A railway paved the modern history of Canada

When the railway has not crossed this beautiful land, wild and majestic mountains stand alone in front of the sun; when the white people and the wheels have not yet arrived, the dark green forest is so unbelievably silent.

-“The Canadian Railways Trilogy”

Gordon Lightford

In 1967, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation commissioned the country’s most prestigious folk singer Gordon Lightford to compose this “Canadian Railway Trilogy” to commemorate the Canadian Pacific Railway in the form of a narrative song. . This more than 20,000-kilometer railway runs from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast of Canada’s easternmost Atlantic coast, all the way west, through French-speaking Quebec and Ontario, the most populous province, and then passes The vast expanse of the three Canadian Granary Prairie provinces-Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, crossed the steep and majestic Rocky Mountains and finally reached British Columbia on the westernmost Pacific coast of Canada.

The Pacific Railway not only traverses the entire territory of Canada geographically, but also runs through the development of Canada’s modern history in the 20th century. This railway is closely related to the rise and fall of almost all major cities in Canada. To this day, when tourists from all over the world travel in Canada, the railway, train and hotel buildings left over from this railway still firmly occupy the center of each attraction. In addition, more than a century ago, thousands of Chinese came to this new land from across the ocean and participated in the construction of this railway. This railway is not only of great significance to Canadians, it also determines the fate of thousands of Chinese, and has become an important part of the history of Chinese migration in North America.

The road construction process was full of twists and turns
Before British Columbia on the Pacific coast of western North America joined the Canadian Federation, its largest city, Victoria on Vancouver Island, had a population of only over 3,000 people. British Columbia is far away from the British mainland, which is not conducive to economic development, so some residents seek to merge with the United States in the south. In 1871, in order to persuade British Columbia to join the federation, the Canadian federation promised to build the Pacific Railway within 10 years, connecting British Columbia, which was then a wild land, with the wealthy eastern part of Canada. The east has already coveted the rich natural resources of the west, including fur, minerals, and wood. The construction of a railway linking Canada’s east and west coasts has become a top priority for the people of the newly established Canadian Federation.

For John McDonald, the first prime minister of the Canadian Federation, which was just established, the construction of the Pacific Railway was not only a fulfilment of the promise made when British Columbia joined the federation, but also to connect the entire federal territory from the west coast to the east coast. It is an important opportunity for the people of China to be united in one mind and to establish the concept of a unified country. So in 1872, one year after British Columbia joined the Union, McDonald began to formulate a railway construction policy and raise funds. However, when the government and capital were fighting fiercely, the opposition party grabbed a pigtail, accusing officials of corruption and accepting bribes, and receiving political donations from the railway company. This event, known as the Pacific Scandal, led to McDonald’s resignation and the construction of the railway was blocked. It was not until McDonald came to power again in 1878 that he began to restart this ambitious plan.

Construction of the Pacific Railway officially started in 1881, and the first spike was knocked down in the small town of Bonfield in eastern Ontario. However, due to neglect of records, it is currently impossible to determine the specific location of the first spike. Some sections of the Pacific Railway were actually constructed or under construction before the construction started. For example, a section of railway connecting Northern Ontario and Winnipeg, the first large city in the eastern part of the three provinces of the Prairie, had been under construction since 1875. Because this section has to pass through the thick moss marshes on the Canadian Shield, the geology is very unstable, so the construction is also very difficult. By the eve of the official start, nearly 1,000 kilometers of this section had been completed.

After the railway entered the prairie of Yimapingchuan, construction became easier. But when the railway was built in Alberta, the westernmost province of the three Prairie provinces, it faced another problem: the plan to pass this section of the railway through the territory of the local aboriginal blackfoot tribe was strongly opposed by the blackfoot tribe. In the end, the father of the French missionary God Lacomm went forward to persuade the leader of the Blackfoot tribe, Crowfoot, and let him agree to the railway passing through the territory of the Blackfoot tribe. In return, Crow’s Foot can ride any train line of the Pacific Railway for free for life.

Railroad crossing the Rocky Mountains

In eastern Alberta, the blackfoot tent symbol of Medicine Hat.

A model train in Calgary, where the Pacific Railway Company is headquartered.

Chinese cemetery in Kamloops.

The territorial dispute with the aboriginals was resolved, and the Pacific Railway was able to continue westward through Alberta to the Rocky Mountains on the border with British Columbia. How to cross the towering and steep Rocky Mountains has become the biggest technical problem faced by the entire Pacific Railway. The railway chose Kicking Horse Mountain Road, which is more precipitous but can save hours of journey. In order to pass this mountain road, the Pacific Railway had to build a 7-kilometer-long railway with a slope of 4.5%, making it the steepest section of the railway in North America at that time. Trains can only pass through this section at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour, but derailments still occur from time to time. This section of the railway was only replaced by a newly built spiral tunnel after 25 years of use.

The beginning of Chinese immigration
Another major problem in the construction of the Pacific Railway in the Rocky Mountains is the shortage of manpower. At that time, the West Bank was a sparsely populated and wild land, not as large as the eastern part. In order to solve the problem of labor shortage, in addition to recruiting a large number of laborers from Europe, the British Columbia government also recruited 17,000 contract workers from China to participate in the construction of the railway. Most of them are from Guangdong and can only earn 0.75-1.25 yuan a day. Most of the most dangerous tasks are done by them, such as explosive blasting when building tunnels. About 600-800 Chinese workers were killed in these dangerous constructions, but most of the Chinese workers who survived did not earn enough money to support their return to China. So many Chinese workers stayed in the western part of Canada forever, which became the beginning of the history of Canadian Chinese immigration.

Kamloops, a small inland city in British Columbia, is such a settlement formed by a gathering of stranded Chinese workers. In the 1890s, one-third of the population here were Chinese. There is still a Chinese cemetery in the local area. Because of differences in religious beliefs, Chinese cannot be buried in local cemeteries, and can only open their own Chinese cemeteries. Many Chinese workers came to Canada with the dream of returning home, but most of them never had the chance to return to their homeland. Eventually, they died in their hometown and were buried here. In 1966, Chinese-American Wu Rongtian was elected mayor of Ganlu City, becoming the first Chinese mayor in North America. There used to be a large-scale Chinatown in Kamloops, but it was razed to the ground with the departure of the Chinese community in the early 20th century. At present, the number of local Chinese is less than 5% of the total population.

After passing through the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Railway finally reached its end-British Columbia on the west coast of Canada’s Pacific Ocean. Four years after the official start of construction, on November 7, 1885, the last spike in Clarachy, a small town on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, was smashed, declaring that the Pacific Railway was officially completed. Today there is still a monument to the last spike in this place, and it has become a popular attraction on Banff Road to the tourist attraction. The first transcontinental train left Montreal on June 28, 1886, and arrived at Bountiful, British Columbia, on July 4th. However, the construction of the Pacific Railway did not stop, but continued to expand in the following years. In 1886, the Pacific Railroad decided to move its western terminal from Port Moody to Granville further west. But at the time, the president of the Pacific Railway Company believed that as the western terminal, the name Granville was not loud enough. People in Toronto and Montreal in the east may not be familiar with where Granville is, but they have all heard of Vancouver Island on the west coast. So in the same year, at the suggestion of the president of Pacific Railroad, Granville changed its name to Vancouver. On May 23, 1887, Vancouver ushered in its first train as the terminus of the Pacific Railway. This small town with a population of less than 10,000, benefited from the unlimited business opportunities brought by the Pacific Railway, and flourished, and it became the third largest city in Canada.

The Chateau Frontenac, the landmark of Quebec City, is one of several grand hotels built by the Pacific Railway Company.

Clara’s last spike marked the completion of the Pacific Railway.

With the continuous development of Vancouver, many Chinese have also migrated from the interior of British Columbia, and a large-scale Chinatown has been built near the city center. Vancouver has the largest Chinatown in Canada and the second largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco. The Chinese are diligent and willing to engage in hard and dangerous jobs that the locals don’t want to do. The wages they demand are low, which quickly aroused hostility from other ethnic groups. The Chinese are considered evil and dangerous, and they do not care about hygiene, and they have robbed the locals of their jobs. The Chinese Immigration Act passed in 1885 authorized the Canadian government to collect a poll tax from Chinese immigrants to Canada. The Chinese became the only ethnic minority who was forced to pay the tax at that time. Each person had to pay a head tax of 500 Canadian dollars, which was equivalent to their two-year salary at that time. The “Chinese Exclusion Law”, which came into effect on July 1, 1923, even prohibited the Chinese from immigrating to Canada. Therefore, every year on July 1st, Canadian Autonomy Day, Chinese Canadians will close their shops and boycott this festival, which is a “day of shame” for them.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was not abolished until 1947. The Chinese have worked hard and even their lives for the construction of the Pacific Railway, but they have suffered unfair treatment for more than half a century. On June 22, 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Harper held an official apology ceremony in the Canadian Parliament. He apologized to Chinese Canadians who had suffered discrimination and announced that he would compensate the Chinese and their descendants who were subject to poll tax. On May 15, 2014, the British Columbia Provincial Assembly also passed a bill to apologize to the Chinese community. While the Pacific Railway brought prosperity to Canada, the blood, tears and humiliation of the Chinese concealed behind it finally came to light a hundred years later.

Rewrite the fate of cities along the route
The opening of the Pacific Railroad connects the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast and the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast, uniting Canada as a whole, greatly promoting Canada’s economic development, and profoundly changing the fate of cities along the route. Benefiting from its status as the western terminal of the Pacific Railway, Vancouver surpassed Victoria to become the largest city on the west coast of Canada. Montreal in the east, because it became the headquarters of the Pacific Railway, its economy has also developed by leaps and bounds, gradually replacing Quebec City and becoming the largest city and economic center in the French-speaking Quebec region. Québec City, the capital of Quebec, was gradually weakened because it was outside the main line of the Pacific Railway. A large number of people moved out of the country, and development was once stagnant. However, Quebec City has also become a blessing in disguise and has become one of the few cities in the United States and Canada that has completely preserved its colonial architecture. It was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1985 and is now an important tourist destination in Canada.

The Pacific Railway not only affects the rise and fall of large Canadian cities, but also affects the life and death of many small cities along the route. The development of McLeod, a small town in Alberta on the east side of the Rockies, is closely related to the changes in the Pacific Railway. When McLeod was set up as an important station on the railway, its original wooden platform began to take on a new look under the construction of bricks and sandstone. A fire in 1906 destroyed most of the wooden buildings in the city center. Riding on the east wind brought by the Pacific Railway, McLeod renovated the city center into masonry buildings. However, in 1912, after the Pacific Railway moved the bureau boundary station to Lethbridge, more than 200 local job opportunities disappeared. The city’s economy has since stagnated, and in 1924 it declared bankruptcy. Today’s McLeod population is less than 3,000, and it is still declining. In contrast, Lethbridge, which had a population of only 2,000 in the early 20th century, is currently the largest city in southern Alberta, with a population of more than 90,000, which is 30 times that of McLeod. The only thing worthy of McLeod’s comfort is that the stagnation of development has sealed it in history. The buildings in the city center at the beginning of the 20th century have not changed a hundred years later, and have become living specimens of the city in the early 20th century in inland Canada. McLeod was recognized as one of the first National Historic Sites in Alberta in 1923. It was protected and restored by the Canadian Heritage Foundation, earning income from tourism.

The Pacific Railway was the lifeblood of Canadian freight and passenger transportation for more than half a century after its completion until the middle of the 20th century. From the 1890s to 1933, a special silk train ran on the Pacific Railway, which transported silk from Asia from Vancouver to eastern Canada. Because silk is very valuable, in order to prevent robbery, the train is also equipped with special guards like a money-carrying car. This silk train is also the fastest train on the entire Pacific Railway. All other freight trains and passenger trains have to stop to make way for it, even the Royal Train taken by the King of England in 1939.

The near-monopoly of freight and passenger transportation made the Pacific Railroad Corporation Nikko Jindoujin the largest company in Canada at the time. In addition to operating railways, in order to attract passengers and promote tourism, the Pacific Railway Company also built several large hotels in major tourist spots throughout Canada at the end of the 19th century. These include the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Chateau Lake Louise in Banff National Park, the Vancouver Hotel in downtown Vancouver, and the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. These hotels are expensive to build and large in scale. They are still iconic buildings everywhere, and they frequently appear in tourists’ photos and postcards. In addition, Pacific Railroad also uses Vancouver International Airport as its base to establish Canadian Pacific Airlines, which is also the predecessor of Air Canada, the current Canadian national airline.

In the second half of the 20th century, with the construction of highways and the vigorous development of the aviation industry, the importance of the Pacific Railway as a passenger transport continued to be weakened. Beginning in the 1960s, due to increasingly serious losses, the Pacific Railway Company began to reduce the scale of passenger transport and stopped passenger services on some branch lines. Now, the Pacific Railway mainly carries freight services. Passenger trains across Canada are still in operation, but the whole journey takes 5 days, and the asking price is expensive, even more expensive than the air ticket, mainly for high-end users who want to experience the scenery along the way. In Ontario and Quebec in eastern Canada, railways still retain their importance in the past, becoming an important means of commuting to and from major eastern cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City.

In the more than 100 years since its establishment in 1885, the Pacific Railway has influenced the development of Canadian modern history and has also witnessed many historic moments. On June 10, 1891, it was the Pacific Railway that transported the body of its creator, Canada’s first Prime Minister Macdonald, from Ottawa to the tomb in Kingston. When the King of England visited Canada for the first time in 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth took the Royal Train of the Pacific Railway from Quebec City to Vancouver. Today’s Pacific Railway, although no longer influential in the past, as a witness and shaper of Canadian modern history, its whistle will reverberate in the annals of Canadian history forever.