September 2, 2016

October 2, 2076

A Synopsis

In the Beginning – A Synopsis

Click on track 

to go to top

  • In 1857, a commission was set up by the British Crown to inquire into the constructing a transcontinental railway in British held North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean to connect the settlements of the east (the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario) with those of the west coast (the province of British Columbia). It would also a safer and more direct means of communication and trade with the Britain and the Orient.

British colonies in North America at the time of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s construction. What was to become Canada in the western part of the continent were territories held by the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies.

Source: Google Maps (with overlays).

Click on the image to enlarge/reduce.

  • In 1871, four years after the uniting of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario to form Dominion of Canada on the eastern side of North America, the first Prime Minister of this new union, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, promised to build a railway to join eastern Canada with the British colonies on the Pacific Ocean some 2,800 miles (4,500 km) away. The railway through the vast, wild and unexplored landscape to the west was to be starting within two years and completed within 10 years.


  • In 1872, Sanford Fleming, the first engineer-in-chief of the railway, travelled across the country to inspect the landscape and the magnitude of the venture. He recommended, and the government accepted, that the railway cross the Rocky Mountains via the Yellowhead Pass, west of present-day Edmonton.


  • In 1873, Macdonald was not reelected, in part due to a scandal over corruption in the financing of the railway. A depression and little interest in the railway by the new Prime Minister, Alexander Mackenzie, slowed progress until the reelection of Macdonald in 1878.


  • In 1880, a group of Scottish Canadian businessmen agreed to form a syndicate to finance the construction of the transcontinental railway.


  • In 1881, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was incorporated with George Stephen as its first president and William Cornelius Van Horne as general manager in charge of overseeing construction. Major Albert Bowman Rogers was hired as locating engineer to find a pass through the as yet impenetrable Selkirk Range of the Rocky Mountains. Rogers explored the western approach of what was to be known as Rogers Pass in 1881 and confirmed its existence when he explored the eastern approach in 1882.


  • In 1882, the government agreed to discard the more northerly Yellowhead route in  favour of a more direct and less expensive route directly to the west     of Winnipeg, Manitoba The CPR agreed to built the railway close to  but not less than 100 miles (160 km) from the international boundary with the United States. During 1882 track was laid at an average rate of 6.4 miles (10.3 km) a day from just west of Winnipeg to approximately present-day Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, a distance of 589 miles (950 km).


  • In 1883, track was laid up the Bow River valley to just west of Laggan (present-day Lake Louise).

Construction westward across the Canadian prairies in 1882 (solid red) and 1883 (dashed red).  Construction east of Winnipeg, which was completed in 1885, is shown in free. Construction eastward from present day Vancouver by Andrew Onderdonk, which commenced in 1879, is shown in also green. Location of the Mountain Subdivision is shown in yellow.

Source: Google Maps (with overlays). 

Click on the image to enlarge/reduce.

  • In 1884, track was laid through the Kicking Horse Pass in the Rocky Mountain Range and down the Columbia River as far as Beavermouth.

  • In 1885, track was laid through Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountain Range and the Eagle Pass in Gold Mountain Range. On November 7, 1885 the Last Spike Ceremony of the Canadian Pacific Railway was held at Craigellachie west of Eagle Pass, completing the transcontinental line by joining the eastern extension with the Onderdonk contract to the west completing.

Construction westward in 1884 (solid red) and 1885 (dashed red). Eastward construction by Andrew Onderdonk stopped when he ran out of rail at Craigellachie in the Eagle Pass. Westward track laying reached Craigellachie in the fall of 1885. The last spike, completing the transcontinental railway was driven at Cragellachie on November 7, 1885.

Source: Google Maps (with overlays).  

Click on the image to enlarge/reduce.