Canadian Pacific Railway

The Canadian Pacific Railway was built to unite the new nation of Canada and fulfill a pledge that John A. Macdonald made to the Colony of British Columbia upon its entry into the Confederation that a transcontinental railway would be built within ten years that would physically link the west with the east.

In February 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was incorporated to spur westward construction through the rugged mountain passes and deep canyons of British Columbia to a terminus at Burrard Inlet, Vancouver.  Surveys were made to decide the best route to build the line across this immense and unforgiving land and many alternative routes were proposed.

At first, progress was exceedingly slow and within a year the railway's chief engineer and general superintendent were fired after building only 211 km of track.  American William Cornelius Van Horne was hired as the new general manager and he decided that contractors should be hired for different sections of the line across the nation.  Still it would take more than 10 years before track was laid on the prairies west of Winnipeg.

Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor building in British Columbia progressed eastward through the most difficult sections of line, up the hazardous Fraser Canyon, and then through Kamloops towards Eagle Pass.  Onderdonk had brought in thousands of Chinese labourers under a contract labour system, paying their passage from China to the work camps on the Fraser.

The Chinese were able to lay more than 6 miles of track in a single day, but at a terrible price.  The Chinese were frequently assigned the most dangerous jobs, usually involving explosives at a lower rate of pay in demanding and hazardous conditions. It was common for Chinese workers to die in rock slides, collapsing tunnels, when they fell off bridges under construction or from disease.  Two men died for every mile of track that was laid.

By, November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie, British Columbia the last spike connecting the eastern and western sections of the tracks was driven by Donald A. Smith and within a year on June 28, 1886 the first transcontinental train left from Montreal and Toronto to Port Moody.  While the railway was completed four years after the original 1881 deadline, it was completed more than five years ahead of the new date of 1891 that John A. Macdonald gave in 1881.

After the completion of the railway, the C.P.R. promoted the settlement of the Prairie provinces through the sale of farm land.  The Chung Collection contains numerous brochures, posters and other material related to the C.P.R. land settlement department.

The Chung Collection exhibition room has a slice of the Last Spike railroad track and hundreds of photographs of C.P.R. railroad locomotives and railroad stations.  There are also numerous photographs taken by railroad employees and passengers as well as other material such as timetables, schedules, commercial pamphlets and other ephemera and textual records related to those who worked and travelled on the C.P.R. across Canada.

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