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Hudson Bay

A Brief History


Port of Churchill 8/12/1996 Ansgar Walk

Hudson Bay Railway serves a remote area of Northern Manitoba ending at Churchill a port on Hudson Bay the second largest bay in the world after the Bay of Bengal. 850 miles long by 650 miles wide it is only about 330 feet deep. It is reached over a railway line built on perma-frost tundra and muskeg in a wilderness famous for polar bears and dog sleds. Its winter is long and its ice-free access a short season of some 75 days. This brief time is used primarily to ship out wheat the route to Europe being some 1000 miles shorter. It was the last line in Canada to use 40 foot boxcars for this purpose owing to weight restrictions on the unstable roadbed. The line is famous too for its tripod telegraph pole line a unique method used to support a simple pole in the ground.

An early attempt dating from 1880 to build a line to Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba ended in 1888 with abandonment. Canadian Northern built a line from Winnipeg to Hudson Bay Junction in 1908 as part of its line to the west. However, it refused to build north to Hudson Bay without major funding from the government. A line was surveyed to both Port Nelson and Churchill in 1912. CNoR went bankrupt in 1918 and Canadian National Railways took over its lines in 1923.

The Hudson's Bay Construction Co. Ltd.
Passenger ticket c.1916

The Federal government built the line north diverting it away from Port Nelson after it passed the most direct route rerouting it to Churchill. Construction stopped at mile 214 due to the war and did not resume until 1926. The line was completed March 29, 1929 but not officially opened until September 10, 1929. The line itself is on a gentle downgrade from The Pas (The paw) 510 miles to Churchill. The Hudson Bay Railway was operated by the CNR until it eventually became part of the CNR effective September 5, 1951.

Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting developed a major mineral (zinc, copper and smaller gold and silver) operation in Flin Flon. Ore was first discovered in 1914 but it wasn't until 1930 that the mine, smelter, hydroelectric dam and railroad were in full operation.

In 1997 CN gave it up as unprofitable. The line was shortlined to OmniTRAX a USA operator of shortlines effective August 20, 1997 which operates 510 miles from The Pas to Churchill and branches 51 miles to Thompson and 87 miles to Flin Flon. OmniTRAX also acquired and operates the Port of Churchill. VIA Rail operates passenger service originating in Winnipeg.

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