Who Really Built the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway)?

It began with a vision to connect the whole country together, from east to west.  1881 was the beginning of the Canadian Pacific Railway with a goal to “unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast” (Canadian Pacific, 2012, paragraph 2).  There was a plan, but who would build it?  Prime Minister MacDonald has been commended as a phenomenal prime minister for ordering the construction of such an immense project, which would later revolutionize transportation in the 19th century (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012, paragraph 1).  Also there was William Van Horne, the man who was in charge.  However in truth, not one or two or even five people built the railway, but thousands.

The country-wide railway was required to accomplish after it became “the main promise that brought British Columbia into Confederation” (BC Archives, 2012, paragraph 1).  Not only so, but Sir John A. Macdonald “knew that a transcontinental railway was essential to the survival of Canada” (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 197).  So he founded the CPR Syndicate to invest and run the railway.  As the prime minister of Canada, Macdonald’s contribution did not stop there.  Building a railway over such a vast and risky land was extremely expensive but Macdonald had strong hope for it to succeed and therefore supplied government funds to the CPR.  Thus he was an important figure in the railway, however only #3 in significance.

Previously mentioned, Macdonald gathered a group of investors.  In two years he found James J. Hill, George Stephen, president of the Bank of Montreal, and Hudson’s Bay Company’s Donald Smith (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 197).  The three men created the CPR Syndicate–now a business.  Although they set up the business and invested enormous amounts of money, the CPR Syndicate should not be greatly credited for in the building of the railway–in this rating, placed as #4.  Firstly because they did not have any physical contribution in the building of the railway.  Adding to the fact they changed the original planned route of the railway in desire for “total control of the project and the land the railway would cross” (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 199); which went through difficult and unknown mountain ranges in British Columbia.  This increased the difficulty of the construction within the time limit of ten years.  However they shall receive some commendation for hiring William Van Horne as the general manager, whom will be discussed next.

William Van Horne, an ambitious and forceful man “brought a high level of drive and efficiency into[the] construction” (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 197).  He  quickened the pace and was brilliant in the work.  And despite the money shortages and problematic moutains, Van Horne completed the CPR five years ahead of schedule, on November 1885 (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 201).  He managed the ‘impossible’; however is only #2 on this list.  For although Van Horne organized and lead the operation, the people who really built the railway were the workers. “Thousands of men were needed to build the railway…[and over] 35 000 workers were employed” (Cranny, Jarvis, Moles & Seney, 2009, page 201).  These people, many from China, worked with extreme dedication and determination, even under the terrible living and working conditions.  Risking their lives several workers worked with dynamite to blast through mountain, and a numerous amount of those men ended up either severely injured or killed.  Those workers were the true builders of the railway, and therefore are acknowledged as #1 in this ranking. To know more about the whole process of the Canadian Pacific Railway, here is video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqRWQa0rIso References: BC Archives (2012). Canadian Pacific Railway. Retrieved from http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/exhibits/timemach/galler08/frames/cpr.htm Canadian Encyclopedia (2012). Building The Canadian Pacific Railway. Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/customcode/Media.cfm?Params=A3railway.swf Canadian Pacific (2012). Our History. Retrieved from http://www.cpr.ca/en/about-cp/our-past-present-and-future/Pages/our-history.aspx Cranny, M. Jarvis, G. Moles, G. & Seney, B. (2009). Horizons: Canada’s emerging identity. 2nd Ed. Don Mills, Ontario: Pearson Education Canada


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