Empires of Canada
Canada is unique in having had a number of empires in its
railway history as well as major competing systems both private and government
owned. No other country in the world owes so much to its railways as Canada,
A second empire was that of Canadian National Railways, this late-comer
was created by the federal government to combine government railways and
take over various failed private railways. It took over the government
owned and operated Intercolonial Railway, and Prince Edward Island
Railway (operated as Canadian Government Railways), the shareholder
owned and bankrupt Grand Trunk, itself consisting of Great Western
and many small railways, and the government-private (GTR) Grand Trunk
Pacific that failed and helped bring down its parent. Government support
was required for all railway construction; often this took the form of
grants at a set rate per mile of line constructed and guarantees of bonds.
Acceptance of these bonds as well as stock in cases of default resulted
in government ownership by default. Railways were simply too important
to not take them over.
Both of the two empires above were Canada wide and beyond, others were much smaller. They included both government and private ownership.
Ontario's provincially owned Temiskaming & Northern Ontario (later, Ontario Northland) was a smaller version of Canadian Pacific's empire in that it included rail, road (truck and bus), telephone, lake boats etc. The Province also owned a small local air line. Its primary purpose was to develop Northern Ontario, profit was not its motive.
British Columbia owned a similar development road, Pacific Great Eastern (later, British Columbia). It was almost entirely a railway operation and again, profit was not its motive, development was. Presently, it is being sold off.
Newfoundland had a difficult railway history one that included both private and government operation. Newfoundland took over the Reid railway operations and following Confederation, Newfoundland Railway was taken over by Canadian National.
Privately owned empires included Algoma Central, both under the Clergue empire of companies and its later shareholder version. The Booth empire was centred on lumber and included the Canada Atlantic. The Rathbun empire was also centred on lumber but included cement and local shipping along with the Bay of Quinte and other railways. The Reid empire in Newfoundland was likewise centred on lumbering but also included local shipping. All of these railways eventually became part of Canadian National, many later being abandoned.
Mackenzie and Mann were best known for their Canadian Northern Railway System, a third major railway system designed to compete with Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk. Theirs' wasn't a true empire in that it was mostly rail transportation including street railway operations. It was a remarkable empire nevertheless, one put together piece by piece until it covered much of Canada. Eventually, their empire of railways collapsed and they too were absorbed into Canadian National Railways.
In the end, only the mighty Canadian Pacific maintained its empire of transportation, hotels and resources until late in the 20th Century when much of it was sold off or broken up into separate entities. Everything else was in government hands with few, exceptions. Aside from mining railways such as Quebec, North Shore & Labrador, Cartier, Romaine River etc. (some have other traffic including passenger), and US railroads that remained in Canada in several places, the exceptions were few and far between. Excepting for the modern era of short lines, Essex Terminal remains one of the few independent railways, an original "short line" long before the term came into common use.
In Canada, it all began with the very first common carrier railway, the Champlain & St.Lawrence opened in 1836. It was short portage railway around a cataract in the St. Lawrence River, running only 14 miles between Lapraire on the St.Lawrence River and St.John's on the Richelieu River. This was part of a route connecting Montreal and New York City. It eventually became part of the Canadian National Railways as did many struggling or failed railways.
Other early railways included: Montreal & Lachine, Erie & Ontario, Carillon & Grenville, Ontario, Simcoe & Huron, St.Lawrence & Atlantic/Atlantic & St.Lawrence.
The first major railway was the Great Western Railway. The GWR was incorporated in 1844 to build from the Detroit River to the Niagara River. The main line between Niagara Falls, via Hamilton and London to Windsor was opened on January 17, 1854. Under the charter of the Hamilton & Toronto a line was built between those two points and immediately became a branch of the GWR. Several small railways were soon taken over to reach many other points in Southern Ontario. The GWR itself was taken over by the GTR.
It was quickly followed by the Grand
Trunk Railway of Canada incorporated November 10, 1852 to build
from Montreal to Toronto. Through acquisitions it was soon expanded from
Toronto to Sarnia and from Montreal to Portland, Maine.
On the east coast there were a number of early efforts to build railways for different purposes, first for private use (coal mining) and later for public transportation and military reasons.
Various efforts were undertaken to build railways in Nova Scotia, this required the Colony to support construction and to seek aid to extend a line to connect with the main population areas of Montreal. Much of this was soon consolidated into the Intercolonial. Joseph Howe
The biggest effort was the construction of the
Intercolonial Railway of Canada
(IRC) stretching 700 miles from Halifax to Montreal. The initiative for
the IRC was Confederation itself, and on December 21, 1867, the first
publicly-owned railway in Canada was authorized. It opened in 1872 and
was further expanded to other points. It lasted until 1919 when it was
taken over by Canadian National Railways due to financial difficulties.
Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia. In common with Russia it has a large land mass but an even smaller population. Much of the population was located along the St.Lawrence River and on the East Coast, around Winnipeg and on the West Coast. In between were vast distances of open territory and rugged inhospitable land. To the south lay a growing and antagonistic country. The necessity to build a railway to connect British Columbia to the rest of Canada became a demand from BC to join Confederation. It was also a political necessity recognized by Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald.
All of this was very much in people's minds in the 19th Century on both coasts of Canada. On the East Coast, the Intercolonial Railway was surveyed and built away from the border to reduce the likelihood of its falling into enemy hands in a conflict. Had part of Quebec and New Brunswick not been lost to Maine as a result of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, there would have been less need to build the ICR in such an indirect route.
Railways in Central Canada were built to the Provincial Gauge of 5 feet 6 inches in order that they could not be easily used by enemy forces during war. Eventually, the threat subsided and railways were "narrow gauged" to 4 feet 8 and once-half inches, more commonly known as Standard Gauge, one that originated in England.
On the West Coast, the threat was more likely to have come from British Columbia seeking annexation to the United States of America due to its lack of connection with the rest of Canada, cut off by the formidable mountain ranges. Much of BC's trade and commerce was with the US and travel to and from the East was only possible by going through the USA. It was this isolation that forced the building of a railway to connect east and west. British Columbia had been seeking a railway to connect it with the east there was trepidation about the real need and affordability of such a massive undertaking in such a sparsely settled country with little financial resources. After Confederation, British Columbia was demanding a railway as a precondition to its joining Confederation. It joined in 1871 and the federal government set out to honour its agreement.
The Pacific Railway as it was colloquially known became the Canadian Pacific under Federal government construction by different contractors. The difficulties encountered by the contractors and the struggle by the government to finance it all threatened the project. It was then the government turned to the private sector to take over what existed and complete it in a timely fashion. A syndicate of investors bravely put up their money and in February 1881 incorporated the Canadian Pacific Railway Company; the true C.P.R.
Work began to join two disjointed portions of the railway as well as to extend it eastward through both construction and acquisition. A Montreal to Vancouver railway was the goal. Much of the eastern expansion came under the Ontario & Quebec which itself took over two early railways, Toronto, Grey & Bruce and Credit Valley. ser back
The famed Last Spike of the Pacific Railway was driven
on November 7, 1885 but the completion of the CPR was still a long ways
off. In fact, it continued to grow for many decades, both by construction
and by acquisition. A long list of owned and controlled railways included
those that were obvious to all, including Dominion Atlantic, Esquimalt
& Naniamo, Quebec Central, Grand River and Lake Erie & Northern.
Those that lost their public identity such as Montreal & Atlantic,
Kingston & Pembroke and others were remembered for years. Still others
were known only by legal interests such as the Campbellford, Lake Ontario
& Western, Georgian Bay & Seaboard and many others whose names
existed only on paper. These "paper railways" were operated
the CPR for all of their lives retaining their name for legal purposes