John Duncan McArthur

John Duncan "J.D." McArthur, railroad builder and operator, lumber industrialist (b at Lancaster, Canada West 25 June 1854; d Winnipeg, Man 10 January 1927).

McArthur, John Duncan

John Duncan "J.D." McArthur, railroad builder and operator, lumber industrialist (b at Lancaster, Canada West 25 June 1854; d Winnipeg, Man 10 January 1927). John Duncan McArthur's greatest achievement was the building of the railway lines north from EDMONTON, which would become known as the Northern Alberta Railways (NAR). He was a multi-faceted businessman, however, and operated lumber companies and financial trusts in addition to his railway interests. He was responsible for the creation of many commercial centres along his railway lines including HIGH PRAIRIE, LAC LA BICHE, and SLAVE LAKE.

After spending much of his youth as a farm labourer, J.D. McArthur went to Manitoba in 1879 and worked on the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY (CPR). He advanced in the CPR and saved enough money to begin his own construction company. As his company grew, so did the magnitude of the projects it undertook, mostly on railroads in southern Manitoba and further west. By 1910, he had built more track in western Canada than any other contractor, serving mainly the CPR, the CANADIAN NORTHERN RAILWAY, and the GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC RAILWAY.

In 1911 the Alberta government contracted McArthur to build and operate a line to the Peace River Country (see PEACE RIVER LOWLAND) through a company he acquired called the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway. The line was completed to GRANDE PRAIRIE in 1916, with a branch line called the Central Canada Railway extending to PEACE RIVER at the same time. In 1913 he took over the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway and, by 1919, constructed it to near FORT MCMURRAY. Construction through the rugged terrain was costly, however, and washouts and accidents were frequent. Many controversies dogged his efforts, such as his decision to bypass the town of GROUARD in favour of High Prairie. In 1920 his northern Alberta companies were taken over by the provincial government, becoming the NAR in 1929.


Further Reading

  • John A. Eagle, "J.D. McArthur and the Peace River Railway," Alberta History, Autumn 1981; Ena Schneider, Ribbons of Steel: The Story of the Northern Alberta Railways (1989).