celebrate that birthday on November the seventh for if the Fathers of Confederation erected the nation it is the Canadian Pacific Railway that has buttressed the walls.