Thursday, September 27, 2012

Steel Rails Across Canada

Rock slides, blasting accidents, scurvy, sunstroke,
frostbite, wild animals, swamps, high mountains:
such dangers were all in a day's work
for those who built Canada's railways.

Before the Grand Trunk Railway bridged the distance between Montreal and
Toronto, it took at least 36 hours to travel between the two cities “by stage coach”.
Remote destinations like the interior of Newfoundland and Labrador or British
Columbia, the Klondike and the Arctic were almost impossible to reach.

Railway mania...gripped Canada at various periods, but not long after the
inauguration of the first railway in 1836, people realized the advantages of
having a line through their towns.

Despite their popularity, most railways were characterized by chronic financial
problems and eventually went bankrupt or were absorbed by larger companies.

By the beginning of the Great War, there were four dominant  independents:
the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the Canadian North Railway (CNoR…
later known as Canadian National Railway ~ CNR), the Grand Trunk
Railway (GTR) and the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP).


The advent of war brought the crisis to a head.  The Federal Government had
to act!  By 1923, the GnoR, the GTR and the GTP were amalgamated into
two transcontinentals.  By the 1930's automobiles and buses gained much
popularity and paved roads were becoming a familiar sight.  This crested
a decline in the railway passenger transit.  In the 1940's and 1950's, airlines
compounded the situation.  The 1960's saw the close of an increasing number
of branch lines and many companies folded.

The CPR and the CNR  could not continue operations  as they had in the past
and in 1978 the two companies combined their passenger services to
form VIA RAIL.

Positive Changes

Historically, the CPR is perhaps the best known  railway to Canadians.
It was the CPR unifying the country...geographically and politically...
that comprised John A. MacDonald's  “national dream” !
Connections to the Canadian National Railway was a promise made to both
British Columbia and Prince Edward Island to ensure their entrance into
Confederation in 1867.

               A railway line was like the “golden touch” to a town or region:
               Real Estate prices jumped!
               Employment was plentiful!
               Labourers were in demand to construct roads!
               Trains needed crew members, technicians for maintenance,
               providers of cord wood (in the early days) for fuel!
               This led to a  boom (along with other factors) in the fledgling
               travel and tourism industry!

The CPR emerged as an advertising master.  The well-heeled-travelers in the
1920's might not have appreciated the natural beauty of the Rockies and its
lakes and rivers without the man-made-pleasures of CPR's Banff Springs
Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise.

The CPR was incorporated on February 16, 1881. Less than 5 years later,
a ribbon of steel united Canada when the line to the Pacific coast was
completed with “driving the last spike” at Craigellachi, British Columbia
on November 7, 1885.

In 1909 construction began on Canada’s 2nd transcontinental railway line…the
Canadian National Railway.  Today it is the largest railway in Canada in terms
of revenue and physical size of its rail network and is currently Canada’s only
transcontinental railway spanning from the Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia  to
the Pacific coast in British Columbia.  The CNR is a public company with
22,000 employees…has been a Crown Corporation…privatized in 1995.
Due to its numerous acquisitions in both Canada and United States,
CN’s slogan is…North America’s Railway

Canadian Pacific Hotels

CP Hotels were a dream of CPR that operated a series of Hotels across Canada.
Most of these resort hotels were originally built and operated by the railway's
Hotel Department...a few were acquired from Canadian National Hotels.
Today, these are operated under the Fairmont name...and remain some of
Canada's most exclusive hotels

Today Fairmont Hotels are located in major cities across Canada and United
States and other significant tourist destinations:  Mexico, Bermuda, Barbados,
the United name a few.

Remote Tourist Locations

As in the state of Alaska and our Yukon Territory, where there are settlements of
villages and towns, the residents can only be accessed by “Bush Pilots”.

Canada has a couple of tourist destinations which can only be reached by railway
(two of which I am aware around James Bay). Others, probably in other provinces.

Polar Bear Express:  From Cochrane, Ontario, you travel through some of the
most beautiful and remote wilderness in this province.  The woods almost seem
haunted.  At mile 186 you arrive at Moosenee...a very unique place at the southern
tip of James Bay.  Its population of about 2500 is 85% First Nations people.
Visit a First Nation's museum and Moose Factory (not a moose-breeding facility).
Also tour Moose Cree Outdoor Discoveries and Adventures.
                                                      Ride the Rails to Historic James Bay
                                                      for a Canadian Heritage Experience!

Churchill, Manitoba:  “Polar Bear Tours” invite you to see the King of the Arctic
...its wild home in The Great White North offering exciting encounters with polar
bears as they wait for Hudson Bay to freeze over so they can begin their annual
hunt.  Churchill is most famous for the many polar bears that move toward the
shore from inland in the autumn...lending the name,
                                               Polar Bear Capital of the World...
                                    to this town of Churchill's growing tourist industry.

                             There are a few ways to get to Churchill at the northern end
                             of James Bay:   dog team
                                                      stow away on a ship
                                                      drive a car along the rails...or
                                                       take the train!


 Canada is by size, the largest country in North America
and second in the world overall (behind only Russia).

Canada is renowned world-wide for its wilderness,
for its vast untouched landscape, for its unique blend
of cultures, for its multi-faceted history
and one of the world's wealthiest countries.

“Pearl of Wisdom”

Our Dreams of this Beautiful Country
will Never Die!
(Pierre Trudeau...Prime Minister of Canada
from 1968 to 1980).

Merle Baird-Kerr … written September 17, 2012
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