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Canadian Pacific Railway

The Canadian Pacific Railway company was incorporated in 1881. Its original purpose was the construction of a transcontinental railway, a promise to British Columbia upon its entry into Confederation. The railway — completed in 1885 — connected Eastern Canada to BC and played an important role in the development of the nation. Built in dangerous conditions by thousands of labourers (including 15,000 Chinese temporary workers), the railway facilitated communications and transportation across the country. Over its long history, CPR diversified, establishing hotels, shipping lines and airlines, and developed mining and telecommunications industries. In 2001, Canadian Pacific separated into five separate and independent companies, with Canadian Pacific Railway returning to its origins as a railway company. CP, as it is branded today, has over 22,500 km of track across Canada and the United States. It is a public company and trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CP. In 2016, CP had $6.2 billion in revenue and $1.6 billion in profit and held assets valued at $19.2 billion.

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Sir John Abbott

John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, PC, QC, KCMG, lawyer, professor, businessman, politician and prime minister (born 12 March 1821 in St. Andrews East, Lower Canada [now Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, QC]; died 30 October 1893 in Montreal). Abbott was a leading authority on commercial law, a strong advocate of English Quebec’s business elite and an influential figure in many corporate and social organizations. He was the first Canadian-born prime minister, as well as the first to hold the position from the Senate rather than the House of Commons. He served as prime minister from 16 June 1891 to 24 November 1892.

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Bill Miner

Ezra Allen (Bill) Miner, outlaw (born circa 1847 in Bowling Green, KY; died 2 September 1913 in Covington, GA). Bill Miner was reputed to be the first train robber in Canada, although bandits had robbed a train of the Great Western Railway in Ontario on 13 November 1874, 30 years before Miner arrived in Canada. Miner was the first to rob the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and thus became an outlaw hero in Canadian folklore. Miner was known as “The Grey Fox” and the “Gentleman Bandit” because of his polite manners during holdups. Miner was also credited with being the outlaw who coined the phrase “Hands up!”

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The Last Spike

The Last Spike was the final and ceremonial railway spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) track by company director Donald Smith on the morning of 7 November 1885. The ceremony marked the completion of the transcontinental CPR and was a muted affair at which a group of company officials and labourers gathered at Craigellachie near Eagle Pass in the interior of British Columbia. One of about 30 million iron spikes used in the construction of the line, the Last Spike came to symbolize more than the completion of a railway. Contemporaries and historians have viewed the Last Spike — as well as the iconic photographs of the event — as a moment when national unity was realized.

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Pacific Scandal

The Pacific Scandal (1872–73) was the first major political scandal in Canada after Confederation. In April 1873, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and senior members of his Conservative government were accused of accepting election funds from shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan in exchange for the contract to build the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. The affair stung Macdonald and forced the resignation of his government in November 1873, but it didn’t destroy him politically. Five years later, Macdonald led his Conservatives back to power and served as prime minister for another 18 years.

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Chinese Canadians

Chinese Canadians are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. In the 2016 census, 1.8 million people reported being of Chinese origin. Despite their importance to the Canadian economy, including the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), many European Canadians were historically hostile to Chinese immigration. A prohibitive head tax restricted Chinese immigration to Canada from 1885 to 1923. From 1923 to 1947, the Chinese were excluded altogether from immigrating to Canada.

Since 1900, Chinese Canadians have settled primarily in urban areas, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto. They have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society, from literature to sports, politics to civil rights, film to music, business to philanthropy, and education to religion.

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Railway History

The development of steam-powered railways in the 19th century revolutionized transportation in Canada and was integral to the very act of nation building. Railways played an integral role in the process of industrialization, opening up new markets and tying regions together, while at the same time creating a demand for resources and technology.

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Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

In the early morning of 6 July 2013, a runaway train hauling 72 tankers filled with crude oil derailed as it approached the centre of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The tanker cars exploded and the oil caught fire, killing 47 people and destroying many buildings and other infrastructure in the town centre. The fourth deadliest railway disaster in Canadian history, the derailment led to changes in rail transport safety rules as well as legal action against the company and employees involved in the incident. Years after the derailment, re-building was still ongoing and many of the town’s residents continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.