a non-fiction article for middle age readers, about the CPR Transcontinental Railway.
| Canada's motto is "A Mari Usque Ad Mare" which means "From Sea to Sea." When Canada first became confederated, it didn't reach all the way from one coast to the other. To become one nation which stretched from sea to sea, Canada had to convince British Columbia (BC) to join the Confederation. British Columbia was finally enticed to join Confederation by an agreement to build a transcontinental railway. This would connect the eastern coast with the western coast. BC joined Confederation in 1871 and the Dominion of Canada was born. It wasn't until 1949 that Canada as we now know it was realized, with the addition of a territory in 1999.
Prime Minister John A. MacDonald and the ruling party (The Conservatives), considered the completion of a transcontinental railway imperative, partly due to the railways developing westward in the United States. Other reasons included the creation of a unified nation which would stretch across the continent from sea to sea. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) won the contract to build this very important railway. The railway was to be started within 10 years. The deadline of 1881 was missed and the CPR mainline wasn't completed until 1885. The Canadian Pacific Railway mainline became Canada's first transcontinental railway.
Canada's geography presented many challenges of construction, and the demand for early completion resulted in some generous government offers including $25 million in cash, 25 million acres of land in a belt along the railway, costs of surveys totaling $37 million and a monopoly over transportation south to the United States for 20 years.
Railways were extremely important to the settlement of the vast prairies. Immigrants could proceed west on trains faster and easier than they could in a wagon and therefor with less expense. Many prairie towns cropped up to fulfill the needs of the railway. Railways opened up new markets for trade, while creating markets for fuel, iron, steel etc. The CPR sold some land grants to settlers in key locations and the nations future was assured. CPR trains offered dining and sleeping cars and constructed tourist hotels for travellers enroute. Two of the most famous CPR Hotels are Chateau Frontenac in the province of Quebec and the Banff National Hotel in Alberta. The CPR became the official carrier of mail going from Hong Kong to Britain through Canada. All of this aided the company in the promotion of trade with Japan.
On January 1, 1882, W.C. Van Horne was hired to manage this important project. The muskeg of the Canadian Shield in the east, the harsh prairies and the treacherous mountains of the rockies in the west meant that new ways of building track had to be invented. Some of the tallest trestle bridges were built on this line. The route through Kicking Horse Pass was originally constructed with a gradient of nearly 4 times the accepted levels - even today that stretch of track is over twice the levels considered safe. Today the steepest stretches of the original track are rarely used due to the construction of the spiral tunnels near Field, BC. All of this construction required a lot of hard manual labour.
Due to problems with hiring local labourers, Chinese workers began to be imported to work on western sections of the track. Young Chinese peasants were shipped in to work for the CPR in the late 1870's and early 1880's. They were hired in work gangs, where the boss recruited the labourers and assumed the financial risk if production was low. Chinese labourers generally received less than 50% in wages of that which white workers received for the same work. Asians were often given the worst jobs to do such as working with explosives or breaking down huge boulders for transport. These people worked in terrible conditions and thousands died during construction.
Canadians contributed many notable inventions, including the first successful braking system, the rotary snow plow and most notably the Time Zone system developed by Sir Sanford Fleming which has affected how we tell time today.
On November 7, 1885, Canada's first transcontinental railway was completed. An official ceremony was held at Craigellachie, BC where the last spike was driven by Donald Smith at the western entrance to Eagle Pass. Canada then truly became a nation which stretched from sea to sea, "A Mari Usque ad Mare."